My lunch yesterday reminded me why I do this work

One of the reasons I first became interested in nutrition was to deal with some health issues I had of my own. Throughout my time at medical school and once I was practising as a doctor I was, generally speaking, quite lethargic compared to how I feel now. I had, like a lot of people, particular problems with fatigue in the mid- to late-afternoon. That’s not so much of a problem if you’re sitting at the back of a lecture theatre or stretched out in the common room, but it’s not so good once you’re consulting in an outpatient clinic or performing surgery in an operating theatre.

In retrospect, I realise that a lot of my fatigue issues were down to two main things:

  1. blood sugar imbalance
  2. wheat sensitivity

No wonder eating sandwiches for lunch was not working so well for me.

All of this came back to me in stark fashion yesterday. My girlfriend and I got up early to fly to Malta (an small island in the Mediterranean Sea and my parents’ homeland). Once in Malta, we were given lunch by some relatives (and good friends) of mine. The dish of the day was timpana. If you’re reading this and are Maltese, you’ll know instantly what this is. But the likelihood is you’ll never have heard of this dish. It is, penne pasta, baked in a tomato-based mince sauce. And if there were not enough wheat and carbohydrate in this dish already, it comes with a pastry top (image below).

On one level, there’s nothing nicer than eating timpana with my family (I was certainly not going to refuse). However, the effects of this lunch on my wellbeing were not so good. A short while after eating I found myself suddenly needing sleep. I don’t think the sleep deprivation helped, but usually I have no desire to sleep in the afternoon even when I’ve missed some sleep. I went to bed, and woke up two and half hours later feeling like I’d been roused from a coma. I was also ravenously hungry.

The cause of the hunger (just two and a half hours after a substantial lunch) was almost hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). Most likely, the glut of insulin secreted after a sugar surge as a result of the timpana had induced this state of affairs. The low blood sugar would also account for me feeling less than spritely, though perhaps some wheat sensitivity did not help here either.

I do have experiences like this from time to time because, however keen I am to eat well, I’m not obsessive about it and sometimes life just gets in the way. Plus, I have the comfort of knowing why I end up feeling awful when I do. Just like someone who drinks half a dozen pints of beer or a bottle and a half of wine knows why they have a hangover in the morning, I knew my mid afternoon crash and ravenous appetite yesterday was down, for the most part, to the wheat and carb-fest I had for lunch (delicious though it was).

It struck me that this insight is in contrast to how I was for many years, hauling my way through the day sometimes, and often affected by intense pangs of hunger for sweet and/or starchy foods, but not knowing why. Actually, I thought that’s just how I was – I just considered feeling this way as normal.

Yesterday’s experience reminded me that many people are currently in a similar situation: experiencing significantly compromised energy and wellbeing, and perhaps driven to eat quite rubbishy foods, but at the same time having no idea that relatively simple modifications to the diet could make the world of difference. It’s a real privilege, I believe, to do a job that allows me the opportunity to raise awareness regarding these issues, and suggest things that may help.

33 Responses to My lunch yesterday reminded me why I do this work

  1. Tuck 20 April 2011 at 8:23 pm #

    I have similar reactions, both to wheat and to alcohol. 🙂

    I like to think that as I’ve matured, I’ve learned that the hangover the next morning is never worth the good time the night before. Moderate drinking gives you just as good a time, generally.

    I have worse reactions to wheat than you do, however, and that makes it a lot easier for me to say, “No, thanks”.

    But it’s a nearly magical feeling to understand why you’re having the reaction to eating wheat, and to know that it’s optional.

  2. chuck 20 April 2011 at 8:27 pm #

    that is great that you can definitely pinpoint the source of the problem. i did a blogpost on this topic.

  3. Mike Paleovillage 22 April 2011 at 12:54 am #

    John, how did you conclude about your wheat sensitivity?

