If we don’t fight our primal instincts or change the way we source and produce food, we are asking for trouble!
Most animals instinctively have preferences when it comes to food. Have you ever stopped to think about why dogs love bones so much? The very reason for this is instinct. Inside bones you will find bone marrow, which, by nature’s design, is one of the most nutritious parts of any dead animal. It’s fatty and loaded with energy, which is good when you don’t know when your next meal will be. Fat basically translates to energy, so many animals have acquired a taste for fatty things. The same goes for sweet and sugary things as well as salty foods. These things are vital for all animals, which is why mammals have created a craving for them. This is also the case with us humans. The reason we feel pleasure when eating fatty, salty, high-calorie and/or sugary things is because our primal body instinctively tells us that we will now survive another day! This brain “reward circuitry” that creates the sensation of ’pleasure’ makes sure we carry out behaviors we need to survive – that’s the same reason we find sex pleasurable and enjoyable! Anyways, as much as I would love to discuss sex too, this is about food. Children especially love sugary things. It’s an evolutionary hangover, as children who would chose high-calorie foods had a better chance of surviving. Survival of the fittest is very relevant when talking about food choices; pick the right food and you will survive and secure the survival of your genes.
We know that munching half a pound of chocolate accompanied by a gallon of cola is not good for us, yet many of us fail when it comes to the act of saying ‘no thank you, I’ll have a salad and a glass of water instead’. I am sure you are familiar with this situation; you already had one piece of cake and you know another one would not be good for you. Lately you have been trying to lose some weight, yet, a few minutes later you find yourself flirting with another piece until you finally make your move, scoop another piece on your plate and… GONE! Why do we behave like this? It’s simple. We are fighting our instincts. Our ‘primitive’ brains directly link these fatty and sugary things with the very idea of surviving, so by saying no to ‘delicious fast food’, chocolate bars and sugary drinks we kind of say no to surviving. One must have a very self-destructive personality to enjoy saying no to eat sugar and fat. Just saying.
Do you like bitter food? Coffee, beer, unsweetened cocoa, citrus peel and grapefruit are all bitter foods, and it is very likely that there is at least one of those items you do not like. There is also a reason for this. Bitter tasting chemical compounds called alkaloids (like caffeine, nicotine, morphine and strychnine) are substances, often poisonous, produced by plants to discourage animals from eating them, so over time our brains have learned to associate bitterness with poison. Again, it is about survival; don’t eat bitter foods and you shall survive! Humans have evolved to become biologically perverse creatures that not only ignore the warning signals from our brains when drinking coffee or eating grapefruit, but also actually seek out such bitter tastes for pleasure. I love my coffee so I guess I am one of those pervs!
Capsaicin is what gives most spicy food its fiery punch; it is the evolutionary defense mechanism of chili. Whether we eat chili (capsaicin) or our skin gets in contact with it we feel a burning sensation – have you ever tried getting chili in your eyes? OUCH! This is supposed to be a defense mechanism, but this has become the very reason we eat it. We want to be in pain. Apparently we have evolved to become not just biologically disturbed and perverted, but also masochistic beings! Nevertheless, there is a reason why we keep coming back to spicy chow. When we eat ‘hot food’ our brains release endorphins (endogenous morphine). This natural drug, which is released when you feel stressed or in pain provokes a feeling of well-being – some would even argue a mild state of euphoria. If you have ever tried to eat something that is way too spicy for you, you will notice a lovely sensation of calmness and relaxation after the meal. This feeling can become quite addictive, which is why people continue coming back to spicy food. As I said, I am one of the pervs. I am also one of the masochistic endorphin junkies. I absolutely love chili.
There is a reason why we ‘like’ or ‘do not like’ some foods. It is not just random. The emotions you feel when you eat certain foods and your decision to ‘like or dislike’ something is based heavily on instinct and rooted in your very DNA. That, together with food addictions, determines most of your diet. Chili is just one of these addictions. Caffeine, salt and sugar addictions are another few! Anyways, back to the design of our bodies and brain. Why do we have eyes? So we can see and avoid danger. Why do we have feet? So we can move around and find food! Why do we have taste buds? To determine what is good and bad to eat. The human design is not random – every little part of us serves a purpose! This is all good, right? Well, kind of. Our taste buds were designed to enable us to survive in the wild, and for us to choose the right foods: fatty and sweet foods would give us energy, so we have decided to ‘like’ them. There is a problem here though. Although many of us think that fat is bad, it is not always the case. Some fats are, but our taste buds cannot distinguish between the bad trans fats, a type of unsaturated fat, which is very uncommon in nature (it is often artificially created) and ‘good fatty acids’ like OMEGA-3, -6 and -9. As the nature would rarely (if ever!) present us to trans fats our brains are not able to distinguish between good and bad fats. Our brains have been hardwired to think that ‘something fatty must be something good!’.
Even people, who do take health serious, and who try to eat healthy and work out, often misunderstand what it means to eat healthy. Healthy means natural. The way we ate when we were primal creatures running around on the savannah. People tell me I should not eat three eggs after I work out because egg yolks are bad for you, but those same individuals have no problem drinking two liters of milk to get enough protein after having exercised. C’mon people. Who are we kidding? I love milk and diary products, but our bodies were not designed to drink milk as adults – especially not from a cow! Chris, 10.000 years ago, would have found a bird’s nest and stolen some eggs rather than go looking for a bucket and a cow. As I said; there is a reason for our design and behaviors. We are all lactose tolerant as kids (when we are supposed to be drinking milk) but all of a sudden some people turn intolerant. The intolerance comes at around five years old as our bodies begin to slow down the production of lactase, which is the enzyme that allows mammals to digest lactose. That is our bodies natural way of saying: GO FIND YOUR OWN FOOD, FOOL!.. Lactose tolerance is a mutation in the human body, a mutation in our very DNA, which has spread throughout Eurasia, America, Oceania and Africa. Now many of us are tolerant (by many I mean one in three).
Unnatural and unsustainable food-sourcing systems and processing techniques have given us the power to create food and flavor, loads and loads of it. Flavor is good, but as we humans at times can be a bunch of destructive, egocentric cheap skates we have decided to compromise on animal welfare, the natural environment, human rights and the general health of our species to create cheap and unhealthy food in excessive amounts. One of the most destructive things we’ve introduced to the market is high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is one of the biggest contributors to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and obesity. HFCS assists in killing more people every year, than the Black Death did in Europe during the Middle Ages. Actually according to UNWHO obesity and overweight are linked to more deaths worldwide than underweight – isn’t that just sad? No wait, it is not sad, it is just friggin’ stupid! Also, having completely messed up what and how we eat, in addition, most of us are also inactive and sit on a chair most of the day. The human body was never designed for a sedentary lifestyle, it was created to hunt saber tooth tigers, climb rocks and trees and walk 40 miles a day, eating nothing but raw and uncooked food.
Anyways. I guess what I want to point out with this article is that it takes many hundreds (or thousands) of years for an animal to adapt to a new environment. Adaption means to evolve and evolution means trying to survive the challenges we face. The only problem is that the environment around us is evolving way too fast for our bodies, brains and instincts to follow. Our minds have been hardwired to survive, but living in a world where very cheap and unhealthy food can be produced in extremely excessive and unnatural amounts, those very instincts are now killing us – pretty paradoxical right? While we have learned to manipulate our brains into ‘liking’ bitter foods, we still have not mastered the art of telling our primal brains that we should slow down on the junk food and the sweets.