What Does It Mean, to Eat a "Healthy Diet"? (Fascinating Articles This Week)

December 14, 2010

I just started reading “Righteous Porkchop,” by Nicolette Hahn Niman, which chronicles Niman's adventures as an environmental attorney who begins her career by investigating the non-glamorous and severe problem of hog manure pollution on factory farms. The book's first surprise (for me) came on the first page, in the forward by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.: a searing indictment of the CAFO/factory farming meat industry. It contains passages like this one:

“...the factory meat industry was already vying for the blue ribbon as America's worst polluter. As is often true with large scale pollution, the destruction of public resources accompanied the subversion of democracy. Factory meat barons were dominating the market place, not through efficiencies, as they pretended, but by ruthless market control and by externalizing their pollution costs. The big integrators could not produce porkchops or bacon cheaper than traditional family farmers unless they got around environmental laws. Since the industry produced far more waste than it could profitably dispose of, its entire business plan was based on its capacity to illegally dump industrial scale quantities of raw animal waste and toxic chemicals into the nation's waters and air and get away with it!

“...To take advantage of public good will toward small farmers, big agribusiness employed slick PR firms and lobbyists to defend animal factories by costuming them as Old MacDonald's farm. Using strategically orchestrated public deception, intimidation, campaign contributions, and political clout, meat moguls captured state and federal environmental permit requirements, routinely ignored flagrant violations, and transformed themselves into taxpayer funded hand puppets aggressively defending industry mischief. With the exception of coal mining's mountaintop removal, no other industry in America's modern history had gotten away with systematic pollution of this magnitude...”

Another fascinating fact, which comes out in the first few pages, is that Niman--at the time she took this investigative job--was a committed vegetarian. (She was later “swept off her feet” and is now the wife of Bill Niman, Cattle Rancher...)



Here are some researchers who have found that rural African children have a very different set of gut flora than their counterparts living in industrialized society...

I partly disagree with the researchers' theory, that the differences between the children (good flora being the happy result of being a rural child, while not-so-good flora occurs in the guts of Westernized kids) is due to modern diets that are “low in fiber but high in animal protein, sugar, starch, and fat.”

I would argue that a subtle change in hypothesis could explain the gut flora differences in a potentially more thorough and complete fashion: that gut flora can be negatively affected by 1. Modern industrialized diets _in general_, which are high in Processed Foods, refined carbohydrates of all types, including a predominance of grains and added sugars, as well as lots of vegetable oils, and that also lack fermented/probiotic foods (common in most or all traditional diets); 2. Consumption of Modern Foods (including vegetable and animal products) _in general_, even unprocessed ones. (Plants and animals produced using factory farming techniques yield a different nutrient profile for modern eaters than similar foods did in the past, when they were produced using ancient techniques.)

In other words, I would argue, It's Not Necessarily About the Macronutrients. It's not that we necessarily eat more fat, or plants, or carbohydrates than our ancestors did, but that the _quality_ of these foods and their means of production, combined with “modern” time-saving food preparation techniques (like simply steaming brown rice, extruding grains to produce breakfast cereal, or baking bread with modern yeast-rising methods), combined with the crazy availability of added sugars, adds up to a profoundly unhealthy diet for the human animal.

(See some very interesting links, below, re: island-dwelling Kitavans, who ate a very high-carbohydrate, yet also very healthy, diet.)

“All those Lucky Charms and Big Macs that people in the developed world scarf down could explain why they are more susceptible to allergies, autoimmune disorders, and inflammatory bowel disease than are residents of agrarian societies. New research suggests that people living in rural Africa have a healthier mix of microbes in their guts than do their Western counterparts, which may protect them from the intestinal diseases that are common in modern developed countries.

“The human gut houses trillions of microbes, our microbiota, that help us digest and metabolize what we eat, protect us against diseases, and train our immune system to recognize and reject pathogens. As our ancestors' diets changed over time, their gut inhabitants did, too...

“Modern sanitation and medicines have further changed the types of bacteria people encounter. Scientists have hypothesized that these dietary and sanitary changes have made people in developed countries more susceptible to gastrointestinal diseases and obesity, but so far they have been unable to establish why.

“A team of researchers led by Paolo Lionetti, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Meyer Children Hospital in Florence, Italy, decided to compare the fecal microbes of healthy children from a village in Burkina Faso, in western Africa, with those from healthy Italian children. The African children ate a high-fiber, low-fat, vegetable-heavy diet that reflects what people ate at the dawn of agriculture, whereas the Italian kids had a typical Western diet, low in fiber but high in animal protein, sugar, starch, and fat.