  4. John Briffa 22 April 2011 at 6:32 am #


    First of all, many years ago, I would start yawning soon after eating bread and/or drinking beer. That made me think that I might have an issue with wheat and/or yeast. It wasn’t just fatigue – I’d get ‘gut ache’ very often after these foodstuffs.

    So, I did an elimination diet of all wheat and yeasty foods and that made the world of difference. During reintroduction testing, I found wheaty but non-yeasty foods like pasta would also bring on the same symptoms. And they’d go away again on re-elimination.

    You didn’t ask about this, but I’d like to add that, these days, I’m OK with small amounts of wheat. But I generally choose not to eat it. When I do eat it, it’s when I feel whatever symptoms I might have won’t matter too much. In contrast, I never eat it when I have something important to do which requires me to be on top of my game.

  5. Chris 22 April 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    I know there are many factors that influence the accident rate upon our roads. As a vocational licence holder myself, as someone who does fairly high mileage and has worked on the roads at different times of the day there seems to be a ‘time factor’ that might be a detectable in road traffic accidents. If you could differentiate between factors such as speeds and volumes of traffic etc I bet time of day would be reflected in incidence of accidents. The ‘small hours’ of the early morning seem to be a ‘hotspot’ for accidents, particularly involving vocational drivers, and I’ll bet the stats would show a peak around mid-afternoon. Mine is a casual observation but I’ll bet that given the data and the expertise an association between accidents, time of day, and the lunch menu could be demonstrated.

    If I ever need an op’ and the op’ is set for the afternoon I’ll try to remember to ask the anaesthetist and the surgeon ‘what did they have for lunch?’ The ‘apple shaped’body, like that of Shyam Kolvekar, is a bit of a give-away. Hell, despite my interest in these things I’m a bit apple-shaped myself. People in glass houses .. ..!


  6. Diana 22 April 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    As someone who does food intolerance testing for a living, I’m very aware of the number of people who have a problem with wheat but haven’t realised it. Sometimes they’ve been tested in hospital for coeliac disease, but were told they were okay so it couldn’t be a wheat problem. Often they’ve cut down on bread but haven’t realised that they are having wheat all day long in breakfast cereal, pasta, pastry, biscuits and so on. They may be horrified at the prospect of changing the eating habits of a lifetime, but once they try it the transformation in their energy and digestion is so spectacular that they soon adapt.

    Other bonuses can include losing excess weight, especially round the middle, loss of facial puffiness, and a reduction in general aches and pains.

    I know John has been highlighting this whole wheat and carbs issue for a long time, but most people, including doctors, still seem unaware of it. It’s a widespread problem which is so easily put right, without any medication. Ah, maybe that’s it!

  7. Brendan 22 April 2011 at 1:10 pm #

    Hi Dr Briffa and commenters,

    Re this topic, I am just finishing my Masters degree trials relating to a lunch based on procesed wheat versus wheat free alternative, for my dissertation, which should be completed in a couple of months. I am a practising Nutritional therapist and my current University of Chester program is helping take this to a new level.
    I chose this topic following a post last year about the M&S celebration of the packed sandwich where Dr Briffa stated that to his knowledge no one has ever investigated the subject of performance in the afternoon following sandwiches.

    I have 30+ participants doing a crossover trial eating meal A, (wheat products) and Meal B, (non wheat products). The results so far are interesting in that I am using 5 cognitive tests from Cambrige Brain Sciences and a validated VAQ with 10 questions relating to sleepiness, alertness, hunger, fullness, physical fatigue and so on.

    The cognitive tests clearly show a post prandial slump, and the meal A versus B T-Tests are showing a clear improvement following non wheat and a clear disimprovement following wheat.
    The VAQ is most intrigueing with virtually every participant showing a higher rating of sleepiness and a lower rating of alertness following wheat. Although The study has not investigated the stats in depth it is clear the is a positive difference when non wheat is consumed.
    Other observations is the amount of calories consumed on meal A versus Meal B, which show ad libitum eaters choose about 30% more calories on wheat based lunches. This indeed should be of interest to those interested in controlling calorie intake.
    I have made many other observations during my hundreds of hours work on this so far.
    I can keep you posted as I know you have a strong interest in this topic.


