HEALTH NEWSLETTER #14

EVO•TEE
EVOLUTIONARY THINKING, EATING AND EXERCISING

30th June 2016

Welcome to June's health newsletter. This edition will explore our evolutionary history in relation to our modern diets. I will also offer some nutritional advice to help you burn fat, have more energy and expand your health span!

Enjoy, James.

Reading time: 8 mins


Health and happiness via the mouth

One of the easiest ways to get into shape is to make better food choices. Many of us think that we need strenuous workouts to lose a few inches around our waist. When in fact, we have more to gain by changing what goes in our mouth! Physical activity plays an important role in health and fat loss but not as much as diet does. It's tough task out exercising our mouth!

Eating well is often seen as a punishment, not surprising when we only focus on what we're "not allowed" to eat. But it doesn't need to be this way. Eating healthy, wholesome food can be a delight that will not only keep us in shape, but slow down the ageing process. Applying intelligent principles instead of dogmatic dieting is the surest way to a healthier life. 

To understand why two in three of us are overweight or obese, let's look at the history books. Let us compare our ancestors lifestyles and environments to today's existence. Here’s a glimpse at the evolution of the mighty homo sapiens.


Evolution

Six million years ago was a significant date in our history. Our great 550,000 grandfather decided to take the ape species in a different direction! As a result we've spent the last six millions years developing into a bipedal, hairless, big brained chimp!

From chimpanzees to modern day humans like this!

From chimpanzees to modern day humans like this!

In tune with nature

For 99.9% of these six million years, we lived in tune with nature. As hunter gatherers, scavengers and foragers we ate the food that our environment provided. In time our genes changed to favour traits that increased our chances of survival and reproduction. But many of these changes have not prepared us for our current built environments.

Fire and the saturated fatty acids in meat were responsible for much of our development. Fire kept us warm and safe from predation, but it also allowed us to cook our food. Cooking food saves on chewing time, kills bacteria and makes digestion much easier. These two combined to help our brains develop to an unprecedented size and capability.

Modern day hunter gathers still exist today and can teach us a lot about our history.

Modern day hunter gathers still exist today and can teach us a lot about our history.


The Agricultural revolution - A tipping point in time

Around 10,000 years ago humans began to leave behind their nomadic lifestyles in exchange for farming. We went from wrestling with these:

The great ancestors of modern day elephants - mastodons!

The great ancestors of modern day elephants - mastodons!

To throwing these around:

A boring swap if you ask me!

A boring swap if you ask me!

And we became slaves to the harvests:

The agricultural revolution was a huge tipping point in the development of our species. Since homo sapiens have been exploring the globe, we have changed the flora and fauna around us. But as farming became our full time job, civilisations started to bring together huge numbers of people. This meant more mouths to feed and more seeds to sow.

This resulted in a transformation of the earth's surface. Farming and civilisations have destroyed great forests and created a patchwork planet. We changed our planetary biodiversity for a boring planet, dominated by wheat and corn! And then there's all the grass for the cows.

Our technological advances are remarkable but our modern way of life is far from perfect. We are now working against our biological and psychological engineering. Natural selection and evolution is never perfect. Human bodies and minds evolve one step at a time without ever knowing what the future will bring. As a result we suffer like other animals from over specialisation and evolutionary mismatches.

Evolutionary Mismatch

In a nutshell, the Mismatch Theory, explains how adaptations occur in response to our environment. When our environment changes we get left with old adaptations that no longer serve us. Nobel Prize winner and paleo-anthropologist Daniel Lieberman writes in The Story of the Human Body that:
 

“No organism is primarily adapted to be healthy, long-lived, happy, or to achieve many other goals for which people strive.”

In essence, our body is just a vehicle for what evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins calls, our ‘selfish’ genes. Everything we do, on a conscious or subconscious level, is a manifestation of our drive to survive and reproduce.

Lieberman goes to explain:

“...many of our adaptations simply boosted our chance of survival at that particular time in the evolution of the species.”

Sweet sweet sugar!

A classic example of this is our fondness for sweet food. Not so long ago in evolutionary terms, sugar was hard to find. Sugar was either up a tree and covered in fibrous skin or hidden inside a beehive!

For thousands of years, farmers artificially selected fruit and vegetables. Favouring larger, sweeter varieties. This process has sped up evolution by millions of years. Just look at this picture to get an idea of what fruit and vegetables used to look like:

The big juicy apples we buy in supermarkets today were not the norm for our ancestors. The ratio of sugar to fibre is much higher today and this has an impact on our health. Fruit was also seasonal, existing only for a short time each year.

