In the story of our first parents, Adam and Eve fell to the serpent’s temptation to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That simple snack changed history.
Ignoring that the apple could have just as well been a pear, peach or even a banana from which they took a bite, Adam and Eve became mortal. This act was a scene in the drama of Genesis, and the bigger picture of the fall of man.
Isn’t it interesting that today it is again what we eat that pushes us into a second mortal state? This time it is the nutritional fall of man, woman and child.
Our current eating habits would shock our great-grandparents and cause our first parents to think they had been kicked out of paradise. True, Oreos are 100 years old, but that may have been when all the problems with our diets started. Nowadays we consume everything and anything that brings a multitude of harm to our bodies. Had today’s pseudo-food been in the Garden of Eden, Mom and Dad would have fallen further and faster by eating the Doritos, Coke or Snickers, and the fig leaves wouldn’t have fit.
We have in our country a growing famine of malnourishment. Historically, we think of the plagues of starvation around the world brought into our homes by distressing pictures of skeletal children. My mother encouraged us to clean our plates because there were hungry children in China. Her message was timely considering millions starved under Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward.
Subsequent generations of parents have used Biafra, Ethiopia, Sudan, North Korea and Somalia to exhort kids into finishing cauliflower and pea casseroles.
These nations’ plight is a calorie-poor malnutrition. Our predicament is different. Ours is a calorie-rich malnutrition. Their crisis of calories lowers the body’s immune system. Our crisis of excessive calories intensifies the body’s immune reactions.
This means we are less likely to die from infectious diarrhea, but unfortunately, it means we are more likely to succumb to diseases of inflammation. Inflammation is a general term for a variety of operations the body performs to fight against disease. It is also the mechanism of healing and repair. Unfortunately, it is like so many other examples of too much of a good thing can do us in.
This is where our eating habits come into the picture. Diets low in Omega 3 and high in Omega 6, corn oil, accelerate the drive to more inflammation. One critical aspect of inflammation is oxidative stress and its damage from what are called oxygen radicals. In nature, the O2 molecule separates and the individual O's rust everything in sight. The same oxygen that we need to live damages our body’s multiple parts.
The Lone Rangers that come to the rescue are molecules that neutralize these radicals. The heroes are the antioxidants that we all read about. They are radical scavengers binding to the oxidizing agents. Natural antioxidants are found in the fruits and vegetables that we don’t eat.
Cancers of all sorts, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and arthritis have been shown in one way or another to be influenced greatly by what we eat. Our stressful lifestyles also enhance the oxidative process. Depression and anxiety may have some origins in our diets and the inflammation that happens within the brain.
One of the more controversial conditions that has accelerated beyond imagination is autism. There are authors who argue that cellular evidence of inflammation is found in the brains of children with this disorder of speech, social interaction and sensory integration. Some experts are vocal in their opinions of the role of food in the contribution to genetically susceptible children.
So unless we want to continue to fall, we had better start eating the fruits and vegetables that can counteract the consequences of mortality. Maybe this time we need the serpent to tempt us to eat broccoli.
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a practicing pediatrician for 30 years and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at [email protected].