As a general rule we should be aiming to eat naturally and not artificially. We should only be looking to consume foods that our body has evolved to eat, and therefore we must avoid anything that has been altered or manufactured by humans since the end of the Stone Age.
For the sake of our health, we must avoid sugar wherever possible. Study food labels, where any ingredient ending in ‘-ose’ should in my opinion come with as big a health warning as we now quite rightly slap on a packet of cigarettes. Here we are going to look at just one example: high fructose corn syrup, also known as HFCS, but the same avoidance advice applies to all sugars. I have already mentioned this earlier in the book, but food containing HFCS poses a real problem for those of us looking to live a long and healthy life.
In her exposé of the food industry’s biggest secrets, Swallow This, Joanna Blythman says of fructose, “While the fructose in whole fruits comes hand-in-hand with fibre which slows and reduces the body’s absorption of sugar, this is not the case when fructose is added in a highly refined, 100 per cent purified form, as it is in processed food. When Mother Nature designed fruit, she thought it through properly. The potential poison in it (fructose) comes in the same wrapper as the antidote (fibre), which seems to prevent the former having any negative effects on our metabolism”.
HFCS is used in packaged foods because it is cheaper than regular sugar and, as it is a syrup, it’s easier to handle. Fructose syrup in packaged food is not only a major contributor to obesity, but also has been linked to type 2 diabetes, hypertension and something I have witnessed my father and father-in-law suffer in great pain with – gout.
Be sure to read our other article on Sugar.
So, if sucrose, fructose corn syrup and pretty much everything ending in ‘-ose’ are all unhealthy, what about all of the artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, acesulfame and sucralose? Have you seen how tiny these things are? One tiny little pill, less than quarter the size of a Tic Tac, makes our coffee or tea taste like we have put several spoons of sugar in it. In fact, they are all said to be more than 100 times sweeter than corn syrup and the NHS website reports, “Acesulfame potassium, also known as acesulfame K, is a calorie-free sweetener up to 200 times sweeter than sugar and as sweet as aspartame”. The fact that these artificial pills are so tiny yet so powerful immediately suggests that something can’t be right with these lab-engineered alternatives.
Caveman never ate anything manufactured in a laboratory, so do you really think we are designed to eat anything artificial? The European Food Safety Authority recognises that sweeteners are potentially toxic in larger quantities but has stated that all products it permits for sale are safe for normal consumption.
But, as far as I am concerned, we are back to the magician tossing coins and getting 10 heads in a row! According to Joanna Blythman in Swallow This, “Studies have linked artificial sweetener consumption to a variety of negative health effects: migraine, epilepsy, premature birth and brain cancer”.
It is also believed that artificial sweeteners cause untold damage to our microbiome, causing good bacteria to run for the hills and leaving the bad guys to flourish. Plus, while the liver is dealing with inbound artificial sweeteners, it has to temporarily suspend producing the satiety hormone leptin.
Caveman didn’t have anything processed at all. Everything was fresh, almost fresh or rancid. But even if it was rancid, at least it was 100% natural. I went to a supermarket with four of my children and asked them to spend an hour thinking about what percentage of food in the shop was processed. It’s not that my kids are all geniuses, I wanted to see how well they were understanding the primal approach, and to try to figure out how much stuff was truly natural compared to what percentage of food was manufactured. Together, we arrived at a figure of 92% of all the food on sale being processed. So, based on my family’s research, more than nine out of 10 items of food in a supermarket are indeed processed.
But is that a problem? Of course, it is, because we are not designed to eat processed food. Let’s take bread for example: as t is pure sugar once digested, it doesn’t sit well with a primal lifestyle. However, if you bake a loaf at home, while it is still ‘one level of evil’, it’s nothing compared to supermarket bread, which is in fact the devil in disguise. Did you know supermarket bread contains on average seven times more salt than home-baked bread? “A large proportion of the bread we buy is bleached, blanched and nutrient stripped,” reported nutritionist Vicki Edgson in an article on The Mirror website in March 2012. “It’s made from processed wheat and as well as containing salt and preservatives, some loaves also contain sugar.”
Packaged food can last weeks, months, sometimes years before it needs to be consumed. How is that possible? They stuff it full of nasty preservatives. Generally speaking, the longer the shelf life, the more preservatives are in the food. While these preservatives might provide extended shelf life, they tend to kill the helpful bacteria in our gut. Think about it, how do you extend the shelf life of food? You add chemicals that kill off bacteria. However, there is no safety mechanism in these foods to make sure they exclusively kill off bad bacteria. Woefully, once they enter our gut, they kill millions of healthy bacteria that, over thousands of years, nature has ensured we keep alive in our body to fight off both diseases and infections.
