Author Archives: Bix

Canada’s Dietary Guidelines Specifically Address Older Adults

Older adults* have nutritional needs that differ from people in other stages of life. Canada addresses older adults’ needs in their Dietary Guideleines:

Canada’s Dietary Guidelines, January 2019 (pdf)

Under Section 4: Implementation of Dietary Guidelines:

Older adults may be at risk of poor dietary intake, depending on whether they were exposed to positive or negative influences on their health over time. Older adults can be affected by socio-economic conditions, such as lower income, which may limit their ability to travel, purchase and transport nutritious foods. Changes in functional ability can also influence the food choices and eating behaviour of adults in later life. Some older adults face mobility or dexterity issues that can cause them to increasingly rely on others for food shopping and meal preparation. They may face social isolation with changes in family and social networks and loss of loved ones over the years. Social isolation can lead to depression and a lack of motivation to prepare and consume nutritious meals. While women are more likely to lose a spouse, widowers may have fewer food skills and be less able to prepare nutritious meals for themselves. Older adults’ food intake can also be affected by physiological changes, such as poor oral health, diminished appetite, sensory changes, altered digestive processes, chronic health issues, and the effects of medication.

That was one excellent paragraph. It shows care. Also this about dehydration:

Those most at risk of becoming dehydrated are young children and older adults.

I looked at our Dietary Guidelines here in the US:

Dietary Guidelines For Americans 2015-2020, Eighth Edition (pdf)

I did a search on the terms: social isolation, oral health, appetite, food shopping, mobility, food skills, sarcopenia, malnutrition, dementia, and dehydration. I saw nothing. Nothing. These are serious issues that impact older adults’ nutritional status. There isn’t even a section devoted to older adults. When they do mention them, it’s things like:

Among older adults who are obese, particularly those with CVD risk factors, intentional weight loss can be beneficial.

While it’s true that obesity is a health risk, at any age, it’s also true, especially for older adults, that unintentional weight loss, underweight, and malnourishment are also health risks … for reasons stated in Canada’s Guidelines above. Our Guidelines don’t address them.

And this:

Older adults should determine their level of effort for physical activity relative to their level of fitness.

What does that even mean?

Here is some advice on food safety:

Women who are pregnant, infants and young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems should only eat foods containing seafood, meat, poultry, or eggs that have been cooked to recommended safe minimum internal temperatures. They also should take special precautions not to consume unpasteurized (raw) juice or milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk, like some soft cheeses (e.g., Feta, queso blanco, queso fresco, Brie, Camembert cheeses, blue-veined cheeses, and Panela). They should reheat deli and luncheon meats and hot dogs to steaming hot to kill Listeria.

So, older adults should not eat Feta. Or Brie. Or Camembert. Or blue cheese. And they should heat their deli and luncheon meats to steaming hot. That’s right. Older adults are suffering and dying from malnutrition and dehydration but we tell them they should be boiling their bologna.

This is one of the few photos of older adults in the US Guidelines, under a section that addressed food access. Farmers markets and community gardens were among approaches, they said, that could help address food access. There is no way on God’s green earth that farmer’s markets are going to feed adults who are at risk of poor nutritional status because (of everything in Canada’s paragraph).

When guidelines fail to address the unique nutritional needs of older adults, in a document written specifically to address nutritional needs of Americans, it reflects ageism. Institutionalized ageism.

I shouldn’t have done this exercise. It only reinforces my cynicism about our government.

* The term “older adults” has emerged as the term of choice to describe people in later stages of life. It is preferred to terms such as seniors, elders or the elderly, the aged, and older people. It is the term I have begun to see in official documents.

Nina Teicholz Debates Dr. David Katz

Are Vegetarians Healthier than Omnivores? A Soho Forum Debate
Journalist Nina Teicholz faced off against David L. Katz, MD, at en event in New York City on May 13, 2019.

Prior to the debate, the audience votes (agree or disagree) on this statement:

There is little or no rigorous evidence that vegetarian/vegan diets are healthier than diets that include meat, eggs, and dairy.

After the debate, they vote again. Katz won this debate.

That was the topic of a public debated hosted by the Soho Forum in New York City on May 13, 2019. It featured Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, and David Katz, the founding director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center. Soho Forum director Gene Epstein moderated.

It was an Oxford-style debate, in which the audience votes on the resolution at the beginning and end of the event, and the side that gains the most ground is victorious. Katz prevailed in the debate by convincing 13 percent of audience members to change their minds.

