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Even our hunter-gatherer ancestors had clogged arteries. 
In the last century, atherosclerotic vascular disease has replaced infectious disease as the leading cause of death (from heart attack and stroke) across the developed world. A new study in The Lancet, ‘Atherosclerosis across 4000 years of human history: the Horus study of four ancient populations’  reveals that clogged arteries are nothing new – hunter-gatherers had them too! The findings provide an important twist to the understanding of atherosclerotic vascular disease forcing researchers to think outside the box. While modern lifestyles can accelerate the development of plaque on our arteries, the prevalence of the disease across human history shows it may have a more basic connection to inflammation and aging.

The international research team carried out CT scans of 137 mummies and found artery plaque in every single population they looked at from pre-agricultural hunter-gatherers (the Unangans) in the Aleutian Islands to Native American (ancestral Puebloans) living along the Colorado River, the pre-historic cultures of ancient Peru and ancient Egyptians.

‘This is not a disease only of modern circumstance but a basic feature of human aging in all populations,’ said Prof. Caleb Finch, a senior author of the study. ‘Turns out even a Bronze Age guy from 5000 years ago had calcified, carotid arteries,’ he said, referring to Otzi the Iceman, a natural mummy who lived around 3200 BCE and was discovered frozen in a glacier in the Italian Alps in 1991.

Otzi the Iceman

Overall, the researchers found probable or definite atherosclerosis in 34% of the mummies studied, with calcification of arteries more pronounced in the mummies that were older at time of death. Artherosclerosis was equally common in mummies identified as male or female.

‘We found that heart disease is a serial killer that has been stalking mankind for thousands of years,’ commented co-author Prof Gregory Thomas. ‘A common assumption is that the rise in levels of atherosclerosis is predominantly lifestyle-related, and that if modern humans could emulate pre-industrial or even pre-agricultural lifestyles, that atherosclerosis, or at least its clinical manifestations, would be avoided. Our findings seem to cast doubt on that assumption, and at the very least, we think they suggest that our understanding of the causes of atherosclerosis is incomplete, and that it might be somehow inherent to the process of human aging.’

Processed meat linked to risk of early death. 
Eating lots of processed meats (that includes bacon, ham, sausages, salami, pancetta and prosciutto etc.) can increase the risk of premature death due to cardiovascular disease and cancer according to a study published in BMC Medicine. The researchers tracked just under half a million people for an average of 12.7 years as part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. They report that participants who ate 160g (5¼oz) or more of processed meats a day had a 44% increased risk of dying compared with those who ate 10g (1/3oz) or less. You can read what NHS Choices review of the study here.

Processed meats

Diet and acne. 
Diet was commonly used as an adjunct treatment for acne from the late 19th century, but in the 1960s, the diet–acne connection fell out of favour. A recent review in J Acad Nutr Diet details the history and existing scientific literature and finds that the growing body of evidence suggests a relationship between diet and acne. The evidence is more convincing for high glycemic load diets, compared with other dietary factors report the authors.

Why commercially prepared foods seem to undermine the family meal. 
Sitting down to dinner and enjoying a healthy meal seems to be in the too hard basket for many families these days. Most parents will cite being busy, workplace obligations, children’s extracurricular and school activities, and scheduling conflicts. According to a US study reported in Elinor Ochs’s and Margaret Beck’s book Fast-Forward Family, busy lives are not the only culprit. The consumption of preprepared convenience foods, many of which are packaged as individual meals, stand alongside busy schedules as a root factor in undermining dinner as a family event. Read more here.  

Salt Sugar Fat. 
Over three and a half years, investigative journalist Michael Moss interviewed chemists, nutrition scientists, behavioural biologists, food technologists, marketing executives, package designers, chief executives and lobbyists to produce this insider’s guide to the food industry and the decisions behind the creation of many of the big-selling, highly processed products we see on our supermarket shelves. Key chapters include ‘Is It Cereal or Candy?’ (a potted history of the breakfast cereal aisle way back to Kellogg), and ‘Liquid Gold’ (the industrialization of cheese from Kraft’s processed cheese product in 1915). In his Epilogue, Moss writes: ‘If nothing else this book is intended as a wake-up call to the issues and tactics at play in the food industry, to the fact that we are not helpless in facing them down. We have choices …. After all, we decide what to buy. We decide how much to eat.’

Salt Sugar Fat
Moss’s account of food industry’s use of food technology to create/satisfy consumer demand is fascinating. However, by focusing on the usual suspect headline grabbers (sugar, fat and salt), he has left out the new kid on the block (the one that hasn’t hit the headlines. Yet.). The highly refined starches that food manufacturers are now using to replace the refined sugar in (supposedly) healthier products are as devoid of nutrients as the refined sugars they are removing. While providing an illusion of improved healthiness, the new low-sugar diet variants are no better for our health than the original, and many have a much higher GI. Dr Alan Barclay reported on refined starches and what you need to know about them HERE. You won’t find them listed in the ingredients panel by name. But you can check out their additive code numbers in the following table.

Hidden starches in foods

GS1 GoScan is a free ‘extended labelling’ app that provides Australian shoppers with nutrition, dietary and allergen information directly from the food and beverage manufacturer or brand owner and based on the product’s actual batch number. It was developed in consultation with the Australian Food and Grocery Council, Australian Universities and organisations such as Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia and Coeliac Australia and includes certification logos from the National Heart Foundation, Glycemic Index Foundation, Healthy Kids Association and Coeliac Australia.

  • For more information or to register for updates, visit www.goscan.com.au 
  • Dietitian Emma Stirling, who was given access to a prototype, reports on it HERE.