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How did we get here?

Important changes to our food supply have taken place over the last 150 years that have had profound effects on our health.  In this first post I will briefly cite some examples of these changes and then explore them and their health effects in more depth in subsequent blogs.

Bread:  Prior to the widespread adoption of roller milling in the 1870s wheat or rye for this staple food was ground between stone wheels and resulted in whole meal flour containing the starchy endosperm, germ and bran. Roller milling allowed the bran and germ to be separated from the white starch efficiently and cheaply. White bread and other baked goods were now available to the general population, not just the upper classes.  Vitamin deficiency diseases soon followed, but more subtle declines in health have taken longer to manifest themselves.

In the 1950s bakers realized they could save money by shortening the time it took to proof bread.  By increasing the amount of yeast they could produce loaves of bread in 3 hours instead of the slow 8-hour or more fermentation process used before that.  Today commercial breads can be produced in 40 minutes using rapid rise yeast, proofing agents, and accelerants.  However, when gluten, the protein in wheat, is improperly prepared it can lead to gluten intolerance followed by other serious health problems.

Sugar:  By 1800 annual sugar consumption in the US was 18 pounds per person, up from 4 pounds in 1700.  By 1900 annual consumption had grown to 90 pounds and today it is around 180 pounds!  For the last 30 years much of this intake has been in the form of high fructose corn syrup.  Is it any wonder that we have an obesity epidemic with all its associated health problems?

Meat and Poultry and Eggs:  During the second half of the 20th century the production of most of our beef, pork, poultry and eggs became concentrated in large concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).  Here the animals live in inhumanely crowded conditions and are fed an unnatural diet of grain (GMO corn and soy); are given antibiotics to keep them from getting sick in crowded conditions; are fed growth hormones and antibiotics to speed their growth, and most spend their entire lives indoors.  Prior to that time most animals were raised on family farms and consumed their natural diets—grass for cattle, everything for pigs, and grain, grass and insects for chickens.  They were out in the open receiving natural sunlight.  This change in farming practices has resulted in profound changes in the nutrient quality of the meat and eggs and consequently in our health.

Dairy Products:  Pasteurization of milk came in to widespread use after the discovery of the process in 1864.  It was necessary as people congregated in cities during the industrial revolution and at the same time dairies near these cities produced milk under filthy conditions, and tests were not available to detect pathogenic bacteria.  Prior to that time raw milk was consumed from family or neighbor-owned cows.  Today, with the advent of modern milking equipment and adequate testing for pathogens many people are returning to raw milk for its health benefits.  Raw milk is a living food with all its enzymes intact, meaning that it is better digested and used than pasteurized milk.

The concept of whole foods applies particularly to milk.  Whole raw milk is an excellent food.  Skim, low fat, and homogenized milk, low fat yogurt with lots of additives and sugar, low or non-fat ice cream, etc. are recent introductions to our food supply and track very closely with our current epidemics of obesity and diabetes.

Fats and Oils:  The change from consuming natural fats (butter, lard, beef tallow) to vegetable oils (corn, soy, canola) and their hydrogenated forms (margarine, shortening) happened gradually from about 1900 on.  Price was a factor—the vegetable oils are much cheaper. At the same time incidence of heart disease was rising and continues to be the #1 cause of death in the US.

Fruits and Vegetables:  Since the advent of industrial agriculture in the mid 19th century with the discovery that nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are necessary for plant growth, and especially since WWII with the advent of synthetic pesticides, produce has been grown on undermineralized soils and bred for keeping and shipping qualities rather than nutrition and taste. It is no wonder that people do not consume the recommended amounts!

Organic farming, or a return to traditional ways, is gaining ground and organic produce has been shown in some studies to contain more nutrients than conventionally grown produce, especially if it is bought and consumed locally.  It also tastes better and may lead to higher consumption and thus better health, but it is only about 3% percent of the market.

Soy:  Contrary to popular opinion, soy has not been a staple food in Asian countries except in its fermented forms (soy sauce, natto, miso, tempeh).  And it has been consumed in very small quantities, more as a condiment.  Fermentation neutralizes toxins naturally found in soy.  Cooking does not.  Modern soy foods (soy milk, unfermented tofu, soy flour, texturized vegetable protein, etc.) contain antinutrients (phytates, trypsin inhibitors), as well as estrogen analogs.  Some early puberty (girls), retarded growth of genitals (boys) and depression of thyroid function are being associated with high soy consumption.

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