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Eat like Grandma, live longer

Chilli PeppersAccording to an article in the New York Times magazine recently, there are nine golden rules of nutrition that in these days of overweight obesics, rising sugar levels, and general all-round fitness collapse, we could all do well to follow. Or, could we?

I’ll list the rules, as compiled by article author Michael Pollan, and re-compiled by Jess3 and then discuss briefly whether the concept is valid or not.

So, here are the rules, in summary:

  1. Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food
  2. Avoid so-called “health” foods
  3. Don’t eat anything you can’t pronounce
  4. Avoid supermarkets
  5. Never mind the quality, feel the quality
  6. Eat shoots and leaves
  7. Eat in the French, Japanese, Italian, or Greek style
  8. Avoid fast food, by growing and cooking your own
  9. Eat omnivorously, like a dog, not a cat

    So, are these rules valid or not? Broadly speaking yes, but we must remember that our great-great-grandmothers and fathers and those romantic country folk from around the Mediterranean Sea do not necessarily have a lower incidence of heart disease and diabetes nor do they live longer, healthier lives than we may care to think. The average life expectancy of our ancestors was very different from our own for all sorts of reasons and we’re only now seeing changes in health in the Med, Japan etc that are impacted by changes that happened during the twentieth century, such as war and not necessarily the shift to a more “American” diet. This difference in life expectancy is partly due to the fact that infant mortality was a lot higher, death in childbirth was common, disease was rampant, and the availability of food, of poor or high quality, was low.

    As to the Mediterranean diet, delicious yet, but it has not been proved that a diet rich in olive oil, red wine, eggplant, capsicums, and wholemeal pasta is any better than any other diet. Until well after WWII most of the countries around the Med were well below the poverty levels we see, generally, today in the West. There could be a residual effect of this poverty that has provided a buffer to disease from one generation to the next in the last fifty years, but we could soon see an interesting shift in cardiovascular disease among the baby-boomers of the Med in the next few years, perhaps as the poor diet of the grandparents of baby-boomers kicks in.

    Meanwhile, why shouldn’t you eat anything you can’t pronounce? I presume this alludes to “chemicals” in our foods, but I don’t know any two people who pronounce or even spell yogurt the same and as to Brits knowing what zucchini are, I daren’t say. Of course, maybe that’s the point – we shouldn’t be eating yogurt, or any dairy products; after it’s only relatively recently that we started tugging on the teats of bovine mammals. As to chemicals in our foods, there is nothing in any food that isn’t a chemical, we’ve had millions of years to evolve to cope with all kinds of natural toxins and pesticides, so there’s no reason to think that our bodies cannot cope, just because a chemical is synthetic. Moreover, nature is full of natural compounds that we cannot digest and at worst can kill.

    All that said, eating omnivorously, dedicating a bigger proportion of your money to quality food, and avoiding mass produced processed materials, is most certainly a good idea for many reasons other than personal health.

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