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To what kind of food are we genetically adapted?

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  • Instinctive Living
    To what kind of food are we genetically adapted? Isn t that the major question when it comes to making decisions about what kind of food to choose for your
    Message 1 of 6 , May 31, 2001
      To what kind of food are we genetically adapted?

      Isn't that the major question when it comes to making decisions about what
      kind of food to choose for your body?

      From high tech laboratories of food research, to the simple oven in every
      kitchen, this question needs to be considered so that the food you consume
      matches your body¹s physiology to handle it.
      It¹s a little bit like a car engine built for a specific type of gas. To
      insure optimal performance and longevity we have to make sure that we use
      the type of gas for which our car has been built. To do so, we might
      sometimes need to consult the maker¹s manual. If we apply the same logic to
      living matter, then genetic make-up is a sort of "maker¹s manual" that comes
      along with each life form, including human beings.

      Man is the only animal on the planet who artificially processes his food in
      many complex ways.
      From an evolutionary point of view, over millions of years our physiological
      and digestive functions have adapted to the chemistry of 100% unprocessed
      food products. On the basis of 100.000 years of cooking, 99% of human
      evolution occurred in contact with unprocessed food, the way nature provides
      it and only for approximately 1% out of our evolutionary time we have been
      using complex processing techniques. Significant and species wide genetic
      mutation that would allow a adaptation to a completely new food environment
      like the one generated by modern processing happen at a very slowly pace.
      Regular and complex food processing, as we know it today, is only ten to
      forty thousand years old, which seems much too recent for any genetic
      adaptation to be achieved. The degree of adaptation to a food product is
      proportionate to the amount of evolutionary exposure time. Since we have
      been in contact with unprocessed food for the biggest part of our
      evolutionary history, it seems that we are statistically more likely to be
      adapted to unprocessed food products rather than to processed ones. Of
      course, this can make a major difference when it comes to health issues.

      We can consider ourselves adapted to a food product only under one major
      condition: this specific food does not present any health hazard when
      consume on a regular basis over a long period of time. A lion does not get
      sick while eating meat for which it has adapted over millions of years,
      neither does the cow while eating grass for which it has adapted in the same
      manner. As long as we have proof that a food product present any threat for
      health, as minor as it can be, it is clear that our body does not know how
      to chemically handle it and therefore we can conclude that we are not
      genetically adapted to it. The fact that many "new" pathologies from Cancer
      to Alzheimer present in modern civilizations have been proven to be food
      related constitute serious evidence towards the hypothesis of a mismatch
      between our genes and modern processed food.

      In altering our food with complex processing such as cooking, mixing,
      freezing, irradiating, genetic engineering, the use of dairy products, and
      the use of preservatives and additives, we might unavoidably run into health
      and weight problems induced by a genetic non-adaptation to the new food
      environment we have artificially created.

      More at http://www.instinctive-living.com

      Note: I would like to apologies for some commercial content on the web site,
      we are promoting a paleo-diet called Instinctive Nutrition, I hope this will
      not hinder you from getting a accurate picture of our research.

      Regards,
      Roman
      --
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    • Allan Kugel
      I have been thinking along these lines for some time now. And anybody who has heard one of my presentations knows that dietary mismatch is an important point
      Message 2 of 6 , Jun 1, 2001
        I have been thinking along these lines for some time now.
        And anybody who has heard one of my presentations knows
        that dietary mismatch is an important point to my general scheme.

        That being said, and while I definitely believe in the general
        dynamic of problems caused by foods that our bodies are not
        prepared for, I have some reservations on making too strong
        a statement about it.

        First, at least some evidence suggests that paleohumans did NOT
        have a particular diet [compared to other species], but were instead
        opportunistic in what they ate. This means that we likely have
        less exact requirements than for a more specialized species
        (ok to fail to eat something), and more general tolerance
        than for other species (ok to eat something unusual). Skipping
        some steps to the conclusion here, what this eventually implies is
        that there may NOT be an ideal target diet for humans per se;
        just some diets with better overall trade-offs than others.

        Second, adaptiveness will shift, given exposure to new diets.
        Some adaption is quick and negative; those who can't handle
        the newer diet would die at higher rates, eventually leaving a population
        that can at least handle the diet. But over longer periods,
        a population can become better suited in a positive fashion to the
        new diet. I understand current thinking has the primate lineage
        eventually going back to an insectivorous ancestor, but few modern
        primates (including ourselves) are well suited to a primarily insect
        diet.

