Blast Off!

Every Month: a Review of Major Teaching Points

Back to The Launch Pad

Countdown

A Power Program for Student Review

Course Coverage 2016

  • Jan Muscles
  • Feb Meals
  • Mar Metabolism
  • April Nutrition
  • May Metabolic Syndromes
  • June Diabetes
  • July Diabetic Complications
  • Aug Longevity
  • Sept Atheroma
  • Oct Carcinoma
  • Nov Aging
  • Dec Mind & Memory
Begin Countdown

A few decades ago, when the Basic Four was our guide to healthful eating, and an apple a day kept the doctor away. Nutrition concerns were focused on avoiding deficiencies and getting enough. My, how that game has changed! Food has gone from nutrient to entertainment, from a daily need to a Happy Meal…while nutrition has gone from health..to quick & easy; hot & juicy; rich & creamy. But the times they are a’changing. We are into probiotics, prebiotics & nutraceuticals; and food production concerns have gone beyond farming & fishing to local, to sustainable and to organic.

Think of human nutrition as a chemical process of both ‘batch’ chemistry and ‘flow’ chemistry. Cooking is batch chemistry where events take place in a holding vessel for a reactive time. Industrial chemistry is flow chemistry where reactive events take place as products stream along a line, usually a pipe. In human nutrition, batch chemistry takes place in the stomach for an hour at meal times, and in the colon for 18 hours beginning 6 hours later. Flow chemistry takes place between stomach and colon, along 20 feet of small intestine and a usual 6-hour reaction time.

The digestive tube within which such chemistry takes place is an organ system. It has its own muscles, nerves and blood supply; its own juices and passengers and its own immune system. Its passengers, collectively called the gut  microbiome, number in the billions, mostly in the colon where the immune system has become skilled at recognizing friendly riders while defending against unfriendly ones. At the upper end of the gut, its immune system is skilled at recognizing friendly foods from their protein signatures while rejecting foreigners. It’s an arena of food allergies and food sensitivities…different degrees of reaction.

Classic food allergies can be life-threatening. Food proteins can provoke the upper gut immune system into an alarming…even life-threatening…response. The patient (often a child) develops itching hives or wheezing asthma or can collapse and die from anaphylaxis. The most common offenders are nuts and dairies, but almost any food protein can prompt an allergic reaction.

Past the age of 40 gut biomes begin to need help with digestion…evidenced by episodes of bloating, constipation, cramps or looseness. Begin to suspect factory food. Begin to eat less refined, less processed…real food…for help.

Less dramatic intolerance is called food sensitivity, and the usual offenders are wheat, dairy products and corn. Gluten is a common sensitizer, a natural protein in wheat and most other grains whose gummy characteristic allows dough to bubble and rise. It is beloved of pastry and pizza makers, so wheat growers obliged their baker customers by developing strains with high gluten yields. A very small number of people are extremely sensitivity to gluten, suffering from an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease. Less dramatically, among otherwise normal individuals, perhaps 1 in 25 can feel unwell after eating today’s wheat breads. Their plight has prompted a market response and the proliferation of all those gluten-free items on grocery shelves.

Calorie-dense foods…a modern standard meal…upon digestion tend to direct the distribution of their nutrients away from from a utilization and a burning mode…into a storage mode. Such foods were once rare in a hunter/gatherer daily fare of roots and shoots, game and berries. Hunger and famine were common and the concern of tribal leaders was always getting enough food to prevent famine. Today’s Green Revolution, along with industrialized crop production and factory farms, has produced today’s abundance at low cost.

With all these ‘goods’ however, have come some ‘bads’, such as environmental degradation, reduced biodiversity (of food plants & animals), antibiotic resistant bacteria, genetically modified foods and animal cruelty. Genetically modified food is not Frankenfood. It was developed to resist pests and increase crop yields. It is responsible for the Green Revolution, and GM food continues to keep millions of people across the globe from going hungry. But pesticides that protect planted seeds from pest destruction tend to kill the beneficial pollinating honey bee, so we must move carefully into this brave new agricultural world.

Science has acquainted us with our microbiomes, important populations of tiny creatures (bacteria, viruses, fungi) that live with us to our benefit. One is a modest collection of transient passengers on the skin. Another lives in most normal airways, and a third is a universe of billions of gut riders with whom we are intimate from birth. They begin to get into us from the maternal delivery tract, her skin and her feces. They compete for a living inside our digestive tracts, and are recognized as friends or foes by cells of the lower bowel immune system.

Environmentalists have made us aware of food chains…how bigger creatures eat smaller ones for the ‘goods’ they need to flourish, while gulping down assorted ‘bads.’ This principle applies as well to modern food processing, to the high technology that delivers so many ‘goods’, along with a few bad molecules like trans fats. We incorporate them into our tissues, with unknown consequences.

Way back into the last century…when we walked to work at a job lasting 10-12 hours a day for 6 days a week, when domestic chores were physical and almost endless…we were a thin and muscular culture. Take a glance at old photographs of crowds out celebrating a century ago to discover the extent of today’s changes. How thin we were compared to now! The nutrient challenge of our time is abundant, cheap and tasty food that is ever at hand 24/7. They are delicious items, often heavily sugared, salted and fatted. One Thumb Rule for prudent dining today is…to begin eating lower on the food chain.

BLAST OFF