Coming Home (‘Ghar Wapsi’ of a different kind)

  • Jaspal Bajwa
  • India
  • Jun 19, 2015
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We live in what is called the ‘Information Age’ or ‘The Age of the Knowledge Worker’. This implies greater empowerment and mobility across professions, rural-urban landscapes and countries. While this has helped fuel exponential growth of human civilizations and high global economic growth (measured by GDP), it has often been accompanied by declining ‘Per Capita Health & Happiness’. The ‘contradiction’ is because of our (‘knowledgeable’) Lifestyle choices, which have begun to significantly impact our health. As we have ‘developed’ economically and become more urban, even our illnesses have changed. Rather than suffering from the ‘lifestyle by destiny’ diseases of nutritional inadequacy and poor sanitation (or ‘Acute’ diseases), we are catching the ‘lifestyle by choice’ diseases of affluence and nutritional extravagance (or ‘Chronic’ life debilitating diseases). an example, South Asian migrants, who happen to be particularly predisposed to developing insulin resistance and diabetes, are showing nearly four times the prevalence rates of Type2 Diabetes than rural populations. there are markedly levels of overweight and obese people across countries. are now dominated by higher intakes of animal and hydrogenated fats, empty calories, acidic foods (often of animal origin) and low fibre content. Simultaneously, activity patterns - at work, travel, leisure and even at home - are shifting rapidly towards sedentary (low energy expenditure) activities. Interestingly, whenever an industrial or ‘refined’ food diet was introduced to different tribal cultures across the world, it led to a general degradation of health - usually within a generation; and chronic diseases increased to levels that correlated with those in industrialised societies. Thankfully, sociological experiments have established that this is a ‘reversible’ phenomenon! The incidence of chronic diseases reduced when the same populations were put back to their ‘home’ environments. Of course, apart from nutrition, physical activity, gene-environment interaction, stress and other factors such as ethnic susceptibility also play a role. 

Dr. Weston Price, dentist from Ottawa (Canada), is widely regarded as the grandfather of the ‘natural food’ movement; he was one of the earliest and most outspoken of the ‘healthy’ voices. He made remarkable discoveries while travelling all over the world to study ethnic native tribes and traditional diets. He found that while the traditional diets of native peoples were as varied as the environments in which they lived, there were a few common points too: there was no reliance on refined or ‘devitalised’ foods or oils, the food tended to be low on calories, and it contained only a small measure of ‘animal food’ (insects, fish or milk). Jack Robbins, in ‘Healthy at 100’, added how interesting it was that the features found among the diets of all the healthy native peoples were also found in the diets of the elder Okinawans, Abkhasians, Vilcabambans and Hunzans. Michael Pollan said that the data Dr. Price painstakingly gathered was not only able to trace the lines of connection between diet and health but also between the way different peoples produce and cook food. Dr. Price concluded that modern civilisation had sacrificed much of the quality of its food in the interest of quantity and shelf life. He identified no single ‘ideal’ diet … diversity was the name of his game. However, he concluded that the healthy way was to eat a traditional diet consisting of fresh foods from the animals and plants grown on soils that were themselves rich in nutrients. 

Tip of the Week

The almost total absence of cancer in traditional societies was observed by the French surgeon, Stanislas Tanchou, MD. He went on to  formulate a doctrine, which stated that the incidence of cancer increases in direct proportion to the ‘civilisation’ of a people. This view was subsequently embraced by John Le Conte MD, an influential physicist, who became the first President of the University of California. According to a 1997 report from the American Institute for Cancer Research, which included a study by a panel of 15 of the world’s leading researchers in diet and cancer, 78% of over 200 case-controlled studies found that consumption of fruits & vegetables had a protective effect over one or more kinds of cancer

Nature’s Wonder Food(s) of the Week:  Foods uniquely suited to each individual 

To aid man’s quest for a longer, healthier and happier life, several studies have emphasised the adoption of ‘Traditional Diets and Lifestyles’: 

Eat less: mostly local, and plant based

Work hard (and play hard…but within moderation!)

Live well: enjoy food and ‘company’, songs, dances

Ensure community well being: low inequality in terms of wealth tends to build a ‘sense of community’; also, respect elders & their life experiences

Respect the environment: give back what you take from Nature, with a deep sense of awe and gratitude

Some of the key differences in calorie sources between the ‘traditional’ diets of people who have lived to be centenarians and the ‘Standard American Diet’ (SAD – how app!) are: 65-74% from ‘complex’ carbs and whole foods in traditional diets, versus as much as 30% from refined white flour and sugar and another 25% from soda pop and soft drinks, in SAD; 15-20% from healthy fats in traditional, versus as high as 40-50% from hydrogenated or trans-fats in SAD; 10-15% from proteins in traditional (almost all of it from plant sources), versus nearly 30% from ‘animal sources’ in SAD; very low or nil salt and sugar in traditional, versus literally mountains of it being consumed in SAD.

Source: ‘Healthy at 100’ – John Robbins, and ‘In Defense of Food’ – Michael Pollan.

The outcomes are clear. Almost no incidence of obesity has been noticed in traditional societies that were ‘at home’ with their lifestyle choices. Compare this with the epidemic proportion obesity, high BP & inflammation-induced chronic diseases that have swept the developed world.  We need to change…fast. However, there are no ‘silver bullets’. individual is unique,and it is only through direct experimentation that we can discover the foods and lifestyle choices that are best for us. A simple test is whether the there is a spring in our step, a smile in our heart and a willingness to be adventurous…the morning after!

For Education purposes only; always consult a Healthcare Practitioner for medical conditions



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