        Third, even with the relatively narrow human gene pool,
        there has been long enough time for dietary regionalism
        to develop -- lactose tolerance possibly being a case.
        So what's bad for you may not be quite so bad for me.

        Finally, economic issues are still important. We might be able
        to improve a individual's diet, but it would probably be
        quite difficult to, for example, shift the bulk of the world's
        6 billion people from diets with lots of grain to diets with
        equivalent absolute-fresh ancestral fruit varieties instead.
        Nor am I (even being from a wealthier country) likely to chose
        to give up my many other modern-good purchases (like my computer
        and car) to devote a great deal more of my resources toward obtaining
        somewhat better food. Some balance seems called for.


        Roman Deambrun [Instinctive Living <evolpsy@...>] writes:
        > To what kind of food are we genetically adapted?
        ...
        > Isn't that the major question when it comes to making decisions about what
        > kind of food to choose for your body?
        > We can consider ourselves adapted to a food product only under one major
        > condition: this specific food does not present any health hazard when
        > consume on a regular basis over a long period of time. A lion does not get
        > sick while eating meat for which it has adapted over millions of years,
        > neither does the cow while eating grass for which it has adapted in the
        > same manner. As long as we have proof that a food product present any
        > threat for health, as minor as it can be, it is clear that our body does
        > not know how to chemically handle it and therefore we can conclude that
        > we are not genetically adapted to it. The fact that many "new" pathologies
        > from Cancer to Alzheimer present in modern civilizations have been proven
        > to be food related constitute serious evidence towards the hypothesis of
        > a mismatch between our genes and modern processed food.
        >
        > In altering our food with complex processing such as cooking, mixing,
        > freezing, irradiating, genetic engineering, the use of dairy products,
        > and the use of preservatives and additives, we might unavoidably run
        > into health and weight problems induced by a genetic non-adaptation
        > to the new food environment we have artificially created.
      • Warren Sarle
        From: Instinctive Living ... The increased incidence of cancer and Alzheimer s disease in the last century is largely due to
        Message 3 of 6 , Jun 1, 2001
          From: Instinctive Living <evolpsy@...>
          > ... The fact that many "new" pathologies from Cancer
          > to Alzheimer present in modern civilizations have been proven
          > to be food related constitute serious evidence towards the
          > hypothesis of a mismatch between our genes and modern processed food.

          The increased incidence of cancer and Alzheimer's disease in the
          last century is largely due to the fact that people are living
          longer because many other causes of death have been greatly
          reduced. And, of course, lung cancer is mostly caused by smoking.

          > In altering our food with complex processing such as cooking, mixing,
          > freezing, irradiating, genetic engineering, the use of dairy products, and
          > the use of preservatives and additives, we might unavoidably run into
          > health and weight problems induced by a genetic non-adaptation to the
          > new food environment we have artificially created.

          There has been considerable research on this topic. The problems
          are mostly not due to cooking, mixing, freezing, irradiating, genetic
          engineering, preservatives and additives. Dairy products are a problem
          for people who are lactose intolerant, but our single biggest dietary
          problem is excessive consumption of cereal grains. The irony is that
          without cereal grains, civilization would probably not exist.

          Reference:

          TITLE: Evolutionary Aspects of Nutrition & Health
          ISBN: 3805568274
          Publisher: Karger, S. AG
          Publish Date: 06/01/1999
          Edited by: A. P. Simopoulos
          Binding: Hardcover, 146 pages
          List Price: USD 172.25

          From the publisher's web page
          http://www.karger.ch/bookseries/wrund/wrund084.htm

          The issues treated in this publication are brought together in
          this way for the first time. For many of the chronic diseases,
          familial predispositions are well established, and there is good
          evidence for true genetic predisposition.

          When Homo erectus emerged 1.7 million years ago, humans existed
          as non-cereal-eating hunter-gatherers. It is on this basis that,
          according to the hypothesis of the "carnivore connection", an
          insulin-resistant genotype evolved to provide survival and
          reproductive advantages to populations adapted to a high meat,
          low plant food (low carbohydrate) nutritional environment.
          Cereal became the major source of calories and protein in the
          human diet only about 10,000 years ago. Humankind has thus had
          little evolutionary experience to adapt to this new food type,
          maladaption being the consequence. Moreover, studies comparing
          energy expenditure in Western societies and during the
          Paleolithic period indicate a low level of physical activity not
          previously encountered in human history, a state to which humans
          are not genetically adapted. Together with the dietary changes,
          this has led to a modern environment in which a number of
          individuals are prone to chronic diseases, causing increases in
          non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, hypertension, coronary
          artery disease, cancer and obesity. As a consequence, the
          lifestyle approach for the prevention and management of these
          diseases is essential, varying with national dietary patterns
          and national economy.

