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Nutrition Myths and Common Sense

Posted: February 25, 2013 at 1:46 pm

David Katz

Bamboo is notoriously poor in nutritional value. And yet, it is not only adequate sustenance for giant pandas, it is the one and only food they can eat. Were there no bamboo, there would be no giant pandasat least not as we know them.

Similarly, eucalyptus leaves would make a very poor dietary choice for a human being marooned on a desert island. We couldn't hope to survive on them. But koalas do, and they couldn't survive on anything else.

Nor need we go nearly so far afield as the mountain forests of China or arid woodland of Australia to establish the remarkable links between food and those it feeds. I routinely marvel at the power of my horse, Troubadour, particularly when those magnificent muscles are engaged in full gallop or leaping fences with me on his back. I marvel all the more at the alchemy that turns a diet of grass, hay, oats, and very little else into a horse, and all that horse power.

There are creatures requiring sustenance on this planet only because there is sustenance to be had here. Were there no food on earth, there would be no lifeat least not life as we know it. That is the general case.

The more specific case is that there is no animal on earth, now or ever, that requires any particular food not found on this planet. I trust that assertion is so self-evident as to require neither embellishment, nor defense. But consider then what follows: All creatures on earth are specifically suited to survive on the food found here.

[See Why I Learned to Grow My Own Food, and 4 Tips for Starting Your Garden]

Food came first All of usyou, me, Troubadour; the koalas and pandas; anteaters, mackerel, and polar bearsfollowed. And we followed with adaptations to make use of the food we found in our particular ecological niches. Physiology adapted to burn some variation on the theme of available fuel, and no other kind of physiology ever existed. No machines of any kind run on power sources that don't exist.

This is the context in which all of our considerations, and fundamental conclusions, about diet and health should occur. The context is no substitute for the detailed content generated by modern science, of course, any more than it is for the culinary arts. All of the specific culinary talent practiced in the world's kitchens is bound by the food earth provides, but that talent has much to do with how delightfully those provisions are put to use. Similarly, scientific insight helps us know how best to apply the available foods to the promotion of health.

But whenever those insights seem to carry us outside the bounds of context, they inevitably prove wrong. Such are the follies of our nutritional history.

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Nutrition Myths and Common Sense

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