Great Grains

25Aug11

Recently, I’ve heard the claim that human beings aren’t supposed to eat carbs, because agriculture is only 300 years old, and therefore, carbs are not a part of our natural diet.

Well huh. I’m no archaeologist, but perhaps I can try to muddle through this. Let’s think back to humans in a hunter/gatherer society. First off, I’d like to point out that the “gatherer” part would include edible roots (very startchy) as well as wild grains. My frantic wiki-ing has confirmed this. So right from the get-go of human civilization, carbs were a part of our diet. Were they a large part? No. Did they eat as many carbs as we do now? Of course not. In fact, my research at google university indicated that a Paleolithic hunter/gatherer type diet was quite healthy, and that these tribes were healthier than many in an agricultural society.

I feel like I’m arguing in circles here: let me explain. Agricultural societies initially fared worse than hunter/gatherers not because of some digestive issues. It was more of a societal thing. Throughout the middle ages (and probably before), farmers were serfs. They did not benefit from the foods they grew, and they did not have access to the rich diet a hunter/gatherer would have. So of course, when the majority of a population is half starved and is only eating grains with a small portion of vegetables, they will not be healthy. I’m sure the noble class fared much better. To say that eating carbs is unnatural is false; it would be better to say that eating only carbs is unhealthy.

Going back to the claim that agriculture is only 300 years old, we can see that this has to be false. 300 years ago would put us in the 1700’s. We know that Europe has been farmed for way longer than this. We know that crops were cultivated in South America for thousands of years. It makes evolutionary sense. Once people stopped moving around with their food source, steps had to be taken to ensure they could feed themselves. This means agriculture and domestication of animals. I would be willing to bet that agriculture has been around since the first cities and towns were settled.

What implication does this have for our modern diet? The average person can afford to eat a rich and varied diet. We can buy meat, fish, and all sorts of fruits and vegetables – even out of season. Our nutrition has the potential to be the best it’s ever been. I will agree that people eat too many carbohydrates. I will also agree that most of the carbohydrates we eat are rich in refined sugars and are not healthy. White bread could be the bane of our existence. However, whole grains and fibres are an essential part of our diet, and there is no reason to think that we should not be eating them.

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