Ethnic genetics may play a role in choosing the healthiest diet

Dr Terry Simpson weight loss surgeon

You probably heard about it – people who live in some island someplace that live for a long time and don’t seem to have the diseases that we have. Let me tell you a bit about the “Jungle” effect or ethnic specific diets – and I am drinking some unusual coffee as I write this, because someone brought me a Starbucks, so it isn’t my usual Peet’s coffee. But it is dark-roasted, fresh beans, and just a bit more bitter, but I could learn to like this. Hope your cup is good.

Everyone has their favorite story: the island in Greece, the island off Japan, the group in the Himalayan mountains, the Eskimos without heart disease, the African tribe with no colon cancer, the Chinese without heart disease.

The question is: what would happen if you would adopt that diet (and of course, I would opt to live on the isle in Greece where they spend their days tending their garden and drinking tea but then I couldn’t access the internet)?

Here is the story that is common to all of them: sons and daughters move away from the small villages because there is no work, no future, or maybe the bright lights of the city with the promise of central air-conditioning. When the children are followed they develop the same risks of (a) obesity (b) heart disease (c) cancer as the local city-dwellers. What has changed – is it diet, is it stress, is it living in a crowded apartment with central air-conditioning?

Lets examine the diets: Norwegians have pretty long life-spans. Their diet is centered around cheese, milk, lamb, fish, and potatoes. They are some of the finest pastry chefs in the world. Then look at the typical Mediterranean diet that is focused on fish, vegetables, olive oil. Which one works? The answer is- both. But if you give someone from Greece too much dairy they will have bloating and other issues. If you give a Norwegian too much olive oil they will get fat.

Those people who lived in their isolated regions for years adapted– they lived on what was available to them, and those who survived passed those genes on to the next generation. Eskimos have populated Alaska for over 10,000 years, and life there is harsh- the land is difficult, but they get all of their nutrients from the sea – from a diet that is high in fat from seals, walrus (a favorite of theirs), and fish. Should you eat a lot of seal? Trust me, it is an acquired taste – most people find it way too fishy, but if that is all you have to eat and otherwise you would starve it is amazing how tasty it can be.

The Eskimos who survived and thrived on that diet passed on those genes to their kids. Turns out there is a specific gene that they all have which involves the use of fatty acids at the cellular level, that is unique for Eskimos and unheard of with any other ethnic group.

Here is what is universal to all the ethnic diets: no matter what works for them, it may not work for you. But what doesn’t work is the typical western diet that is devoid of fish, vegetables, and has lots of sugar.

There are some foods that work well for you – and you may not know what they are – but you probably do. You may find food that is suited to your genetic background, that is not suited to the genetic background of your friend.

So consider this experiment: for a week, eliminate one thing from your diet that you might think isn’t good for you. Maybe its dairy, maybe it is bread, maybe it is pasta. Try to find the root ingredient (flour, sugar, dairy) and see if it makes a difference. One thing might do it.

Do this by deciding what it is. Fill in the gap with a lot of vegetables. Check yourself next week. Not salads – just vegetables (I have a post about salads here).

Try it- remember, just because someone says a food or food group, or the way food is fixed is good for you doesn’t mean it is – although no one seems to find an issue with a lot of fish and vegetables.

Thanks for reading- have a great week

—Terry

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