Unless you, dear reader, are in a diabetic free-fall, I'm sorry I ever mentioned Gary Taubes' book! Because so much of the joy of food (and life) is the community it builds and the shared delight. Let me stand up again this week in defense of non-leafy vegetables around the world.
Diamond finds, as everyone else does, that normally healthy societies that encounter the Western diet soon suffer from Western health problems:
"When I began working in Papua New Guinea in 1964, the vast majority of New Guineans still lived largely traditional lifestyles in their villages, growing their own food and consuming a low-salt, low-sugar diet. The dietary staples in the Highlands were root crops (sweet potato, taro, and yams) providing about 90% of Highlanders' caloric intake, while the lowland staple was starch grains from the heart of sago palm trees" (p.410).Good heavens! Starch, starch, and more starch! Surely, Mr. Diamond, the New Guineans must have been frightfully unhealthy? He found, in fact, the opposite:
But how can this be? All those starchy staples are forbidden on just those diets trying to help obese and overweight Westerners stave off metabolic syndrome. Diamond blames not starchy vegetables, but the high sodium and sugar of the processed-food diet, as well its ready availability and abundance. Diabetes levels per capita are highest in countries that rapidly transitioned to the Western diet. Diamond finds "the biggest source of dietary salt in the U.S...is cereal products--bread, other baked goods, and breakfast cereals--which we usually don't think of as being salty" (426). Sugar, of course, is everywhere. Genes that used to ensure survival--the ones that helped us store fat for lean times--now, in a culture of caloric overabundance, do us in.
"Among the many things that impressed me about New Guineans was their physical condition: lean, muscular, physically active, all of them resembling slim Western body-builders. When not carrying loads, they ran along steep mountain trails at a trot, and when carrying heavy loads, they walked all day at my own unencumbered walking pace...During those early years in New Guinea I never saw a single obese or even overweight New Guinean" [ibid].
Not the villain?
His recipe for health:
- not smoking;
- exercising regularly;
- limiting our intake of total calories, alcohol, salt and salty foods, sugar and sugared soft drinks, saturated and trans fats, processed foods, butter, cream, and red meat;
- increasing our intake of fiber, fruits and vegetables, calcium, and complex carbohydrates.
- Eat more slowly.