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David Katz, M.D. Headshot

Nutritious Foods: Being Smarter Than the Average Bear

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'Oer the span of human history
indulgent eating was elusive,
while demands on muscle of survival
were, if anything, abusive.

But we are far too clever
to thus remain in perpetuity--
so in uniquely human fashion
we prevailed with ingenuity.

And thus devised a modern world
where calories abound
--while opportunities for exertion
are what routinely can't be found.

To now find our gooses cooking
...as if in a vast caldera;
as removed from native habitat
as polar bears in the Sahara.

Now, since we cannot fix a problem
we don't first clearly see
we must probe the tolls of modern living
in terms of how they came to be:

In reflecting on our past
reviewing knowledge we've amassed
one could rightly be aghast
if the only salient gist
were the lessons we had missed
or implications we resist.

For it's clear that we've progressed
and in the process have addressed
--at least for nations of the West--
every nutrient we need
to optimize our feed
for the welfare of the breed.

But come to "have" when once "had not"
it's clear we've overshot,
in fact, by quite a lot!

So the challenge that emerges
as our culture clearly verges
on the brink of several scourges--

heart disease, obesity, stroke, diabetes--
assailants relentless, and deaf to entreaties--

is related to excess:
can we manage to suppress
the menace mingled with ... success?

Having looked where we've been
now where will we go?
In what way sort out
what we do and don't know...

in what way apply all the lessons we've learned
insofar as nutritional health is concerned?

Consider that traits with which we've been endowed
are what cycles of feast and famine allowed--

that it's from our struggle to survive
our dietary preferences derive.

Both what we ate, and how acquired
our roles defined, our tastes inspired.

Now as for taste, we learned to favor
food not only full of flavor

but rich, familiar and imbued
with nutrients so that when chewed

through deprivation and subsistence
it nourished our resolved persistence.

Both forefathers and foremothers
when they could indulge their druthers

sought out what they could to eat
that rich and fatty, salty, sweet...

brought strength and health, improved condition
while preventing malnutrition.

(Now as for food defining roles...
ah, there's a rub this tale extols!

Here's where differences of sex
may vex and bother or perplex.

For men look back upon the hunt
with reverence and regret

and long for all the manly things
like meat, and beer and sweat...

and since no man has hunted cheese
nor beat an egg in battle

a quiche lacks certain attributes
more evident in cattle.

So it's been said that quiche for men
is not the way to go:

If it doesn't come with antlers,
real men should just say no!

But men no less than women
are ruled by appetite

so after they have just said "no"
most men say, "well, I might..."

then men have gone and eaten quiche
where they found space to hide

then wiped the crumbs, composed themselves
and emphatically denied!

So who eats quiche? Well, anyone
by gender undissuaded.
It's needing to confess to it
that gets men agitated.

For we think quiche quite a dainty dish
for ladies on a diet
so to save their reputations,
of course "real" men deny it!

But in fact, a standard slice of quiche
not especially thin nor thick
is a load of fat and calories
about as dainty as a brick!

All our efforts to restrain ourselves
and be a bit ascetic

Are often at best marginal
and at their worst, pathetic

for our cravings from the early days
are not readily refuted;

so when we change our diets
with new dishes substituted

we tend to reapproximate
our previous condition
with abundant sugar, salt and fat
our diet's composition.

For it is to traits and tendencies
through time assimilated
that the things we like to chew on now
are apt to be related.)

So it may seem the winter of our discontent
insofar as our acts of ingestion are spent.

But this notion of seasons
may shed some light
if not heat, on our current
nutritional plight.

As we ponder the ways
we all struggle with food
we may dare to be hopeful--
optimism renewed!--

If our thoughts turn to bears
who live well to the North
with far too much sense
to dare venture forth.

For to turn to the South
would be foolish and bold
for such creatures adapted
to living in cold.

The South and its heat
is no place for such bears
with their layers of fat
and hide covered with hairs.

And especially deserts
with blistering heat
where the wind scorches skin
and the sand burns your feet

is to creatures evolved
to climes that are polar
as appealing as ... a dentist
extracting your molar!

These bears, so efficient
at heat conservation

remain where they should
for their own preservation.

And thus, unintended
teach us a lesson

as we sip Coca-Cola;
munch chips fried in Wesson;

recline on a couch;
stay fixed to our seat--

a lesson having nothing
to do with the heat!

If bears have a home--
then so, too, do we.
It's just that the bears' home
is simpler to see

for the bounds of our home
have been stretched 'til they snapped;
'til this concept of home
can't be charted or mapped.

We have claimed all the space
on the face of the globe
yet borders beyond which
it hurts us to probe

continue to bind us
against all predilection
to the constraints of our history
and natural selection.

Our home is the place
we're adapted to be
from the time our ancestors
climbed down from their tree.

In that place we're at home
we were always kinetic
due to struggles persistent
and even frenetic;

looking always for food
finding barely enough
made us tough and get going
for the going was tough.

The work of our muscles
that kept us alive
drove up needs for fuel
to subsist and survive

so such food as we found
as we gathered and wandered
was cherished with nothing
wasted or squandered.

(Perhaps that's the reason why
mothers berate
us for leaving residual food
on our plate.)

The food of our ancestors
caloric dilution
provided for micronutrient
needs a solution-

for plants provide limited
combustible fuel
but are vitamin and mineral rich,
as a rule.

We found very little of sugar and salt
so these are flavors we tend to exalt.

The food we procured was largely fat-free--
although richer than ours in omega-3.

We are told now to cut back
on sugar and fat;
restrict salt, as for fiber,
to eat more of that.

Eat more micronutrients
less calories
less food that walks
and more grown on trees.

Avoid fatty acids--
saturated and trans;
include fish or
flaxseed in all menu plans.

More folate, potassium
and vitamin D
selenium, zinc,
flavanoids found in tea...

The insights it seems
of our research and science
all converge to support
systematic compliance

with a diet spelled out
not in journals or tomes
but recorded quite nicely
by our chromosomes.

Like Hawthorne's hapless heroine
we, too, are marked from birth
by all the ways our bodies
are adapted to this earth.

A constant rain of calories
is not by birth our right-
so now, against these wrongs we've wrought
we're all compelled to fight.

But there are ways, when there is will
to get from this to that
and shield our health within a shell
of native habitat.

We need that shell to shield us
not just from sun and rain
but from the flood of calories
that feeds the weight we gain.

"Eat food, not too much mostly plants"
points us in the right direction;
but it will take far more than pithy quotes
for healthful diet's resurrection.

A land of golden arches
is not what's meant to be
for those whose great-great-grandfolks
made their living up a tree.

In fact, we are so out of place
each great-grandson and daughter
it's as if our homes up on dry land
got buried under water
.

But what it takes to turn this tide
is not like rocket science--
just a barricade of sandbags
neatly stacked up in defiance.

If each of us would bend our backs
and stack one bag of sand

we'd find ourselves, before too long
back in comfort on dry land.

Like polar bears burning
beneath desert heat
we're out of our bounds
with the things that we eat.

Our adaptations are challenged
our shrewdness, on trial.
Will we find our way home,
or stay lost in denial?

As we look forward
think what to do next--
the past holds the answers
in native context.

For our sea of dietary troubles
this displaced creature is an emblem.
But we are much smarter than the average bear
and unified, against these rising tides of tribulation
we may, by opposing, end them!

So it is that I conclude
this half-baked poem on health and food
and do so hoping to have taught
...or served at least, some food for thought.

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