It’s undeniable if you look at the state of modern health around the world today that we have dug ourselves into a huge hole as a society. Obesity, diabetes, and preventable chronic diseases have spread like wildfire despite the hundreds of billions of dollars invested in finding pharmaceutical drugs to allegedly counter all of these health ailments. However, the one area most of the so-called health “experts” have conveniently neglected to invest any time and effort into examining more closely is also the most cost-effective when it comes to resolving this monstrosity that befalls us in modern times is our diet. What if we could reverse the negative impact of most chronic diseases simply by making some basic changes to our diet that could restore weight to normal levels and dramatically improve health without the use of any questionable drugs? What if all it took was going back to the diet of our ancestors which bears very little resemblance to what we refer to as “food” in the 21st century? Would it make a noticeable difference in the collective health woes we now find ourselves facing? That’s the bold thesis presented by UK-based nutritional anthropologist Geoff Brown in his historical look at the evolution of our diet detailed in the book Deadly Harvest: The Intimate Relationship Between Our Health and Our Food.
Bond has a personal connection to this subject since he lived in some remote African villages early on in his career where he saw firsthand how primitive tribes lived and ate for survival. This once-in-a-lifetime experience gave him ample evidence that he later used to compile much of the material contained in this book. He notes that our bodies are highly adaptable to the rigors we put them through, but they still require some elementary elements to function properly. One of the reasons Bond says we’ve gotten away from this basic nutritional concept in favor of what we have today is the onset of industrialized farming. Deadly Harvest provides all the dirty details about how and why grains (grass seeds) were introduced into our diet which began “a massive upheaval in human nutrition” that took us one step “away from our ancestral diet.” The consequences of this change are now rearing their ugly head in the weight and health of people today.
The sordid history of nutritional guidelines from government agencies is also discussed in this book and Bond explains how this came into being. It started in 1917 when food groups were first established by the USDA with recommendations to the public about what and how much to eat of each group. A couple of updates later in 1942, we find that starchy carbohydrate sources like potatoes are included amongst the “other vegetables and fruit” while eggs and beans have suddenly become part of the “meat, poultry, and fish” category. In 1956, the revisions continued in an attempt to simply things even more to create the infamous four basic food groups until 1979 when the category “fats, sweets, and alcohol” was added with the idea of “moderation” introduced regarding portion sizes and calories. Then in 1980, the USDA introduces their first-ever Dietary Guidelines for Americans which further convoluted the issue by presenting an updated version every five years since in an attempt to “educate” the public. Bond says this flip-flopping with the changes to the prescribed diet has to do with pressure from special interest. Industries directly impacted by the pronouncements from the federal government about diet will fight tooth and nail to protect their financial interests and do whatever they can to prevent any negative publicity. In the end, he says the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines are “not a gold standard–on the contrary, they are a weak and deceitful compromise between all the competing interests” which is a “major cause for concern” as we seek to educate the public about the vital importance of traditional diets on health.
The ramifications of consuming foods like bread, rice and pasta are outlined in great detail in Chapter 3, including what’s wrong with eating grain-based foods such as stunted growth, infant mortality, shorter lifespan, increased susceptibility to infectious diseases, anemia, bone and tooth decay, autism, schizophrenia, epilepsy, eczema, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, colon cancer, Celiac disease–the list goes on and on! Avoid grains as much as possible and returning to the foods that our early ancestors lived on for thousands of years will help prevent these diseases from taking hold. Vegetables are also discussed with a particular focus on the good kind (non-starchy) versus the most commonly consumed ones (like potatoes which aren’t really a vegetable anyway). Fruits are also far different today than they used to be with the focus on breeding them to make them look good, last longer and taste sweeter and sweeter.
