Seriously, if I hear ?Masai? or ?Kitavan? one more time I might scream. Or at least run to the nearest McDonald’s.
While it’s always of great interest that there were many traditional peoples that had excellent markers of good physical development such as great teeth and skull formation, and that these excellent indicators eroded with the sudden introduction of refined foods like white sugar and white flour, the past really needs to be left behind.
Anyone tried the Masai diet? I did – or at least I came pretty close eating only milk for nearly a month. It sucked ass, I had extreme allergies to everything and severe chest pain after only 27 days ? plus it was not fun. I’d much rather eat whatever the heck I want out of convenience and go to the dentist for repairs than do that for life. ?Oh, but it was the quality of the milk! Perhaps, but that was about the best quality any reasonable person could find or afford without buying their own cow and farm. In today’s society, nothing about that is really functional even if it did give you some magical health like the Masai who, even with great health, don’t exactly live to be 100 years old. So it’s rather pointless to imitate.
How about the Kitavans? Who is going to wake up to a breakfast of boiled yams, a lunch of fruit, and a dinner of more yams, greens, and a little fish? maybe some coconut thrown in here and there ? 365 days per year for the rest of their lives? Chirp, chirp, chirp.
When discussing traditional diets, the word ?irrelevant? sneaks in with ever-increasing volume.
There are so many other variables as well. For example, one argument that I recently came across in the book Deep Nutrition (ironically about traditional diets mostly), goes something like this?
A mother smoking during pregnancy is known to increase the risk of asthma in the child. The author’s logic goes something like this?
1) Mother is breathing in a bunch of toxic chemicals, convincing the body that the world the baby is about to come into is full of pollutants.
2) Initiates the pulling of a set of epigenetic and hormonal levers that prepares the baby for the world the body thinks it’s about to enter into.
3) Baby is born with a hypervigilant response to airborne material for heightened protection against airborne threats.
Of course, this is just one example. I think most mothers in the modern world, just because of the nature of the modern world, are under a lot of stress and inflammation. Compounding this is the fact that the cells and tissues of modern humans are overloaded with the building blocks for inflammation ? Linoleic acid and Arachidonic acid.
But what I’m saying is that a baby with that heredity is fundamentally very different from someone living in a traditional society. That person has very unique dietary and lifestyle requirements, all of which should be geared up to minimize stress and the production of inflammation. That person cannot go and run a billion miles like such and such tribe, or eat a lot of overtly inflammatory foods. He or she certainly can’t go on a standard low-carb diet, which requires much greater demand from the stress system.
Taking a deeper look down this same hole, the human genome has literally undergoes massive changes in response to diet, trying to prepare the infant for the world it is entering into. Traditional peoples were in synch with their environment, eating the same general diet generation after generation. Even if they did eat a diet that was stressful such as the diet of the Eskimo, it was consistent enough and with enough regularity and nutritional excellence for them to adjust their epigenome to the diet. Modern humans trying to mimic this diet without having the proper hereditary blueprint for it (something one can only acquire by having Eskimos as parents), yields disaster. It’s very plausible that any drastic departure in diet from what your parents ate could backfire and make your health worse, not better.
This brings up a couple more important points. For starters, the Eskimo, while they had great teeth and no signs of heart disease, still aged rapidly. I’m not talking died young because they starved to death or got bitten by polar bears, but aged rapidly (reported as looking a lot older than they were and dying of natural causes at very young ages ? typically 60’s and 70’s). Harsh climate, low sunlight over the winter, a diet lacking carbohydrate, high in polyunsaturated fat ? this will age ya quickly. No one should be infatuated with this diet.
Secondly, traditional diets the world over were generally VERY specific. Nowadays you have people saying, ?oh, the Eskimos didn’t eat carbohydrates, so it’s safe to do the Atkins diet. The Eskimo boiled whole fish, which contains thyroid hormone. They ate copious amounts of rotten fish, potentially full of short-chain fats that a normal low-carb dieter wouldn’t get. They subdivided the adrenal glands of animals amongst tribe members to get adequate vitamin C. Their diet was seasonal, synchronizing their diet with the current environmental demands. They relied in large part upon intuition when eating. They didn’t starve themselves when hungry after a long day because eating extra food wasn’t on their diet plan. These are all very specific things that people don’t take into account when they just decide to eat nothing but ribeye from Wal-Mart for a few years. And a misstep on any one of those important factors can be the difference between health and destruction. Traditional diets are simply too area and tribe specific and restrictive to be mimicked in today’s world.
Restraint and restriction is another important and underappreciated aspect of trying to eat a traditional diet ? whatever that is. The human brain and emotions are extremely complex and powerful, potentially having more of an influence over one’s health status than the quality of their diet in many cases. Trying to eat a strict diet when you are surrounded by tempting other options is not something traditional peoples had to deal with. The food they had was all they knew, so as long as supplies were adequate, they knew not deprivation. But the feeling of deprivation or wanting something and not providing it to your body are powerful triggers of physiological changes within your body ? namely catapulting your body into a hibernatory, low metabolic state.
Of course, we shouldn’t discredit all elements of traditional food eating. I think the main lessons that can be gathered and banked on are that they ate the whole animal, ate whole foods, never ate a vegan diet, and ate foods with a high nutritional value in terms of vitamins and minerals. These are great fundamentals. However, complexity still remains. Eating the whole animal is something that is impractical for some, many lack the skills, abilities, knowledge, and equipment to ?cook the whole animal,? many can’t conveniently acquire whole animals, and many see the brains and liver and eyes and such as yucky. Trying to force down unpalatable food is a health liability as far as I’m concerned, and studies have indicated that eating something that’s not enjoyable reduces mineral absorption from that meal. Another study I came across has shown that lacking arousal about what you are eating weakens digestive secretions.
Traditional peoples, while they had excellent health, were still not some magical pinnacle of human health and longevity. They should not be worshipped as if they lived to be 700 years old. They didn’t. Many aged just as quickly as we do. Many aged much faster. With modern science we can see precisely what type of diet and lifestyle (and most importantly, mindset) accelerates aging and which kind slows the aging process. Jack LaLanne probably had a higher degree of functional longevity than almost any traditional tribe member. Don Gorske will outlive most Eskimos eating only Big Macs, parfaits, and Coca Cola, presumably because ?he’s lovin? it.
But just because a traditional tribe ate something does not mean that a certain food gets an out-of-jail-free card. Hey, many of them ate shellfish. So shellfish are healthy. Oops, sorry you had an anaphylactic reaction and died eating that healthy food.
We are in a new frontier of human society and it calls for great flexibility with our eating, and a better understanding of the straightforward relationships between food and our physiology. The world is so unique in the history of our species that trying to match an old diet with a new lifestyle and a truly new physiology (hyperinflammatory)?is no guarantee, and may create a mighty mismatch.As I’m sure many of you will see if you’ve attended some kind of traditional nutrition conference, the health status of the attendees on a generic ‘traditional? diet doesn’t appear to be any different than that of the mainstream public. It is not a panacea. It does not appear to be worth the grandiose effort of trying to eat a mythological ?perfect diet? built around an unintelligent hodge podge of what traditional peoples around the world ate to go with their specific lifestyle, environment, and epigenetic blueprint.
One word summary of traditional diets…IRRELEVANT!
If you’d like some ammunition to make fun of me, read how to RAISE YOUR METABOLISM?where I am annoyingly fixated on traditional diets and say “Masai” and “Kitavan” about 20 times?each. The bottom line is that ditching the psychological speedbump that my traditional diet infatuation gave me has only accelerated my understanding of how the human body works and made me better able to guide others to what they need to function much better than they currently are.