JUST WHAT IS A HEALTHY DIET?
WHAT DOES THE BODY NEED TO STAY STRONG AND GET WELL?
From the bestselling authors of The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods comes this convenient condensed edition -- a practical, portable guide to the nutritional benefits and healing properties of virtually everything we eat.
Studies have shown that diet plays a major role in both provoking and preventing a wide range of diseases. Here, leading authorities on nutrition and wellness make sense of the research in an easy-to-use A-to-Z guide to eating your way to good health.
Boasting the most effective natural remedies for everyday aches and pains, as well as potent protection against serious diseases like Alzheimer's and cancer, The Condensed Encyclopedia of Healing Foods is an essential reference for anyone looking to make healthy eating a lifelong habit.
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November 01, 2006
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Excerpt from The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods by Michael Murray
Chapter One: Human Nutrition: An Evolutionary Perspective In order to answer the question "What is a healthy diet?," it is important to first take a look at what our body is designed for. Is the human body designed to eat plant foods, animal foods, or both? Respectively, are we herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?While the human gastrointestinal tract is capable of digesting both plant and animal foods, there are indications that we evolved to digest primarily plant foods. Specifically, our teeth are composed of twenty molars, which are perfect for crushing and grinding plant foods, along with eight front incisors, which are well suited for biting into fruits and vegetables. Only our front four canine teeth are designed for meat eating, and our jaws swing both vertically to tear and laterally to crush, while carnivores' jaws swing only vertically. Additional evidence that supports the human body's preference for plant foods is the long length of the human intestinal tract. Carnivores typically have a short bowel, while herbivores have a bowel length proportionally comparable to humans'.To answer the question of what humans should eat, many researchers look to other primates, such as chimpanzees, monkeys, and gorillas. These nonhuman wild primates are omnivores. They are also often described as herbivores and opportunistic carnivores in that although they eat mainly fruits and vegetables, they may also eat small animals, lizards, and eggs if given the opportunity. For example, the gorilla and the orangutan eat only 1 percent and 2 percent of animal foods as a percentage of total calories, respectively. The remainder of their diet is derived from plant foods. Since humans are between the weight of the gorilla and orangutan, it has been suggested that humans are designed to eat around 1.5 percent of their diet in the form of animal foods. However, most Americans derive well over 50 percent of their calories from animal foods.Since wild primates fill up on wild fruit and other highly nutritious plant foods, those weighing one tenth the amount of a typical human ingest nearly ten times the level of vitamin C and much higher amounts of many other vitamins and minerals (see Table 1.1). How is this possible? One reason is that the cultivated fruit in an American supermarket is far different from the wild fruit of the primate's diet, having a slightly higher protein content and a higher content of certain essential vitamins and minerals. Cultivated fruit tends to be higher in sugars and, while very tasty to humans, it is not nearly as nutritious. In fact, it raises blood sugar levels much more quickly than its wild counterparts do.There are other differences in the wild primate diet that are also important to highlight, such as a higher ratio of alpha-linolenic acid -- the essential omega-3 fatty acid -- to linoleic acid -- the essential omega-6 fatty acid. A higher ratio of omega-3 fatty acid decreases the likelihood of the development of inflammatory and chronic diseases as well as their severity. Finally, the wild primate diet is very high in fiber, while the average American diet is not. A high-fiber diet protects against heart disease and many types of cancer.Determining what diet humans are best suited for may not be as simple as looking at the diet of wild primates. Humans have some significant structural and physiological differences compared to apes. The key difference may be our larger, more metabolically active brains. In fact, it has been theorized that a shift in dietary intake to more animal foods may have produced the stimulus for human brain growth. The shift itself was probably the result of limited food availability, which forced early humans to hunt grazing mammals such as antelope and gazelle. Archaeological data support this association -- humans' brains started to grow and become more developed at about the same time evidence shows an increase of animal bones bei