Eating like a hunter gatherer doesn’t mean taking down the nearest Mastodon and roasting it over an open fire while burping and farting, (I have to admit that sounds like our last camping trip and it was a hell of a lot of fun) but eating like our ancestors can be both tasty and healthy. Our ancestors ate what was in season; they searched out fruits, vegetables, wild grains and leafy greens that were ripe and juicy. They trapped, fished and hunted animals that had lived their lives eating their natural diet. Almost everything our ancestors ate was local, fresh, vibrant, alive, and literally bursting with nutrients. Today that’s not the case. So much of what most of us eat has been manufactured; many of the ingredients come not from the soil, forest, lake, ocean or farm, but from a laboratory. Far from being fresh, this food was created with its shelf life in mind. We are pulled in by pretty pictures and words like “all natural,” “whole grains,” and “low fat.” The best marketing minds in the world give us reasons to spend our hard-earned money on what Michael Pollan, author of the bestselling books “The Omnivores Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food” calls “edible food-like substances.” Even our so-called “fresh produce” is much less than fresh. Most of the produce in your local grocery store has traveled more than 1,300 miles to get there. Some of our “fresh” fruits and vegetables come from places like Mexico, China, Belgium, Peru, Chile, Guatemala, India, the Philippines and Ecuador. I don’t know about you, but I have traveled from Mexico to Michigan and I certainly wasn’t fresh when I got there!
But fear not! The modern day hunter gatherer has many options when it comes to eating fresh and natural. The easiest is by shopping at your local farmers market. According to the USDA, in 2013 there were 8,133 farmers markets operating in the United States. This was a 3.6 % increase from 2012. Which means you should have little trouble finding one near you. Why are farmers markets better places to find fresh seasonal food than your local grocery store? Well, the moment you take a tomato from the vine or a beet from the ground or an orange from the tree it begins to lose its nutrients. It’s not like pouring water out of a glass; it’s more like the glass has a crack in it and the longer it sits on the counter the more water leaks out. The tomato on the shelf of your local grocery store has already been down a long and winding road by the time you put it in your shopping cart. From the time it was taken off the vine, was brought to a distribution warehouse, then to a truck that took it to a train or boat, then to another truck that took it to your local grocery store, more than two weeks may have passed. Then that tomato probably sat in the back room of the store for a couple of days and was put on the shelf where it sat for a couple more days waiting for you to buy it.
At the farmers market that tomato was picked yesterday, loaded on the truck and driven to the market that morning, thus insuring that you are getting not only the tastiest tomato but also a tomato that has its full complement of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients. The other advantage of the farmers market is that they can offer exotic and more flavorful varieties of produce. Traditional growers have to cultivate varieties of produce that can stand up to the rigors of having to travel thousands of miles and still look beautiful on the shelf. Farmers who have stands at the farmers market don’t have to worry about how their produce will hold up during transportation because for the most part they are only traveling a couple of hundred miles at the most. This means that they can decide to grow a product that tastes great or is exotic, no matter how hardy or sturdy it is. The beauty of this is what ends up at the farmers market is really up to the consumer. We are, as Michael Pollan so eloquently states, voting with our forks. If you show up week in and week out at the farmers market and buy 5 or 6 Black Krim tomatoes and so do your friends, I guarantee those Black Krim tomatoes will be at that stall next year. Fruits and vegetables are not the only things you can get at the farmers markets. Many markets also carry grass fed beef and bison, organic pork, pastured chickens, fish, dairy (some of it raw, more about that later), artisan cheeses, local honey, breads, preserves and much more. This makes the farmers market a one stop shop for a hungry modern day hunter gatherer. Another advantage of shopping at the farmers market is that you get access to the person who actually grew the food you are planning on eating. There is a reason these people became farmers; (and it wasn’t for the money) they are passionate about what they grow. If you have a question about the product you’re buying, more than likely they have an answer because you’re not talking to the pimply faced kid in the produce department at the local grocery store who doesn’t know the difference between a kumquat and a loquat. Okay, I don’t actually know the difference between a kumquat and a loquat, but the person who grows them sure does, and that is the person you’re talking to at the stand.
He or she will show you how to tell if the fruit is ripe and when is the best time to buy. A while back I was going to buy some peaches from a guy at the market and I off handedly asked if they were good. He cut a nice slice out of a and he said that they weren’t bad but in two weeks they would be a lot better. He went on to say that they needed a little more heat for the sugars to develop in the fruit and in two weeks they would be incredibly juicy and taste like candy. He leaned over and quietly said “if it’s kick-ass peaches you want, I would wait a couple of weeks.”
They can also suggest the best way to prepare your purchase and share some of their favorite recipes. Try to get all that from the pimply-faced kid in the produce department while he’s busy ogling the bag girl or texting his buddies….
“Things were different when I was coming up.” My mother says that a lot and I used to chalk that up to, you know, s**t old people say like “$2.00 for a cup of coffee? Good lord that’s a lot of money.” Or: “You kids and your cell phones and hula-hoops.” But, as much as I hate to admit it, as I began to do research for this book I started to realize just how right my mother is: things really have changed.