  8. Elspeth 22 April 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    I did the same thing the other day – I generally keep wheat to a minimum but ate a delicious but very wheaty large italian sandwhich and woke up the next morning with what can only be described as a hang over.

    I often wonder what ME/CFS feels like when I am speaking which clients – I suspect the way I felt for the first 2 hours of that morning is probably a pretty good approximation.

    A little gluten every now and then is fine but these occasional reminders do help to remind me that I’m not just being picky, it really is a bad reaction if I over do it.

  9. Peter Shaw 22 April 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    I too wonder how I used to make it through the afternoon after eating bread and/or pasta. As a student I used to think I was eating really well because I would eat 8 wheatabix in one go. I craved wheatabix. Now, it’s taramasalata with tomatoes I crave, and after eating a load yesterday I was ready for bed. Someone once told me ‘be careful of foods you crave’. Is taramasalata a high GI food I wonder?
    Any ideas, I would be grateful. Thanks

  10. MrWeetabix 22 April 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    No but it’s full of fish eggs which is ultimately gross.

  11. kate 22 April 2011 at 4:36 pm #

    I don’t think taramasalata is a high GI food. But I think a running theme throughout the comments so far has been that a ‘load’ of the offending stuff has consequences.

    When I sit down to a ‘feast’ and then proceed to ‘feast,’ I feel that drugged-out feeling afterwards. The thing is, I think it’s the calories more than anything. A small amount of something, a small amount of something else, and so on – until it adds up to a rather modest amount of calories in the context of the day’s total – is not going to produce the same effects.

    Calories are calories are calories. If you eat 4,000 calories worth of fatty meat at a sitting, you’re going to feel it, too. As much as pasta, as much as if you ate 4,000 calories worth of broccoli (which is not likely, whereas eating a lot of pasta or meat is more likely!)

    I’m talking about the average person, though – not the true celiac or person with a food allergy or sensitivity.

  12. Mike Paleovillage 22 April 2011 at 5:57 pm #

    Thanks for your answer. I was also wondering if you could associate your wheat sensitivity with combinations of other foods…

    Like, wheat + kefir = ok, but wheat with fruits = dissaster

  13. MrWeetabix 22 April 2011 at 8:06 pm #

    I love how I am immaturely being ignored.

    However, I do no know how such foolish people can exist.

    Especially a website manager from the ‘Paleo followers’ who cannot even spell disaster, which goes to show what poor peope are little themselves in for…people so desperate to cling on to the gluttonous lifestyles of meat and dairy that they’ll believe anything to continue that lifestyle.

    Have you even had scientific tests done in regards to Wheat, instead of self-diagnosing yourself…which is always likely to result in a ‘allergy’ as you have something against grains.

    Like I said previously, cultures living on a carbohydrate based diet are the thinnest and longest living…it’s only the British, Americans, Europeans who are fat and disease ridden due to an abundance of meat and animal secretions…Why can’t you see through it, you cannot be that deep in denial

    Please save yourselves ( I know it sounds apocalypic! )

  14. Jo 22 April 2011 at 8:44 pm #

    …not surprising then that most of us in Malta need the siesta!

  15. Jane Muscat 22 April 2011 at 9:24 pm #

    Hello John,just met your wonderful parents,I was a bit naughty since i offered them some Maltese delicacies but all was homemade with low fat low sugar contents.I just found out too that I am intolerant to yeast and wheat and we Maltese have been brought up in a culture of pasta after being influenced by our Italian neighbours.I sleep better now and do not suffer anymore from gut pains.Also most Maltese are obese because we are surrounded by pastizzi and pizza takeaways all over the island.I do not combine proteins and carbohydrates in my daily meals and when snacking it is always fruit.I found rice,quinoa,buckweat a good alternative to wheat,they have the same filling effects and using olive oil and yogourt substitute for pastry instead of margerine.

