We Are Number Six.

I get a little spoiled because I’m used to talking about this Paleo/Primal “food paradigm” with folks who are pretty much in agreement. I tweet, blog, and talk with people who have already, in some way, bought into it. I’d say the desperate fear of natural dietary cholesterol and saturated fat has basically been wiped out of this community (and mark my words, if you throw an egg yolk out, I’m coming for you).

But now and then we all get to talk/work with someone who’s never heard of “Paleo,” “Primal,” CrossFit, Gary Taubes or Dr. Weston A. Price. This interaction is no small task (especially if that person works for an extremely concerned cardiologist). At this point I can explain why natural dietary cholesterol and saturated fats are great for you; what nutrients are in raw milk; and why grains do more harm than good. Generally, it’s easy to tell people that foods their great-grandmother would have eaten are foods from nature (yes, this includes organ meats and raw milk). But then comes the more interesting question:

“Well, if everything I know is wrong, why do my school, my doctor, and my Reiki Master think otherwise? How did this happen?

And sucks to be me if I haven’t brushed up on my history as well as my science. It’s a tough question to answer without sounding like a doomsday-apocalyptic-world-is-against-us conspiracy theorist (although there are certainly valid points therein).

So – thanks to the Nutritional Therapy Association – here’s how I lay out six of the milestones that help answer “How did this happen?”

1. 12,000 Years Ago: The Agricultural Revolution.

Think back to prehistoric hunter-gatherers. Fossil records indicate that they suffered none of the modern problems and diseases we suffer from – Cancer, diabetes, even infertility. If they lived shorter lives, it was due to their brutal circumstances, not their health.

But because of those brutal circumstances, it was preferable to stop moving. To start farming and have a guaranteed network; a guaranteed source of food. That’s when, after 4 million years of hunter-gather-ing and living on animals and vegetables, man decided to stay put and cultivate grain.

This was only 12,000 years ago. After 4 million years of genetics depending on the Earth’s bounty alone – meat & veggies (yes, all without nutrition labels – gasp!) – 12,000 years isn’t a long time. It’s a blip. And while our digestive systems have handles it marginally well – as in, we’ve managed to S&S those grains (The first “S” stands for Swallow. The second “S”…I’ll let you guess); our genes – those pesky things that determine our propensity for health or disease – haven’t caught up. So that dramatic shift in dietary principles 12,000 years ago set the stage for a few problems. Humans slowly lost stature and resistance to disease. Populations exploded, often overwhelming resources. Fast forward to…

2. 400 Years Ago: The Introduction of Refined Sugar.

Skip forward a bit to what’s really hurting us today. It’s a by-product and a compounding factor to the advent of agriculture: the introduction of refined sugar. If you look at a football field, and end-zone to end-zone represents those 4 million years of human history, the last 400 years represents a millimeter. A blade of grass on that field. That’s simply not enough time for our bodies – beautifully complex organisms built to be fueled by foods found in nature – to adapt to new, compartmentalized, deconstructed foods.

Yes, sugar is “natural” (so is poison ivy – that doesn’t mean I like to play soccer on a field full of it) but sugar used to only come wrapped up in a fruit, or a vegetable – maybe the occasional bee-laden honeycomb (ouch). These foods also contained the nutrients needed to digest that sugar so that our bodies weren’t thrown into a negative nutrient balance.
It was the addictive properties of refined sugar that spawned the incredibly profitable sugar trade – and, by consequence, the slave trade. Refined sugar causes insulin and blood sugar disregulation, hunger mismanagement, tooth decay, and is totally devoid of nutrients. The degenerative diseases of modern civilization have now taken firm hold.
The bottom line is, carbohydrate – whether from grain or from sugar – has never in human history been consumed in the volume it is today. And people are sick from it.

3. The 1800s – 1900s: The Industrial Revolution and the advent of the Food Giants & Processed Grains

It starts to go fast from here.

While the refinement of sugar had its detrimental affects, the United States cereal industry was not born until the mid- to late-1800s. The first ready-to-eat grain-based foods meant the intersection of refined sugar and refined grains; an incredibly destructive combination that was also extremely profitable and fed the masses of people who had moved to the cities. This grew out of enjoyment as well as necessity – the addictive properties of sugar are well-known, and bread is more easily preserved than plant matter, so could be both made and kept in the cities. Animals and vegetables couldn’t be so easily obtained or kept, especially for those without means. Still, some traditional foods (those “great grandmother” foods) persisted.

4. World War II, hydrogenation and industrial oils.

We were feeding not only our soldiers, but the Allied soldiers, and in order to create food that would survive the transit, food had to be preserved and stabilized. The process of hydrogenation was born. Inexpensive polyunsaturated oils were hydrogenated such that they could be solidified and stored for months and years without rancidifying; conversely, butter was scarce and required a stable environment, even refrigeration. In order to make this new technology profitable at home, companies produced things like margarine – which is nearly exclusively composed of hydrogenated oils. Cottonseed oil was refined as a by-product of the cotton (clothing) industry. For many, this time meant the end of many “great-grandmother” foods.

We now know that hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils are trans fats and incredibly dangerous; however, at this point, the affects of food on health were entirely unknown. A quote from an FDA official in 1949:
“It is wholly unscientific to state that a well-fed body is more able to resist disease than a less well-fed body. My overall opinion is that there hasn’t been enough experimentation to prove dietary deficiencies make one more susceptible to disease.” *

*(Really??!)

5. The 1970s – Present: Fat Matters…but in this totally incorrect way.

The subject matter which has been covered extensively in Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes: The work of, among others, Ancel Keyes; and a poorly and selectively interpreted study indicating a correlation between cholesterol levels and Cardiovascular mortality. Keyes postulated that a reduction in dietary saturated fat would favorably affect these outcomes. This set the stage for the continued demonization of dietary fat; specifically saturated fat from animal sources.

6. Where are we now?

We are at the end (I hope) of an extended “Perfect (you-know-what) Storm” of both intentional and unintentional dietary dogma. The health affects of milestones 1-5 are catching up to us; children are being diagnosed with what was previously known as “Adult-onset Diabetes” and infertility – a direct result of the hormonal imbalances caused by excess sugar and too little healthy fat – is rampant and affecting even seemingly healthy individuals.
We are number six. Those who are writing, blogging, podcasting, using social media to spread the word, and representing their Real Food values every day are creating this sixth milestone. Many of us, including everyone at Steve’s Original, uphold a standard of nutrition that takes its cues from the Primal, Paleo and Weston A. Price philosophies (for more on this blend, see here).

We reject the refined sugar and grains and support bacon, coconut, and a diet that respects our hunter-gatherer heritage as well as the traditional food values of healthy indigenous cultures across the globe, past and present.