Are Humans Starch Eaters
In his efforts to establish, to his complete satisfaction, the normal diet of man, Dr. Emmet Densmore pursued a line of reasoning that we may consider with profit. First, he noted that animals in their natural state live upon foods which are spontaneously produced by nature and require no cultivation. Man, on the other hand, he noted, lives upon foods that are produced by cultivation. Man does not live upon the spontaneous products of nature, but lives artificially.
The thought then occurred to him that, if nature has provided a natural food for all the animals below man, perhaps she has also provided a normal food for man. He assumed that nature has produced foods that are as normal to man as grasses are to the herbivore, or as flesh is to the carnivore.
This was certainly no unreasonable assumption but is based on the principle of the unity of nature. It is based upon the fact that man, as much as the lion or the deer, is a child of nature and that, like these animals, his normal requirements are found in nature.
If man, like the other animals of nature, is constituted for a certain type of food, what is that food or what is that type? What, in other words, is the normal food of man? He sought for his answer in several directions. Scientists were agreed that man’s original home was in a warm climate, either in the tropics or the subtropics. Without tools and without fire, he must have lived in a part of the world where the spontaneous productions of nature could be obtained by him with only the “tools” with which he is physiologically equipped and could eat without artificial preparation.
“If man first lived in a warm climate,” he reasoned, “and, if like other animals, he subsisted on foods spontaneously produced by nature, these foods must have been those which grow wild in such a climate, quite probably such foods as are still spontaneously produced in such localities. The woods of the south, as is well known, abound in sweet fruits and nuts.”
It will be seen at a glance that this line of reasoning led straight to the fruits of the trees as man’s normal diet. But man does not live on a fruit diet. Indeed, the greater part of his diet has long been cereals and animal foods. Let us, then, see what Densmore found about cereals.
“It is taught by botanists that wheat is an artificial product developed from some grass plant not now known. Moreover, cereals are the product of the temperate zone, not of those regions where there is no winter, and it was, therefore a necessity of man’s sustenance when he was without agriculture, without tools and without fire, and had to depend upon foods spontaneously produced by nature, that he live in a region where his natural foods were produced at all seasons of the year. This narrows or confines the inquiry to two articles of diet—fruit and nuts.”
He next noted that these foods need no additions, no sweetenings, no seasonings, no preparations, to appeal to the olfactory and gustatory senses of man. “If the dishes that are set before a gourmet,” he said, “those that have been prepared by the most skillful chefs, and that are the product of the most elaborate inventions and preparations, were set beside a portion of the sweet fruits and nuts as produced by nature, without addition or change, every child and most men and women would consider the fruits and nuts quite equal if not superior in gustatory excellence to the most recherche’ dishes.”
Analysis showed that these foods contain the proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and minerals that are essential to human nutrition. Subsequent analysis has shown them to be abundant in the various essential vitamins. Sugar, he noted, is the chief carbohydrate of fruits and nuts. In what way does this diet differ from the diet of civilization? Let us see how Densmore viewed this.
“Instituting a comparison between sweet fruits and nuts on the one hand, and the diet of civilization on the other, I soon detected an essential difference. I saw that bread, cereals, and vegetables are the basis of the diet of the present day and that starch is the chief element of these foods.
Scrutinizing the component parts of fruits and nuts, I saw that these fruits contain very little starch, and hence I perceived that I had brought to light a fact that was not unlikely to bear an important part in the solution of the problem before me.”
Thus, by a simple process of reasoning upon well-known facts of nature, he had arrived at the conclusion that, while man’s normal diet as represented in the spontaneous products of nature contains little starch, the cultivated food plants of civilized man were abundant in starch. This led to the question: “What are the effects of starch upon the system?” “Wherein,” he asked, “Does a diet that is without starch differ physiologically from one in which starch is the predominant element?”
Seeking a reply to this last question, he noted first of all “that the two foods (fruits and starch or cereals) involve a different process of digestion.” “Sweet fruits are composed largely of glucose, with a fair proportion of nitrogen …” cereals are composed largely of starch, with a higher proportion of nitrogen. The carbohydrate in nuts is largely sugar. If fruits and nuts constitute man’s normal diet, as his reasoning had concluded, the starch diet is not his normal diet.
But he was met by one of the most convenient arguments that the evolution hypothesis has supplied its votaries. “Since man, by artificial contrivance and agriculture,” it was reasoned, “has developed and employed cereals and starchy vegetables as the basis of his diet, he has reversed what appears to be the natural order.”
Densmore examined this contention in the light of anatomy and physiology and found that man’s digestive organs have undergone no alterations in structure and function to adapt him to the starch diet. “The orangutan and the several species of long-armed apes, which have, apparently since time began, fed upon nuts and fruits to the exclusion of cereals and starchy vegetables, have today the same digestive apparatus in substantially the same proportion of parts as man, after his thousands of years of cereal eating. This fact is undeniable evidence that man’s organs have not undergone essential modification or change by these centuries of unnatural diet.” Evolution just didn’t evolve so readily.
