Why do you eat the foods you do?
Do you know where they come from? Which plants?
Do you know what the best thing to eat for breakfast is, or do you just eat what you have always eaten?
The way we eat has changed more in the past 150 years than it has in the past 10,000 years. These changes have ended up causing widespread disease. It turns out our bodies just can’t keep up.
Humans evolved as hunter-gatherers and they ate very different diets depending on where they came from. But the common things were plenty of protein from animals and lots of plants. How did we get to the way we eat today? To start with, we learnt how to grow things in one place. Agriculture and farming gave us more consistency, but more problems too. Early farming cultures showed a decline in their general health and even height.1
The start of agriculture
Agriculture meant less animal proteins for most people, and more grains. From low levels in hunter gatherer diets, grains now dominate the world’s food. Currently only eight different grains provide 56% of the world’s total food energy.2 Fast forward to the 1800s and the industrial revolution. We started figuring out how to turn large quantities of plants into flours, refined oils, sugar, corn syrup and lots of other things. We seriously changed food as it was found in nature, and lots of the good stuff was lost.
During the 1900s we took farming to the next level, through the invention of nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides. Crops grew bigger and faster, but there were also major down sides. Today's ‘Western diet’ is a way of eating based on the successful farming of only a few animals and plants.
Our genes change much more slowly than our diets have. Looking at our DNA, humans are virtually the same as we were 40,000 years ago.4 But farming only started about 10,000 years ago. This means our bodies are dealing with a way of eating that we never evolved to handle. Ultimately this is contributing to obesity, heart disease and diabetes.5
Progress also meant things like sugar went from being a luxury ingredient to an everyday item. During the 1800s its price started dropping dramatically. A typical person ate about 4.4lb (2kg) of sugar per year back in 1700, this increased up to a whopping 178lb (81kg) by 2000.6-7 This means our bodies are dealing with a way of eating that we never evolved to handle. Ultimately this is contributing to obesity, heart disease and diabetes.5
Progress at a price
Wherever you find the Western diet disease has been shown to follow. Heart disease and diabetes type two are the most closely linked to our modern diet changes. Many scientists describe the rate of increase of these diseases as an epidemic. A question nutritional science has tried to answer: What are we doing wrong? Because if we figure out the cause, we can just cut it from our diets right? We tried this a while back with saturated fat, which didn’t work so well. It turns out cutting a nutrient from your diet doesn't work either, and it ended up doing more harm than good.
Industry as advisors
Unfortunately, adding to all of this is the fact that nutritional advice is often tied to economics and politics. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the ‘world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals’ and is funded by Coca-Cola, Kellogg and PepsiCo among others. If you want to take a look this is openly listed on their site: http://www.eatright.org/corporatesponsors
And it doesn’t help that nutritional science isn’t an easy thing to study. This is one of the reasons why there’s a lot of confusion and myths about nutrition. Looking at all the connections between how we farm, what we eat and how we live, is very important. New nutrition research shows that food isn’t just energy. Food affects our regulating hormones and metabolism.8 This means the way we eat can change how our bodies work at the most basic level.
Nature had it right all along
It seems the answer to the rise in diseases from a Western diet is simple, if a lot harder to put into practise. When you start eating food that is closer to its source and ‘as nature intended’, many of the negatives are automatically reversed. The best nutrition science in all areas keeps coming back to the same answer: nature had it right all along. We’ll look at this more in depth in our nutrition 101 articles covering carbohydrate, protein and fat.
Les Mills is on a mission to create a fitter planet. As well as providing the best information, we want to give you the tools to help you make positive nutrition changes a reality. Tools that will help you to make eating well a part of everyday life, and make it easy. Will you come on this journey with us? It really is time for a change.
Keep reading here:
Carbs 101 - We have a look at why not all carbs are created equal and what an ideal intake looks like.
Protein 101 - We tell you everything you need to know about this essential building block, and getting more of it into your diet.
Fats 101 - Forget everything you’ve ever heard about low fat diets.
Contributing editors: Diana Archer-Mills, Sarah Wakeman BSc. Biology PGDip. Food science.
Heading up our nutrition project is Dr. Jackie Mills (B Phys Ed, MBCh B, Dip Obstetrics), a specialist in nutritional medicine, an obstetrician and general medical practitioner. Jackie completed her post-graduate studies in nutrition at the Australian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine (ACNEM) and has practiced nutritional medicine for 25 years. As Les Mills’ Chief Creative Officer, Jackie is responsible for the development of all LES MILLS™ exercise programs.
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