Diversity isn't just for portfolios

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

October 2009

Diversity is one of the most common terms doled out by financial planners but dietary diversity is not just healthy, it's something for which we have been hard-wired for thousands of years. Don't be misled by the enormous variety of foods at the supermarket. Hardly any of them existed when our bodies evolved into their present configuration.

Compared to what was available in the Stone Age our meat counters and produce sections are rather paltry. Even though everything else in the store, including the dairy products, would have been unavailable back then, there wouldn't be enough shelf space for what they did have.

With the possible exception of the Arctic region, modern hunter-gatherers have an enormous selection of every kind of food. Hundreds of different edible fruits, roots, vegetables and nuts are the rule, not the exception. Although your local produce manager receives imports from thousands of miles away most families have never experienced more than a couple of dozen varieties in any category. Ask any kid how he or she likes eggplant, kale or okra.

Our meat selection is pitiful. Where Stone Agers hunted dozens of large animals and hundreds of different small animals and birds, today's food shopper has a choice of three forms of "large game": cows, pigs and sheep. Forget small game. Birds include chickens and turkeys, perhaps an occasional duck (a single breed) and an occasional Cornish game hen. Our eggs come in two varieties, white and brown, and there is no significant nutritional difference between them.

What does it matter? The answer is that we have evolved to eat a wide variety of foods, especially plant foods with their thousands of different antioxidants and other nutrients. When ancient hunter-gatherers settled down to become farmers they picked crops that were easy to cultivate and store, mostly grains. In the last 10,000 years humans have settled on barely a dozen grains whose nutritional content can't come close to foods that they had gathered earlier.

The trend toward nutritional monotony accelerated in the last century. When most Americans lived on or near farms they had a moderate variety of plant foods. Packaged and fast foods lack the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and other nutrients we need. No wonder we are afflicted with obesity, coronary artery disease and constipation.

Next time you shop, try a little diversity, even okra.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.