Last Sunday I saw nutrition writer and neurobiologist Stephan Guyenet (of the blog Whole Health Source) give a talk on ancestral health and traditional diets at a catered dinner in a boxing gym. Being a nutrition nerd, I was pretty jacked on the whole night.
Stephan’s presentation centered around the distance we’ve moved in our dietary choices from the past to the present and how that has made us fatter and less healthy. As an anecdotal example, he showed a picture of Chauncey Morlan, a sideshow in the Barnum and Bailey circus marketed as the “World’s Fattest Man” to illustrate how, thanks to modern food culture, people of Chauncy’s size are more common and less impressive.
Stephan also showed some of the traditional diets of hunter gatherers of Oceania, like the people of Kitava in Papau New Guinea that live off starchy roots, fruit, fish, and coconut (sounds delicious to me) and have an apparent absence of heart disease and many other so called “diseases of civilization”. He also showed us the example of Nauru, a small island in Micronesia, whose healthy citizens of a century ago ate mostly Milkfish, coconut, and fruit. Then, after the country became very rich selling phosphate deposits (made from bird guano) found on the island, they started importing fried, sugary junk food and the obesity and diabetes rates skyrocketed. Today, the rate of people who are overweight in Nauru is about 90 percent, making it the fattest country in the world. His over arching theme was we should avoid addictive industrial food and eat the natural foods of our ancestors and other healthy cultures.
After the presentation I went over to Stephan’s table and joined a conversation about the food reward hypothesis of obesity. For more information about this fascinating theory, Stephen has written a two part series called “The Case for the Food Reward Hypothesis of Obesity (Parts I and II ) which can be found here and here.