Not only am I coming out with a post on a provocative fun theory that I’ve been brain-sturbating on lately, I be droppin’ Acronyms like nobody’s business. I mean MANIFEST? MANIFEST? I’d say “I’m not making this up” to emphasize how stunned I am by my own cleverness, but the thing is… I did make that up! I actually paused to pound on my chest for a moment after doing so. Anyway, let’s get into this theory, which takes the Paleo mindset on nutrition a step further…
Human beings are the most heat-adapted mammal on earth. We have open pores. We sweat to cool ourselves from head to toe unlike most mammals. Other than Robin Williams and Teen Wolf, most humans have very little body hair. We have a hard time staying warm at cold temperatures, but we have the complete tool set for staying cool at warm temperatures. It’s what we were designed for. The only thick hair we have is on the top of our heads, keeping us cool under the hot sun like a Turban in the desert.
(Note Stiles is wearing a shirt appropriate for the optimal human climate – and yes, it’s in Spanish. Even funnier).
Humans obviously were intelligent enough to branch out from the ecosystem in which we were designed for – a warm, non-seasonal climate akin to the climate in a place like Hawaii, the South Pacific, or the Equatorial regions of the world. We did so by killing the animals that were well-adapted to cold weather, and wearing their skin and fur on our own bodies.
But the token Paleo Man that hunted Wooly Mammoths and got in some hard sprints trying to run from Saber-Toothed Tigers (which would have resulted in a quick death and an abrupt exit from the gene pool) was secondary, not primary to the roots of the human template. We were able to adjust to other climates and other foods in the food chain of Northern climates somewhat, but we weren’t designed for those climates. Otherwise we’d be covered in thick fur that we could shave to live comfortably in warmer climates (no, I will not diverge at this point about Global Warming and increasing fashionableness of pubic shaving, but you know I could if I needed to).
Humans are adaptable, and homo sapiens had great health in many climates. Humans clearly were able to make many changes to better suit them for more inhospitable climates, such as the lightening of skin pigmentation at higher latitudes to allow for better vitamin D synthesis from sunlight coming in at weaker angles. We didn’t grow furry coats because we developed a system for addressing uncomfortable temperatures. We picked up weapons-making faster than we evolved to run down deer. In other words, our minds evolved faster than our bodies in many cases.
I’m not saying that eating food from the Tropics is healthy and eating the grains of Northern climates is deadly. There is no such evidence for such a claim, especially with the extensive documentation of early 20th century pioneers in nutrition and human health such as Robert McCarrison and Weston A. Price – who saw that fantastic health could be achieved on an agrarian diet and lifestyle revolving around grains. If humans are well-nourished and avoid nutritionally-devoid food like white sugar, good health can be replicated time and time again.
But I am interested at peering into one of the most fundamental aspects of human design, and deciphering, if there is such a thing as an optimal diet and lifestyle for humans, what it might be.
So let’s examine the difference between the ideal ecosystem for a human being – a climate that is non-seasonal.
The tropics are warm year-round. It is never cold. So the food chain of perpetually-warm areas is adapted to warmth, not cold. This equates to the food chain becoming “saturated” with heat-protective fats, whereas Northern climates become saturated with cold-protective fats.
This is why the most concentrated source of saturated fat on earth comes from tropical nuts and seeds – coconuts and palm kernels. Because these must withstand hot temperatures, with no risk of freezing, they are maximally adapted to protecting themselves from excess heat damage. That means they employ the least heat and light-sensitive fat – saturated fat, in the greatest abundance.
Nuts, seeds, grains, and other foods in higher latitudes have the opposite problem. They fall in the autumn, and have the chore of making it through cold winters without freezing so that they can propagate themselves in the spring. The type of fat that is the most liquid at cold temperatures, working like anti-freeze, is the exact type of fat found in the food chain of higher latitudes. This, of course, is polyunsaturated fat – omega 6 and omega 3.
These foods, for the most part, are scarfed up by one of three types of creatures. The first are birds, who have adapted, metabolically, to eating polyunsaturated fat all year long as they fly around the globe seasonally to take advantage of that. Next are the ruminant animals of higher latitudes – elk, deer, cows, bison, sheep. They have developed a system to convert polyunsaturated fat to saturated and monounsaturated fat so that the fatty acid composition of their tissues remains relatively constant no matter what the composition of their diet may be. Finally are those with a seasonal metabolism that do not convert polyunsaturated fat to other fatty acids and instead accumulate them in fat and tissue like humans do. These animals include many hibernators, and include nut, seed, and acorn-loving creatures like bears, squirrels, marmots, and other small mammals that go into a hypometabolic (low metabolism) state after gorging on omega 6. Like a nut or seed, this cold-protective fat serves a very important survival purpose.
