The Prairie Doc Perspective

The path to understanding the proper diet

By Richard P. Holm M.D.

We have long been on the path to understanding the proper diet that prevents heart attacks and strokes.

Although most believe a life style of moderate physical activity and avoidance of smoke is important in preventing atherosclerosis, there remains no consistent answer to which diet is most protective in preventing early aging of blood vessels.

For years we thought it was a no-egg, low fat, and more vegetarian diet, but in recent years experts have started endorsing more meat. It began when a fad, low-carbohydrate, weight-loss diet became clearly more successful than the standard more vegetarian diet. Reported in the medical journals, researchers found that those eating less bread, potatoes, and sweets lost more weight and felt better than those eating less meats and fats. Alas, after a year both groups were equally unsuccessful in keeping the weight off, but we learned from it.

Add to this what we’ve known for years about the medical conditions of food intolerance. There is intolerance to lactose, which is the natural sugar of milk, and celiac disease, which is intolerance to gluten, a protein in many cereals especially wheat. Anthropologists tell us these problems did not occur in hunter-gather societies until about 10,000 years ago when farming developed and humanity became exposed to animal milk and wheat.

It is also intriguing that studies of twentieth century hunter-gatherers, whose diets are about 65% wild game meat and 35% gathered plant food, show them to be generally free of the signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease. Could it be then that the eating habits of our ancestral pre-farming Paleolithic people living 2.5 million years ago until 10,000 years ago are guiding us along a path to prevent heart attacks and stroke in modern humans?

Those who don’t swallow this theory advise us that back then, most people had to walk about an hour a day to survive, had smaller portions of food when they had food at all, and that most didn’t live past 30 years of age anyway. These contrarians state that 500 generations of living with an agrarian diet has been enough to evolve tolerance to lactose and gluten with only an occasional throwback who doesn’t tolerate our modern diet of milk and bread.

I think the path to preventing a heart attack is not by avoiding meat and fat, or even milk and bread, but rather by simply eating smaller portions and daily walking along any path.

Dr. Rick Holm wrote this Prairie Doc Perspective for “On Call®,” a weekly program where medical professionals discuss health concerns for the general public.  “On Call®” is produced by the Healing Words Foundation in association with the South Dakota State University Journalism Department. “On Call®” airs Thursdays on South Dakota Public Broadcasting-Television at 7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain. Visit us at OnCallTelevision.com. 

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