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Should we revive ancestral dietary lifestyle for good health?

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Amid all the rush to find a balanced diet that can keep one healthy, prevent from early ageing and kiss lifestyle-induced diseases a goodbye, modern calorie-counters in India have discovered a new fad: adopting ancestral dietary habits.

The Paleolithic, caveman or Stone Age diet — until now a purely Western phenomenon — is fast catching up with the weight-loss crazy young Indians, say health experts, warning that since the time and space are so varied with our ancestors and their food habits, it is actually difficult to suggest a one-size-fits-all formula when it comes to emulating the palaeo diet for super health.

Simply put, the caveman diet consists of what our ancestors who, in order to survive the harsh, brutal forces of nature, ate whatever came their way — from meat to plant-rich food, fruits, nuts and vegetables in raw, boiled or barbecued form.

“No doubt that our ancestral diet was full of fibres and nutrients that definitely compliment super health and slow-ageing. The food consumed today is processed in nature, low on fibre and high on sodium. This is a reason behind the increasing ailments like diabetes, heart diseases, etc.,” says Dr Ritika Samaddar, head (nutrition and dietetics) at Max Super Specialty Hospital in the capital.

“However, we need to keep in mind that our ancestors had a very different lifestyle from us. They were far more physically active; hence the high-fiber content in their food got easily digested,” she told IANS.

But was a balanced diet ever there on our ancestors’ mind? One has to remember the fact that our tree-living ancestors like chimpanzees and orangutans — apart from partying on a rare meat supper once in a while — were largely vegetarians, eating all kinds of fruits, nuts and plant-rich diets.

So what is an ideal palaeo diet? One from 30,000 years ago when the Neanderthals disappeared from the Earth? From 100,000 years ago or 30 million years ago?

If we believe Rob Dunn, biologist at North Carolina State University and an authority on food and its ancestral journey, our ancestors were not at one with nature. “Nature tried to kill them and starve them out; they survived anyway, sometimes with more meat, sometimes with less, thanks in part to the ancient flexibility of our guts,” he wrote in a blog on the Scientific American website.

“As for me, I will choose to eat the fruits and nuts like my early ancestors, not because they are the perfect palaeo diet, but instead because I like these foods, and modern studies suggest that consuming them offers benefits,” he added.

According to Dr Samaddar, it is important to take a note of important elements that were part of our ancestral diet but do not try to ape them. “Include raw veggies and fruits for high-fiber and nutrients but in quantities that match our lifestyle. Have an active lifestyle and consume lots of water to ensure good digestion,” she advises.

Not just meat and fruits, researchers are now looking into the carbohydrate consumption in early humans. According to a team of researchers from the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain, eating meat may have kick-started the evolution of bigger brains, but carbohydrate consumption, particularly in the form of cooked starchy foods together with the evolution of genes that increased our ability to digest starch, made modern humans smarter.

“The human brain uses up to 25 percent of the body’s energy budget and up to 60 percent of blood glucose. While synthesis of glucose from other sources is possible, it is not the most efficient way and these high glucose demands are unlikely to have been met on a low carbohydrate diet,” noted the researchers in a paper published in the journal The Quarterly Review of Biology.

For Seema Singh, chief clinical nutritionist at Fortis Flt Lt Rajan Dhall Hospital, key takeaways from the ancestral diet are wholesome fruits and vegetables.

“Fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants that protect the body from the harmful effects of free radicals. Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and carotenoids help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Other naturally occurring antioxidants include flavonoids, phenols and lignans,” Singh told IANS.

The paleolithic diet excludes dairy or cereal products and processed food and alcohol or coffee. “This diet is said to improve health as paleolithic nutrition improves lipid profile in people with high cholesterol to a greater extent than traditional heart-healthy dietary recommendations,” explains Sunita Roy Chowdhary, chief dietitian at the BLK Super Specialty Hospital.

For Meera Roy, nutritionist and dietitian at tele-health venture Healthenablr, people are stressed out today and tend to have high-calorie foods which are not balanced.

“I agree with the fact that raw, boiled and barbequed are the best food. It keeps us healthy and slows down the ageing process as the quantity of fat is very less and the nutrients are almost intact,” Roy told IANS.

Dunn, meanwhile, supplements his diet chart with much coffee, maybe a glass of wine and some chocolate as “these supplements are not palaeo by any definition,” but he likes them anyway.

So, as researchers the world over try to dissect the best palaeo diet, in a nutshell, the key to good health is a lifestyle that includes balanced food, exercise and proper rest and not any diet per se, experts point out. (Nishant Arora, IANS)

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Next Story

Air Pollution And Its Effects On Our Heath

Man is not just affected physically but his mental peace takes a toll too due to the increasing air pollution

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Stubble burning is one of the main reason behind heavy pollution in the Delhi and NCR region. Wikimedia Commons
  • Air pollution is a major concern nowadays and has major effects on one’s health
  • There are many toxic air pollutants in our environment which can cause severe health hazards
  • Health-related problems like asthma, headaches, nausea, etc. can be caused as an effect of air pollution

Air Pollution and their dreadful consequences are not some newly found phenomena of the new-found world. There have been instances of hazardous effects even in the past. The three major historic documentation, dating back to the middle of the 20th century, happened at Meuse Valley in Belgium, Donora in Pennsylvania, and London. The most gruesome of the three is the well-known London mishap that claimed over 4000 lives during the episode, due to temperature inversion and associated elevated levels of Air Pollution, and over 8000 lives in the subsequent period.

Air pollution can have severe effects on one's health.
Air pollution can have severe effects on one’s health.

