Are We Asking the Right Questions?
Our comprehension of nutrition is fundamentally flawed. This topic is taught very frequently in terms of independent and isolated variables (consider the controversies surrounding isolated Vitamin C consumption). In some respects, this can be useful. We can use the isolation of variables in conjunction with the scientific method to determine cause and effect, a variable’s relationship to our health, and so on.
But what we tend to overlook is the bigger picture. This includes the why, as well as the association between variables. To delve into this idea further, let’s consider some food as well as its respective feedback systems.
Our relationship with organisms which fall within our diet is complex and has its basis in evolution, and natural selection.
Some of these organisms, like fruits, directly benefit from their relationship with consumers. When such a fruit is filled with more nutrients, it is more likely to be consumed by a greater variety of organisms thus spreading the fruit’s seed further and further. Over millions of years, this creates a feedback cycle which continues to perpetuate the qualities which its consumers find the most beneficial.
In this case, the benefit to the various consumers are an influx of nutrients, be it vitamins, minerals, or macronutrients such as carbohydrates. Therefore, the consumers must also evolve to have the fastest access to this food source.
In some instances, the producer can also screen its consumers–consider the various defense mechanisms fruits have against bacteria and viruses. This occurs because viruses cause the seed to sprout in close proximity to the parent plant, creating competition within the species (killing out these weaker, disease prone genes in a species over time).
Processed and Designer Foods
The feedback system of these foodstuffs are entirely different. Here, the feedback loop encourages food to be designed to meet consumer demands. This demand is traditionally taste or convenience.
Even when processed foods are labeled as ‘healthy’ in some form or fashion, be it gluten free, fat free, sugar free, etc., the feedback isn’t necessarily creating health, but rather the image of health, while still encouraging mass-market appeal via taste and branding campaigns.
A Bigger Picture Approach
As an individual focusing on your diet, it can be far too time-consuming to hone in on specific nutrients when we can consider bigger-picture concepts, such as this idea of feedback systems within our dietary choices.
Consider why have you been presented with a particular food, or even a particular piece of information. Will a food genuinely benefit you? Who else is benefiting from the food you are about to consume?
When you consistently ask these questions, you can begin to notice patterns in the world around you, as well as motives of those involved in a particular system, and so on. A purely ‘paleo’ style diet, which this post may seem to favor, may particularly benefit few individuals (i.e. those selling books or paleo-friendly supplements), but this can be a good place to start for those new to dieting. Especially over diets which ignore food choice as long as caloric intake and macronutrient breakdown are met.