Arguing for the affirmative was Nina Teicholz, whose 2014 book, The Big Fat Surprise, challenged the conventional wisdom on dietary fat. Teicholz’s writing has also been published in The BMJ, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Independent, The New Yorker, and The Los Angeles Times among others. Teicholz is the Executive Director of The Nutrition Coalition, a non-profit group that promotes evidence-based nutrition policy.

David L. Katz, MD argued for the negative. He’s the founding director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, which practices community and alternative medicine, and is founder/president of the True Health Initiative, a non-profit organization established to promote a healthy diet and lifestyle. The holder of five U.S. patents, Katz has authored roughly 200 peer-reviewed publications and 16 books to date, including textbooks in both nutrition and preventive medicine.

We Absorb Fewer Calories When We Eat Whole Foods (The Case Of Almonds) (Repost)

It makes sense that I repost this (from June 2014) while we’re talking about processed food. Not only does some fat (and calories) from raw almonds go right through us, but some fat (and calories) from the rest of the day’s food also passes without absorption.

This is what a 1-ounce serving of almonds looks like (about 22 nuts).

For a while now I’ve been saying that the calories listed in food tables and data bases are really just rough guides, e.g you’ll never be able to pack a measuring cup the same way twice, especially with a whole food. Two peaches (or apples or carrots, etc.) have different sugar contents, and so, different calorie counts. (Which is why listing a food’s calories to two decimal places, as USDA’s Nutrient Database does, is pure fantasy. Although you do need benchmarks.)

That is all beside the issue of how many calories we actually absorb. Remember my write-ups about resistant starch? Some of the starch we eat (in pasta, potatoes, bananas) never gets digested and ends up feeding the bacteria in our colons instead of feeding us. So, 200 calories of pasta does not deliver 200 calories.

Here’s a little study that found quite a discrepancy between the calories listed for almonds, and the calories participants absorbed from those almonds:

Discrepancy Between The Atwater Factor Predicted And Empirically Measured Energy Values Of Almonds In Human Diets, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 2012

The Atwater general factors (you may know them as 4 kcal/g for protein, 9 kcal/g for fat, and 4 kcal/g for carbohydrate) predicted that a 28-gram serving (about 23 almonds) would contain 170 calories. Participants in this study only absorbed 129 calories. The listed calories were overestimated by 32%.

And get this … It wasn’t just calories from almonds that were poorly predicted. Eating almonds caused an across-the-board reduction in total calories for the day. The calories, mostly fat calories, were excreted in feces:

The digestibility of macronutrients and energy from the diet as a whole was significantly affected by the addition of almonds to the diet (Table 3). The fat digestibility of the total diet decreased by nearly 5% when 42 g almonds were incorporated into the daily diet and by nearly 10% when 84 g almonds were incorporated into the diet daily (P < 0.0001).

When an 84-g serving of almonds was incorporated into the diet daily, the energy digestibility of the diet as a whole decreased by ∼5%. Therefore, for individuals with energy intakes between 2000 and 3000 kcal/d, incorporation of 84 g almonds into the diet daily in exchange for highly digestible foods would result in a reduction of available energy of 100–150 kcal/d. With a weight-reduction diet, this deficit could result in more than a pound of weight loss per month. Nuts and peanuts, being relatively energy dense and high-fat foods, may be expected to contribute to weight gain. However, both epidemiologic studies and intervention studies have suggested otherwise (17–24). These studies show that despite incorporation of nuts into the diet, there were no increases in body weight or fatness.

There are also studies showing this effect with peanuts. Participants absorbed fewer calories (primarily from fat) when the peanuts were whole, more calories when the peanuts were ground into peanut butter, and still more when they ate “isocaloric” peanut oil.

Can you imagine what a mess this makes of studies that try to provide isocaloric diets? Depending on the food, you could be off by 5% to 10%.

This is why it’s better to eat foods as minimally processed as possible. This is also why, probably, the men in that pistachio study could add – a pure add, not a substitution – 120 pistachios a day to their diet and not gain weight or increase their BMI or waist circumference.

The Mouse In The Maze Experiment (How Creativity Dies In Caution)

Girl painting mosquito. Photo source: OpenIDEO

The Mouse In The Maze experiment:

Some years ago, psychologists used a maze puzzle in an intriguing experiment with college students.* A cartoon mouse was shown trapped inside a picture of a maze, and the task was to help the mouse find the way out. There were two different versions of the task. One was positive, approach-oriented; the other was negative or avoidance-oriented. In the positive condition, there was a piece of Swiss cheese lying outside the maze, in front of a mouse hole. In the negative condition, the maze was exactly the same, but instead of the Swiss cheese feast at the finish, an owl hovered above the maze, ready to swoop down and capture the mouse in its talons at any moment.

