The major diseases and health problems affecting people in the modern world, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and some forms of cancer, are related to diet. This implies that present-day Western dietary habits, characterized by high intakes of fat and low intakes of fiber, may have a role in causing modern health problems. It has been suggested that humans may not be well adapted to eating dairy products and grains because we have lived as hunter-gatherers for almost all of our history. It was approximately 12,000 years ago that the first human populations shifted to agriculture. Some have proposed that contemporary human health could be improved if we were to imitate our hunter-gatherer ancestors' diets. In the food and nutrition literature there is currently considerable interest in exploring what our ancestors' nutrition might mean for our health and if our bodies' physiology and genes are suited for the contemporary patterns of diet and activity (Kiple, 2000).
Nutritional anthropologists have developed biocul-tural evolutionary models that offer holistic explanations for the interaction of genes and culture in an evolutionary context. They have described what our prehistoric ancestors may have eaten based on archeological skeletal remains and through cross-cultural comparison of what currently living hunter-gatherer populations eat. For example, diet and activity patterns of !Kung San modern-day hunter-gatherers who live in the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa have been studied. They consume mostly plants (approximately 70%-80% of the food by weight), have high levels of physical fitness, low blood-cholesterol levels, and adequate and well-balanced nutrition. Stone age diets have been estimated to have consisted of wild game meat and wild plants. Compared with modern diets in industrialized societies they probably included more protein and dietary fiber and less fat (Eaton & Konner, 1985; Eaton, Shostak, & Konner, 1998).
Food shortages have been common in human prehistory and history. Nutrition was often a matter of feast and famine, and, therefore, those individuals who during times of feasting were able to store energy reserves in the form of fat to survive famines would have enjoyed a considerable survival advantage over those who did not have this capacity. But today this genetic adaptation for coping with a very small supply of nutritional glucose is blamed for causing health problems. The "thrifty genotype" was introduced in the 1960s by the geneticist James Neel and has since been debated. In the 1980s anthropologists demonstrated the lack of fit between the "thriftiness" of the glucose metabolism system and a diet characterized by a lot of carbohydrates. This was identified as a "New World Syndrome." Studies of Native Americans, Australian Aborigines, Pacific islanders, and Alaskan Eskimos have reported higher rates of type II diabetes and obesity when traditional diets and patterns of physical activity have changed (Ritenbaugh & Goodby, 1998).
Obesity is an increasing problem in low-income countries. Both genes and lifestyle are involved in the etiology of obesity. Most research on obesity has focused on medical issues, but it is also a focus of anthropological, sociological, and psychological approaches. An anthropological approach to obesity involves both an evolutionary and a cross-cultural dimension. Brown and
Konner (1998) argue that traits that cause obesity were selected because they improved the chances of survival and that fatness may have been directly selected because it is a cultural symbol of social prestige and reflects general health.
Nutritional anthropologists have demonstrated the complexity of eating worldwide, and the relevance of context and cultural and social factors on nutrition and health. They tend to view nutritional health as shaped by the interaction of social and biological forces operating in different physical environments.
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A time for giving and receiving, getting closer with the ones we love and marking the end of another year and all the eating also. We eat because the food is yummy and plentiful but we don't usually count calories at this time of year. This book will help you do just this.