Mankind is in a fast-paced race, always in the process of trying to outwit each other. The numerous developments born out of this race have brought along with them dreadful health consequences. Air Pollution is one such inadvertent yet a disregardful act by humans. The pollution does not begin only when you step out of your homes but is present within your safety havens itself.

According to the World Health Organization report in 2014, 92% of the world population was living in places where the air quality guidelines levels were not met. Outdoor Air Pollution was cited to be the cause of  3.7 million premature deaths in both cities and rural areas. Around 80% of those deaths were due to heart diseases and stroke, and the rest were due to respiratory illnesses and cancers due to exposure to fine particulate matter.

Air pollution can even cause risk of life.
Air pollution can even cause risk of life.
Air pollutants categories:

Air pollutants are categorized into two groups based on their impact, Criteria pollutants and Toxic air pollutants. Criteria pollutants include particulate matter (PM), ozone (O3), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and lead (Pb). (defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in the Clean Air Act). These pollutants are present everywhere and cause health issues when present at significant ambient levels. In general, the criteria pollutants are regarded as the cause of most respiratory and cardiac issues.

Also Read: How exposure to air pollution in womb may shorten lifespan

Toxic air pollutants are also known as “hazardous air pollutants,” are substances that cause cancer or lead to other potential non-cancerous effects on the reproductive and neurological systems and have disastrous consequences in the development process. It is also assumed that there is no threshold level of exposure required to cause cancer. Meaning any amount of exposure to these toxic pollutants can lead to cancer.

At risk Populations:

In any geography, the already ailing and sick (pre-existing medical condition) population is more at risk for suffering from the ill effects of air pollution. Apart from this category, young children are the next at risk.

The reason for children being affected more is that they have higher breathing rates than adults. Therefore, they unknowingly inhale a lot more pollutants than an average adult. The potential for exposure is also increased with increased amount of time spent outdoors. The developing lungs of the young people have a limited metabolic capacity to placate toxicity.

Exposure to air pollutants can case cancer as well.
Exposure to air pollutants can cause cancer as well.

 

Air Pollution Respiratory Diseases:

The small particulate matter of the criteria pollutants has the capacity to reach the lowest portion of the lungs, where the gaseous exchange occurs. The larger particles get trapped in the nose and the medium- sized ones settle in the tracheobronchial region.

The effects of the settlement of these particles are upper and lower respiratory symptoms, asthma attacks, loss of quality living days, and restricted activities. Chronic exposure to particulate matter has also been associated with the development of chronic bronchitis- inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes. This condition presents as a cough with mucus.

Also Read: Neurologists say rising air pollution can cause stroke among adults

Lung Cancer:

It is a commonly known fact and an “ought to be stressed upon” fact that chronic exposure to polluted air can also lead to the cancer of the lungs.

Ozone’s effect:

Ozone, an oxidant gas that is poorly water-soluble, travels throughout the respiratory tract due to its nature of solubility. It reacts with the molecules on the surface of the lung and leads to pulmonary oedema, inflammation, and the destruction of epithelial cells that line the respiratory tract. Children who stay outdoors in high Ozone areas develop asthma. Some of the disastrous effects are permanent in nature.

Air pollution can harm you even when you are inside your own houses.
Air pollution can harm you even when you are inside your own houses.
Some more Criteria air pollutants:

When Carbon monoxide reacts with blood haemoglobin, it reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood and hence can cause damage to the nervous system. It causes a headache, fatigue, dizziness, coma, respiratory failure, and eventually death.

Nitrogen dioxide is mostly an indoor air pollutant released due to the increasing use of gas stoves. Exposure to high levels of nitrogen dioxide can lead to respiratory distress with symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest.

Air Pollution Cardiovascular Effects:

The above-mentioned actions of air pollutants in the respiratory tract can also affect the cardiovascular system. The inflammation in the breathing tract induces transient hypercoagulability (abnormal blood clotting), the progression of atherosclerosis, and propensity to plaque rupture, especially in people with coronary atheroma. Long-term exposure to Air Pollution can also speed up the atherogenesis process, heart rate invariability, and arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). Some recent studies have also found a significant relationship between heart attack (Myocardial infarction) and exposure to polluted air.

Air Pollution in Reproductive and Child Health:

Long-term exposure to the air pollutants poses risks even to an unborn child. It causes Intrauterine growth restriction -low birth weight at term, intrauterine growth retardation, smaller fetus for gestational age etc.

Indoor Air Pollution :

Some of the major causes of indoor air pollution are indoor smoking and burning of fuels for cooking purposes, especially in the second and third world countries. The people in these countries cook and heat their homes with biomass fuels and coal. Thus the main noxious gas released is sulfur dioxide, that causes respiratory issues and eye irritation

 

In Delhi, air pollution is a major concern.
In Delhi, air pollution is a major concern.
Quality of life:

Man is not just affected physically but his mental peace takes a toll too when the feelings of insecurity and the perception of having to live in a hazardous environment take over. Severe annoyance, sleep disturbances, reduced the ability to concentrate, communicate or perform normal daily tasks also accompany the psychological stress issues.

Some of the issues are too massive to be controlled at an individual level but a resolution to change can, of course, make a significant impact. Individually we are just one drop of water but together we can make a big ocean.

Simple steps involve following the government regulations in your state regarding the upkeep of your vehicles, carpooling, avoiding the burning of coal, adequate ventilation of your homes to dilute the effect of indoor air pollutants among others.

Wish for a change? Be the change! Same Condition

Air Pollution Health Effects