  16. John Gardner 23 April 2011 at 8:56 am #

    Hi, I suspect I have a wheat/yeast intolerance but some of my symptoms (eg intense body-wide itching) are intermittent and I cannot directly associate problems with specific foods. I am also not sure how soon after eating/drinking the reaction might be expected to occur – if it takes a day or two to surface then it’s difficult to make the connection between symptom and food intake. Is there a reliable test for this sort of problem, or is is just the exclusion / reintroduction method? Grateful for any suggestions!

  17. audrey wickham 23 April 2011 at 8:59 am #

    I make my own wholemeal bread and love Ryvita – my bread is just like a Madeira cake and can be sliced very thin – that is because I put a smidgin of Ascorbic acid in while baking. I love pasta but only eat it every now and again when I am out in a restaurant for a meal. I buy beef and lamb from two organic farmers and love Spring Greens and all vegetables so a reasonably healthy diet. However, a great favourite from childhood is off the list now – oats.

    Immediately after eating them I am tired and sleepy but about half an hour after eating a bowl of cooked oats I am starving. On the other hand if I have bacon and eggs or fruit and nuts or toast with lots of butter for breakfast I can last until around two o’clock without a pang.

    Feeling deprived of my nursery food I tried uncooked oats with all the trimmings – my version of Muesli, topped with yoghurt and that seems to have no adverse effects at all.

    My G.P. said my chlorestoral is just above the line and listed all the food I shouldn’t eat. I didn’t eat any of them and said so. It turns out that only 10% of the food we eat turns to chlorestoral, the rest being manufactured by our body naturally. So what is in the chlorestoral shrinking drinks that my doctor HASN’T prescribed for me?

    My grandmothers’ both lived to be 93 and they ate suet, fat meat, lots of vegetables and one of them drank a bottle of Scotch every two days at the end of her life out of boredom.

    Commonsense is not common! Experiment – it’s fun!

  18. Peter Shaw 23 April 2011 at 11:27 am #

    There are breadcrumbs in Taramasalata, so maybe that’s something I need to think about. Now that I am off wheat , maybe I am hyper- sensitive to even a little.
    I gave up bread, choc, pasta, sugar, pastries, rice etc for lent. I will not be going on any of it come Easter. I am slimmer, full of energy and just have ‘more life in your eyes’ as a friend remarked last night.
    It started with John’s book which sowed the seed.
    By the way John, I can’t seem to access your podcasts. I-tunes only shows one from some years ago. Any ideas? Thanks.

  19. dori 24 April 2011 at 7:33 pm #

    I am Maltese and your chosen subject is the culprit of Maltese diets. I have the same symptoms, felt better when i was on protein

  20. Matt Palfrey 27 April 2011 at 7:19 am #

    @MrWeetabix – I think people are ignoring you because this is a forum for individuals who are interested in an approach to health and fitness that differs from the conventional wisdom of low fat, high carbohydrate diets and aerobic exercise. You are simply saying what everyone else has heard for many years and has realised that it doesn’t work for them.

    And where is your research suggesting that those on a high carb diet will live longer?

    Are you seriously berating someone for making a spelling mistake?

  21. shabbu 27 April 2011 at 8:57 am #

    despite the fact you have a sensitivity to wheat/carbs could it not be an added human element= the fact that you were at home with your family, had a big meal and felt relaxed, comforted and sleepy? A holiday siesta is not a sin- I really feel despairing at the sanctimonious attitude of people adopting an over zealous obsession with their bodies that everything is conspiring against them and they forget who they are and how to socialise with other humans in the name of ‘health’ and having an immaculate waistline

  22. Rachel 27 April 2011 at 9:26 am #

    I completely agree with the benefits of giving up wheat and yeast and know I really need to do this as I suffer all the usual symptons. However, I find it so, so difficult. Unfortunately, I can’t ban it from the house, my family wouldn’t be very pleased and I find it as tempting as an alcoholic finds spirits/wine etc. Does anyone have any tips or help they can give me? I’m a motiviated marathon runner for goodness sake, you’d think I could resist bread!!! Please help!