“The researchers found that the children from Burkina Faso had significantly more bacteria from the Bacteroidetes class than did the Italian children and significantly fewer Firmicute bacteria. Previous research has shown that people with more Bacteroidetes and fewer Firmicutes tend to be lean, whereas people with the opposite ratio are more likely to be obese.

“Additionally, the researchers detected bacterial strains of Prevotella, Xylanibacter, and Treponema only in the children from Burkina Faso. These bacteria are excellent at breaking down fibrous foods and producing short-chain fatty acids that provide added energy. Studies have also shown that those same fatty acids help protect the intestines from inflammation, which could explain why inflammatory bowel disease is almost unheard of in African communities that eat high-fiber diets, Lionetti says.

“The increased diversity of microbes in the gut also makes the body more resistant to intestinal pathogens while tempering the immune system's response to harmless molecules, leading to fewer allergies, Lionetti says. The group reports its findings online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences...”


This article looks fascinating, and I plan to read it soon: Drs. Mellanbys' “tooth decay reversal diet”:

I'm also planning to read this post, which is a review of the “Twinkie Diet for Weight Loss” plan:

This post, along with several others on this blog, describes the island people of Kitava--who ate a high-carbohydrate (and high-saturated fat) diet, but suffered from none of our so-called Diseases of Affluence. Stephen Guyanet discusses his interesting hypothesis: a healthy diet for healthy people (as opposed to, as Jeff is probably sick of me re-stating, a _healing_ diet for nurturing less-than-healthy people back to health...which, I am fairly sure, needs to be fairly-to-severely low in carbohydrates) can obtain nutrients from a huge variety of foods with astoundingly varied macronutrient profiles. All healthy diets have just one commonality, Guyanet theorizes: they contain no “processed”/denatured/synthetic/refined food products.

I also want to read this post, which is an interview with a Kitava islander discussing his native eating habits and food preparation techniques:



Not a whole lot new in this article, except for my same old impatience--that it takes so many doctors so long to look at disorders like autism in a wholistic way! But as Jeff points out, any new research is useful, when it points to autism NOT being irreversible brain damage, but rather a systemic (and curable) biological malfunctioning...

Also, here's a sobering quote: “The emotional and financial costs of autism for families and societies is staggering. Now one in five -- or 20 percent -- of children have some neurodevelopmental disorder.”


Sandor “Sandorkraut” Elix Katz, author of “Wild Fermentation,” was recently profiled in an article in the _New Yorker_. “Nature's Spoils,” by Burhard Bilger, in the November 22, 2010 issue, also discussed in general one of my favorite topics: the microbial world...

“Modern Hygiene['s...] central premise is hopelessly outdated. The human body isn't besieged; it's saturated, infused with microbial life at every level. 'There is no such thing as an individual,' Lynn Margulis, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, told me recently. 'What we see as animals are partly just integrated sets of bacteria.' Nearly all the DNA in our bodies belongs to microorganisms: they outnumber our own cells nine to one They process the nutrients in our guts, produce the chemicals that trigger sleep, ferment the sweat on our skin and the glucose in our muscles. ('Humans didn't invent fermentation,' Katz likes to say. 'Fermentation created us.') They work with the immune system to mediate chemical reactions and rive out the most common infections. Even our own cells are kept alive by mitochondria--the tiny microbial engines in their cytoplasm. Bacteria are us.

“'Microbes are the minimal units, the basic building blocks of life on earth,' Margulis said. About half a billion years ago, land vertebrates began to encase themselves in skin and their embryos in protective membranes, sealing off the microbes inside them and fostering ever more intimate relations with them. Humans are the acme of that evolution--walking, talking microbial vats. By now, the communities we host are so varied and interdependent that it's hard to tell friend from enemy--the bacteria we can't live with from those we can't live without. E.Coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and the bacteria responsible for meningitis and stomach ulcers all live peaceably inside us most of the time, turning dangerous only on rare occasions and for reasons that are poorly understood. 'This cliche nonsense about good and bad bacteria, it's so insidious,' Margulis said. 'It's this Western, dichotomized, Cartesian thing...Like Jesus rising.'

“In the past decade, biologists have embarked on what they call the second human-genome project, aimed at identifying every bacterium associated with people. More than a thousand species have been found so far in our skin, stomach, mouth, guts, and other body parts. Of those, only fifty or so are known to harm us, and they have been studied obsessively for more than a century. The rest are mostly new to science. 'At this juncture, biologists cannot be blamed for finding themselves in a kind of “future shock,”' Margaret McFall-Ngai, an expert in symbiosis at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, wrote in _Nature Reviews Microbiology_ two years ago. Or, as she put it in an earlier essay, 'We have been looking at bacteria through he wrong end of the telescope.'