The much-maligned fatty, protein-rich animal foods are somewhat defended by Bond, although he accurately notes that our ancestors didn’t just eat the parts of the muscle flesh that are commonly consumed today that comprise most of our meat-based meals. They also consumed other parts of the animal such as the brains, hearts, liver, and guts which provided healthy nutrition when consumed after a kill. Today’s diet contains little to no consumption of such alternative animal parts despite the fact that hunting for wild game is still possible today. Eggs were also on the menu of an ancestral diet when they could be harvested from just about any bird they could find. Nuts, beans, milk, butter, sugar, salt, and beverages origins in the diet are also shared with the consequences of each are expressed.
Deadly Harvest devotes a good amount of space to the anthropological science behind various diets and their impact on modern health. Carbohydrates are what drives up blood sugar levels if consumed in quantities higher than the body can use for energy. Hyperglycemia makes the pancreas work harder pumping insulin into the body to counter the “sugar rush” and then overcompensates by throwing your blood sugar into the other direction known as hypoglycemia where feelings of dizziness, headaches and cravings for more food commence within a couple of hours of consuming a high-carb meal. Insulin stability can only happen when carbohydrates are kept under control. The replacement of fat in our diet with sugar-based carbohydrates has only led to more obesity and obesity-related diseases. Fat consumed by itself does not increase insulin levels as evidenced by the fact that the Cretans “could consume a whole jigger of olive oil on an empty stomach and not get fat.”
The imbalance of essential fatty acids remedied by the consumption of meats and eggs is revealed by Bond with the problem of excessive omega-6 fats in the modern diet explained in detail. Omega-3 fats are found in greater quantity in quality meats and eggs that are raised on a farm as compared with the ones found on a grocery store shelf that were fed a grain-based diet and not allowed to roam freely as nature intended. One major problem I have with Deadly Harvest is Bond’s insistence that saturated fats are “almost certainly unhealthy.” Like many of the health journalists and nutritional health “experts” he rails against in the pages of his book, Bond also lumps together trans fats and hydrogenated fats with saturated fats in the “unhealthy” category. His recommendation that “all fats should be avoided” except for small amounts of omega-3-rich oils is just too sweeping a comment without an explanation of why they are harmful. A list of the good vs. bad kinds of fats to consume is shared on page 153, but I still think Bond is missing the boat in light of what the science is showing us regarding dietary fat consumption as part of a healthy lifestyle. He claims that our early ancestors ate very little fat in their diet which seems incredibly odd.
The “Savanna Model” of eating is shared to give people an idea about how they can eat like our early ancestors, including food lists and suggested meal options. Bond explains what kind of positive changes you will experience once you make these dietary alterations like reduced digestive problems, fat loss, normalized bowel movements, mouth hygiene improvements, and more! Regardless of your age, this is a way of eating that will change your life forever by altering the course of your diet that almost certainly would have led you down a path of disease and possibly death. He also points out that vegetarians and vegans can eat this way by avoiding the animal-based food recommendations rather than the “eat anything” besides meat diet that many of them adopt. Although he does share his concerns that vegans are severely lacking in an essential nutrient in their diet in vitamin B12 which led Bond to conclude that “veganism is not a natural human eating pattern.” Interesting.
The conclusions of Deadly Harvest are that disease control happens by eating a strict low-glycemic diet, lowering the percentage of body fat you carry around, eat a diet consisting of mostly non-starchy plant-based foods, eat a low-fat diet with ample amounts of omega-3 fats, maintain good colon health, engage in regular physical activity, get some daily sunshine, and reduce chronic stress. If you do this, then diseases like cancer, heart disease, digestive problems, allergies, autoimmune diseases, brain diseases, diabetes, and obesity can be avoided. A full list of resources and references for the book are included in the back for further investigation and research for those interested in these concepts. While disagreeing with his assertions about saturated fat, Bond most certainly gets much of the rest of his message right on which is something sorely needed with the degradation of our modern diet. Perhaps we can get him to examine the Inuit people to see how a high-fat, low-carb diet was what helped them thrive with vibrant health for generations. If the evidence is there and he seeks it out, then I have no doubt Geoff Bond will have conclusions that follow the anthropological history.