The Industrial Diet
As machinery took on more of the toil of food production, people who had worked the land moved into cities. The urbanized citizens of the world quickly adopted a very different diet than either the grain eating farmers or the omnivorous hunters and gatherers before them. The world's new urban diet included far more of the meat, milk, fats and sugars that our ancestors longed for but had been able to obtain only in modest amounts. On the other hand the new urban diet provided far less of the unrefined foods from plants that had been our primary source of sustenance since the beginning of the human race.
The urban industrial diet had many advantages. The food supply became more predictable and had far less contamination from microbes and parasites. In general, the nutrients from animal based foods are more concentrated and more readily absorbed by our bodies and so devastating deficiencies of iron, calcium and vitamin A became less common.
This new diet has been very appealing to each new wave of city dwellers throughout the world, but it also has a down side. Life in town requires less physical exercise than life in the countryside, and the rich new diet provided more calories than we were burning as fuel. Our bodies store the surplus calories as fat. Increasingly, people living in the industrialized parts of the world have become overweight. As we put on extra pounds, the rate of several serious diseases began an ominous increase. Heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes all have become more prevalent wherever and whenever people adopt the industrialized diet.
However, some of the diseases that increased rapidly with the industrialized diet seem to be less clearly related to obesity. The common thread among cancer, arteriosclerosis, diabetes, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, cataracts and macular degeneration is tissue or cellular deterioration. These are called 'degenerative diseases' because they appear to be caused by a premature or unnecessary degeneration of our tissue at the cellular level. A growing mountain of evidence is indicating that risk of developing these degenerative diseases is greatly reduced by the presence of phyto-chemicals, or plant based chemical compounds in our diet. These plant substances, which include vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, essential fatty acids and fiber were much more plentiful in our native pre-industrial diet.