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For this same reason, more people than in any other nation ever before have access to more food than is required to survive. That is, the vast majority of our people in this nation have access to an overabundance of food. This economic boom has also given rise to an unprecedented access to cutting edge technology for the common man, which in times past was available only to the very wealthy class.
Most homes now have two cars and a television set in every room. The washing machine and dryer have provided for the homemaker the opportunity to have much more leisure time than in times past. The strenuous nature of the work that was necessary to survive two hundred years ago has been replaced by modern conveniences, which allow us unprecedented levels of leisure time at our disposal.
Computers and television have made a huge impact on our culture. In the latter part of the twentieth century we entered the age of visual communication. We quickly traversed the line from auditory communication to visual communication with the inventions of the moving picture show, television, personal computers, satellites and the Internet. Through these marvels of technology we are literally connected with the entire planet from our personal homes. It does not, however, explain the specifics of human diets. In fact, it ex- plains why there are no such specifics.
Thanks to that single complex of abilities and faculties, we can figure out how to leach poisons from nuts, how to cook down sinews to make them edible, how to mash bones and boil them for marrow, and, ulti- mately, how to grow, process, and distribute the thousands of domestic crops. A particularly interesting accomplishment, considering it was done thousands of years ago, was the domestication of life forms we could not even see: the yeasts and bacteria that are now necessary for making bread, beer, wine, and other common foods.
At least some of the credit is due to our adaptable guts. Humans manage on almost anything. The Inuit lived until recently on seal and whale meat. The staple food of Roti, in Indonesia, is palm sugar see the excellent account by Fox Termites are vital to sur- vival in central Africa. Salmon provided perhaps 80 percent of the food of the native nations of northwestern North America.
Many groups to the south of them lived largely on acorns. And Americans today subsist on food so indigestible that American zoos have had to prevent visitors from feeding the animals; the junk foods that zoos sell to people can be fatal to the other zoo inmates as explained by warning signs at the San Diego Zoo.
Withal, we cannot compete with true specialists in surviving on one thing. Unlike the koala, we cannot digest eucalyptus leaves. Unlike the cat, we cannot live on mice. We cannot even fall back on grass, as horses do. Our eat- ing apparatus, so ready to adapt to new and strange foods, cannot deal effectively with such common matters as cellulose, tannins, or large bones. We can eat only relatively soft, chemically simple items. We come from a long line of primate generalists.
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Our ape ancestors lived in Africa, a land of dramatic contrasts. In parts of East Africa, a highly mobile hominid could visit all five of those habitats within a few days.
When I first visited Africa, I expected vast sun-baked plains and deserts, relieved in some areas by rain forests. But, especially in the Rift areas, I found an incredible variety of scenery packed into small areas.
Frank Patino (Author of The Age of Globesity)
Any hominid, in a daily feeding range, would al- most inevitably move through several habitats. Diverse habitats with much woodland, especially riparian habitats, are the most promising for human evolution Bromage and Schrenk , esp. Some six or eight million years ago, the common ancestor of chim- panzees and humans was living a sleepy, contented sort of life in the forests of Africa. We now have some skulls from this period, indicating that the human line may have branched from the chimpanzee-gorilla line by seven million years ago.
This idyll was not to last. By five million years ago, the continent was facing ever drier conditions. Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, where human remains reveal two million years of human evolution. Louis and Mary Leakey and their associ- ates excavated here over many decades, finding a long sequence of hominids. The gorge is named for the abundance of Sansevieria, called olduvai locally. It is an aloelike plant that supplies a good, hard fiber from the leaves. Photo by E. Anderson, through droughty forests, creating vast openings.
Grasses, previously humble members of the plant community, exploded in abundance. Tough and resilient, able to regrow from root stocks when grazed, these plants took over most of the continent in the next few million years. Either the drying up of the continent Vrba et al. So indeed they are. Chimps live largely on fruits and leaves, and their intake of nutrients such as vitamin C is many times that of most of us. They eat a little meat and hunt monkeys on occasion, but they are not well adapted to meat eating; a small amount of saturated fat sends their cholesterol lev- els very high Mestel A Humans can eat more meat without this problem, especially when they are young; this is clearly an adaptation to a higher-meat diet.
