A simple example is the current schizophrenic approach to carbohydrates. There is advice to consume more carbohydrates in place of fats. There is advice to consume fewer carbohydrates, consume more whole grains, avoid grains all together, consume more carbohydrates but less gluten, eat less 'bad' carbohydrates and more 'good' carbohydrates -- however those are defined -- and every permutation spanning the entire gamut of possibilities. We have been told we eat too many carbohydrates and that is why we are obese and ill. The fact is that we consume about the same amount of carbohydrates as we did in the early 20th century, when the incidence and prevalence of these disease states were a fraction of what they are now. The difference is in the ratio of refined carbohydrates to whole grains (with a corresponding approximately 25 percent reduction in fiber).
Similar data is coming to light regarding the consumption of meat, specifically red meat. Multiple studies have failed to demonstrate a significant correlation between moderate consumption of fresh red meat and cardiovascular disease. One such study examined the Inuit paradox, in which it was noted that in the diet of the native Inuit people there was limited vegetable and carbohydrate consumption but very high levels of protein and fat consumption. Yet despite this, there was very little cardiovascular disease. However, the diet of the Inuit people was very high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and substantially lower in omega-6 PUFA.
Analysis of the diet of hunter-gather tribes, which subsist on wild game, reflect significantly lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratios than that the typical western diet, which is anywhere from 14 to 25. The incidence and prevalence of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes among hunter-gatherers is likewise substantially lower. As recently as two hundred years ago, before the industrialization that has resulted in our modern grain-fed feedlot cattle, the meat in our diet reflected the lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratio seen in diets associated with low rates of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease like the Inuit and Mediterranean diets.
Still, several of these self-same studies have demonstrated a correlation between the aforementioned disease states and processed meat consumption. The key may lie in the ratio of sodium to potassium. Despite a large public program to decrease sodium consumption, the actual data linking high sodium levels to cardiovascular disease remains "weak and inconsistent," according to Dr. Salim Yusef, an expert in clinical epidemiology and biostatistics. A recent study sheds light on this complex relationship, noting that when the sodium to potassium ratio exceeded one in trials, the cardiovascular risk increased; as the ratio decreased to less than one, the risk decreased. As noted by the study authors, a 100 g (about 3 ½ ounces) serving of natural, wholesome pork contains roughly 60 mg of sodium and about 340 mg of potassium. But if you process that meat into the average deli ham, you end up with 920 mg of sodium and only 240 mg of potassium.
Nature rarely deals in absolutes. She is about balance and harmony. In beginning to understand the relationships and ratios that exist in nature, we can begin to balance the demands of our modern world with the demands of our natural bodies.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.