Given how little we know about our inner ecology, carpet-bombing it might not always be the best idea. “I would put it very bluntly,' Margulis told me. 'When you advocate for soaps that say they kill all harmful bacteria, you are committing suicide.' The bacteria in the gut can take up to four years to recover from a round of antibiotics, recent studies have found, and the steady assault of detergents, preservatives, chlorine, and other chemicals also takes its toll. The immune system builds up fewer antibodies in a sterile environment; the deadliest pathogens can grow more resistant to antibiotics; and innocent bystanders such as peanuts or gluten are more likely to provoke allergic reactions. All of which may explain why a number of studies have found that children raised on farms are less susceptible to allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases. The cleaner we are, it sometimes seems, the sicker we get.

“'We are living in this cultural project that's rarely talked about,' Katz says. 'We hear about the war on terror. We hear about the war on drugs. But the war on bacteria is much older, and we've all been indoctrinated into it. We have to let go of the idea that they're our enemies.'”


Am planning to look into this more: “Hydrogen Powered Stomach Bacteria: Ulcers, Cancer and Helicobacter Fed by Gut Biofilm Klebsiella” http://www.suite101.com/content/hydrogen-powered-stomach-bacteria-a1644…

“Helicobacter pylori (Hp) is a bacterial pathogen of the stomach that can cause ulcers and cancer. This bacterium moves through the mucus coating of the stomach, attaches to the cells lining the stomach and neutralizes stomach acid by producing ammonia. The energy for this unique lifestyle comes from the ability of Hp to use hydrogen gas leaching out of the blood circulating through the stomach lining.

“In most of the world, human populations are uniformly infected with Hp and available evidence indicates that humans have always been infected. It is only in modern, developed countries where hygiene, culture, food and antibiotics have started to eliminate this ubiquitous stomach infection. In the U.S., infection has dropped to approximately ten percent.

“Babies fed only mother’s milk acquire gut flora dominated by fermenting bacteria, e.g. Bifidobacteria, that block colonization by Hp and other adult gut bacteria, until solid food is added. Even a single bottle of formula can shift the gut flora in the developing infant gut to the adult flora and permit Hp infection. The common use of antibiotics, along with general improvement in hygiene in developed countries has diminished sources of Hp and reduced Hp infections...”



An interesting article about recovering from chronic illness, including (most interesting to me), actute LYME infections:

“In virtually every indigenous culture [where Weston Price] visited and studied, from tropical regions to the extreme north, people who were eating entirely according to the traditional wisdom of their ancestors were immune to chronic diseases. His interviews of medical practitioners who served in these areas confirmed the fact that diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, tuberculosis and gastrointestinal problems requiring surgical intervention did not occur until the people began eating "the white man's foods"--sugar, flour, vegetable oils, canned goods and other refined foods.

“Price was not alone in his discoveries. In the first three decades of the twentieth century, many explorers, anthropologists and physicians who traveled in remote areas and lived amongst traditional people described the splendid health and absence of chronic disease these people enjoyed.

“...And yet, many of the people who have consulted with me over the years have had the same problem that I had: despite having some understanding of the nutritional principles that Dr. Price discovered and elucidated, they often have great difficulty in finding and implementing a diet that will prevent or reverse chronic diseases.

“One mistake made by nearly anyone seeking healing through food is the assumption that one diet is right for everyone. A corollary of this premise is the notion that a diet that worked well for you for a while will continue to be right for you indefinitely. On the contrary, each of us has different needs and idiosyncrasies. What works beautifully for me may not work well for you, and vice-versa. Furthermore, one's needs change over time, so that your "best diet" today may well need to evolve dramatically over the weeks, months and years.

“An example: if you go from a diet of mostly steak, pasta, Scotch and cheesecake, to raw fruits, vegetables and juices, you might well feel better, lose unwanted weight, and think you've discovered the fountain of youth--for a while. But at some point--a point that will vary markedly for different people--you'll run into trouble. And many people will then think, 'Gee, I did great on that diet. Why won't it work now? Something else must be wrong since my diet is fine.'

“...the belief that the same diet that you may have thrived on for a number of years will always be right for you is often fallacious. It's quite natural to make this error; we all become attached to the things we like, to our routines. Change is difficult...”