Posts Tagged ‘Nutrition’

The Story of the Human Body by Daniel Lieberman

July 9, 2014

The Story of the Human BodyThe history of our bodies in terms of evolution, is a complex and fascinating subject. I have been intrigued since childhood, walking The Hall of Man at any natural history museum worth its salt that I could visit.

Daniel Lieberman is a Harvard professor of human evolutionary biology, as well as a gifted storyteller.  He tells the story of human evolution in a manner that is readable like a biography, and as compelling at times as any thriller. What made humans become bipedal? (Hint: to see over tall grasses!) Why did we move from hunting and gathering our food, to farming it? What aspects of our development contributed (and continue to contribute) to diseases that plague us?

Booklist, in its review, summed it up best as, “Like it or not, we are slightly fat, furless, bipedal primates who crave sugar, salt, fat, and starch.” We have large brains that require a lot of energy, and that drove most of our evolutionary process – the need to feed the brain glucose. Lieberman argues that humans are not meant to be farmers, nor to eat grains as a main sustenance. And that farming may be the worst thing that could have happened in our evolution.

I found the chapters on nutrition to be the most interesting and salient to our present day world. How our bodies have not really changed much since the Stone Age, but the world has become one of abundance and obesogens. Our bodies, which were designed for feast and mostly famine, are now living in a world of fast food. Lieberman addresses this and more.

Lieberman is a talented popular science writer. What could have easily become mired in jargon is explained for the layperson. He unfurls a story of our ancestors that compels the reader to want to explore more.

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Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson

June 4, 2014

Eating on the Wild Side

If you’re ready to take a healthy lifestyle to the next step, Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson, needs to be on your reading list. Robinson’s book will show you that a diet of fruit and vegetables is a good start, but it’s just the beginning of getting the most out of your food. Phytonutrients, natural chemicals found in plants, are what consumers should be looking for when they buy produce and grains.

Unfortunately, most of the vitamins, nutrients, protein, fiber, and healthy fats have been bred out of the food you buy at the supermarket. What’s a consumer to do? This is where the ‘meat’ of the book begins and the author instructs the reader on how to purchase the most nutritious vegetables and grains. The example that stands out in my mind is carrots! Baby carrots found on most supermarket shelves today are misshapen mature carrots that have been scraped and trimmed down so they are a uniform size. Scientists now know that shaving off the outer part removes the greatest concentration of nutrients, which are in the skin and tissue right below it. To get the most sustenance out of this vegetable you must cook carrots whole in some type of oil or fat and then cut them.

Each chapter is a food, for example, such as apples, beets, citrus fruits, and lentils. Within each, Robinson gives you a history of its evolution into our diet with helpful do’s and don’ts, ending with a concise review that includes a description and comment.

Since reading this book, I’ve added beets, canned artichoke hearts, and grapes to my diet.  And I now bring this book with me to the grocery store to help me make wise and healthy eating decisions.

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Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Katz

June 27, 2013

“In our germ-phobic society, in which sterilization is considered healthy,” Sandor Katz reminds us, “microbes can be our friends.”  A long-term AIDS survivor, he believes that the friendly bacteria he ingests in fermented or “live-culture” foods deserves a great deal of the credit for his continued health.

Katz’s book is absolutely packed with information on and recipes for yogurt, cheese, krauts, kimchi, sourdough breads, miso, tempeh, beers, and wines, as well as a few lesser known forms of fermentation that could definitely be considered ‘wild.’ Would you like some mead such as Beowulf enjoyed in Hrothgar’s Hall and Dumbledore in Hogsmeade?  Mix some honey with water and watch it start to bubble—it’s magic!  Microscopic yeasts and bacteria are floating aboard particles of dust in the atmosphere, and when they find a suitable medium, they start to grow.   As Katz says, “It is not possible to eradicate culture!  Wild fermentation is everywhere.”

My favorite recipe in Wild Fermentation is the relatively mundane but delicious sauerkraut.  Its light, tangy flavor is the perfect accompaniment to heavier dishes, and it is easy to make with the help of our microbe friends.  All you need is chopped cabbage and salt, though I also like to inoculate mine with a little starter bacteria by adding a few tablespoons of whey, the yellowish liquid that separates from natural “live” yogurt.  Mix it all together in a large ceramic bowl, pack it down under a plate that just fits inside the bowl, and place a gallon jar full of water on the plate to weigh it down.  Leave it on your kitchen counter covered with a towel.  A few days later you have sauerkraut.

Why should you go to the trouble to make your own sauerkraut or sourdough bread?  Our health depends not only on eating nutritious food, but on being able to absorb those nutrients properly.  Healthy bacteria are essential for this process, and fermented foods are the best way to get them.  Besides, it’s fun and delicious!

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Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

October 15, 2010

My curiosity was piqued by this book because it is about the oldest trends in healthy eating, rather than the most recent.  Fallon bases her cookbook/nutrition text on the first-hand observation of Dr. Weston A. Price, a dentist who traveled the world in the 1930s researching primitive peoples who, despite having no access to dental care, had near-perfect teeth.  Not surprisingly, he also found that these same people had very few of the other disorders that plague modern society.  He isolated diet as the primary causative factor, because in each society the native peoples who abandoned their traditional diet in favor of the “western diet” began to suffer the same ills as modern society, including rampant tooth decay.

Price studied peoples on six continents, and from their very different diets isolated a number of nutritional principles that he laid out in his landmark book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.  Many of these principles directly contradict our cherished notions of a healthy diet.  For example, no civilization that he looked at was thriving on a purely vegetable diet—all made use of animal products, with the native peoples of Alaska as well as certain African tribes enjoying splendid health on a diet of almost exclusively animal products.

Fallon brings Price’s time-tested principles into a practical context by explaining how to apply his findings on a daily basis.  She presents simple ways to locate in our own society many of the “nutritionally dense” foods of these native peoples enjoyed.  She stresses the importance of the source of your food—pasture-fed and drug-free animal products, for example—and also the importance of the preparation.  For example, Price found that every society which ate grain did so in some kind of soured, fermented, or sprouted fashion, such as sourdough bread.  We now know that such preparation breaks down the phytates in whole grains which are difficult to digest and may contribute to grain allergies.

Carnivores and vegetarians alike will learn a lot from the wide variety of information and recipes in this book.  It is a great resource that has an honored place in my kitchen.

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