I'll feed you if you spread around my genes
In many cases, long familiarity between foods and their eaters leads to elaborate systems of communication up and down the food chain so that a creature's senses come to recognize foods as suitable by their taste and smell and color. Very often these signals are "sent" by the foods themselves, which may have their own reasons for wanting to be eaten. Ripeness in fruit is often signaled by a distinctive smell (an appealing scent that can travel over distances), or color (one that stands out from the general green), or taste (typically sweet).
Therefore, health depends heavily on knowing how to read these biological signals: This looks ripe; this smells spoiled; that's one slick-looking cow.
This is much easier to do when you have long experience of a food and much harder when a food has been expressively designed to deceive your senses with, say, artificial flavors or synthetic sweeteners. Foods that lie to our senses are one of the most challenging features of the Western diet.
To feed ever-growing population, food industry has come up ingenious ways of making foods more durable and portable. The industry has transformed our foods in five fundamental ways over the last 150 years:
These transformations have changed not only our foodstuffs but also our food relationships, all the way from the soil to the meal. Much is at stake when a creature's food environment changes. Undeniably, recent studies have all shown that western diets have led us to degenerative infirmities[8,14] that plaque so many older people in the West:
and an accelerated aging process in general.
Very high mortality rates prevailed in Europe throughout medieval times. This was a result of both deficiencies in sanitation and insufficient food for population that had expanded faster than agriculture.
Mortality rate were lower in the last century, which may be mainly due to the following reasons:
However, as Dr. Fuhrman said, lifespan advances in adult males (that is,, non-childbirth related) have not improved significantly, because reductions in later-life, infectious disease related deaths were more than compensated for by increases in chronic diseases of nutritional ignorance and dietary excess:
Dr. Fuhrman's statements are echoed by a recent NPR report saying that a key finding from a large-scale study:
Today, the American diet takes over 60% of its calories from processed foods. Processed foods are generally mixed with additives, coloring agents, and preservatives to extend shelf life, and they're placed in plastic bags and cardboard boxes. Americans consume less than 10% of their calories from unrefined plant foods such as fruits, beans, seeds, and vegetables. Even worse, half the vegetable consumption is from white potato products, including fries and chips. Many phytochemicals in freshly harvested plant foods are lost or destroyed by modern processing techniques, including cooking. Since neither processed foods nor animal products contain a significant load of antioxidant nutrients or any phytochemicals, the western diet is dramatically disease-promoting[2,14].
As processed foods and fast foods expanded into the underdeveloped world, we saw rural areas starting to develop higher rates of cancer and obesity. The study by CDC in 2006 also shows that recent immigrants to the United States are far healthier than their US-born counterparts. The reason? The diets and lifestyles in the US are far less healthy than those in many other countries. The result today is a nation with exploding numbers of people with immune system disorders, allergies, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancers.
We have good records on the lifespan achieved by over 150 Renaissance artists living in the fourteenth century, whose average age of death was considerably higher than that of the average male in America today.
Advancements in medicine and pharmacology are largely credited for major advances in health and in saving lives. But the reality is this: medical care has little effect on the overall health quality or even the average age of death in modern societies worldwide. If fact, exposure to medical care and resources spent on health care are linked to decreases in healthy life expectancy, not increases.
Emergency medical care is valuable, but in the modern world emergencies linked to injury, accidents, and infection are no longer the leading causes of death. Heart disease, strokes, and cancer are now the big three. Treating bad nutritional choices with drugs—choices that lead to morbidity in later life, after years and years of self-abuse—will never be an efficacious solution. Our bodies are highly resilient and self-repairing, but medications cannot enable us to escape the biological laws of cause and effect. When we damage ourselves with exposure to toxic, disease-causing diets, we develop diseases.
We have to be responsible for our own health and rely on vigilant avoidance of the underlying causes of disease. We need to adopt scientifically supported superior nutrition and rid ourselves of the idea that doctors and pharmaceutical companies are our saviors, capable of enabling us to live long and productive lives.
Instead, we need to eat lots of high-nutrient, natural plant foods: vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds. In conjunction, we need to eat much less from animal products category and eat far fewer (or no) foods that are completely empty of nutrients or indeed toxic for the body—foods such as sugar, other sweeteners, white flour, processed foods, refined oils, and fast foods.
To conclude, here is the proposed model by Dr. Fuhrman that should help us live longer and healthier life:
In other words, "eat your salad as main dish." Or, as Michael Pollan suggested, "stop eating a Western diet."