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"The Diet Delusion" by Gary Taubes - it's application to those living with permaculture.

Posts: 3366
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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I read this book a little while ago and found it's argument both facinating and compelling. It looks at the current status quo of diet advice (reduce meat and fats, increase healthy carbs) in the context of the diseases of civilisation (obesity, heart disease, diabetes) and suggests that the current guidance on what makes a healthy diet is fundamentally flawed:

  • "Uncivilised" tribes and peoples had diets dominated by wild foods and hunted game. Domestication of crops for high starch content was a development associated with increasing urbanisation and civilisation. Diets were traditionally higher in protien and fats, and lower in carbohydrates - refined carboydrates suchs as flour and sugar essentially didn't exist, or formed only minor parts of the diet. (eg occasional honey)

  • Societies which are introduced to western diets (flour, rice, potatoes, sugar) show a massive increase in diseases associated with western civilisation. This increase typically lags by 20 to 40 years as the diet is westernised.

  • Early medical assertions that "fat is bad" were based on faulty, but intuitive, understanding of biology - essentially if you eat "fat" you get fat.

  • Understanding of the biology behind fat storage and the insulin response to high blood sugar is now well understood - high levels of blood sugar are matched by high levels of insulin. Insulin tells your fat cells to convert blood sugar to stored fat. Easily accessible carbohydrates through starchy foods lead to elevated blood sugar over long (decades) periods of times and the insulin and fat storage system is then in overdrive.

  • The assertion that "fat is bad" became the paradigm for all health interventions and many medical trials have been run to test the assertion that low fat diets contribute to weight loss and long term contol of weight (and associated diseases) - the evidence supporting this is not strong, yet trials of low fat diets continue

  • No large mainstream medical trials have been run to test the opposite assertion - namely that westernised high carbohydrate diets are the root cause of many western diseases and that reducing carbohydrate rich foods from the diet will reduce weight and improve health.

  • Now the author of this book does not go so far as to advocate any particular diet, but calls for research to be done into low carb diets.

    Personally, I have been using principals of lowering the amount of carbohydrates I eat to control my own weight for nearly two years (way before finding this book). Throughout that time I've felt healthy, I've lost (and kept off) around 10kg. I've not felt hungry throughout this - calorie consumption is still nearly the same, but it is composed of a different balance. More protein and fat, more pulses and vegetables - much less readily accessible carbohydrate (starch foods like potatoes, bread, rice etc...). Previously I used to suffer from occasional low blood sugar, which affected my moods - not so much now as i don't have the swings in blood sugar from low to high with each meal.

    Anyway, aside from the principals in the book itself, I was wondering how those trying to live within a permaculture landscape would hope to address a desire to move away from traditional high energy crops? Here in the UK every veggie patch has potatoes planted as a staple, providing the bulk of the calories. They are easy to grow, store fairly well and are a reliable bulk crop.

    How do you design a landscape to take into account diet preferences, or would you say we are constrained by our land and climate to grow crops of sufficient energy density (carbs) to sustain us? For example, I'm not sure how many legumes we would need to plant to be a reliable staple (dried beans for the winter) but I'd bet that the area planted would be far larger than the equivalent potato crop. Ideally a low carb diet is supported by animal products - hens for eggs and meat at a minimum - as by shifting the diet balance from carbs you need to replace it with more "other stuff" (fat/protein etc...)

    (A quick google search suggests that by tonnage potato crops out yield pulses by 10 to 1 in the UK, in traditional monoculture agriculture)

    Any thoughts?

    Posts: 83
    Location: Zone 8, Western Oregon
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    Sounds like a good book. I've been sold on an "ancestral health" diet - in my case, a low-wheat take on the Weston A. Price Foundation principles - for about 4 years, and my health has improved drastically in that time. I've been able to stop taking asthma meds that I was on for about twenty years, and by avoiding processed carbs, have returned to my high-school weight after having 3 babies... not bad, compared to much of America, I think.

    You might enjoy "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration" by Weston A. Price (available for free online if you google). It documents case studies of traditional people and their diets, then contrasts them with members of those societies that have switched to a Western diet. It was written in 1939, when the Western diet was not quite so prevalent around the world, and it is quite convincing. The reason I thought of it was that, aside from being a great resource, it shows over a dozen examples of sustainable ways to eat traditional foods, from a Scottish village that ate mostly seafood and oats (homegrown, of course, not Quaker!), to a Swiss village that consumed mostly rye bread (properly sprouted/soured) and dairy from pastured animals.

    I do have to mention, once you get past the mass media's take on nutrition, and get into Ancestral Health/Traditional foods/Real food thinking (where much of the great research and thinking is taking place now!), many of the rebel-Paleo types like Chris Kresser and Paul Jaminet advocate eating a moderate amount of carbs, not an extreme-low-carb diet like the Atkins diet or some of the Paleo types. So, especially if you're expending plenty of energy building a permaculture homestead, carbs aren't necessarily "out" as staples. Chris Kresser, Paul Jaminet, and Matt Stone in particular advocate potatoes, sweet potatoes, white rice, cassava, plantains, etc. as "safe starches" that don't wreak the same metabolic havoc as grains and processed carbs. Also, as it sounds like you are discovering, once you are free to embrace saturated fat from pastured animals as a cornerstone of your diet, you suddenly need far fewer grams of food to provide enough calories for the day! Unless you're some kind of serious body-builder, a super-high protein diet probably isn't necessary, as a high-fat, moderate protein, lowish carb one seems easier to "grow yourself."

    It seems like permaculture is tailor-made for producing traditional foods. I guess your acreage, land type, and preferences would dictate your specific set-up, but a few chickens for eggs and a maybe a dairy goat/cow for milk and cheese seem sufficient for fat and protein. Omega-3's can come from both of these, and as long as Omega-6 levels are kept very low, it seems that these sources would be enough, without necessarily needing a fish source.

    Posts: 260
    Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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    Well we are moving in the same direction (and are also in the UK). Our long-term plans include lots of nut trees - hazels definitely, and siberian and korean pine trees if i can get them to work!, though we are growing potatoes. This is our first year, but in the longer term I want to transition to a wider variety of root crops - more swede, turnip, etc, less potato. And grow more legumes. But really, I think in the UK the solution is going to involve animals. We currently have poultry and are working up to pigs and hopefully goats in the future. Plenty of good meat, fat, and eggs, then grown and wild greens, along with roots and nuts - my perfect diet
    Have you read Meat A Benign Extravagance by Simon Fairlie? It's really a look at a variety of land management practice possibilities in the UK environment, absolutly fascinating.
    We should throw him a surprise party. It will cheer him up. We can use this tiny ad:
    Boost Egg Nutrition With This Organic Algae Poultry Supplement
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