But humans, too, form too much cholesterol when they eat too much saturated fat from animals. Other apes of the original lineage began to adjust to drier conditions in East and South Africa. We have skeletons more than four million years old now, from the Great Rift, that vast fracture zone where Africa almost tore itself apart before giving up and opting geologically for unity.
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Their bones and skulls are small and light. They ate a varied diet with seeds, meat, and other items recent findings and opinions are conveniently re- viewed by Vogel They too evidently got far more nutrients and phytochemicals in their diets than we do today. Most interesting of all, their teeth are small and diverse. They do not have anything like the savage canine tusks of chimpanzees and gorillas.
Their teeth, in fact, are very much like our own. The one striking differ- ence leaving aside certain technical obscurities lies in the molars: Aus- tralopithecines were grinders of vegetable matter. Their molars are large and millstonelike. Their tiny front teeth were adapted to nipping off veg- etation, and not to much else; the work was in the back, where powerful jaws and strong, heavy teeth ground tough vegetable matter down. Several species have been described for the Australopithecines, but there may have been, at first, only one slowly evolving lineage.
Somewhat more than two million years ago, this lineage branched in at least two di- rections. This process was presumably the result of continued climatic change in the direction of a drier and more variable climate. Obligatory Omnivores 15 Australopithecine and early Homo fossils have been found largely in river valleys, where forests along the rivers alternate with marshes and lakes, and where savannahs, deserts, rock cliffs, and mountains may all surround the river and marsh landscape.
Lions, hyenas, hippopotami, an- telopes, giraffes, and hundreds of smaller animals and birds abound. Wild figs, grass seeds, berries, oily palm fruits, and a wealth of edible roots and tubers can be reliable sources of food, but only if one follows a complex round, moving from resource to resource as ripening progresses. Aus- tralopithecines probably lived in the riverine forests, but spent more and more of their time in the more open environments as dry climates and fire- maintained savannahs spread.
One branch of the Australopithecines grew larger, with thick skulls and enormous molar teeth. Apparently, the robust Australopithecine line evolved to ex- ploit the river-and-savannah plant world by eating more and more of it. They lived to process tough, resistant plant material. They made a good living at it for about a million years, but a combination of factors—pro- gressive drying, fire, predators, and very possibly some hunting by Homo—finally wiped them out.
Their molar teeth grew smaller, yet their bodies grew larger. By that time, the members of this branch were within the category we recognize as Homo. Several species have been described from around two million years ago MYA ; whether these species are valid or merely members of one highly variable population remains to be determined. After 1. There followed a sustained, spectacular increase that is without any known parallel in all geologic his- tory.
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In a million and a half years, the brain increased in size by almost percent. Such a rate of evolution is rare enough for any organ; for the nervous system, it is unique according to present knowledge. Moreover, the growth was not a mere expansion to keep up with the body.
The whole brain expanded, but the real explosion occurred in the frontal lobes and a few other specialized structures.
These latter creations cer- tainly show how adaptable and flexible the human brain is; obviously, from very early times, it had the potential to do far more than hunt and gather. This is an educated guess, but it fits uncannily well with a number of estimates of the size of the typical face-to-face, intimate, manageable social group among humans today. However, people also aggregate into much larger groups, up to millions in modern times. This aggregation seems to rely on socialization by slightly older peers in early adolescence Harris ; Peter Richerson, personal communication, This makes possible civil so- ciety, in the sense of some real identification with and responsibility to- ward a group much bigger than 50— close associates.
Our lineage evolved from the small, small-brained Homo forms Homo habilis, etc. Various intermediate and transitional forms, as well as local side branches, have been dignified by other species names, but they seem to reflect minor variation. Most of the real action took place in Homo erectus.