According to Ray Peat, giving saturated fat instead to a creature that does not convert polyunsaturated fat to other fatty acids (like pigs or humans) seems to have the opposite effect. Instead of going into a low energy, low-metabolic state, pigs, humans, and other non-converters become hypermetabolic in response to a diet higher in saturated fat like that found in warmer climates where hairless creatures like us are more comfortable:
In the l940s, farmers attempted to use cheap coconut oil for fattening their animals, but they found that it made them lean, active and hungry… At the end of their lives, the animals’ obesity increased directly in proportion to the ratio of unsaturated oil to coconut oil in their diet, and was not related to the total amount of fat they had consumed… In the l930s, animals on a diet lacking the unsaturated fatty acids were found to be “hypermetabolic.” – Ray Peat
The most liquid oil of all at cold temperatures is omega 3. Although omega 3 has the ability to mitigate some of the negative consequences of eating excessive omega 6 like that found in most nuts, seeds, grains, and oils from those substances – it is tough to argue that omega 3 is a fatty acid meant for human consumption in large quantities, as it only exists in very large quantities in the Arctic where the human is least suited to be. Coldwater fish such as salmon and herring as well as the fat of seals is where the greatest abundance of omega 3 is found – and where, in a cold climate, these fats do play an inherently beneficial role to the ecosystem and the organisms in it.
But make no mistake. For those that want to “get primal” and get in touch with their primitive evolutionary roots, the diet to take you there is one that is:
1) High in carbohydrates – the tropics are home to carbohydrate-rich plants 365 days per year. Although humans have failed to evolve to convert polyunsaturated fats to saturated fats, we do convert many of our carbohydrates to saturated fats. We’ve also managed to produce more salivary amylase (carbohydrate digestant substance) than any other creature. We are undeniably well-adjusted to eating a starch-rich diet. No wonder human breast milk is more carbohydrate-rich than even that of most herbivores. The staples of traditional tropical diets have typically been starchy root vegetables such as taro root (like a potato) and yams as seen amongst the Polynesians and the people of Kitava – who use yams as a form of currency.
2) Low in polyunsaturated fat – Polyunsaturated fat is not present except in small quantities in the tropics – found in trace amounts in seafood and in fatty foods in very small amounts. This is even more important as the hot sun beats down on the unprotected skin of homo sapiens during the day in equatorial regions. Do you want to be out in the sun with heat and light-protective fat in your cells (saturated), or heat and light-sensitive fat in your cells (polyunsaturated)? Eating a low-PUFA diet is the ultimate sunscreen and anti-skin cancer approach. Just being warm is thought to increase saturated fat levels in the body fat.
But these 2 rules are not to be toyed with, especially when it comes to fructose. Fructose, found in greatest concentration in fruit, is only found in conjunction with polyunsaturated fat in seasonal climates for a very brief amount of time. Eating the two together 365 days per year like a typical modern human (Value meals, doughnuts, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Oreos, fries and coke, etc.) is a violation of nature. The “perfect nutritional storm.”
But hey, if you were well-nourished, you could probably still get away with it to some extent. If you are going to consume a high-fructose diet year-round, you better eat like the rest of the creatures that live where fruit grows 365 days per year – extremely low-PUFA, with plenty of sunlight on your skin. Can vitamin D negate some of the negatives of a high-fructose diet?
Anyway, that’s all for this post. I hope you enjoyed the interesting concept that polyunsaturated fats are found in greatest abundance in places where it is sometimes cold or always cold – whereas the human being is designed to live where it is always warm, and these fatty acids are practically non-existent where it is always warm.
Of course, you could contribute poor health, excess fat, and ravenous hunger to eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches in a cold climate too far North to synthesize vitamin D eight months per year because of all the gluten and carbohydrates if you like. That would make more sense to some. (THIS is what I’m referring to). But the only creatures that eat a ton of polyunsaturated fat and fructose together are hyperphagic, leptin-resistant bears in fat storage mode prior to hibernation. Maybe eating a pre-winter diet makes you feel like you’re perpetually needing to store up for hibernation. Interesting that the leading dietary suspects in the causation of leptin resistance are omega 6 and fructose.
And with that, here’s a new 180 Kitchen post on how to make some good low-PUFA cooking fat.