To make things worse refined sugar is in everything today and it’s so cheap. Children and adults are consuming sugar at unprecedented levels. Modern guidelines suggest we can eat 5% of our calories from sugar, approximately 25 g. I'm not convinced when I think about our ancestors diets.

http://www.thegateinteractive.com/news/truth-soft-drinks-spotlight-liverpool-city-council/

http://www.thegateinteractive.com/news/truth-soft-drinks-spotlight-liverpool-city-council/

This over-consumption of sugar results in bulging waistlines, obesity and diabetes. High sugar diets lead to obesity and increase the incidence of disease. Many different cancers as well as heart disease are linked with excess body fat. Some experts are even suggesting that Alzheimer's disease is a form of diabetes in the brain.


Genetics

Why have we not adapted to handle sugar and processed food?

Perhaps because genes change about as fast as this old chap:

Did you know the difference between human DNA and a chimpanzee’s DNA is only 1%. Since we split from the great apes six million years ago, chimpanzees and homo sapiens DNA only differ by 1%. We've only been eating refined sugar for about one hundred years, so we have a long time to wait for genetic changes.

Despite the lifestyle changes since the agricultural revolution, our DNA is almost identical to our hunter gatherer ancestors. One slight change is the development of a gene that codes for the enzyme lactase. Lactase is an enzyme that helps us break down the sugar in milk called lactose. More than likely an exception to the trend.

Since our genes have changed so little, some say we should eat like our Palaeolithic ancestors. That leaves you eating, just meat, fish, vegetables, fruit and fungi. No dairy, no grains and no legumes. Oh and no sugar or any other processed food. No alcohol, no ice cream and no biscuits! Although based on sound reasoning, adopting a strict Paleo diet is not necessary. Strict dieting doesn't work even though this approach works. It's important to know that many of the observed benefits are a result of eliminating unhealthy food.

We evolved to eat this, not crisps, sandwiches and chocolate biscuit bars.

We evolved to eat this, not crisps, sandwiches and chocolate biscuit bars.

I'm an advocate of learning from the past but I'm also a pragmatist. I believe in principles not strict diets, that are hard to follow. In the last 10,000 years of agriculture, our diets have changed a lot. But not all of these changes are bad for our health, just think of the probiotic benefits of traditional cheese and yogurt.

Sadly in the last 50 years our diets have changed beyond recognition. When I see what children are eating in schools today I am genuinely disgusted. My concern is rooted in the dominance of supermarkets and multinational food manufacturers. Their influence on our governments and our health is immoral and something we will look back on with disgust.

Today our standard diets are poor at best. Even a healthy diet lacks the biodiversity of our ancestors. The fruit and vegetables we eat are dictated by supermarkets and we only eat the muscle flesh of animals. We have lost our knowledge of our native plants medicinal and nutritional properties. We have also lost our traditional approaches to preparing food, by soaking, fermenting and salting. And we no longer know how to harness the power of bacteria and yeast.

Wheat and gluten

Of late wheat and gluten containing grains have come under fire. No hunter gatherer in our history have eaten grains as a staple part of their diet. Thousands of years of artificial selection has change wheat dramatically. The gluten content in wheat has increased significantly and no human on this planet has the enzyme to breakdown the plant protein gluten.

In the past grains had less gluten in and were often soaked or fermented beforehand. This began the process of digestion before the food entered our mouths. Today the wheat we eat is more refined and processed. It's also stripped of its goodness, which is why breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals. 

Diets high in processed grains are a part of a complex dynamic between nutrition and health. Gluten doesn't just cause issues in the gut, it also creates an inflammatory response. Inflammation is what causes me the most concern, especially its effects on the brain.

Today the food we have at our fingertips is high in calories and low in nutrients. The power of multinational companies is incredible. They target children and adults with clever advertising campaigns. And they pay food scientists to design food that's as addictive as cocaine!

Many years of intensive farming practices have depleted the nutrients in the soil. I believe we need to return to traditional approaches to make farming more sustainable. In an ideal world, farming would be small and local and have a focus on producing food high in nutrients as well as tasting good.

It's important to know the enemy but no more doom and gloom, here's the solution:

JERf'ing

In 2012 I started to explore a new approach to eating called 'JERF’ing'! To 'JERF' is to 'Just Eat Real Food'. Real food is any food in it’s whole and most natural form possible. The more processed a food is the less you’re JERF’ing! Food that comes in a packet with many ingredients just doesn't cut it on a JERF'ing diet!

This concept, popularised by Sean Croxton, transformed my health and attitude towards nutrition and health. The approach is centred around nutrient dense food. The more nutrients in the food, the better!

If given the choice between a sweet potato and a white potato, I would choose the sweet potato. Not because white potatoes are bad but because sweet potatoes contain more nutrients. They contain more fibre and more vitamin A, click here to learn more.

Should we really listen to the advice of someone trying to sell us their product???

Should we really listen to the advice of someone trying to sell us their product???

At the same time I started ignoring 'popular' dietary advice, instead listening to 'alternative' and traditional approaches. I began to test things out for myself to see how I felt. I selected foods based on their nutrients not their clever labelling. I grew a healthy suspicion of labels like 'low in fat' because I learnt that they were often high in sugar. I also educated myself in the food science so I could decode the scientific terms on the back of food packages.