          This publication will be of special interest to physicians,
          geneticists, nutritionists, dieticians, anthropologists, food
          technologists, food-policy-makers and individuals interested in
          personal and family health.


          Table of Contents:
          Preliminary Pages
          A.P. Simopoulos
          http://www.online.karger.com/library/karger/renderer/dataset.exe?jcode=WRN&action=render&rendertype=pdf&uid=WRN.wrn84000
          When Some Fine Old Genes Meet a 'New' Environment,
          J.V. Neel
          Cereal Grains: Humanity's Double-Edged Sword,
          L. Cordain
          Evolutionary Aspects of Diet and Insulin Resistance
          J.C. Brand-Miller, S. Colagiuri
          Evolutionary Aspects of Exercise
          J.D. Chen
          Genetic Variation and Nutrition
          A.P. Simopoulos


          --

          Warren S. Sarle SAS Institute Inc. The opinions expressed here
          saswss@... SAS Campus Drive are mine and not necessarily
          (919) 677-8000 Cary, NC 27513, USA those of SAS Institute.
        • Roman Deambrun
          I honestly appreciate your thoughts on the topic. During my P.R. work for a private research Institute in Europe, I didn t find many researchers who would even
          Message 4 of 6 , Jun 1, 2001
            I honestly appreciate your thoughts on the topic. During my P.R. work for a
            private research Institute in Europe, I didn't find many researchers who
            would even consider the hypothesis of a mismatch between modern food and
            human genes. I am glad to be able to discuss it with you.

            > From: kugel@...

            > Second, adaptiveness will shift, given exposure to new diets.
            > Some adaption is quick and negative; those who can't handle
            > the newer diet would die at higher rates, eventually leaving a population
            > that can at least handle the diet. But over longer periods,
            > a population can become better suited in a positive fashion to the
            > new diet.

            I have been thinking about this. If we, as a species, are still in the
            process of adaptation to modern food, with some individuals handling the
            food environment change better than other, it would mean that all people
            struggling and dying on food related diseases are the victims for that
            adaptation to happen.

            > Third, even with the relatively narrow human gene pool,
            > there has been long enough time for dietary regionalism
            > to develop -- lactose tolerance possibly being a case.
            > So what's bad for you may not be quite so bad for me.

            At the same time, since the body already produces lactase during early
            childhood it is not what we can call a big adaptative step, it might not
            take as long. An adaptation to a foreign protein like casein seems to take
            much more time, it would require a new enzyme (correct me if I am wrong) and
            most new born are intolerant to casein that is why we had to come up with
            formula.

            > Finally, economic issues are still important. We might be able
            > to improve a individual's diet, but it would probably be
            > quite difficult to, for example, shift the bulk of the world's
            > 6 billion people from diets with lots of grain to diets with
            > equivalent absolute-fresh ancestral fruit varieties instead.
            > Nor am I (even being from a wealthier country) likely to chose
            > to give up my many other modern-good purchases (like my computer
            > and car) to devote a great deal more of my resources toward obtaining
            > somewhat better food. Some balance seems called for.

            I am not a researcher myself, but our organization would be more than happy
            to support any research heading in that direction in any way we can, because
            from what we have been able to observed over the past 37 years on a diet
            excluding any kind of processing whatsoever, it seems that there is
            something really important behind the genetic non-adaptation hypothesis even
            if we don't always understand yet the mechanism at work.
            Regards,
            Roman


            ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
            + Roman Deambrun +
            + Instinctive Living, LLC. +
            + http://www.instinctive-living.com +
            + roman@... +
            + Tel. 213.480.3002 +
            + Fax 213.386.34.06 +
            ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

            ___________


            From: Roman Deambrun <evolpsy@...>
            Date: Sat Jun 2, 2001 1:26am
            Subject: Re: [evol-psych] To what kind of food are we genetically adapted?

            > From: Warren Sarle saswss@u...
            > The increased incidence of cancer and Alzheimer's disease in the
            > last century is largely due to the fact that people are living
            > longer because many other causes of death have been greatly
            > reduced. And, of course, lung cancer is mostly caused by smoking.