  23. MrWeetabix 27 April 2011 at 4:07 pm #


    Look at the wider picture.

    People is Japan live on a predominately rice based diet…South Americans on potatoes and corn…North Africans on rice and Legumes…yet obesity is very low.

    Come to the United Kingdom, U.S.A or Australia and the diet of meat, dairy and junk causes obesity.

    It is so crystal clear…the reason people fail…is cause they cannot deal with easting just wholegrains and vegetables and Legumes…The wnat some false justification to continue eating meat and healthy ‘dairy yogurt,butter’

  24. Chris 29 April 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    Hi, Sam, ‘MrWeetabix’, if you prefer.

    I agree the ‘wider picture’ holds promise of a more robust and reliable view. Sooner than ignore you ‘immaturely’ I would direct some well intentioned thoughts and comments your way.

    You seem like an energetic, intelligent and enthused individual interested in a topic that is both interesting and complex. Energy and intelligence are key attributes that give rise to potential in an individual.

    I’m currently reading a title which I have found very interesting. The book is ‘Why Does E=mc2?: (And Why Should We Care?. Aside from gaining a cursory insight into Einstein’s Theory Of Relativity I find the book interesting for one of the books early, important, and well presented precepts that the nature of a problem, the observations, and the conclusions one might make can be quite different according to the frame of reference from which one views the problem. Because of the complexity of the world around us we generally observe it with a limited comprehension and a limited frame of reference. Cox and Forshaw get this point across very lucidly and say with great humility that, “there are no certainties in science, simply views of the world that have yet to be proved wrong.”

    Einstein was a genius. Well, yes and no. Einstein was clever and his theory was radical for its’ time, but really he was not a genius. Einstein was clever and radical; ‘genius’ is an accolade bestowed by others, apparently not so clever and not so radical, later persuaded by the elegance of a well constructed argument.

    The subtext within Cox and Forshaw’s account makes me wonder if the cleverest thing Einstein did was to face a challenge with an open mind, one open to the possibility that the prevailing frame of reference of the time was in some way inadequate, and the most radical thing Einstein did was to question if the ‘universal truths’ trusted in the physics of the day could still hold true if greater understanding was only barred for the want of a satisfactorily expanded frame of reference. Einsteins view was incredibly elegant, it endorsed the validity of the laws of physics as applied to the challenges of early scientific progress, but founded an explanation as to why the long held ‘truths’ would no longer work at the new frontiers of science, and in elegant mathematical formulae modified the truths to work in an expanded frame of reference that took in new conditions. Einstein attained his full potential not so much by believing in ‘something’ but by being prepared to explore all possibilities. I’d highly recommend the book.

    There are aspects to life that often-times discourage constituents of society from considering the ‘wider picture’. And sometimes the ‘biggest picture’ held by a demographic turns out to limit the progress of objectivity and not to be big enough after all.

    There are many reasons, some of them emotive, to eschew consumption of meat and to choose to eat vegetarian. There are some I sympathise with deeply. It is a liberty of an individual to choose. Nonetheless, diet is so important to our well-being that choice ought to be as well informed and as objective as possible. People round here respect your choice, Sam. But people round here wonder if mainstream nutritional mantras might be worthy of question and debate. People wonder if alternative views can lend more objectivity to the subject.

    I hang around because I realised the long story of the human diet, one told over the frame of reference evolutionary time, reveals a lot about how modern humans came to be and a lot about the role of an evolving diet (and evolution in the processes and abilities applied to that diet) and how it ‘shaped’ modern humans and modern human societies. The past, perhaps the distant past over three or more million years, can give insight into what aspects of the modern diet might be troubling us. The view constitutes a bigger frame of reference, a ‘wider picture’, from which to judge modern mantras.