The maze takes less than two minutes to complete, and all the students who took part in the experiment solved their maze. But the contrast in the aftereffects of working on different versions of the maze was striking. When the participants later took a test of creativity, those who had helped their mouse avoid the owl turned in scores that were fifty percent lower than the scores of students who had helped their mouse find the cheese. The state of mind elicited by attending to the owl had resulted in a lingering sense of caution, avoidance, and vigilance for things going wrong. This mind-state in turn weakened creativity, closed down options, and reduced the students’ flexibility in responding to the next task.

This experiment tells us something very important: the same action (even something as slight as solving a simple maze puzzle) has different consequences depending on whether it is done to move toward something we welcome (activating the brain’s approach system) or to avoid something negative (activating the brain’s avoidance system). In the maze experiment, aversion was triggered by something as minor as the sight of a cartoon owl. It led to reductions in exploratory, creative behaviors. This is dramatic evidence that the avoidance system can narrow the focus of our lives, even when triggered by a purely symbolic threat.
The Mindful Way Through Depression, Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, Jon Kabat-Zinn, 2007

* The Effects Of Promotion And Prevention Cues On Creativity, Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, December 2001

This was just a puzzle. It wasn’t even real. Yet it had real-life effects on the students.

Is The “Impossible Burger” Natural?

Impossible Burger

Impossible Burger, Ingredients:

Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.

What is an Impossible Burger?

Impossible Foods Inc. is a company that develops plant-based substitutes for meat and dairy products. Founded in 2011, and headquartered in Redwood City, California, the company aims to give people the taste and nutritional benefits of meat and dairy without the negative health and environmental impacts associated with livestock products. The company researches animal products at the molecular level, then selects specific proteins and nutrients from plants to recreate the experience of specific meat and dairy products.

By the way:

The burger’s key ingredient is called heme, which is produced using a genetically engineered yeast that is fermented and multiplied. The GMO-derived heme gives the Impossible Burger its meat-like taste and red blood-like color.


The manufacturers of the controversial veggie burger just announced that in the future, due to “high demand” for the product, its plant-based patties will be made using GMO soy.

What NOVA Group would you place the Impossible Burger in? I’d place it in Group 4; Ultra-processed.

This is an example of a company capitalizing on the trend to produce more sustainably-grown, environmentally responsible foods by making the cheapest alternative they can and marketing it as “Natural.” I wouldn’t eat it.

Study: Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake And Weight Gain

What would happen if you put some people on a diet of mostly ultra-processed food (NOVA Group 4 from my previous post) and compared them to a group of people who ate less processed foods (mostly NOVA Group 1)?

That’s what Kevin Hall did in his recent study:

Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake And Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial Of Ad Libitum Food Intake, Cell Metabolism, 16 May 2019

  • 20 inpatient adults (mean age: 31 yrs) received ultra-processed and unprocessed diets for 14 days each (crossover design).
  • Diets were matched for presented calories, sugar, fat, fiber, and macronutrients.
  • Ad libitum intake (consume as much or as little as desired) was ∼500 kcal/day more on the ultra-processed versus unprocessed diet.
  • Weight changes were highly correlated with energy intake with participants gaining 0.9 kg (2 pounds) during the ultra-processed diet and losing 0.9 kg (2 pounds) during the unprocessed diet.

People gained 2 pounds in 2 weeks on the ultra-processed diet (and lost 2 pounds in 2 weeks on the less-processed diet). They gained weight because they ate more. They ate more because ultra-processed food is designed to be hyperpalatable:

[Hyperpalatable] foods are deliberately engineered in such a way that they surpass the reward properties of traditional foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Food chemists achieve this by suffusing products with increased levels of fat, sugar, flavors, and food additives.

This is how the authors desribed it:

Ultra-processed foods may facilitate overeating and the development of obesity because they are typically high in calories, salt, sugar, and fat and have been suggested to be engineered to have supernormal appetitive properties that may result in pathological eating behavior. Furthermore, ultra-processed foods are theorized to disrupt gut-brain signaling and may influence food reinforcement and overall intake via mechanisms distinct from the palatability or energy density of the food.

