Have you ever taken a big step back and wondered where and when our health got so off-track? If evolution's goal is constant improvement, why are we pulling out wisdom teeth in overcrowded jaws, or downing a handful of pills to get through the day, or why -for gosh sake!- is it so hard just to maintain a moderately healthy weight?!
There are a lot of answers to these questions. But if there's one common denominator, it's nutrition.
For tens of thousands of years, humans ate and learned and passed down their acquired food wisdom through the generations. Cumulatively, this knowledge made up the biggest mass of science that man had acquired. From simple practices, like soaking grains to improve digestion, to learned processes, like fermentation, we knew how to optimize our health with what we found in nature. Kidneys to improve eye health, fish eggs to boost fertility, bitter foods for digestion, and -heck!- even an occasional splash of moonshine for a good time get-down.
But somewhere over the past few decades, we lost touch with these traditions. As our scientific knowledge grew, we decided that we knew better than our crusty ancestors, tossing our hard-earned wisdom aside in favor of the latest food fad. Technology kept equal pace with each new recommendation, filling the voids left from traditional foods with shiny, new, food-like products, enticing to the taste buds but confusing to the body. The world of industrialized foods. the hydrogenated fats, refined sugars, and extracted proteins -to say nothing of stabilizers, preservatives, colorings and the like- began to dominate the shelves, offering lots of quantity with rapidly declining quality.
Meanwhile, the rate of noncommunicable diseases grew and grew. And grew. Cardiovascular disease refused to die, despite our war on fat. Obesity and its close cousin, metabolic syndrome, is at epidemic levels. Autoimmune disease, once a little-known condition, has blossomed among the otherwise young and healthy. Even fertility rates, the simplest proof of a species' health, are on the steep decline.
[pause to cuddle a stuffed bunny or scream into a pillow]
But wait! Before you leave in despair... It's not all doom and gloom out there in the world of nutrition. There's a big, bright light at the end of the cereal aisle. We've seen flashes of it in the tentative acceptance of natural fats back into our diets and the burgeoning business of fermentation. The microbiome is the new wild west, and science is tentatively exploring it.
Ironically, all signs point to a return to whole foods, traditional cooking techniques, and the sustainable growing practices that we thought we were too cool for years ago.
Not to discredit science, of course. Science is making all of this possible with leaps and bounds in our understanding of the whats behind our new nutrition whys. And it's science that is now reminding us to keep an eye on the past as we fall forward into new learning.
The right foods are healing, for both our bodies and our minds. With a healthy diet and a happy gut, we are able to rediscover the joy of living, eating, and moving in the way we evolved to do. Nature formed us in a particular way and, like any good mom, she knows what's best.