    The human origins project and the growing insight into past diets is revealing and fascinating. To whet your appetite can I recommend:

    Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

    Human Diet: Its Origin and Evolution

    The Quest for Food: Its Role in Human Evolution and Migration Ivan Crowe laboured ten years part time to amass the detail and insight conveyed in this book. There is considerable well placed conjecture and the core thesis, I am certain, is highly pertinent.
    See also; in writing the book Ivan stumbled across further and sequential insight that he has since incorporated into a successional project recently brought to fruition.

    For an entry into nutritional issues in re cereals see ‘Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword’ (Loren Cordain). A pdf of this is easily returned after a search.

    I would not want to dent your faith, Sam, nor dissuade you from your liberty to elect not to eat meat, but meat played a vital role in the evolution of our species as did plant matter. There are subtleties to the ‘science’ (and to the ‘economics’) surrounding what we eat that can seem quite different when viewed from differing frames of reference. I’m with you, the ‘wider picture’ is important, yet sometimes the big picture is not so readily evident. All we have is our best effort.

    Dr Briffa draws attention to the fact that people can be adversely sensitive, or even intolerant, to gains and/or to gluten. Grains are a recent introduction, in evolutionary time, to the human diet. Each constitutes sound reason to wonder modern humans are mal-adapted to grains, or at best only partially adapted.

    But grains and agricultural surplus gave rise to ‘money’ and money truly does constitute humanities double-edged sword. ‘Profit’, ‘value’, maleability, and ‘shelf life’ inherent in grains lend appeal to them for both industry, business and consumers alike; grains both suit and promote a kind of ‘asymmetry’ that money bestows upon society. The nutritional merits may be something else.

    Ivan Crowe recognised the facet of ‘deferred accountability’ in the energetics of the human diet and human ‘productive’ economies. I think there is deferred accountability in the promotion of a diet, one rich in carbohydrates, and perhaps low in animal fats, that relys too heavily upon ‘value’ and upon something that is, in evolutionary time, a recent and novel introduction. Yet I can only lean towards that view, to be certain imposes its own limitations.

  25. stickler 1 May 2011 at 1:09 am #

    “Grains are a recent introduction, in evolutionary time, to the human diet.”

    Not so recent. 5000 years or so? Methinks this is more than enough for society to get used to it. OTOH eating lots of meat was extremely unusual in Western diet up to 100 years ago. In evolutionary time, this is nothing, so meat consumption seems to create lots of problems.

  26. Chris 2 May 2011 at 11:49 am #

    “Not so recent. 5000 years or so? Methinks this is more than enough for society to get used to it.”

    I take your point, stickler, about scarcity of meat in industrialised or industrialising societies but I would lean to a view that this is not strictly a factor influencing human adaptation to meat. Instead I believe the apparent scarcity of meat available for consumption by the masses, say as you do, 100 years ago, is mostly a factor of ‘evolution’ at work within economies and within society, and this itself arises from the highly asymmetrical distribution of wealth and incomes in advanced (monetary) economies – put simply the degree of ‘inequality’ that exists between the most well off and the least fortunate.

    The evolutionary view of the human diet takes in several millions of years .. not simply a few thousand. It observes evidence of the evolving and changing shape of teeth of progenitors say, from around 3-6 mya, once shaped for grinding down fibrous plant matter, through stages into teeth better suited to masticating muscle fibres. Analysis of tooth enamel from the fossil record reveals data from isotope analysis that indicates a trend away from a diet rich in plant matter to one that was more reliant upon meat. Over several million years humans evolved from ‘stooped’, big gutted, small-brained and ape like progenitors into bipedal, upright, and large-brained, and enterprising handymen we see today. Energetics, and nutrigenics, played a role in such anatomical adaptation and it is quite reasonable to consider that increasing reliance upon meat played its part.

