Survival in the 21st century is not a piece of cake

“How come I was slim and healthy in my twenties?” is the title of on going presentations in Orkney by Hertford-based biologist David Griffiths. After his most recent event he told us “I’ve now done half a dozen talks here with over 100 people attending in total. There’s been lots of great feedback, and it’s really nice to be able to play a part in helping people with their health—700 miles from my hometown. It’s also exciting to see how engaged the Orcadian community are in the health discussion”

David Griffiths

Image credit courtesy of David Griffiths

Survival in the 21st century is not a piece of cake:  The greatest challenge for our Neolithic ancestors in Orkney was probably that of feeding themselves through the winter months. Civilisation has transformed the availability of food and turned this threat on its head: we are now more likely to die from having too much to eat than too little. We are not talking about too many healthy vegetables, grass-fed meat or wild-caught fish either, but specifically, too many refined carbohydrates and thousands of highly processed “food-like substances”. Added to these radical changes in diet in one generation alone is the fact that we no longer have to hunt down or forage for our food—so we also move too little.

Our biochemistry is still stuck in a Paleolithic time warp, however, and has not caught up to the modern nutritional and lifestyle stresses, so our struggles for survival have morphed into struggles with weight gain and chronic degenerative disease. We can get away with eating the typical western diet for a while, but sooner or later we start to find that we can pinch a good deal more than an inch, our blood pressure is up, and we are seeing more of our overworked doctors.

The diet industry has long been fixated on calories and low fat. “This is missing the point”, says David: “It’s about hormones—and, in particular, insulin. Insulin is the key to storing fat for the lean times, but those winters of deprivation never materialise and yet our taste preferences are still programmed to prepare for them.” A high-carbohydrate, high glycaemic diet means that high levels of insulin are constantly being secreted, and eventually our cells’ insulin receptors become less sensitive. Thus, more insulin is released, and more fat is stored. The consequences are a collection of symptoms known as metabolic syndrome—the precursor to type II diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.

David reassures us that the downward slide is not inevitable, but there are many factors at play: “If we start the day eating the wrong kinds of foods—many of which are touted as healthy breakfast options—the cycle of insulin surges and dips continues throughout the day. We are also conditioned to comfort-eat in times of stress. In addition, we are not achieving anywhere near the nutrient density of the food our ancestors ate, which impacts the body at a cellular level.”

Very few people realise what a complex, intricate and utterly miraculous piece of kit the human body is. We go about our lives unaware of the trillions of reactions going on at a cellular level every second, not only digesting our food and turning it into energy, but also working to maintain balance and neutralise harmful substances. For most of us, the scripts are written correctly and the processes will function as they should, if—and this is crucial—the right minerals, vitamins and other co-enzymes are present that these reactions depend on. Addressing these shortfalls with diet and supplementation is a topic close to David Griffiths’ heart, and one that he has been educating the public about for over 20 years.

If you’d like to hear more from David Griffiths you can join him on Tuesday 26 March at 7 pm in the St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall.

Reported on by Helen Armet.

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1 reply »

  1. Very interesting
    I wouldn’t venture on to commenting on scientific grounds but . . . . appetite sharpens up and people eat more in the winter months when it’s colder. The same bad weather makes people stay more at home and relax/hibernate rather than be active outside during long, cold, dark evenings and nights (apart from a local ceili!). Such is life in a Northern country.

    Whatever weight is gained is usually lost over the Spring and Summer when people eat lighter foods and are more active with the longer daylight hours and warmer temperatures.

    Moreover, modern people are much less active than 50 years ago – we drive down the road to the post office/bank/shop rather than walking or cycling. We phone/text/Facebook our friends and relatives rather than walking down to their houses and visiting

    One other point: I am convinced processed foods add to our weight. When possible we should try and cook from fresh ingredients.

    Helen does remarkable work here in this respect with her recipes and demonstrations. Big round of applause for her!

    Finally we should reduce portions – use a side plate rather than a dinner plate, eat slowly, don’t “gulp our food” as our Grannies always told us – and eliminate almost all desserts, sweets, biscuits and cakes from our diets except for Special Occasions

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