Man domesticated animals and plants [animal husbandry and agriculture] between five to ten thousand years ago. Till then he did not know where his next meal was and when. Most of the food needs were met by gathering wild fruits, edible leaves, flowers, tubers [edible roots] small life like ants, flies, moths and bigger life like fish, birds, rabbits, deer and occasionally bigger animals. At that time the food was eaten raw. Cooking was the earliest form of food processing and probably it came into being only about 20,000 years ago.
Till the advent of Industrial revolution man ate more or less unprocessed food. Gradually over the past three hundred years the food that we eat has undergone a gradual change from unprocessed mostly cereal based diet to mostly meat based diet. This is true to western nations and not so much in eastern nations. The idea that meat based diet is healthy and cereal based diet is not healthy has taken deep roots in our thinking.
If you look at historically how the chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, cancers and autoimmune illnesses have evolved, one can see a more than casual relationship to these changing food habits. In societies which eat more grain based, mostly vegetarian diet, the incidence of these illnesses is much less. Even in these societies one sees these more commonly in the affluent sections than in the less affluent. Take one example. Breast cancer. I have seen breast cancer rarely in a poor woman, whereas I have seen this in many in mid and high income group.
Why are we facing a sudden epidemic of diabetes in our country? Answer is in the changing food habits. There is a sudden increase in the consumption of processed, ready to eat food. People are also eating more that what is needed for them. 40 years ago, seeing a fat youngster was a rarity. Today every other boy or girl is fat. Too much food is poison.
Adding insult to injury there is hardly any exercise. We are obsessed with the scourge called automobile. Our life revolves around this ‘convenience’. That wonderful mode of transportation, bicycle, has almost disappeared from our roads. Even the poor no longer cycle to work. Even they are becoming victims to chronic disease and diabetes is not uncommon in the urban poor. In the earlier era when men walked or cycled to work, and women spent time washing, cleaning, preparing food without any mechanical aid, they kept good health.
There was no television then and people did not sit staring at TV [aptly called idiot box]. Those who watch TV should be called idiots.
Instead of changing our dietary habits and going back to grain based occasional or no meat diet with little or no processed food we seem to be hell bent on increasing our intake of ready to eat food. Food industry is a major player in keeping our bad habits growing. Ads for wafers, oils, butter, spreads, cheese and meat burgers, pies, biscuits and confectionaries, beverages, health drinks etc , bombard us day in and day out. Even us doctors don’t spend time in trying to change the dietary habits. We are more interested in treating the illness after it occurs than preventing it. Preventive medicine and epidemiology has hardly any takers.
Therefore my friends, if you want to remain healthy and enjoy life, change your eating habits. Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, limit your intake of diary and meat products, take an hour’s exercise daily and avoid watching television.