This small study was the first randomized, controlled study to compare ultra-processed with less-processed foods. It’s likely more studies will follow because:

The rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes prevalence occurred in parallel with an increasingly industrialized food system characterized by large-scale production of high-yield, inexpensive, agricultural “inputs” (primarily corn, soy, and wheat) that are refined and processed to generate an abundance of “added value” foods. Ultra-processed foods have become more common worldwide, now constitute the majority of calories consumed in America, and have been associated with a variety of poor health outcomes, including death.

Two other mechanisms I’ve reported in the past that could cause people to gain weight on ultra-processed foods that don’t have anything directly to do with nutrients are:

1. Food Texture: I just reposted the study about rats that gained more weight eating soft pellets instead of hard pellets, same calories.

2. Food Combination: The combination of high fat and easily digested carb in a meal can, over time, contribute to weight gain, glucose dysregulation, and other metabolic disorders.

My feeling about this study … I like it but it’s more a technology demonstrator than a plan for how to eat. I just don’t see people eating mostly NOVA Group 1 (unprocessed and minimally-processed foods). For one thing, unprocessed food costs more.

The weekly cost for ingredients to prepare 2,000 kcal/day of ultra-processed meals was estimated to be $106 versus $151 for the unprocessed meals as calculated using the cost of ingredients obtained from a local branch of a large supermarket chain.

It’s not just the cost of the food that’s a barrier. Labor required to eat this way, a whole-foods diet, is considerable. I’ve said this. Hall says it too:

Policies that discourage consumption of ultra-processed foods should be sensitive to the time, skill, expense, and effort required to prepare meals from minimally processed foods—resources that are often in short supply for those who are not members of the upper socioeconomic classes.

If you pick the study link up top and click “Supplemental Materials” under “Method Details” and “Diets” you can see photos of the actual meals used in the metabolic ward in the study. I learned a lot from these. For instance, here’s an ultra-processed dinner:

Ultra-processed Menu, Day 1, Dinner: Steak (Tyson), Gravy (McCormick), Mashed potatoes (Basic American Foods), Margarine (Glenview Farms), Corn (canned, Giant), Diet lemonade (Crystal Light) with NutriSource fiber, Low fat chocolate milk (Nesquik) with NutriSource fiber.

At first glance it didn’t look very processed to me, just a potato that was mashed, some whole kernel corn, and slices of beef.

I looked it up:

Tyson Beef Steak Strips:
Ingredients: Beef steak strips, water, contains 2% or less of the following: beef fat, brown sugar, canola oil, dried beef broth, kiwi powder, maltodextrin, natural flavor, natural smoke flavor, salt, spices, yeast extract. GLAZED WITH: Canola oil, corn starch, guar gum, maltodextrin, natural flavors, natural smoke flavor, olive oil, salt, spice, sunflower oil, water, xanthan gum, yeast extract.

Sugar inside the meat? And lots of other ingredients. Definitely counts as NOVA Group 4.

Basic American Foods, Mashed Potatoes:
Ingredients: potato, salt. freshness preserved with sodium bisulfite

It wasn’t a fresh potato, maybe dried granules and salt and what looks like a preservative. Yep, NOVA Group 4.

I couldn’t find Giant (not Green Giant) canned corn but I think it’s unfair to call whole corn kernels ultra-processed even if they had salt added. They allow pasta in the unprocessed menu and that’s a more processed food to me.

Here’s the unprocessed dinner for comparison:

Unprocessed Menu, Day 1, Dinner: Beef tender roast (Tyson), Rice pilaf (basmati rice (Roland) with garlic, onions, sweet peppers and olive oil), Steamed broccoli, Side salad (Green leaf lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers) with balsamic vinaigrette (balsamic vinegar (Nature’s Promise), Orange slices, Pecans (Monarch), Salt and Pepper (Monarch)

Holy Cow, the effort involved in putting that on the table at the end of a work day!  I saw that he served black beans several times a week, made from scratch using dried beans. Cooking black beans from scratch takes a long time, I can attest, as does cooking whole farro or whole barley which he also serves.

