A good diet can be one of the most effective ways of maintaining natural health.

This means not only eating appropriate food, but also avoiding inappropriate food; and eating an appropriate quantity of food. Too much or too little of a good thing can be a problem.

We have more knowledge than ever before about what we should eat, but even amongst experts, the application of this knowledge is not always balanced.

While we have an array of food varieties readily available today, or early ancestors were much more limited in their choices.  Grains and cereals, now a staple in most regions of the world, are a recent addition to the human diet, made available when our ancestors transitioned from an often nomadic hunter-gather lifestyle to a more stationary agricultural lifestyle.  Prior to this, wild root vegetables, fruits and berries, lean meat and fish formed the human diet.  Dairy was not a feature until mammals like cows, goats, yaks and sheep were domesticated. 

Studies of hunter-gatherer diets indicate a significant proportion of the diet was meat, in some cases over 60% of calories in the diet were routinely supplied by consumption of meat and fish.  This is much more than the average modern western diet, which averages about a quarter of daily calories from animal sources.   It is currently thought that the evolution of man was in part due to the addition of rich protein sources to the diet, that supplied the nutrients needed to fuel increased brain size and stature.  With the discovery of fire, and its use to cook foods, along with the switch to crop farming, foods that were previously inedible (potatoes, legumes etc) were rendered safe to eat by the application of heat.  Heat destroyed toxins and enhanced the palatability of grains.  These foods could then be included in the Stone Age man’s diet.

Many people note that agricultural diets in some cases saw a decrease in the population’s overall health and stature if meat consumption was minimal.  This has triggered debate and the development of many low carbohydrate diets, like the Atkins diet and there are many proponents of a return to the meat rich, dairy and grain free ‘paleolithic’ diet.  Many people are able to lose a lot of weight by removing grains from their diet.  There are however very few studies of such a diet and a number of studies indicating the health benefits of vegetarian diets.  Vegetarian diets are becoming increasingly popular for both health and ethical reasons.  It still remains true however, that protein is crucial in the human diet.  Vegetarians simply obtain it from fruits, vegetables and soy products.

So, what is the best diet, or nutritional approach?  The majority of people today have a diet that is a combination of the paleolithic and agricultural diets.  We eat grains, meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables.  In the end it is not whether you eat meat, or not, or grains or not, but rather, understanding what nutrients are important for human growth, development, function and wellbeing, in what quantities different members of our population require them, and why our bodies need them.  Iron and protein is generally obtained from meat and fish, but can be obtained from soybeans, legumes and plant foods, fibre is generally obtained through (whole) grains, but can be obtained from root vegetables and some fruits and so on.  A balanced approach to nutrition and children’s nutrition in particular, relies on a sound understanding of required nutrients, and the variety of foods that we can obtain them from.

The cultural background a child is born into will affect their food preferences.  This is often simply a case of the child knows no different than what it is provided with.  Children raised in Asia and the Middle East have no problem eating chilli and highly spiced, strongly flavoured and aromatic foods.  Yet, a child raised in a Western country would be put off if not by the strong aroma of a spiced curry, but would find the taste and the chilli to overwhelming as their palate would be accustomed to milder foods.  When dealing with nutrition and nutritional challenges in young children, the cultural background must always be given due consideration.  There is no point suggesting red meat be added to the diet of a vegan family, likewise, suggesting offal be added to the diet of an average Australian families diet would be met with disdain. 
Nutrition and Diet Information
It can be extremely difficult to make sense of the vast array of nutritional information available.  Much of this is due to personal bias of the authors, and also lack of concrete scientific data.  Ethics is increasingly an issue in nutrition and as in any area of research, ethical considerations can turn scientific discussion into personal, heated debate.  When conducting your own research and seeking information on nutritional topics, always consider the source of the information.  Look at the educational background of the person and always seek the original source of the information and consider the validity, flaws, controls and potential bias of the research that is quoted to support statements.  As a general rule, sources which spend more time being derogatory of other opinions are less valuable than those that simply state their own opinion.  Comments which are extreme (eating meat will decrease your life span for example) should be viewed with caution, always look for the middle ground, and generally accepted (by professional bodies, professionals etc) information first and then investigate alternative opinions for comparison.

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  • Your length of life
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