    Once anatomical and early sociological evolution had taken place to lead us into the palaeolithic hunter-gatherer existence that persisted for tens of thousands of years meat was crucial for its nutritional properties perhaps, but crucial, without doubt, to lend adequate energy density to the diet of a creature that needed energy to power an enlarged brain yet whose guts guts had shrunk to permit graduation to a more upright posture.

    There is literature about that suggests tooth decay was not a feature of the fossil record until the advent of agrarianism, and skeletal remains show agrarianism impacted upon health too. The stature (height) of individuals declined. Additionally the archaeological record of the time when cereals became mainstay shows an entry point of arthritis into the record. Are these not pointers that indicate some degree of mal-adaptation to some novel introduction to the diet? Methinks that persistence of sensitivity, or of outright intolerance, to cereal rich diets, be that attributable to high GL and pro-inflammatory, to a poor or deficient ‘nurtient profile’ of cereal rich diet, down to gluten sensitivity, is every reason to consider that 5,000 in a short period in evolutionary time – while 5000 years constitutes quite a long period where sociological evolution, and where the evolution of extended economic functionality that succeeds capacity for agricultural surplus, is concerned.

  27. MrWeetabix 2 May 2011 at 12:12 pm #


    The first crops were actually domesicateed 12,000 years ago long enough to get used to them.

    Also grains were consumed prior to that, although they were ‘wild’.

    I do not believe meat did play a major role as you may be lead to believe…especially looking at modern hunter gatherers substaining most of their calories from fruits and tubers.

    Einstein was very intelligent and he was also a VEGETARIAN…

    Also I believe in terms of grains and ‘profit’…grains are realatively very cheap…Although meat is where the BIG money is, with both the dairy industry and meat industry paying in to be part of the Governmental Nutritional Guideline scheme, which is ultimately the most biased thing of all, which considers financial gain more important than public health.

    Meat is has a much more greater potential to cause harm…Foodbourne illnesses for example, I don’t see many people getting food poisioning from a bowl of porridge made with water,

    Biologically, our digestive tract is exceedingly long, to enable use to digest volumous amounts of plant matter.

    Carnivores for example pant to sweat, whereas herbivores tend to sweat, which we do.

    I cannot agree on meats ‘importance’ and I don’t just look on vegetarianism as a moral stand, but for health too. Animal protein is a great causer of disability and brittle bones which cannot be ignored… ( Eskimos have one of the higest rates of osteoporosis).

    Just look at the wider picture…the predominately vegetarian cultures of the world ( Japanese, Chinese, Peruvians) are relatively free from disease and consumed grains/starch as a majority of their caloric needs. Then come to the western world as see obesity, disease and abnormalities, which people blame on ‘refined grains’.

    You can believe what you like but meat is toxic and harmful, with no nutritional benefitts long term

  28. MrWeetabix 2 May 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    And excuse my spelling errors, I was typing fast! 🙂

  29. Matt Palfrey 2 May 2011 at 4:29 pm #

    @MrWeetabix – there is no excuse for spelling errors (as you previously indicated). I guess we should all assume you are an idiot now?

  30. stickler 6 May 2011 at 2:24 am #

    “…shape of teeth of progenitors say, from around 3-6 mya, once shaped for grinding down fibrous plant matter, through stages into teeth better suited to masticating muscle fibres”

    Hello, Chris,

    Please check out this information about the human teeth, about their similarity to those of herbivorous animals, and their dissimilarity to those of carnivorous animals.


    Teeth: Incisors
    CARNIVORE: Short and pointed
    HERBIVORE: Broad, flattened and spade shaped
    HUMAN: Broad, flattened and spade shaped

    Teeth: Canines
    CARNIVORE: Long, sharp and curved
    HERBIVORE: Dull and short or long (for defense), or none
    HUMAN: Short and blunted

    Teeth: Molars
    CARNIVORE: Sharp, jagged and blade shaped
    HERBIVORE: Flattened with cusps vs complex surface
    HUMAN: Flattened with nodular cusps


    And there’s a lot more useful info there at this same webpage, such as about other relevant human organs being very similar to those of herbivores.

