Natural my a#%!

Natural. The popular catch cry of nutrition gurus, the favorite fallback of all diets.

Let’s start with a simple fact. Just because it is natural doesn’t mean it is good for you. Take cyanide… Ok, let’s not go that far. Let’s have a closer look at the new darling of weight loss magazines: “heart healthy whole grains”. The clever advertising normally involves one of the following: vast expansive fields, shimmering gold wheat, sunburnt farmers, a shape of a heart and a coy mention of “regularity”.

Apply STEP 1 of the FCS: Metabolism
How many mammal species eat grains as a major part of their diet, let alone the base of the food pyramid? When did the human digestive system learn how to process the food group that in the animal kingdom is a leftover for birds only? The reason why you don’t see herds of cows stampeding the wheat fields is that they instinctively know the toxic components of grains: gliadin proteins, wheat germ agglutinin and other lectins, phytic acids and enzyme inhibitors.

STEP 2: Evolution
Since the advent of agriculture people used many processing methods to neutralise the poisons in grains: milling, sifting to remove most of the toxic bran (yes, the one in your bran muffin), fermenting (8-12 days for traditional sourdough), forming into batter, fermenting again for a few hours and finally baking. Making bread was hard work and you can be sure it wasn’t possible to make 6-11 serves recommended today. Bread became a poor man’s meat, an inferior substitute source of nutrition when precious animal products were no longer available on regular hunts.
Today life is so much easier. The industrial processes mill grains into super-fine flour. The fermentation process is largely unused. For “health conscious” consumers, seeds and bran are added back into the mix.

STEP 3: Scientific evidence
Much evidence exists on the damage grains cause to our body. Coeliac disease is the most well-known condition in which gluten causes widespread damage to intestinal lining, causing malabsorption, debilitating digestive complaints, skin rash and higher rates of some cancers. But coeliac is just the tip of a big ugly iceberg. Other conditions linked to grains are less well known: autoimmune thyroid and liver disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, type I diabetes and even schizophrenia.

Natural? You gotta be kidding me.
Sigh… Moving on…

In the yuppy heaven of the trendy suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne, Los Angeles or London you will come across organic/natural cafes frequented by very casually but expensively dressed 20-somethings who look like they desperately need a feed. The drink of choice is usually soy (possibly chai) latte. Somebody please tell me what is so very natural about soy milk. Have you ever seen a soy bean and does it look like you can easily get “milk” from it? The process of creating this dubiously “natural” beverage is a genius of food chemistry and machinery.

Click for better resolution

Baby food and Adhesives… Yummm

Organic soymilk coffee: the irony

And why is it sold in a dairy section of the supermarkets? (together with margarine made from industrial seed oils in a container with a picture of a cow). To grow herbs on your own balcony and to shop at local farmers markets does not go with drinking soy milk! Let’s not even get started on phytoestrogen and isoflavone content of unfermented soy products and its effect on your thyroid and testosterone. Every time I walk past a baby food aisle in the supermarket and see baby soy formula it makes me physically sick. Some of the most prominent New Zealand scientists, like  Dr  Mike Fitzpatrick and Professor Cliff Irvine, have been calling on NZ Government to completely ban infant soy formula after what they have discovered in the course of their research. (Fitzpatrick “Soy formulas and the effects of isoflavons on the thyroid” NZMJ 2000)

Other pseudo-natural food items that come to mind are egg whites and skinless chicken breasts. I’m trying to  remember the last time I saw an animal documentary where a predator raiding a birds nest carefully breaks each egg into two pieces, decants the whites into a prepared container and then discards the nasty yellow in the centre. Eggs are a complete food. Yes, they have cholesterol and (gasp!) even saturated fat. But they provide a complete profile of essential nutrients, including choline, the deficiency of which has been linked with fatty liver disease. Eating egg whites is a bit like eating the peeled skin off an apple and discarding the rest. Ditto applies to chicken skin, fat on the meat and offal (highly prized in the animal kingdom).

The prize goes to low fat dairy products. If you are lactose-intolerant or just sensitive to dairy due to digestive or autoimmune conditions, that’s another story (unless you substitute it with soy – see above). People who drink skim milk because of their lipophobia have a lack of basic understanding of what  a natural product actually is. Every constituent of food plays an important role. You can’t just remove fat in isolation and expect everything else to remain the same. Fat content of dairy products allows for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A and D. Why do you think skim milk is often “fortified” with these vitamins and calcium? Milk is another nutritionally complete food. The
macronutrient content of human breast milk is as follows.

Human Breast Milk. Per 250 mL. Source: CalorieKing.com

As you can see the saturated fat content is very high. The medical profession is united in advocating breastfeeding. However, according to conventional wisdom, on the day the child turns 2 years of age they miraculously cease requiring fatty acids for healthy brain development. What was highly beneficial at 1 year and 364 days becomes a silent killer the very next day. No, it doesn’t make sense to me either.

Four pillars of modern “natural” nutrition: wholegrains, low fat dairy, egg whites and soy.

I don’t care whether you believe in God or Mother Nature: neither are stupid enough to provide us with natural foods that need industrial-strength modifications and pharmaceutically-supported supplementation just to make them edible. Humans are the only species on this planet which require multi-million dollar investigations to tell them what to eat. Because clearly after 2 million years in existence we clearly still haven’t worked it out.

End rant.