In fact, in the last 200 years the way we live our day to day lives has changed more and faster than at any other time in human history. In the year 1812, about 200 years before the publication date of this book, there was no running water in homes, no indoor flushing toilets, no central heating, no electricity in homes or businesses, no trains, planes or automobiles. There were no telephones, radios or televisions. Today all of these things are so commonplace that we barely give them a thought. Progress has definitely marched on and continues to do so. Unfortunately, people aren’t doing much marching. All this progress has led us down a path to a very sedentary lifestyle. In fact we spend more time sitting today than at any other time in human history. That includes the young and old, men, women and children. But just how is this affecting our physical health? Take a look at the things we do every day and their impact on our health and our pocketbooks.
Let’s begin at the start of our day. After dragging ourselves out of bed and getting ready for work, most of us head off to our car for our daily commute. In the old days this would have been a walk around the forest or savanna looking for food or a short walk from the house to the barn or field when most of us lived a rural life. According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, today’s average commute is 25.3 minutes and most Americans now spend more than 100 hours each year commuting back and forth to work. Based on this statistic, we spend more time commuting each year than most of us get in vacation time! In fact, since 1982, the time Americans spend in traffic has jumped an amazing 236 percent…
Over the years the one thing I have found to be true in life is that things are never as simple as we would like them to be. Just a few years ago if someone asked you if lived an active lifestyle, you knew that if you worked out for 30 to 60 minutes a day 4 to 6 days a week you could answer “yes.” If not, you said “I’m working on it.” For decades scientists have studied the relationship between how much we exercised and our exercise levels and health. But in the past five years, some scientists began looking at this correlation from a different perspective: Instead of thinking about what exercise does for the body, researches started to investigate what sitting for long periods of time does to the body. This was some seriously unconventional thinking.
Rather than looking at what we weren’t doing they started to look at what we were doing, which was a heck of a lot of sitting. In fact, by some estimates many people are sitting as much as 12 hours a day. This new perspective has begun to turn the science of sedentary studies on its head. Researchers from such diverse fields as epidemiology, molecular biology, biomechanics and physiology are seeing more data that is leading them to believe that the amount of sitting we do on a daily basis may not only be making us very sick, it could be causing us to die prematurely. The most disturbing revelation is that 30-60 minutes of sustained exercise may have little or no positive affect on a sedentary lifestyle. To put it simply, sitting for extended periods of time may be slowly killing you, and just working out after sitting around all day may not be enough to save you.
The fact that sitting around is bad for you isn’t very surprising; you would have to be living under a rock not to have heard that doing nothing for long periods of time could make you fat and unhealthy. But most of us thought that if we hopped on a treadmill or took a spin class or shook our groove thing in a Zumba class a few times a week, we’d be cool. But according to microbiologist Marc Hamilton from the University of Missouri we need to adjust our thought process. “People need to understand that the qualitative mechanisms of sitting are completely different from walking or exercising…Sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little. They do completely different things to the body.”
This subject has been thrust into the national spotlight with a new Australian study that looked at death rates over a three-year period. The study concluded that people who spent a lot of time sitting at a desk or in front of a television were more likely to die sooner than those who were only sedentary a few hours a day. Of more than 200,000 adults age 45 and older, the lead author of the study Hidde van der Ploeg and his colleagues at the University of Sydney found that people who reported sitting for at least 11 hours daily were 40 percent more likely to die during the study than those who sat less than 4 hours daily.
The results appear in the Archives of Internal Medicine, March 26, 2012, and reveal that the link between too much time sitting and shortened lives stuck even when they accounted for how much moderate or vigorous exercise people got, as well as their weight and other measures of health.
Another study released in July of 2012 showed that an analysis of five large studies that followed about 2 million people in several different countries lead by Peter Katzmarzyk of Louisiana State Universities Pennington Biomedical research Center found that the life expectancies of people who said they spent more than three hours a day sitting were a full two years less than people who spent less than three hours sitting daily. Maybe even more surprising was that this was true regardless of whether subjects reported getting the recommended amounts of exercise or not.
In a 2005 article in Science magazine, Dr. James A. Levine, an obesity specialist at the Mayo Clinic, gave his insights into why, despite similar diets, some people are fat and others aren’t. “We found that people with obesity have a natural predisposition to be attracted to the chair, and that’s true even after obese people lose weight,” he says. “What fascinates me is that humans evolved over 1.5 million years entirely on the ability to walk and move. And literally 150 years ago, 90% of human endeavor was still agricultural. In a tiny speck of time we’ve become “chair-sentenced,” Levine says. This “chair sentence” as Levine puts it may very well be a death sentence.
So what’s the big difference between sitting and standing, you ask? I mean just standing around seems every bit as lazy as sitting, doesn’t it? Hamilton knows better. “If you’re standing around and puttering, you recruit specialized muscles designed for postural support that never tire,” he says. “They’re unique in that the nervous system recruits them for low-intensity activity and they’re very rich in enzymes.” One enzyme, lipoprotein lipase, sucks fat and cholesterol from the blood stream, and burns the fat for energy while shifting the cholesterol from LDL (the bad kind of cholesterol) to HDL (the healthy kind of cholesterol). When you’re sitting, the muscles are relaxed, and enzyme activity drops by 90% to 95%, leaving fat to hang out in the bloodstream. After a couple hours of sitting, healthy cholesterol drops by 20%. Amazingly this is just one of the myriad of chemical changes that take place in the body while we sit. Sitting for extended periods of time has a huge cascade of effects on the body, everything from back pain and restricted blood flow to being implicated in an elevated risk of certain kinds of cancer. Let’s take a look at what this new research really has to say…