Monday, August 4, 2008

Eating to fit your heritage?

Just a quick blog on eating, after getting half way through Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food (2008, Penguin Press). One of Pollan's theses is that we have turned into a nation (world?) obsessed with nutrition to the detriment of our health. I believe what he says so far. His book provides a shining example of the problems of over-reliance on reductionism that I'm writing about in my own book. Pollan talks about the various diets of indigenous peoples and how, despite the variety in their staples, they all seem to maintain their health. When these folks are uprooted and placed in a different food habitat, or even worse, adopt the Western diet, they become fat, diabetic and acquire heart disease.
It seems there is an opportunity here. Scientific reductionism yielded the Human Genome Project which has had limited impact so far on the nation's health. If diet really is the main culprit for our decline in health and life expectancy (Pollan notes that in 2007, we were ranked by the CIA fact book as 45th for life expectancy behind Israel, Bermuda, Jordan and Bosnia) then how much can be blamed on the Western diet in general and how much on our removal from our native food habitats which we had evolved to thrive on? It would seem like a double whammy. Many of us do not know our exact heritage (I'm adopted and have no clue other than I was born in London) and therefore may not know how to choose food wisely for our genotype and phenotype. Maybe genomic profiling for heritage may help us understand what's good for us and what is not. So the key to regaining a healthy relationship with our food could be to find out where we were evolved and eat what that culture eats/ate. That and avoiding the Western diet (the odds are against us with the food industry's tactical and political clout, but it's worth a try). I wonder if there is any way my genes would show an evolutionary adaptation to eating potato chips....? Just a thought.
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