            Still, the following research has pointed out a clear link between Maillard
            end-products and Alzheimer disease. Maillard molecules happen to be produced
            in large amounts during cooking. Would human beings, living as old as we do,
            still be the subject to Alzheimer disease if they would avoid consuming
            large amount of Maillard molecules along with their daily food? With the
            number of people struggling with that disease in the US alone don't you
            think the question is worth being stated?

            Advanced Maillard reaction end products are
            associated with Alzheimer disease pathology.
            Smith MA, Taneda S, Richey PL, Miyata S, Yan SD, Stern D, Sayre LM, Monnier
            VM, Perry G., Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 1994 Jun 7;91(12):5710-4
            Institute of Pathology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
            44106.

            Abstract: During aging long-lived proteins accumulate specific
            post-translational modifications. One family of modifications, termed
            Maillard reaction products, are initiated by the condensation between amino
            groups of proteins and reducing sugars. Protein modification by the Maillard
            reaction is associated with crosslink formation, decreased protein
            solubility, and increased protease resistance. Here, we present evidence
            that the characteristic pathological structures associated with Alzheimer
            disease contain modifications typical of advanced Maillard reaction end
            products. Specifically, antibodies against two Maillard end products,
            pyrraline and pentosidine, immunocytochemically label neurofibrillary
            tangles and senile plaques in brain tissue from patients with Alzheimer
            disease. In contrast, little or no staining is observed in apparently
            healthy neurons of the same brain. The Maillard-reaction-related
            modifications described herein could account for the biochemical and
            insolubility properties of the lesions of Alzheimer disease through the
            formation of protein crosslinks.


            In the case of Cancer there is another study that make me reconsider a lot
            of things:

            Protein pyrolysate products.
            Vuolo LL, Schuessler GJ., Environ Mutagen 1985;7(4):577-98

            Abstract: Diet and nutrition may be responsible for 60% of the total cancer
            incidence for women and greater than 40% for men. Fat, animal protein, and
            meat consumption are highly correlated with colon cancer incidence. The
            charcoal broiling of meat and fish yield mutagenic substances. Many findings
            support the hypothesis that the predominant mutagens are formed by the
            Maillard reaction. A number of mutagenic compounds have been identified both
            from cooked foods and from protein pyrolysates. The identified compounds are
            N-heterocyclic primary amine derivatives of either carbolines,
            imidazoquinolines, or imidazoquinoxalines. The carboline-type mutagens are
            structurally related to the known carcinogens 2-acetylaminofluorene (AAF)
            and 2-aminofluorene (AF), while the imidazoquinoline and imidazoquinoxaline
            types are believed to resemble 3,2'-dimethyl-4 aminobiphenyl (DMAB). Studies
            support the theory that these compounds require metabolic activation and are
            carcinogenic. The major metabolites of several compounds have been
            identified as the N-hydroxy derivatives. DNA binding was found to be a
            necessary but not a sufficient condition for mutagenesis. The modified base
            products have been identified as C-8-guanyl derivatives, resembling adducts
            formed by the carcinogenic aromatic amines.

            Here again, would Cancer be so widespread if we would consider a diet that
            would exclude Maillard reactions generated by thermal processing?

            > There has been considerable research on this topic. The problems
            > are mostly not due to cooking, mixing, freezing, irradiating, genetic
            > engineering, preservatives and additives. Dairy products are a problem
            > for people who are lactose intolerant, but our single biggest dietary
            > problem is excessive consumption of cereal grains. The irony is that
            > without cereal grains, civilization would probably not exist.

            I agree with you on grains the use of them is only approx. ten thousand
            years old.

            Regards,
            Roman


            ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
            + Roman Deambrun +
            + Instinctive Living, LLC. +
            + http://www.instinctive-living.com +
            + roman@i... +
            + Tel. 213.480.3002 +
            + Fax 213.386.34.06 +
            ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
          • Steven D'Aprano
            ... This whole question is based on a misapprehension. It *assumes* that there is one, or a few, perfect foods that the human body needs . It is excellent
            Message 5 of 6 , Jun 3, 2001
              Roman Deambrun wrote:
              >
              > To what kind of food are we genetically adapted?

              This whole question is based on a misapprehension. It *assumes* that
              there is one, or a few, "perfect" foods that the human body "needs". It
              is excellent that you are considering the question from an evolutionary
              perspective, but unfortunately you are approaching the question from the
              wrong angle.

