I’m increasingly concerned about the refined starches, sugars and highly-processed foods that are dominating our modern diet. In last week’s article, I posited that the foods we’re increasingly choosing to eat are not biologically suited to us. Like Hippocrates, I believe that what we eat and drink, takes centre stage in determining our health.
The debates relating to what we ought to be eating are innumerable and often heated. Scientists remain as confused and as conflicted as the general public. In the space of one week, eggs can go from being vilified as the cause of cancer, to being extolled as the most nutritious food on earth. Just because we can, or are able to eat a food, does not mean that it is useful, or even suitable for us. What we absorb, from our digestive tract, is far, far more important than what we actually eat. There is so much talk about what we shouldn’t eat. Why don’t we, for once, talk about what the human animal should eat. Not what we can eat, or could eat, but what we should eat, or must eat, to survive and thrive.
The Essential Human Diet
The human diet must contain essential fatty acids (derived from fats). It must also contain essential amino acids (derived from protein). These acids are essential, because they cannot be synthesised (made) by the body, i.e., they must come from our food. There are no essential sugars or starches (carbohydrates). Not a single one. Simple sugars, like glucose and fructose are the building blocks of all carbohydrates. Your body does require some glucose to function, but it does not need you to eat any glucose to function. It can produce as much sugar as it needs, from scratch. This is known as gluco-neo-genesis (creation of new glucose); the creation of glucose from a non-carbohydrate nutrient, such as fat or protein. In other words, there is no absolute requirement to consume carbohydrates for survival.
A Larger Brain
Our brains largely consist of fat and cholesterol. Any new glucose formation can be done in situ – within the brain itself. If glucose is not readily available, the brain can thrive on ketones (a by-product from burning fat for energy). This flexibility would have been beneficial to our early ancestors, who often had little access to carbohydrates, and would have had to survive on game (meat and fat) alone.
Animal-sourced foods are incomparably nutritious.
The human brain is significantly larger than those of other mammals. The ‘Expensive Tissue Hypothesis’ is a feasible theory which postulates that the increase in brain size in humans was balanced by an almost identical reduction in the size of the digestive tract. In other words, to develop larger brains, we must have sacrificed a large portion of our intestines, particularly our large intestine. This simultaneous change was necessitated by an improvement in dietary quality. To do this, our ancestors must have relied more and more on animal-based foods, which are less voluminous and more rapidly absorbed than plant foods.
A Nutritionally Superior Diet
Animal-sourced foods provide all the essential amino and fatty acids that we need. The vitamins and minerals, such as retinol, B12, D3, and iron that exist in these foods are far easier to extract, absorb and use (bio-available), than their equivalent plant-based counterparts. Each individual plant is nutritionally insufficient, and the available nutrients are often not easily bio-available. This is an important, but often overlooked fact. Just because you can eat an exclusive plant-based diet does not mean that this is what you should eat, based on what we now know about our immutable nutritional requirements. Furthermore, just because a food contains a particular nutrient doesn’t mean that we can access it easily.
We must focus on how we can efficiently nourish our bodies with nutrient dense foods.
Foods that are nutritionally superior, easily digested and highly bio-available. Foods that specifically contain all the essential nutrients that we must eat, and not simply foods that we can eat. We must also recognise that in consuming excess sugars and starches, we are, effectively, displacing more nutrient-dense foods.
A low-carbohydrate diet, based on animal-sourced foods, provides all the nutrition your body needs, and in a form that your body can easily absorb. The iron in beans is not and cannot be absorbed as readily as the iron in beef. Animal-based foods are incomparably nutritious and it for this reason I repudiate the rising propaganda of exclusive plant-based diets.
Perhaps once we agree on what the human diet must include, then whatever else we choose to put on our plates can be simply tolerated as white noise.
This article was published in The Star, Kenya, in print and online on 9th September 2019.