  31. Chris 15 May 2011 at 10:26 am #

    The theory goes that our ancestors were once forest dwellers who ate mostly fruits, leaves, and pithy stalks. That made them frugivores, folivores, and pithivores. It was mostly, not necessarily exclusively, a vegetarian menu of relatively low energy density. It needed a big gut to digest it. The big gut required a hip structure and musculature not especially conducive to bipedalism. The low energy density would not likely fuel a big brain.

    In adversity, climate induced reduction in habitat, those ancestors found themselves in a more grassy environment but unable, by virtue of not being herbivores, to eat the grass. As luck had it they advanced to making use of animals that ate the grass as potential food sources. But they were wimps compared with established carnivorous predators. One theory is that the viability of animal carcasses began with exploiting skeletal remains and with simple rock tools they broke open bones to extract marrow. Marrow is fatty, so it is rich in energy density, and it is rich in fats essential for building big brains. Marrow is low in fibre and doesn’t a big gut capable of ‘fermenting’ fibre. Making animal carcasses viable as food sources progressed into using the meat and too hunting skills. It may also have been the entry point for the ability to make fire and to cook, and here’s how.

    For creatures whose economy is based upon being frugivore, folivore, and pithivore selective pressures dictated they had corresponding dentistry with flat molars. Flat molars don’t make for easy chewing of meat. Persons in lab-coats have demonstrated this graphically. This then constituted a selective pressure towards tool use, and it has been demonstrated.

    An academic with an interest in these matters used copies of the earliest known stone tools used a surrogate tooth, a napped sharp edged flint to cut a steak from a bigger piece of meat, placed it on a largish rock, and used a blunt stone as a mallet to pound the meat to tenderise it. It works because the action replicates that of the molars, just a bit more violently and with greater efficacy. But the academic got more from this demonstration than his intent to show how raw meat could be made easier to chew and therefore increasingly viable. Stone striking rock resulted in sparks, and legend has it that sparks resulted in the beginnings of a fire in the academics own jacket! those involved and witnessing the demonstration realised this could show something very profound. Tools began as simple surrogate teeth and there use could constitute the entry point of the acquisition of the ability to make fire at will and too cook. Cooking greatly improved energetics of the provisioning and digestive economy and it set the human trajectory to global ubiquity. Our guts shrank and our brains grew along with conceptual intellect.

    But the entry point described also changed the rules. (In the course of time) We developed increasing freedom from natures immutable economy. We moved towards science. Science acquired and advanced knowledge of the universal laws of physics and advance our tolls and technologies, but it somehow led to the utter disregard for the immutable laws that govern natures economy.

    We are not carnivores. We are omnivores, and very selective omnivores at that. We select the choicest foods and apply pre-consumptive process including cooking to make it viable for our needs. Because of the use of surrogate teeth like the steel knife, woodblock, meat mallet, and cooker in my kitchen there is far less selective pressure for our teeth to adapt. Nonetheless they have.

    If animals had not been exploited as potential food sources then we’d still be in the forest, if it existed and if we were not now extinct. We’d have big guts, small brains, and knuckles closer to the ground. There’d be no Galileo, no Michelangelo, no Einstein, no human induced climate change, no atomic bombs, no nuclear power, (or superpower) no challenges arising from peak oil, peak soil, and/or ‘peak money’, nor any debate about what, or what not, to eat.

    Apologies John, I do not like posting at length (counter intuitive I know!) on s.e.s blog. However, some things are worth an explanation, even if they defy the appeal of being concise, as is the above precept for any discussion on the human diet. ‘Hope you don’t mind.

    Thanks Sam and stickler, you prompted the recall of something I’d overlooked that could make a great entry point into something bigger. Take care guys.


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