Jen Whitington in her brilliant book Fixing Dad, explains why, “The dilemma for the food manufacturers or supermarket is a big one: if you make efforts to substantially reduce the levels of sugar, salt or saturated fats in foods you run the risk of altering flavours too much and losing your customers. Sugar, salt and saturated fats make up the holy trinity of palatability in processed foods; if you reduce one you must increase the other to compensate”. So what Jen Whitington is warning is that if we purchase a zero fat or low-fat version of a regular product, then it must have extra sugar or salts stuffed into it. Jen, whose husband cured his own father’s diabetes by putting him on a low CARB diet and the right exercise program, goes on to say, “These high sugar foods that we have lived on for years and grown accustomed to – even dependent upon in our cravings for them – are massive drivers of insulin. Remember this is a fat-storing hormone”.
Genetically Modified Organisms
How un-primal are genetically modified organisms (GMO)? Did our ancestors sit
in caves with a chemistry set gluing together different bits of plants in an attempt to produce strawberries in December? Of course not, they were simply too busy hunting and gathering! Don’t confuse GMOs with crossbreeding. What is happening in the designer dog world, with a never-ending creation of goldendoodle (golden retriever and poodle) and labradoodle (Labrador retriever and poodle) etc, is very different to artificially messing with the DNA of plants and animals.
How common are GMO foods? Regrettably very! Simply type into Google, ‘Top 10 GMOs’ and you will find hundreds of different lists. Nearly all websites quote corn, soy and sugar to be the most widely consumed genetically modified foods. The statistics are staggering. In the USA 95% of sugar, 94% of soybeans and 88% of corn is from modified crops. In total it is estimated that more than 80% of packaged food in the USA contains GMOs. In Europe the situation is much healthier, with many GMOs banned from sale and others having to be declared on food labels.
There have been thousands of studies over the past three decades into whether GMOs are safe or not, with much of the recent consensus being that there is no proven difference between GMOs and organically grown crops. But I don’t believe this for one minute. While there is no concrete evidence of the ill effect of GMOs compared to non- GMOs, allow me to make three observations:
- One of the main reasons for their invention was to make crops more robust to pesticides. So, a GMO product is more likely to be sprayed with toxins that we really shouldn’t consume.
- Any toxins sprayed onto food to protect it, reduces the crop’s inherent self-defence mechanisms, thereby reducing the amount of beneficial antioxidants we receive when consuming it.
- The top three GMO crops – sugar, corn and soy – are not recommended to those living primally. So, a GMO label on packaged food might just be alerting us to the fact that we shouldn’t be consuming it anyway.
And, even if they were safe for human consumption, which I honestly believe they are not, just remember how Dr Robert Lustig has told us the immeasurable harm they are having on greenhouse gasses.
Fish & Chips
I wasn’t going to give this traditional British dish its own heading, but the other evening a good friend of mine began to argue that a primal lifestyle should allow us to eat fish and chips as they have been part of our heritage for over 150 years. He further pushed his case by telling me that Winston Churchill called them ‘the good companions’. But as I reminded my friend, even though Churchill was a brilliant leader he was also very overweight! “But Steve, they are just vegetables and fish, both of which you preach we should eat”, he continued.
So, I explained that while ‘fish like cod is god’, the way it’s cooked is evil, ‘It’s the batter that makes you fatter!’ and I told him that potatoes, if he were to pay a little more attention to the details, were not a very healthy vegetable as they were loaded full of CARBS. I told him that ‘CHIPS’ was an acronym for CARBS Hidden In Poisonous Substances, referring to the fact that most chip shops use cheap chemically enhanced oils.
Quinoa – Avoid if Possible
As it’s not technically a grain but a seed, there has been much hype and confusion around quinoa over the past decade. Yes, it’s not a grain, so yes it doesn’t, therefore, contain gluten, but it’s still not on the acceptable list if you have any metabolic syndrome conditions. While some researchers believe quinoa is exceedingly healthy as it contains omega 3 and all nine essential amino acids, others say it drives the gut crazy! I can understand the reasons behind the claim as quinoa contains saponins, which could potentially damage our microvilli. Saponins got their name because, just like soap, they lather up in water.
However, even one small 150g cup has a GL load of 13 (unlucky for some), which in terms of sugar-loading our bloodstream, puts it in the same ball-park as two slices of pizza or a bag of crisps! Therefore, if you either have diabetes or are looking to lose weight, I would recommend avoiding quinoa if other food choices are available.