The start of agriculture
Agriculture meant less animal proteins for most people, and more grains. From low levels in hunter gatherer diets, grains now dominate the world’s food. Currently only eight different grains provide 56% of the world’s total food energy.2 Fast forward to the 1800s and the industrial revolution. We started figuring out how to turn large quantities of plants into flours, refined oils, sugar, corn syrup and lots of other things. We seriously changed food as it was found in nature, and lots of the good stuff was lost.
During the 1900s we took farming to the next level through the invention of nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides. Crops grew bigger and faster, but there were also major down sides. Today's ‘Western diet’ is a way of eating based on the successful farming of only a few animals and plants.
Our genes change much more slowly than our diets have. Looking at our DNA, humans are virtually the same as we were 40,000 years ago.4 But farming only started about 10,000 years ago. This means our bodies are dealing with a way of eating that we never evolved to handle. Ultimately this is contributing to obesity, heart disease and diabetes.5
Progress also meant things like sugar went from being a luxury ingredient to an everyday item. During the 1800s its price started dropping dramatically. A typical person ate about 4.4lb (2kg) of sugar per year back in 1700, this increased up to a whopping 178lb (81kg) by 2000.6-7 This means our bodies are dealing with a way of eating that we never evolved to handle. Ultimately this is contributing to obesity, heart disease and diabetes.5
Progress at a price
Wherever you find the Western diet disease has been shown to follow. Heart disease and diabetes type two are the most closely linked to our modern diet changes. Many scientists describe the rate of increase of these diseases as an epidemic. A question nutritional science has tried to answer: What are we doing wrong? Because if we figure out the cause, we can just cut it from our diets right? We tried this a while back with saturated fat, which didn’t work so well. It turns out cutting a nutrient from your diet doesn't work either, and it ended up doing more harm than good.