Since I’m going to be 75 years old soon, I often get the question “what’s the secret of your excellent health?”
Of course, who knows? Probably something about DNA (everything in human biology nowadays seems to be related to DNA). But I commonly answer something like “eat like a dinosaur.” So what do you think dinosaurs eat? You might imagine them tearing through branches, shrubs and trees.
I could just as likely also say “eat like an elephant.” Eat like an elephant? Images of bananas, flowers and trees as food come up.
Sometimes, impishly I might also say, “Eat like Adam and Eve.” And you could see the famous couple walking through the garden picking pears, pomegranates, mangoes, blueberries, mulberries, almonds, hazelnuts and macadamias.
What do all these three scenarios imply? Likely a very “veggie” approach to life. And for the dinosaur and the elephant, a huge body that grew and grew, and just survives on only natural vegetation. For Adam and Eve, an idyllic healthy existence, mainly nourished through fruits, berries, and nuts.
Since I am a calcium person (I have been called “Mr. Calcium” in the academic baby world; you can do a Google check), I like to emphasize especially that the huge bones of dinosaurs and elephants, did not need calcium supplements, vitamin D tablets and milk. Isn’t that rather amazing, since we do not normally think of eating huge amounts of vegetables to grow our bones!
And what about milk? It turns out that, with one “exception,” no mammal on earth needs to drink milk after the breast-feeding period. Certainly no self respecting elephant would drink milk after their baby life. The exception is domesticated cats, since humans have taught them to drink milk.
However, humans have gotten into the habit of drinking cow milk, especially in the West after the Second World War because of the specter of malnutrition during the war. And after decades of advertising by the dairy industry, we are now totally sold on the idea that milk is an essential nutrient, and good bones only come from drinking cow milk. However, as my pediatric professor used to say “cow’s milk is for cows (calves I guess).” Not really for humans?
In fact milk drinking connects tightly with the enzyme called lactase. The interesting physiologic fact is that lactose is the only carbohydrate in milk, and milk is the only location that lactose is normally found. Lactase is the enzyme that digests the lactose, and it is critical during the baby period when the mother’s milk provides the main nutrition for the infant. Thereafter, not really surprisingly, in a perfectly designed way, lactase drops off sharply after the breast-feeding period in all mammals, coinciding with the general lack of need for milk. The lactose and lactase findings remind us that milk is not the “natural” food we have been told, after the breast feeding period.
However Westerners, especially northern Europeans have a peculiarity of their lactases not actually falling during this period after breastfeeding, or weaning. Because they were first studied, this peculiarity in Westerners was called “normal,” and all the rest of the world, who were later studied, and found to have the “natural” drop off, were then called “abnormal.” Thus, so called “normal” westerners could more readily enjoy their cow milk drinks and the rest of the (“abnormal”) world not so much.
Are you getting the point? In nature, the natural physiology is actually geared towards not really needing to drink milk after weaning from the mother. No real surprise there, once you start thinking about it. Therefore, in most populations of the world there is just a “coincidentally designed” system where lactase levels fall at the same time as the need falls. This understanding now better fits the gradually developing data showing that cow milk feeding after breast feeding is not critically essential, and in unusual circumstances could even be detrimental to health. Milk has its contribution to nutrition, but we no longer feel it is “sacred” for everyone to drink milk, contrary to advertisements you might still see. And definitely it isn’t critically important for dinosaurs or elephants either.
So to come back from that distraction (sorry, I’m a calcium person, remember), what is happening nowadays in the nutrition world regarding a great diet for health? Every research study on some kind of fruit or vegetable or nut or berry, screams out that it is helpful to cure your hypertension, cholesterol, diabetes…….. Likely more than 95% of all the studies on fruits and vegetables, berries and nuts, nearly ways show that it is beneficial either singly or in combinations. And the flipside of this is that, likely more than 95% of all studies on land animal meats show something unhealthy about eating that, either singly or in combination, for the short- or long-term.
“If I was a betting man (which I am not however!),” the logical conclusion is to go with the former in spades, and reduce the latter (land meats) markedly. There should be no argument at all! And gradually over the last three or four decades, the evidence is mounting about the great healthfulness of a fruit and veggie diet (will that keep you healthy till 75?), which goes back to the comments we started with:
Eat like a dinosaur. Eat like an elephant. Eat like Adam and Eve. I don’t think you would go wrong. Plus it’s delicious, believe me.