Here are some news summaries:
Processed Foods Are Bad For Weight Loss, Study Shows, Consumer reports, 16 May 2019
Processed Foods Lead To Weight Gain, But It’s About More Than Calories, Medical News Today, 17 May 2019
Ultra-Processed Foods Make Us Eat More, and It’s Not About Their Nutritional Makeup, PBS, 16 May 2019
Why Eating Processed Foods Might Make You Fat, New York Times, 16 May 2019
The NIH Director’s blog: Ultra-Processed Diet Leads To Extra Calories, Weight Gain, Dr. Francis S. Collins, NIH Director, 21 May 2019

Processed Food: Breaking It Down

Most of the food we eat is processed to some degree. Processed food is not unhealthy. It is, in fact, the food we evolved to eat. But modern methods of food processing have turned modern processed food into a wasteland.

A new food classification system was developed, called NOVA (not an acronym), that categorizes foods according to extent and purpose of food processing.

Food Classification, Public Health. NOVA. The Star Shines Bright., World Nutrition, January-March 2016

The following descriptions are from Open Food Facts, a food products database that defines a food by its NOVA group, among other things. It’s open source, global, and still adding foods. A great resource. The definitions in the NOVA document above are more extensive and include examples.

Nova Groups For Food Processing: A Classification In 4 Groups To Highlight The Degree Of Processing Of Foods

Group 1 – Unprocessed or minimally processed foods
Group 2 – Processed culinary ingredients
Group 3 – Processed foods
Group 4 – Ultra-processed food and drink products

Group 1. Unprocessed Or Minimally Processed Foods

Unprocessed (or natural) foods are edible parts of plants (seeds, fruits, leaves, stems, roots) or of animals (muscle, offal, eggs, milk), and also fungi, algae and water, after separation from nature.

Minimally processed foods are natural foods altered by processes that include removal of inedible or unwanted parts, and drying, crushing, grinding, fractioning, filtering, roasting, boiling, non-alcoholic fermentation, pasteurization, refrigeration, chilling, freezing, placing in containers and vacuum-packaging. These processes are designed to preserve natural foods, to make them suitable for storage, or to make them safe or edible or more pleasant to consume. Many unprocessed or minimally processed foods are prepared and cooked at home or in restaurant kitchens in combination with processed culinary ingredients as dishes or meals.

Group 2. Processed Culinary Ingredients

Processed culinary ingredients, such as oils, butter, sugar and salt, are substances derived from Group 1 foods or from nature by processes that include pressing, refining, grinding, milling and drying. The purpose of such processes is to make durable products that are suitable for use in home and restaurant kitchens to prepare, season and cook Group 1 foods and to make with them varied and enjoyable hand-made dishes and meals, such as stews, soups and broths, salads, breads, preserves, drinks and desserts. They are not meant to be consumed by themselves, and are normally used in combination with Group 1 foods to make freshly prepared drinks, dishes and meals.

Group 3. Processed Foods

Processed foods, such as bottled vegetables, canned fish, fruits in syrup, cheeses and freshly made breads, are made essentially by adding salt, oil, sugar or other substances from Group 2 to Group 1 foods.

Processes include various preservation or cooking methods, and, in the case of breads and cheese, non-alcoholic fermentation. Most processed foods have two or three ingredients, and are recognizable as modified versions of Group 1 foods. They are edible by themselves or, more usually, in combination with other foods.

The purpose of processing here is to increase the durability of Group 1 foods, or to modify or enhance their sensory qualities.

Group 4. Ultra-processed Foods

Ultra-processed foods, such as soft drinks, sweet or savoury packaged snacks, reconstituted meat products and pre-prepared frozen dishes, are not modified foods but formulations made mostly or entirely from substances derived from foods and additives, with little if any intact Group 1 food.

Ingredients of these formulations usually include those also used in processed foods, such as sugars, oils, fats or salt. But ultra-processed products also include other sources of energy and nutrients not normally used in culinary preparations. Some of these are directly extracted from foods, such as casein, lactose, whey and gluten.

Many are derived from further processing of food constituents, such as hydrogenated or interesterified oils, hydrolysed proteins, soya protein isolate, maltodextrin, invert sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.

Additives in ultra-processed foods include some also used in processed foods, such as preservatives, antioxidants and stabilizers. Classes of additives found only in ultra-processed products include those used to imitate or enhance the sensory qualities of foods or to disguise unpalatable aspects of the final product. These additives include dyes and other colours, colour stabilizers; flavours, flavour enhancers, non-sugar sweeteners; and processing aids such as carbonating, firming, bulking and anti-bulking, de-foaming, anti-caking and glazing agents, emulsifiers, sequestrants and humectants.

