Universal diets kill

The practitioners of the paleolithic diet hit upon a great idea: the most healthy foods to eat are those that our ancestors evolved to eat.    Modern foods are designed primarily to satisfy naive appetites with industrial efficiency, not to be healthy.   High in sugars and processed starches, filled with unusual amounts of unusual fats and novel chemicals,  industry has turned foods into risky and uncontrolled experiments in human biology.  Unfortunately, the paleolithic dieters succumbed to the great myth of the 20th century,  the universalist impulse.   Indeed, every recent and current diet fad, whether low-fat or low-carb, has been sold to everybody, regardless of race, regardless of ancestry.   The pretense is that the best diet is the best diet for everybody, but in fact these diets work splendidly for some and can be deadly for others.

As  Harpending and Cochran documented, many humans have evolved quickly over the last 10,000 years, especially in response to agriculture.    The forms in which these adaptations occurred varied quite widely, resulting in modern humans that are genetically different from each other in many important ways.  Heuristically, this genetics largely depends on where our ancestors came from and how they lived over the last 10,000 years.

Thus, the paleolithic dieters made two errors: first, ignoring the last 10,000 years of human evolution, and second, ignoring the fact that, depending on who our ancestors were, they ate radically different kinds of foods, with radically different mixes of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.   This dietary diversity has been especially important over the last 10,000 years when, as Harpending and Cochran showed, many human biologies adapted rapidly and often in radical ways to agriculture.   Many, including almost all of us of Northern European descent, evolved to digest milk as adults, but many other humans did not.    For some of us of Northern European descent gluten, a protein found in wheat and related grains, is deadly, and it may be unhealthy for a substantial fraction of us.   There are dozens of other obvious examples of foods quite healthy for some and quite dangerous to others depending on genetics, and probably a myriad of non-obvious examples, relating to subtlely developed diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and dementia that remain to be discovered.

The biologies are of most humans are not adapted to most of the foods we now eat.   For some foods, this is probably true of all ancestries.   Large amounts of sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and the like, were not in any human ancestors’ diet.  Processed sugars are so recent they probably should be shunned by everybody.   The same may nearly be true for white starch (white rice, white bread, etc.).   South Asians once suffered heavily from beriberi, a vitamin deficiency, from eating primarily white rice.   Since no substantial population of human ancestors ate large amounts of white starch until quite recently, it too might be reasonably considered in the category of universally unhealthy foods, although for all I know there may be a few small populations of East, South, or West Asian ancestry who by now are well adapted to it.

Eskimos lived off of almost only animals, with tons of cholesterol, but does that mean the rest of us can?   (There are anecdotal reports of a handful of whites and part-blacks living most of several years on an Aleut all-meat diet, but no long-term health followup was done)  Yes, the Mediterranean diet may be quite good for Mediterraneans, but how about for those of us of Northern European descent? And are medical problems from lack of vitamin D a big deal among those of us of Northern European descent or just among folks evolved in more southerly latitudes who have moved too far north?   Very few nutritional studies make the distinctions based on ancestry or genetics needed to make these distinctions.   Mainstream nutrition still seems not to have discovered HBD, and so it is hard for me to say, as a haplotype R who lives only a bit south of the latitudes of my ancestors, but who eats copious amounts of processed food and food from cultures other than my ancestors’,  just what medical risks and nutrition advice actually apply to me.

Is cholesterol deadly or healthy?    The many ambiguous and contradictory studies of this topic have been corrupted by the probable fact that the answer is not universal.  High-fat dairy products and high-fatty-meat diets are very specific to certain ancestral peoples.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they are very deadly, in terms of heart disease for example, to people not genetically adapted to them, but perfectly fine and indeed necessary for  the best health of people who are.

The diet of Europeans north of the Danube and East of the Rhine (and in Ireland and the remoter parts of the British Isles) was heavily meat, dairy, and fish-based until the late Middle Ages.  But Northern Europeans were not Eskimos.  There’s strong evidence that northern Europeans require  some plant food: scurvy.    Europeans bred a dizzying variety of plants from cabbage, rich in vitamin C.  When our sailors went for months at a time without fresh fruits or vegetables, they got scurvy and died in great numbers.

Of course, there are also deficiencies due to lack of meat, especially rickets, which probably specifically indicates a lack of fish compared to the ancestral diet or lack of sunlight, for example brown-skinned people living too far north or indoors too much.  Vitamin D deficiency has recently been implicated in many subtle long-term health problems.

Diabetes occurs in higher rates, I hypothesize, among people whose ancestors are not adapted to eating large amounts of starches: that includes most of norther European and native American as well as some of African descent, whereas those whose ancestors were closer to the equator or better adapted to agriculture are generally already adapted to digesting large amounts of starch.   Many northern Europeans suffer from constipation and intestinal blockage from eating too much grain bran, for which prune juice is a popular antidote.

Of course, there are also deficiencies due to lack of meat, especially rickets, which probably specifically indicates a lack of fish compared to the ancestral diet or lack of sunlight, e.g. brown-skinned people living too far north or indoors too much.   English children fed industrial, grain-heavy, and fish-poor diets in the 18th and 19th centuries suffered heavily from rickets.

This physician claims that in addition to overt gluten intolerance, “as many as 10-30% of people of Northern European ancestry have lesser forms of gluten sensitivity that cause symptoms that improve on a gluten free diet.” It may be hard to distinguish these from the benefits for those of Northern European ancestry of a low-carb diet, but high-gluten wheat was absent from northern Europe until the Romans introduced it into parts of it. Until modern times barley, rye, oats, and onions were more consumed than high-gluten wheat in northern Europe.

In short, the food most of us eat is dominated by industrial expediency and naive appetite — gluten makes it easier to make bread, and sweetening improves flavor to the unsophisticated palate of almost everything — rather than how good a fit it is for our evolved biologies. Given the many obvious health problems that have been related to nutrition, it’s reasonable to suppose that many more subtle, long-term problems such as cancer risk and heart disease could be mitigated by returning to the diets we are evolved for, which will be very different for people whose ancestors over the last 10,000 years ate very different kinds of foods.


Welcome to Haplo R’s blog

The main theme of this blog is human  biodiversity (HBD)  from the point of view of Northern European ancestry.  However, we will skip the standard stuff on IQ and we will leave most contemporary politics to the many other HBD bloggers who extensively cover these topics.   There are many other HBD topics that should be covered well, but aren’t — the consequence of HBD for the media, arts, religion, diet, courtship, sex, family — in other words for your own life.     What it means for your life and my life that our ancestors were from Northern Europe will be the focus of this blog.    We will dive heavily into the traditions of our Northern European ancestors and will sometimes delve into related scientific topics such as biology, medicine, sociobiology, and evolutionary biology.    Learn, teach, and have fun!