This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
No, it's not about potatoes, but about potato products:
Eating more potato chips and French fries is likely to lead to a bigger weight gain over the years than the weight change associated with eating more of other foods, new research indicates.
Apparently these are worst than cakes and sugary foods
Marion Nestle, New York University professor of nutrition and public health, expressed surprise that potato products were linked with more weight gain than desserts like cake, cookies and doughnuts, which contribute the most calories to the American diet, other research shows. She says she suspects people who eat potato chips and fries also tend to eat too much in general, making these foods markers for a diet leading to weight gain.
Personally, I'm not surprised. The difference is in the industrial vegetable oil. While many baked goods do contain some vegetable oil, I suspect fried potato products contain much more.
More science on the study at Gene Expression. As with all self-reported population studies, serious problems loom. I suspect "whole grain" eaters are just health-conscious individuals. Most people who think they are eating whole grains are eating processed foods masquerading as them. Same goes from yogurt, the food of weight-conscious women, which is often spiked with tons of sugar.
What boggles my mind is that schools still serve fries and baked goods. Pretty much anyone who knows anything about nutrition, from low-fat vegan gurus like Joel Fuhrman to moderates like Marion Nestle to low-carb gurus like Jeff Volek, could agree that fried foods and sugary foods are bad for you. Yet they are on the menu EVERY DAY in most public schools. We should stop arguing about meatless Mondays and local vegetables and still focusing on this sort of trash we are shoveling into our children's mouths. If we can't eliminate these foods being served to our most vulnerable populations, that's just sad.
These is some interesting discussion on Primal Wisdom on the Venus of Willendorf, a figurine from the Upper Paleolithic.
As this paper describes, the figurine is an uncannily accurate anatomically correct depiction of adiposity.
Don asserts that such figures are found throughout paleolithic sites in Europe, but I would view these in a different light
The Venus of Willendorf, a depiction of what modern scientists refer to as "obesity" is in the middle. The other two are less clear cut. They look like they have steatopygia, a genetic condition that has died out in modern humans but which may have once been more common.
Either way, there haven't been many dietary studies done on the skeletons found nearby, so while it may seem logical to assume they were eating mostly meat and fat that far north, who really knows? That's the reason the aforementioned paper is really one of the few reputable ones I could find on the subject, since such a figurine doesn't really tell us all that much.
However, I don't find it as surprising as others do. There is evidence from that period and region for material inequality and sedentism- for example, textiles that would have taken many people years to produce and would have been only worn by one person. Such a person may also have had a sedentary life with much food simply given to them.
It might also shock you to learn there are paleolithic skeletons with evidence of cavities, cancer, and other pathologies. The more I actually study bones, the less I am able to hew to the idea that the paleolithic was some kind of health utopia where everyone looked like the hot folks at your local gym.
Either way, we have a lot to learn about the paleolithic. I'd love to see isotope or starch grain analysis done on those bones if possible.
Reading the fat acceptance bloggers on Jamie Oliver's new show, is a typical argument of theirs goes like "Food Revolution is awful because it is portraying fat people as unhealthy! Plenty of skinny people are unhealthy too, but they target the fat people for shaming!"
I totally agree with that actually. Focus on appearances distracts from real health problems. It's easy to pick on people who are overweight, but food related illness doesn't discriminate based on weight. As a skinny adolescent, I suffered from all kinds of terrible health problems related to my diet. Candy and soda didn't make me overweight, but it surely contributed to the stomach problems, headaches, and fatigue I suffered from.
As a child growing up the South, many of my friend's fathers succumbed to heart attacks. They were slim men in their 40s.
The old argument that being obese isn't genetic because where are all the the fat hunter-gatherers? While a few statues from the Stone Age seem to glorify curvy ladies, skeletal evidence has yet to be found. BUT there is strong evidence that gene expression can be determined by the maternal diet, gut bacteria, and environmental toxins. All three have been linked to obesity. There is no question that some people are going to have a much harder time with their weight than others. And once someone is obese for a long it's likely that the metabolism is altered enough that they are going to really have a tough time losing it and keeping it off.
Because of an appearance-focused approach to health, plenty of skinny people I know think they are healthy despite eating terrible diets. Not to stereotype, but while Swedes I knew when I lived in Sweden ate relatively healthy, sugary alcoholic drinks and bags of gummy "godis" were a regular part of their diets. For awhile I was confused...how were people eating these awful candy gummy craps and sugar berry flavored vodka soda and looking so good? The answer is probably in the healthy full fat whole foods that are still part of the diet there (in America we both eat crap AND don't eat much nutritious food). But when I started meeting my friend's parents it became clear that there are still effects to these foods, they just show up later. Sweden isn't too far away from the United States in heart disease rates.
