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Myths about diet and health

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Myths about diet and health

January 15, 2024, 11:40 AM IST 

By definition, a myth is “a widely held but false belief or idea.” Where do they originate? Most myths are historical and long-held beliefs debunked with scientific knowledge gained through the advancement of science. However, in the modern world of social media, many myths can be intentionally implanted and quickly spread. Sometimes, even in the presence of evidence to the contrary, some myths continue to be propagated by vested interests.


Humans evolved as primates about 65 million years ago. Then, around 7 million years ago, we separated from Chimpanzees to Homonins with large brains and smaller teeth and bipedality. Homosapiens evolved about 2 million years ago. As humans evolved, most lived in temperate climates where there was an abundance of fresh produce throughout the year. The control over fire was only achieved about 400 thousand years ago. Prior to that, cooking was not an option. The idea of consuming raw meat in the presence of fresh fruits and vegetables seems unimaginable. Once we controlled fire it is safe to assume people might have moved into the temperate climate zones of Western civilizations, where winters are cold, and food does not grow for 6 months in a year, so societies evolved out of necessity to become meat eaters.

Also, until we evolved into the Bronze Age, there were not any tools available for hunting. Can you imagine hunting a buffalo or even a goat or deer with stones? Early humans were more likely to be gatherers and scavengers as opposed to hunters. In addition, human physiology with long intestines and a small jaw and teeth structure suggests that we evolved eating plant-based diets.


The only exception appears to be that of freshwater fish. As we moved from one place to another in search of food, we must have camped at places near freshwater. Fish were not so difficult to catch even in the Stone Age. Fish in its raw form is also not intolerable to our palate, as many  who eat Japanese Sushi would attest.


As humans started farming and domesticating animals, we must have started consuming animal milks, eggs, and meat. Eating a cooked masala omelet is much more palatable than raw eggs. The only food processing we were familiar with was peeling, chopping, grinding, mashing, shredding, etc. The concept of ultra-processed food really came into existence during the last century with industrialization. The necessity of feeding soldiers during the two World Wars led to the evolution of food processing and packaging industries. After the wars were over these food companies, with their excess capacities, started marketing more and more ultra-processed foods to the masses.


The belief that when you are sick, you should take medicine, and the disease will go away started with the discovery of antibiotics 100 years ago. At the time, most dreaded diseases we faced were infectious diseases like Cholera, Typhoid, Smallpox, Polio, etc. The discovery of the antibiotic Penicillin in 1928 worked like a charm for such diseases. Over the years that followed, we as a society got accustomed to the idea of taking a pill when ill.


In the late 1940s, after the World Wars were over, Western governments ensured that food was inexpensive and plentiful. People had suffered food shortages for three decades due to depression and wars. Food got subsidized and even the poor started eating like kings. Chronic diseases, which earlier only affected the rich, became common. With the “take a pill when ill” psyche, it was natural for us to expect miracle drugs from our doctors, and they, along with the pharmaceutical industry, were quick to oblige. However, this time, the drugs did not cure the diseases so the doctors came up with the new explanation that lifestyle diseases are not curable, and doctors can only help manage them by keeping the symptoms in check through lifelong medications.


Some doctors, who entered the medical field with a sincere desire to help humanity by curing diseases, slowly became disenchanted and started looking for answers elsewhere. They observed that, just like the wild animals of today and our ancestors of 10,000 years ago, all mammal’s organisms were self-healing, and symptoms were a natural compensatory response of the body. In a sense, symptoms are the messengers giving us clues that everything is not alright.

By taking medications to suppress the symptoms we are only interfering with the body’s self-healing mechanism.


Another observation was that over the years, the profit motive of the food industry had changed the nature of food to refined and ultra-processed food-like products that bore little resemblance to food as we knew it. To increase shelf life fiber was removed and, to increase sales, taste was improved by adding sugar and oils. Experts with PhDs in psychology were deployed to make food taste addictive and non-satiating so people would eat more and buy more. These ultra-processed foods, in fact, were (a) increasing the toxicity of the body and (b) creating deficiencies of nutrients.

In addition, the use of inorganic fertilizers and single-crop farming depleted the soil of trace minerals. The produce, though sumptuous and beautiful looking, lacked nutrients, especially micronutrients. Damming rivers to generate hydropower did not help either. As minerals settle down upstream, in the lakes created by dams, it further depletes the soil of trace minerals. Processed and refined foods are not only deficient in nutrients but also full of preservatives. To reduce cost and increase profits, new inexpensive products like hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrups were developed. Deficiencies of nutrients reduce the body’s immunity making it more susceptible to diseases. The abundance of animal food, which was only available to kings and aristocrats earlier, was now available to the masses and caused havoc with their health.

Finally, this new breed of doctors started to speak out, but their voices were muffled by the powerful lobby of the food, drug, and healthcare industries and the government, eager to please lobbyists with deep pockets. The Plant-Based Whole Food (PBWF) movement is the outgrowth of these pioneering voices.


A Plant-Based Whole Food (PBWF) diet, as the name implies, consists of following:

– Only plant-based foods. No animal foods, no fish, eggs, or dairy. No butter or ghee.

– No Refined or ultra-processed foods. No sugar or vegetable oils or refined flours. Take corn for example: Corn on the cob, Corn Soup, Corn Starch and Corn Flour would be considered whole foods. Corn Flakes, Corn Oil  and High Fructose Corn Syrup would be considered Ultra-processed foods.

This concept of food as holistic medicine dates back to the period of Hippocrates who said, “let food be thy medicine.” Hippocrates may have acquired this knowledge at Takshshila University of India: the world’s largest center of learning at the time. The latest research shows us that when you change your diet to plant based whole food, your body begins to heal naturally and when your body heals, everything heals, including lifestyle diseases. This is the main theme of this blog as you will see in the weeks to come.

To read this article on Times Of India click here

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