Analyzing the various mono-diets that were then popular and for which much was claimed in the way of their benefits to the patient, Densmore noted that the Salisbury meat diet, the grape diet, and the milk diet each were nonstarch diets. They were simple and, at the same time, they met another requirement of a diet—ease of digestion. “At the foundation of these diets,” he said, “I was gratified to find the same basic fact that the diet is essentially nonstarch and one in which bread, cereals and starchy vegetables are reduced to a minimum.”
The Salisbury diet was, to quote Densmore, “entirely free from starch.” He says of the Salisbury diet that it was “a uniform diet.” It was usually considered that a variety of food is necessary both for the invalid and the robust. The triumphs of the mono-diets fly in the face of this commonly received axiom.
Can it be true, then, as Densmore contended, that invalids, and especially those suffering with digestive disease, are invariably benefitted by being placed on an exclusively nonstarch diet?” If man’s digestive organs had undergone the modifications suggested by the defenders of the starch diet,” he reasoned, “starch foods would naturally be those best adapted to man’s restoration; but if, as we contend, the race has been, during all these thousands of years of cereal eating, perpetually straining and overcrowding the powers of the second stomach (the duodenum) and thus deranging the digestive apparatus—and if man is seen to be at once benefitted by discontinuing that diet, and by taking a food which is digested in the first stomach—these facts tend to confirm the view that the adoption of a nonstarch diet is in conformity with man’s physiological structure and needs.”
What he denominated food fruits consisted chiefly of sweet fruits—dates, figs, bananas, raisins, prunes, apples, nuts. Fruits and nuts, with the addition of green vegetables, constitute an adequate diet, furnishing all the food-factors needed by man’s organism, and whoever eats a diet of this kind will be better off than he who eats a great variety of foods, from soup to nuts, from all the kingdoms of nature. It is not sufficient comment upon the abnormality of the modern diet that fruit is relegated to the last place on the menu and is all too often used merely for ornamental purposes?
Prior to Sylvester Graham, the medical and conventional view of fruit was well expressed by a noted British physician thus: “for decorative purposes fruit equals flowers.” Fruits were thought of, also, as relishes, but were not supposed to have any food value. “Bread and meat” were symbolic of nutriment, and those who could afford to do so often sat down to meals consisting of several types of flesh foods. Puddings, porridges and similar articles of diet were classed with bread.
“The ordinary dried figs of commerce,” said Dr. Densmore, “contain about 68 percent glucose, which, when eaten, is in the identical condition that the starch of cereal food is converted into after a protracted and nerve-force-wasting digestion.” He correctly observed that the sugar of fruits is predigested. Many of them require no preparation at all to render them ready to enter the bloodstream; others have to be reduced to simpler sugars, a process that takes place in the intestine. There is certainly good common sense in his thought that foods that are “predigested by nature” and are ready for absorption and assimilation upon ingestion and place less tax upon the digestive system than those foods that are prepared for assimilation only after a complicated and laborious process of digestion.
But, as man is equipped with ptyalin in the saliva and with starch-splitting enzymes in the intestine, it may be urged that starch may be thought of as constituting a normal part of his diet. It was the thought of Dr. Densmore that man’s normal starch-digesting equipment is just sufficient to enable him to digest the small amounts of starch that normally exist in the fruits and nuts that constitute his normal diet.
This thought is that, while man is equipped to digest a certain amount of starch, a predominantly starch diet such as is eaten in much of the world today is not normal to him, and that the best form in which he should secure his carbohydrates is sugar.
Learn more about carbohydrates
In this connection, sugar means the sweet fruits produced by old mother nature herself, not the processed sugars of commerce. Sugars, whether in the form of sugar (crystals-brown or white) or in the form of syrups that have been separated from their associated nutrients and that have been concentrated and changed, do not constitute ideal foods for man or beast.
The maple sugar, cane sugar, beet sugar, milk sugar and fruit sugars of commerce and the syrups and molasses that are freely eaten, whether from cane or maple sap, do not constitute really good foods for man. Honey, even when pure and unchanged, is not a good food for man for much the same reason, and for added reasons. It is a fine food for bees.
It was believed in Densmore’s day and it is still believed that toasting starch, as in toasting bread, dextrinizes it, thus rendering it more easily digested. Although the toasting of bread spoils much of the food value that remains in it after the first baking, and converts part of it into charcoal, precious little dextrinization occurs. Densmore, accepting the dextrinization of bread by toasting, said: “the sweet fruits are removed a step beyond.
If there was some method by which a piece of toast could undergo a second transformation and the dextrin be converted into glucose, it would then in all probability be substantially as easy of digestion as the sweet fruits for the simple reason that it would already be glucose; in a word, no digestion would be necessary.”
Certainly, as he contended, sweet foods would be far better for the weakened individual and the invalid, with lowered digestive powers, than would be a diet of starches. If there is one starch food that may be regarded as an exception to this rule, it would be the potato, as its starch is more easily and speedily converted into sugar than the starch of cereals, legumes, etc.
But Densmore goes further than a consideration of the interests of the invalid when he says, “it would seem plain that a human being in apparently robust health is much more liable to remain so upon a food that is adapted to his organism and that is of easy digestion, than upon one that is a foreign body and that must undergo a protracted and difficult digestion before being of use to the system.”