In the 18th and 19th centuries, the industrial revolution (I.R) lead to the creation of machinery, transport, factories and new huge job opportunities. The new machinery increased the production of goods and gave people the ability to transport raw materials on a global level. Industrialisation has lead to the movement of people into cities and city building. Citizens wanted to live closer to the factories that they worked at. The Western World went from rural and agricultural to urban industrial.  This economic transformation changed not only how work was done and goods were produced, but it also altered how people related both to one another and to the planet at large. 

Goods and products became more affordable, transport was more accessible, road and rail were build, the telegraph was invented, advanced manufacturing, increased agricultural harvesting, electricity production, medical techniques and medicine, schools and education are just some of the positives that improved our quality of life.  But did they?

With relatively few exceptions, the world’s modern environmental problems began or were greatly exacerbated by the I.R.. Natural resources like water, trees, soil, rocks and minerals, wild and domesticated animals etc. were transformed, which reduced the planet’s stock of valuable natural capital. The global challenges of widespread water and air pollution, reductions in biodiversity, destruction of wildlife habitat, and even global warming can be traced back to this moment in human history.  I’m going to write about some of the disadvantages of the I.R. over the next few weeks, I will start with some of the impacts it has had on our nutrition and what we can do to minimise the impacts.

Bad food choices

Today our diets are full of processed foods containing sugar, flour, and vegetable oil (honest, how the f**k do you get oils from a vegetable?).  Its estimated that up to 50% of the calories we eat come from these nutrient-void sources. Our large intake of highly processed foods has decreased the number of beneficial nutrients in our diet, we are deprived of nutrients and this is impacting our health. We are eating more crap food because it is easily accessible and most of us have become a guinea pig to the food industries' sick, fat and unhealthy experiment. Not only are these foods low in bioavailable nutrients, but they are high in anti-nutrients such as phytate which block the absorption of other valuable nutrients in the body like zinc, copper, iron, magnesium, niacin and calcium, just to name a few.

How much processed food do you eat in a day?  Remember breakfast cereals, crisps, cheese, deli meats, soda, packaged meals, oats, grains, flour (bread, pasta, pastry, etc..), vegetable oils are all processed foods.

Our ancestors were lean and fit and remarkably free of chronic inflammatory disease. They were also superior to us in every measure of health and fitness, from body mass index (BMI) to blood pressure to insulin sensitivity to oxygen consumption to vision to bone density. They ate meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and only natural sugars.  Some ate high protein, some ate high carb, some ate high fat and all of them were extremely healthy due to the quality of nutrients in their food and the environment that they lived in.

The Tukisenta in the Papua, New Guinea, highlands, consume 97% of their calories from carbohydrate, mostly sweet potato, they pretty much just ate sweet potatoes and got a tiny bit of fat and protein from the insects on the sweet potatoes.

Consider the Maasai, a tribe in Kenya and Northern Tanzania that gets two-thirds of its calories from fat. They consume 600-2,000 mg of cholesterol a day

The traditional Inuit, obtained up to 90% of their calories from fat at certain times of the year, though at other times of the year they did eat more carbohydrates and protein.

Macros play an important role in your nutrition, but the quality of the food you are eating (vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids, etc..) is far more critical to your health, performance and longevity.  The bodybuilder mentality of “if it fits your macros” is not a very smart approach to health and longevity, as they throw down a tube of Ben and Jerry’s.  It’s time to throw out the poisonous processed foods and go back to eating real whole foods.

Nutrient availability

Modern intensive agricultural methods have stripped increasing amounts of nutrients from the soil in which the food we eat grows. Sadly, each successive generation of fast-growing, pest-resistant crops are truly less nutrient dense for you than the ones before.. Fruits and vegetables grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than the varieties most of us get today.

A landmark study on the topic by Donald Davis and his team of researchers from the University of Texas (UT) at Austin’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry was published in December 2004 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. They studied U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional data from both 1950 and 1999 for 43 different vegetables and fruits, finding “reliable declines” in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C over the past half-century. According to Davis our modern breed of high yield providing crops have seen declines in magnesium, zinc and vitamins B-6 and E.  This is one of the main reasons why we need to start supplementing with many of these nutrients.

A Kushi Institute analysis of nutrient data from 1975 to 1997 found that average calcium levels in 12 fresh vegetables dropped 27%; iron levels 37%; vitamin A levels 21%, and vitamin C levels 30%. 

A similar study of British nutrient data from 1930 to 1980, published in the British Food Journal, found that in 20 vegetables the average calcium content had declined 19%; Iron 22%; and potassium 14%. 

The question often arises “is organic produce more nutrient dense than non-organic?”  Should you consume organic, locally grown, wild, seasonal, and even some wild fruits and vegetables and pasture-raised animal products and wild-caught fish?

Some foods are more important to buy organic or pasture-raised than others. For example, the Environmental Working Group publishes the following lists

  • The Dirty Dozen which lists the twelve most important fruits and vegetables to buy organic

  • The Clean Fifteen the fifteen that are pretty safe to buy conventional if you’re on a budget

Likewise, while you should probably avoid buying animal fats, pork, and chicken from conventional sources, lamb, goat, and even beef may be okay even if it’s not 100% grass-fed.

There’s a ton of research showing that eating fish and shellfish is associated with numerous health benefits.  But is it safe to eat high amounts of fish given concerns about mercury, dioxins and PCBs in the water, and the concerns about the radiation from Fukushima?  The benefits of eating seafood should outweigh the harm, but it's worth having your mercury and selenium levels tested. Eating fish high in selenium can help protect us from mercury toxicity, our individual detoxification abilities also have a role to play here. 

The industrial revolution may have given us a lot of positives, but it has also had some dramatic impacts on our environment and health.  The availability of nutrient void foods is incredible and large scale food companies are poisoning our brains and our body with their addictive crap.  We have the ability to make smarter food choices, but it's not easy. It takes commitment, hard work and a strong level of willpower to stick to real whole foods. Your support network and the people you surround yourself with also have a role to play in your food choices.  Understanding who can support you and who will corrupt you is going to be a key component to your success.  

Next time we will talk about the I.R. and the impacts it has had on our sleep and stress levels.