              Koalas live in a very narrow niche. They live in certain species of
              eucalypt trees, and eat only the leaves, rarely if every even drinking
              water. So one might say that certain species of eucalypt trees are
              "perfect food" for koalas.

              But rats don't live in a narrow niche. They wander from ecosystem to
              ecosystem, eating almost anything from grains, nuts, insects, meat,
              vegetables, you name it. There is no one food (except perhaps water)
              they can't do without, and no one food they can't tolerate in small
              doses. Rats are more numerous than koalas, and live in more
              environments, because they can tolerate -- and thrive on -- a larger
              variety of foods than koalas can. Despite popular mythology, rats and
              mice aren't particularly fond of cheese, but they will even eat that if
              the grain harvest fails.

              It doesn't take much to realise that when it comes to diet, we are more
              like rats than we are like koalas. Human beings aren't a niche player,
              happily munching on one or two foods (although when you see teens who
              appear to exist on nothing but Coke and Bigs Macs, you wonder). We are
              opportunists who will try anything, twice.

              People survive, even thrive, on diets as restrictive as the Eskimo diet
              based largely on fish and whale meat, to the vegetarian option eaten by
              Buddhist monks, to the variety of seafood, meat, vegetables and grains
              in the Mediterranean diet. Just about the only major food group not used
              as a staple diet is insects, and even then, many peoples have used
              insects as a welcome protein suppliment.

              That's not to say that some foods aren't better than others, because
              obviously they are. But our body is less like a high-performance engine
              built for an optimal type of gas, and more like a pot-bellied stove that
              will take anything flammable. Sure, some fuels are better than others --
              pine makes too much ash, rubber produces toxic fumes, and red gum burns
              too hot -- but the stove will still heat the room on a wide variety of
              fuels.


              [snip]
              > On the basis of 100.000 years of cooking, 99% of human
              > evolution occurred in contact with unprocessed food, the way nature provides
              > it and only for approximately 1% out of our evolutionary time we have been
              > using complex processing techniques.

              There is a hidden assumption here. That is that "nature knows best".
              This assumption is unwarranted: if "natural" food was always best for
              us, our ancestors would not have started preparing food. In fact,
              cooking, soaking, pounding, and other methods of food preparation can
              and do turn foods of dubious nutritional value -- or even outright
              poisonousness -- into good healthy food.


              > The degree of adaptation to a food product is
              > proportionate to the amount of evolutionary exposure time.

              That is manifestly NOT true. Here is a counter example: organisms have
              been exposed to oxygen in the atmosphere for millions of years, and
              certainly for the last million years or so the amount of oxygen has been
              relatively constant. By your argument, organisms today should be
              "better" adapted to oxygen than they were a million years ago. Homo
              sapiens, being a johnny-come-lately compared to, say, leopards, so you
              might assume that leopards would be better adapted to oxygen use than we
              are. But at a biochemical level, adaption to oxygen all but ended
              millions of years ago.

              Since, as you say, mankind has been eating unprocessed foods for 99% of
              history, you might assume that we adapted as well to unprocessed food as
              we were ever going to get early in our history. (That is not to say that
              we did, but just that we might have.) And since there has been a
              population explosion since the invention of agriculture, there has
              potentially been much more opportunity for adaption to take place in the
              1% of our history with agriculture than there was in the 99% without.

              [snip]
              > We can consider ourselves adapted to a food product only under one major
              > condition: this specific food does not present any health hazard when
              > consume on a regular basis over a long period of time. A lion does not get
              > sick while eating meat for which it has adapted over millions of years,
              > neither does the cow while eating grass for which it has adapted in the same
              > manner. As long as we have proof that a food product present any threat for
              > health, as minor as it can be, it is clear that our body does not know how
              > to chemically handle it and therefore we can conclude that we are not
              > genetically adapted to it.

              In this case, then by your definition that there is NO FOOD OR NUTRIENT
              WHATEVER that we are adapted to, since every single food or nutrient has
              some risk involved. Even oxygen is highly toxic at a cellular level
              unless carefully handled -- after hundreds of millions of years of
              evolution, cells still handle pure oxygen as you or I might handle
              cyanide. I am aware of at least one death in recent years due to
              over-consumption of water, and I'm not being glib and talking about
              drowning. Excessive water consumption can cause an inbalance in
              electrolyte levels, leading death.


              --
              Steven D'Aprano
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