If you’ve never come across the term ‘diseases of civilisation‘, then 1) just how ignorant are you? and 2) just kidding, and 3) it’s possibly an older concept than you might have imagined, stemming from the work of people like the remarkable Dr Weston Price in the very early part of the 20th century. And 4) they are diseases such as cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, dementia, diseases which appear to have been very largely absent in those ancient indigenous cultures studied by anthropologists or medics, and which have blighted modern western society especially in last 40 or so years. Obesity is still increasing too.
Fruit has evolved to be eaten and have its seeds spread by animals. In autumn, when many mammals are preparing to hibernate and need to store fat on their bodies to survive, the sugar levels in fruit rise – and their colours change – to make them attractive to the eater. In a nice deal brokered by nature, the sugar makes the animal fat (don’t ever forget that!), and the fruit seeds gets propagated. This is known as ‘scheduled obesity.’
Does this apply to humans too? It’s been suggested that fructose fails to trigger our satiety signalling, by inhibiting the hormone leptin, making us stay hungry even after eating copious amounts. This could be regarded as an evolutionary mechanism to enable a form of scheduled obesity, since edible fruit would only have been available for the same window of time as for hibernating animals. Bear in mind that fruit 40,000+ years ago probably bore no resemblance to modern fruit. Fruits are thought to have been smaller, with a lot less flesh and a lot more seeds, or bigger stones, and not to have been particularly sweet.
It’s conceivable, therefore, that our far distant ancestors did eat fruit, at a certain time of the year, if available where they lived, but that the fructose levels were considerably lower than those in modern fruit, bred through generation after generation to be sweeter and sweeter, and the health implications were very different from today.
In the years since 5-a-day was instigated – the early 1990s – fruit consumption has rocketed, largely due to clever marketing of the 5-a-day concept tying in with the undisputable sweetness of modern fruit. Yet diseases of civilisation as well as obesity, have not only not diminished, they have carried on increasing. Eating more modern fruit has not helped. It’s impossible that modern fruit is the sole cause in a multicausal situation, but high fruit consumption may well be one of the many contributing factors.
High levels of fructose cause fat to accumulate on the liver – non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. High levels of fructose cause high levels of uric acid. Uric acid inhibits nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is vital for brain function and vasodilation – keeping your blood vessels open – so low nitric oxide contributes to dementia and high blood pressure.
Nutrients in fruit are well marketed: vitamins, antioxidants, minerals… Turns out that there isn’t a nutrient in fruit that isn’t to be found more plentifully in other sources. Coffee and dark chocolate have more antioxidants; spinach and broccoli have more vitamin C and A; all green leafy veggies have more minerals. (I’m not going in this post into essential nutrients that don’t occur in fruit or veg, like vitamin B12).
If sugar is a contributory factor in modern diseases and obesity – and that seems to be pretty much nailed on – then modern fruit, consumed daily in large quantities, is perfectly capable of bearing enough sugar to do the job. We live in an industrial and post-industrial environment in which marketing works well, the media is supremely powerful in delivering chosen messages, vested interests, such as those of fruit producers, have a lot of influence, and there is no longer any such thing as a ‘natural’ food situation. We can eat as much of any fruit we want, whenever we want, at any time of the year without questioning the appropriateness. As with much of modern eating habits, modern fruit contributes to modern diseases.
I’ll look more at fruit and fructose in further blogs. And I’ll see if I can also help you make sense of vegetables. We need to be able to make sense of vegetables. See you next time!