A good example is cooking fats. To avoid saturated fats, cooking with vegetable oils seemed logical. But why eat something because it doesn't contain something. Instead I chose to eat food because of what it contained. Take butter for example, butter might be high in saturated fat but it also contains 50% oleic acid. That’s the same heart protective element found in olive oil! Companies like Flora are in the business of selling a product, not teaching us about health and longevity.

I can and that's what I won't be eating it! If I'm eating butter I'll take the real thing thanks.

I can and that's what I won't be eating it! If I'm eating butter I'll take the real thing thanks.

An important note to make: when I started this way of eating I applied an 80:20 approach for psychological sanity. If 80% of the time I was eating well, then I had a little room for deviation. My goals dictated the amount of room I had to deviate from my wholefood principles.  This approach supports us in transitioning from a diet high in processed food to a diet high in whole foods.

With a few exceptions I ate foods as high in nutrients as possible. I started eating organ meats like kidney and liver, I ate more butter and coconut oil than ever before. I also ditched breads and pasta swapping them for more colourful vegetables.

The more real food I ate, the more energy I had and the healthier I became. I started treating my body to the best food I could afford, almost like it was a race car! We're taught not to eat lots of fat because it so energy dense but I used this energy to my advantage. The nutrients in fat fuelled my brain and body to work and learn. Cholesterol plays such an important role in a healthy body.

New mouth pleasures

Eating all this real food also changed my taste buds, they became more sensitive to subtle tastes. When I had momentary lapses, I realised that some of my guilty pleasures were no longer appealing. The flavours were now too much for me, too artificial.

By eating food that suited my metabolism and my biology I became healthier. Even though I was eating a diet higher in so called unhealthy fats, the result spoke for themselves. I came to understand that advice given out for the masses isn’t always the best.

In the last year I've learnt a lot about nutrigenomics, defined as:

The interaction of nutrition and genes, especially with regard to the prevention of disease.

The food we eat effects that way that our genes are expressed. Some food can amplify genes that make us sick while others amplify genes that increase health and longevity. But the food that's best for us is dependant on our ancestry. As an individual we are not average because we all have such varying ancestry. I despise nutritional advice because it is so generic and dogmatic. It's not flexible enough to entertain our ancestral variance.

Take a so called English man or woman. They might come from a long line of Nordic vikings, who have always lived in northern Europe. Or they might be descendants of Genghis Khan! Their great great grandparents might have been Romans! The environment and climate of Scandinavia is different to that of the Mediterranean. Because the climate and land is different the food they evolved eating was different and this makes a difference. 

Without genetic testing it is impossible to know the complexity of our ancestry. But it is possible to experiment with our diet.

Self experiementation

What kind of food works best for you? I know that foods high in fat and protein sustain me. I also know that sugary food makes me fat! For others the fatty food might slow them down and make them feel sluggish. For some lighter food might be enough to sustain them. Some of us have fast metabolisms, that burn energy quicker than others. Whereas some metabolisms are much slower.

The trick is to experiment, whilst always keeping in mind our evolutionary history. Always thinking about what our ancestors evolved eating. If our ancestors didn’t evolve eating it, the less likely it is to work for you. That's not to say you can't enjoy a banana or avocado just get to know what works for you.

Also take a look at modern day hunter gatherers, who have no access to supermarkets. Their diets contain meat, fish, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables. Oh and the occasional bit of honey of course!

Eating in tune with our biology will not have the same effect on our body as the latest fad diet. The fat loss will be gradual and sustained. The diet will be health giving not energy depleting. Flooding the body with the nutrients it needs is a surefire way to heal the body from years of dietary abuse!

Think about your body as an expensive car, you need to put the right fuel and oil in it. It needs regular servicing and lots of love, care and attention. We only get one body so it's best to take care of it. The more abuse it gets the longer it will take to undo the damage and the faster we will age. So start today, make a small achievable change and then build on your successes!

Good luck

James


Blog

Just one blog this month thanks to the volume of DIY required at my house. On the plus side I now have a new living room with a fire to relax in and also a new background for my videos! This one addition to my house will significantly increase my happiness! I've dreamt my whole life of having a fire in my house and now it is here!

Plus I now have an excuse to buy and a big axe and my workouts can be cutting logs up!!! Much better than the gym!

Plus I now have an excuse to buy and a big axe and my workouts can be cutting logs up!!! Much better than the gym!

What this months blogging lacks in quantity it makes up in quality. This one is an absolute belter of a blog, all about hacking health habits! Just click on the picture to learn more.


Videos

I know a lot of you are busy and don't have time to read longer blogs and some of you just prefer a visual lesson. So here's a selection of the last few videos:


Social

Here are a few of my latest social snaps. If you don't follow me on Instagram, what are you thinking!!!

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That's June's health newsletter. As ever please feel free to forward this email onto friends and loved ones. The healthier we all are, the better the world will be, for everyone.

All the best

James @

EVO•TEE

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