NH21 provides diet, nutrition and lifestyle education in the form of courses, workshops and private consultations. And just for fun, NH21 Weekly scours global news outlets for articles related to this endeavor.

It is remarkable (and somewhat disturbing) how inconsistent the (reported) science on nutrition can be; and little wonder that people who attempt dietary modifications in the name of health, commonly fall prey to a series of classic errors along the lines of:

  1. Initial zeal and passion, bordering fervor, for the challenge.
  2. Leading to fear of eating those foods deemed counter to the cause.
  3. Ending in apathy towards diet upon failure to maintain the initial interest.

This unfortunate situation (for diet truly can, and does, affect health) is compounded when the very people tasked with undertaking nutritional research on our behalf, cannot agree among themselves on uniform dietary advice for the general public.

For example, according to T. Colin Campbell, PhD, in his 2013 publication ‘Whole’ we should;

“Aim to get 80% of your calories from carbohydrates, 10% from fat, and 10% from protein.” (1)

He goes on to link the consumption of animal products to a host of world leading causes of death including heart disease, diabetes and cancer; this theory refined, referenced and accredited by more than 40 years of dedicated scientific research.

Yet in the very same year, and with equal scientific diligence, Professor Tim Noakes explains, as part of his work in ‘The Real Meal Revolution’ that;

“Fat is the body’s preferred fuel. Carbs are unnecessary. Cut it out and stick it to your forehead, your fridge or your wallet.” (2)

The book contains a ‘red’ list of foods to avoid that includes rice, oats and even parsnips; and goes further with the observation that a vegetarian diet is “a very unsuccessful way of attempting to lose weight while building muscle and attaining excellent health.”

Here we have two highly respected academics working in the same research field, yet on opposite ends of the spectrum. And by the results of their scientific endeavor both are correct.

What hope then, does the reader have of integrating this information into their own lives?

EPIDEMIOLOGY

Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events (including disease), and the application of this study to the control of diseases and other health problems. (3)

Studying in this manner looks at the causes (plural) and effects (also) of health and disease conditions in defined populations. In this way, epidemiology paints a more complete picture of what is occurring en masse rather than in isolated, and often contrived, laboratory experiments.

So when a recent report by the American College of Cardiology found that the Tsimané people of the Bolivian Amazon had the healthiest hearts in the world; it seemed like an opportune time to see if, and how, their diet might be involved.

Low and behold, the report noted that 72% of calories come from carbohydrates, 14% from fat and 14% of from protein. (4)

So one point to Campbell then!

But does this mean that we should all aim for a high carbohydrate diet?

Certainly not; for that would validate the regimen of refined sugars, flours and confectionaries that comprise western societies current collective penchant; and, as Prof. Noakes is currently in court proceeding with South Africa’s Health Professions Council attempting to explain, health policies need to;

“Support the dietary revolution that will reverse the global epidemics of obesity and type-2 diabetes mellitus.” (5)

Globally, 366 million people have diabetes. The International Diabetes Federation predicts this number to rise to 552 million by 2030. Type-2 diabetes is both avoidable and reversible; to remove sugar from the diet should be the first medical intervention offered to each and every diabetic on the planet.

LIFESTYLE

Health is a multifaceted combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors that fall into three distinct categories:

i) Modifiable: within the capacity of individuals to effect.

ii) Non modifiable: beyond the capacity of individuals to effect.

iii) Partially modifiable: somewhere in-between.

Whilst perfect health is beyond most people due to non-modifiable factors that cannot be controlled; diet and lifestyle rank highly among the modifiable factors that do fall within the realms of individual jurisdiction.

For the Tsimané, this includes being far more physically active than supposedly more ‘developed’ societies, with the men averaging 17,000 steps a day and the women 16,000 (enough to make your FitBit Activity Tracker cower in mediocracy).

For Mediterranean communities also, who regularly appear at the top end of global health-and-wellbeing tables; this additionally includes factors such as life purpose, stress reduction, moderate alcohol intake and engagement in family and social life. (6)

It is challenging, bordering impossible to mass prescribe health-promoting ideals, for each of us are uniquely individual in our wants, needs and even metabolism; one man’s carbohydrate is another’s fat as it were.

It is often thankless too, as the researchers who highlight societies mistakes are deemed arrogant, judgmental, and, as Tim Noakes is currently finding out, perceived to be against the law!

Yet referring back to NH21 Weekly “NHS Woes” (20th January 2017), we see hospitals burdened with insurmountable debts and patients struggling to receive critical care, in a world where millions of people are causing their own ill-health, then demanding expensive treatment as if it were their human right to do so.

We co-create with those around us, and there is a level of responsibility that comes with our lofty positon as a species at the top of the food chain; and who is capable of seemingly intelligent technological advances such as escalators, remote control boxes and automatic cars.

Have we evolved beyond common sense?

In the words of Michael Gurven, professor of anthropology at University of California;

“I would say we need a more holistic approach to physical exercise rather than just at the weekend. Bicycle to work, take the stairs, write your story on a treadmill desk.” (7)

As busy as life can be, we each need to find ways to increase levels of physical activity, and return to a broad-based, seasonally variable diet of naturally occurring whole foods. From there on, the ratio of carbs to fats becomes merely academic.

Heart health starts with personal choice, and that starts today, right here, right now. And it starts with you.

Enjoy your breakfast ;0)

References:

  1. Campbell, T. Colin (2013) Whole. BenBella Books, Dallas.
  2. Noakes, Tim (2013) The Real Meal Revolution. Quivertree Publications, Cape Town.
  3. http://www.who.int/topics/epidemiology/en/
  4. http://thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)30752-3/fulltext?elsca1=tlpr
  5. http://www.thenoakesfoundation.org
  6. http://dietamediterranea.com/en/
  7. http://www.bbc.com/news/health-39292389