A multitude of sequences of processes is used to combine the usually many ingredients and to create the final product (hence ‘ultra-processed’). The processes include several with no domestic equivalents, such as hydrogenation and hydrolysation, extrusion and moulding, and pre-processing for frying.

The overall purpose of ultra-processing is to create branded, convenient (durable, ready to consume), attractive (hyper-palatable) and highly profitable (low-cost ingredients) food products designed to displace all other food groups. Ultra-processed food products are usually packaged attractively and marketed intensively.

For example, roasted peanuts fall into Group 1. Add salt to them and they fall into Group 3. Add “sea salt, spices (contains celery), dried onion, dried garlic, paprika, natural flavor, sugar, gelatin, torula yeast, cornstarch, dried corn syrup, maltodextrin” to them, as Planters does, and they fall into Group 4 … making them, by design, difficult to eat just a few.

The Open Food Facts website is a searchable database. It’s still young but has over 800,000 products. Try it! (I just looked up Cheerios and Silk Soymilk: both NOVA Group 4 – to be avoided.)

Food Processing Contributed To Human Evolution

A diorama or model showing Homo erectus, the earliest human species that is known to have controlled fire, from inside the National Museum of Mongolian History in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Source: Wikipedia: Control Of Fire By Early Humans

Richard Wrangham argued in his 2009 book, “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human” that when our ancestors learned to cook food, it changed how they developed:

Wikipedia, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

Humans (species in the genus homo) are the only animals that cook their food and Wrangham argues Homo erectus emerged about two million years ago as a result of this unique trait. Cooking had profound evolutionary effect because it increased food efficiency which allowed human ancestors to spend less time foraging, chewing, and digesting. H. erectus developed a smaller, more efficient digestive tract which freed up energy to enable larger brain growth. Wrangham also argues that cooking and control of fire generally affected species development by providing warmth and helping to fend off predators which helped human ancestors adapt to a ground-based lifestyle. Wrangham points out that humans are highly evolved for eating cooked food and cannot maintain reproductive fitness with raw food.

Cooking is a form of food processing. So is grinding. So is chewing although as we saw with almonds, chewing isn’t as effective as other forms; some of those almonds and their fat and calories get excreted.

Food processing breaks down cell walls and decreases the size of food particles (increasing their surface area), giving digestive juices and enzymes more product to work on. It increases availability of nutrients that would otherwise go right through us. We absorb more, with less effort, and we absorb it faster. This can be a good thing, as Wrangham describes, or it can create problems, as we saw in the rats in my previous post.

Processing food by cooking was clearly an advantage for early humans. What were they cooking? Everything, but starches took center stage, so much so that:

Compared with chimpanzees, humans boast many more copies of the gene that makes salivary amylase — a saliva enzyme that breaks down starch into digestible sugars.” … “High starch foods and a high starch diet have been an important evolutionary force for humans,” says George Perry, an anthropologist at Arizona State University.

Here’s a new study:

Earliest Evidence Of The Cooking And Eating Of Starch, Eurekalert, 17 May 2019

New discoveries made at the Klasies River Cave in South Africa’s southern Cape, where charred food remains from hearths were found, provide the first archaeological evidence that anatomically modern humans were roasting and eating plant starches, such as those from tubers and rhizomes, as early as 120,000 years ago.

The new research by an international team of archaeologists, published in the Journal of Human Evolution, provides archaeological evidence that has previously been lacking to support the hypothesis that the duplication of the starch digestion genes is an adaptive response to an increased starch diet.

“Our results showed that these small ashy hearths were used for cooking food and starchy roots and tubers were clearly part of their diet, from the earliest levels at around 120,000 years ago through to 65,000 years ago,” says Larbey. “Despite changes in hunting strategies and stone tool technologies, they were still cooking roots and tubers.”

Starch diet isn’t something that happens when we started farming, but rather, is as old as humans themselves,” says Larbey. Farming in Africa only started in the last 10 000 years of human existence.

“Evidence from Klasies River, where several human skull fragments and two maxillary fragments dating 120 000 years ago occur, show that humans living in that time period looked like modern humans of today. However, they were somewhat more robust,” says Wurz.

What I’m saying here is that processed foods are a good thing. We evolved to eat them, especially starches. The problem with modern processed foods is that during the course of processing, things are taken away or added. We have created food we didn’t evolve to eat. It’s wrecking havoc with our health. I’ll talk about that in my next post.

Here’s a fantastic video I found of a man who cultivated a yam and cooked it using no modern tools. Something else. Source: Yam, Cultivate and Cook.