For all the blather about Americans being fat, Eastern Europe leads for heart disease per capita. Type 2 diabetes is really hitting other countries hard too- India in particular, despite their "healthy vegetarian diet." So much for meatless Mondays having a huge health effect...but really, what India and Hungary have in common is love for fried processed carbs and massive amounts of sugary desserts without much actual nutrition in between. But maybe diet isn't really even that much of a factor: "In a study of Japanese migrants in the United States the cultural upbringing was the strongest predictor of coronary heart disease. Those who were brought up in a non-Japanese fashion but preferred the lean Japanese food had a heart attack almost twice as often as those who were brought up in the Japanese way but preferred fatty American food."
In the focus on food we often forget about other factors like lifestyle.
I applaud Jamie's expose of the venality of our school lunch system, but I just don't think some homemade pasta is going to cut it. Also as a Southerner, I'm also a little annoyed that it's not a fellow Southerner leading this effort. One of the principles popular in the food justice movement is providing both healthy AND culturally appropriate food. It's too bad that the Southern culture has really been lost.
I often hear about how sending away the Native Americans to government schools caused them to lose their culture. But it wasn't just Native Americans who lost their culture because of government schools. Watch the food being served to those kids in Food Revolution. Some people think Southern food is fried pablum like that, but it's not. They aren't being served Southern food, they are being served industrial gruel. In fact, I'm sure real Southern food is illegal under the USDA guidelines. That's too bad, because my Southern ancestors were living into their late 80s even a hundred years ago on ham hocks, collard and mustard greens, turtle soup, crawfish, buttery grits, and full fat buttermilk. The awful Paula Deen flour and sugar creations are to Southern food what fry bread is to Indian food- neither authentic nor traditional.
I made this last week hoping to use it as a tool to talk with people about paleo and other alternative diets. It can be often be difficult because so many people tell me that foragers are not healthy and that our modern life is the best. They have images from National Geographic of impoverished "primitives" and the "didn't they only live to be 30" meme in mind. Often they will tell me that they are so glad for modern life because if they had been born back then they would have died because they need a C-section or had some horrible case of strep throat.
They aren't really separating environmental issues from food. In much of modern middle class America, our environment is low-risk. Notice that I didn't say better. There are plenty of things wrong with our environment ranging from over-sanitation to lack of sunlight. In fact there might be chronic low grade risks in the modern environment from environmental contamination, too much light, etc. But we generally don't have to worry about risky childbirth, lions, tribal warfare, malaria, tuberculosis, hunting accidents, and all kinds of nasty things that are out there in the wild.
Our hazards are largely caused by an inappropriate diet that leaves us with obesity, diabetes, cancer, IBS, GERD and other diseases that are almost exclusively present in modern society. The standard american diet leaves us in quadrant III, not worrying about lions, but worrying about blood sugar and BMI instead. Pairing nutrition appropriate for human beings with the benefits of modern life allows us to move to quadrant IV. Notice I include Whole Foods Vegan there. I certainly believe you can lose weight on such a diet, I just don't believe it's an optimal diet. A truly optimal diet like WAPF or paleo allows the possibility of raising truly healthy children with well developed teeth and bones. Personally veganism also wasn't adequate to help me heal from GERD and my teeth weren't in such great shape afterwards either. But I'm throwing a cookie here to vegans that at least don't eat processed crap, vegetable oils, and sugar. They are better off than most, especially if they are utilizing fermentation of grains, legumes, and vegetables. A vegetarian diet that includes fermented dairy and eggs is even closer to being appropriate nutrition for our econiche.
You'll notice that modern hunter-gatherers have less appropriate nutrition and a harsher environment than their paleolithic predecessors. Civilization has pushed them into unwanted land that less oppressed foragers would have shunned. They also struggle with diseases introduced by outsiders.
Nomads and agrarian peasant cultures are also relatively healthy. They are eating neolithic foods, but they have been eating them long enough to know how to derive nutrition from them and minimize their antinutritional factors through fermentation and soaking. Lots of people look at these cultures and think "oh, well I guess their genes adapted to agriculture and it's OK for me to eat this Nutrigrain bar since my ancestors were agrarian." Nope, most of the adaptation was not genetic, but technological. People figured out that if they fermented and limed their corn they didn't have malformed bones. I tell people who are skeptical of paleo to go ahead and eat grains, but at least embrace the technology so many of us have forgotten that allows us to not poison ourselves with them. So many people read about the Tarahumara made famous in Born To Run and think that their health means some boiled corn on the cob is superfood. Wrong- the Tarahumara soak and lime their corn.
I don't do grains much myself because while these technologies these traditional societies came up with are amazing, they don't completely rid grains of their problems. Most of these cultures still preferred meat and ate grains and legumes only because they couldn't afford it. Traditional agrarians aren't fat or diabetic, but their height and bone structure just doesn't approach that of coastal foragers from the studies I've read.
Regardless, this chart isn't any sort of rigorously scientific study- we could probably argue for days where to place things, but it's a decent matrix for separating appropriate nutrition from other factors. That's definitely only one part of the picture, but it's a very important part. The other pieces are important too- sunlight, community, loving child rearing, a not too sterile environment, and being physically active for example. But dealing with the diet is a great first step.