Choosing between the diets
The following e-mail came in yesterday:
Have you looked on your website at the paleo diet vis-a-vis The China Study?
Any thoughts on The China Study?
Here's my answer:
For most people around us a diet has to be acceptable in all sorts of ways, mainly culturally dictated. For example, I have eaten a lot of raw meat (kangaroo, beef, lamb, raw eggs) over the past few years, but I don't do it in public. I brought a pack of Columbian ants from my last trip to England, but had trouble getting others to share them.
From a physiological perspective, it is not impossible that someone will come up with some diet that is better for some people than fresh, organic food in season. But it's unlikely. Some people are pretty crook or unhealthy or unfit or habituated to dead food in an maladapted diet and need something medically appropriate. The last thing I need is medical advice about healthy living - doctors spend their time treating injuries and illnesses and they are pretty good at that, but few have studied health themselves. There are mainstream ideas about health and public health campaigns (and doctors go along with these uncritically), but where they are right, they are commonsense (don't smoke, don't binge drink, exercise is better than sloth). More usually they are wrong, fundamentally wrong, and I'll explain why.
I start not from diet, but from the human body in the environment: what sleep / rest does it need? What intensity, frequency, duration of activity does it need - both in the abstract and in relation to the sleep it's getting?
What food does it need - in relation to sleep, age, activity, healthiness?
What sunlight? What temperature ranges? What exposure to good and bad bacteria? What pollution? Is the body clean enough? (Incidentally, last week's New Scientist has an article showing that unwashed hair is healthier than washed hair - healthier for the air we breathe, not for the scalp)
All of these things (and many more) operate interactively and fluidly on the basis of power laws not mechanics, mediated by the flesh, bones, hormones and the bodily processes.
I have come to the point now, where I am not interested in diet books or medical studies that claim to trace individual foods or types of diet to some condition - or, more likely, the absence of some condition - which the writer takes to be a plus.
"Weight Loss"? I don't want to lose weight and the book starts from the supposition of dissatisfaction or morbidity. (Some people will want to lose fat; I certainly don't want to lose muscle - they are both "weight".) Its chapter headings are about disease. I guess if I had those illnesses I'd be able to improve my health by following some of the book's prescriptions, but if I have good health now - though I'm a sample of 1 and I might fall down dead tomorrow or need a hip replacement or whatever - I'd be nuts to read a book that starts from a position quite different from where I am. My health is not perfect - at my age I'd be lying if I told you it was - it's just continuing and gradually accelerating its normal, healthy age-related decline and it's still abnormally good.
Nor do I want longevity. My preference is for rude good health and, when that finishes, a speedy departure. That might be 70 or it might be 80. But I don't want to live in a nursing home (nursing home? there'll be no "nursing homes" by the time I get to admission age or condition!)
I wonder if the 350 variables analyzed in this book included some of those I have listed. For someone who's - like me - under 60, did they measure their ability to sprint? Treble their heart rate and recover quickly? Do push-ups, chin-ups or burpees? Feel great physically and buoyant mentally? Lift twice their own body weight? Not feel the need for any medications - modern or traditional? Recover from injury (everyone should be injured once or twice a year - or they probably aren't pushing themselves). Never feel tired during the day? Wake up naturally and refreshed at dawn every morning? Grow their own food? Walk briskly for an hour? Be the valued friend of other people? Not worry about their health - mental and physical? Or did they measure health by the modern defeatist model of absence of morbidity and the deferral of mortality?
For more information see:
What is a balanced diet?
Also this document by Walter Jehne which is a telling example of how natural processes are linked in the environment.
Last modified 15 December 2008