Americans appear to be faced with an affliction today, and one that attacks both mind and body. Fatigue, joint pains, digestive problems, bloating after meals, sleeplessness, and general lack of an ability to focus are the warning signs. Your doctor may also tell you, and rightly so, that your diet is the number one contributing factor, perhaps along with a lack of physical activity. But what is it about the food we eat that causes so many health problems for people today?
The problem actually lies in a combination of things in relation to what we regularly consume. First, there are certain foods we eat today, along with the ways we process them before consumption, that are vastly different from the way our ancestors drew sustenance over the course of the last several thousand years. But in addition to that, the literal act of genetically changing what we consume, for purposes of increasing such things as crop yield, have had unintended consequences that, in some instances, have have led to potentially harmful side effects.
A Balanced Diet, Cromagnon Style
Megan and Brandon Keatley, authors of the book Primal Cravings: Your Favorite Foods Made Paleo (2013, Primal Blueprint Publishing), point out that, based on scientific evidence, our bodies evolved over time in a manner that simply isn’t conducive to the introduction of grains into our diet. But even furthering the complex nature of the history between humans and plant-based grains is the fact that there is a literal sort of “chemical warfare” that occurs between the two, once a person consumes a grain product:
We’re now learning that grains are problematic to our health as well. It turns out by evolutionary design. Grains try to protect themselves from being eaten, with an objective to germinate and grow into more grass, which makes perfect sense. Since they can’t run or fight back like other prey might, they defend themselves with a manner of chemical warfare with substances known as antinutrients.
Antinutrients such as phyates bind to important vitamins and minerals, which prevents their absorption in our bodies. This is a likely factor in nutritional deficiencies in nations that rely heavily on grain consumption. Quite literally, eating grains leaves us overfed and undernourished. Possibly worse yet are gliadin proteins, such as gluten and other grain lectins, that can wreak even more havoc on our digestive systems, ultimately causing systemic problems.
According to the Keatleys, gluten and other gliadin proteins affect all humans adversely, to some degree. However, the degrees to which some are affected may vary greatly, often entailing what are known as subclinical aftereffects that may not immediately become noticeable, and can even go undiagnosed for long periods while potential damage may incur as a result of such eating habits. “You may recall getting a bloated belly after meals, the occasional sore throat, or an arthritis flare up—generally minor issues that are driven by the continual consumption of proinflammitory, immune- and digestion-compromising foods,” the authors note. Think for a moment: how many among us would ever attribute something like a sore throat, or even joint pain, to the foods we eat, rather than to other more common factors? And yet, the complex issues underlying many of the foods we consume can indeed contribute to such intermittent health problems.
Rise of the Mutant Grains
However, adding to the complexity of the natural interactions between humans and grains is the fact that, thanks to an ongoing effort to thwart the looming threat of scarcity, our ongoing efforts to genetically modify the foods we eat may also greatly contribute to the problems that arise as a result of eating grains.
Addressing this in his column, “Ask the Coach,” in the June 2013 issue of Trail Runner Magazine, Matt Hart pointed out one of the primary culprits in the rise of gluten-intolerance, in which evolutionary factors weren’t the only elements to consider:
The problem lies in the type of semi-dwarf wheat that is now commonly grown. As Dr. William Davis, cardiologist and author of The New York Times bestseller, Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, says, “The changes introduced for increased yield [of wheat] resulted in changes in many other genetic and biochemical characteristics.” The result is a toxic wheat that is now present in a wide array of foodstuff—basically, the entire middle of the grocery store.
So in essence, when people question the actual concerns many express over the rise in production of GMO (genetically modified) foods, one of the major impacts has been a fundamental change in the literal genetic and biochemical characteristics in varieties of wheat that are grown… and thus, incompatibility with the digestive systems of humans that consume them. Arguably, this further lends to the health issues that begin to result from consumption of the wrong kinds of food, as Hart continues, further citing Dr. William Davis’ work:
Dr. Davis lists a sampling of other substances in modern wheat that can cause problems including: gliadin, which in addition to causing mind “fog,” addictive relationships with food and appetite stimulation, opens the intestinal barriers to foreign substances leading to inflammation of many organs and joints: amylopectin, which makes cartilage stiff and brittle, leading to erosion and, eventually, arthritis: and agglutinin, which causes bowel toxicity, and also inflames joints.
So in short, understanding the dangerous problems that may arise from foods we put into our bodies also means understanding the harmful changes that have been made to that food. Yes, as we’ve seen this year already, the infamous Farmers Assurance Provision seemed to do little so far as assuring farmers of anything spectacular… and instead granted immunity to companies like Monsanto Corp. in the event that, years on down the line, it were ever discovered that the genetic changes being made to the foods we eat had caused health risks. Why might such wording ever be included in the provision in the first place, you might ask? It’s quite simple, really: studies today are already showing, as Dr. William Davis points out, that there may be harmful side effects incurred from the consumption of GMOs. In short, companies like Monsanto want to be sure that, based on what we’ve already begun to see resulting from the genetic modification of our food, that their continued use of experimental scientific farming practices and genetic manipulation of the food supply doesn’t come back to bite them in the arse. Bon appetit, courtesy of Big Ag.
There are, however, ways that we can improve our wellbeing regardless. Consider buying your fruits and vegetables from locally-grown suppliers, and also consider implementing your diet with wholesome vitamin supplements that assist in further nurturing the body. Finally, while popular diets like paleo, vegetarian or vegan, and others may not be right for everyone, they are popular diets for a reason: they often yield favorable results that are conducive to better health, especially when paired with daily exercise and other healthy living choices.
The healthy lives we want to lead are often, at most, a few cost-effective choices away… this, paired with daily commitments to living better, might not simply improve your lifestyle… it may, in fact, save your life.
Image by Rainer Zenz via Wikimedia Commons.