Omnivores and Others

The Genius of Dogs


Consider. Humans adults have a 30-foot gut. Within it live 100 trillion bacteria.

Dogs have a six foot gut. Why are dogs so foreshortened?

The tale is not about the tailed and untailed. It’s about what you eat.

The Omnivore’s Opportunity

There’s one short reason why dogs have such abbreviated guts. They’re carnivores. They eat meat. This preference is obvious not just at the pet supermarket, but in literature.

In a turn of the century novel by the omnivorous Lord Dunsany, a dog is reincarnated into a tippling English divine. While under the spiritually liberating influence of imperial Tokay, Dean Spanley recounts his former life as a canine.  Eventually his tragic disappearance from an aristocratic household is explained: a seductive dog showed him the delights of hunting. Catching, killing, and devouring raw rabbits caused his life to end with a gameskeeper’s bullet.

Humans still like hunting. We supposedly possess the  capacity to eat about 10000 separate living things. These include insects, which may have been a major protein source throughout much of human history – and are again sparking the enthusiasm of culinary revolutionaries.

But what we’ve generally survived on is plants. Ask a chimpanzee – it takes a lot of plants to live. Humans who have tried to eat like chimpanzees have to work at eating for many hours a day.

It takes a lot of plant stuff – and those 100 trillion bacteria – to make a meal out of fibrous greens. But we’re built to do it.

And we generally don’t do eat plants at our peril.

The Killing Of Cholesterol

The cholesterol religion has been a bit debunked of late. Unlike some of its adherents, cholesterol can’t explain all of cardiovascular disease. Loathing of cholesterol and fat also helped lead to the “diet revolution” of the 1980s.

Lower fat take, Americans were told. People competed on the percentage of fat in their meals. Matrons proudly announced only 8% of their calories came from fat – then 7%, then 6%!

In many cases, sugar substituted for fat. Which helped propel us towards to a fatter, more diabetic America.

But the cholesterol proponents had a clear point.

The story’s been taught in medical schools for decades.

Take a cow. A cow, like a dog, is a mammal with a tail. Feed it beef.

Clogged arteries everywhere.

Take a dog. Feed it beef.

Clean arteries everywhere.

Cows are herbivores. They survive on grass and plants. Dogs are carnivores.

Sad news to some, but in this instance, humans seem more like cows than dogs. Eat a very fatty diet, and you, too may develop arteries with the thick consistency of wood.

Don’t think so? How do you think those cardiac stents mange to stay in those tiny little arteries? Only because they’ve slowly become tough and hard.

So what can we do to keep our hapless arteries flexible and soft?

Two Fibrous Studies

Research groups have recently come up with some ideas on how to keep arteries twistable and adaptable.

One was of eating fiber, a study done at the Harvard School of Public Health. In the past fiber was supposed to save us from appendicitis, colon cancer, and middle aged waistline creep.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way. But one doughty research group looked at people post heart attack.

There’s a lot less of them then they’re used to be – at least in younger age groups. Lifestyle, aspirin, and, in this case, medical treatment, have made a big dent.

But this study looked at the post MI eating records. And curiously, those who ate the most fiber saw less death. Supposedly for every 10 gm increase per day, a 15% decrease in death rates.

Hmmm. Expect the cereal manufacturers to be showing up soon at Health Fairs and Wellness Institutes.

Another, done at University College, London, looked at fruit and vegetable consumption in 65,000 people.

The more they ate of each, the smaller the death rate.

At more than 7 portions (a portion size goes for 3 oz) the death rates were down 42% - at any age. More important, the more fruit and veg, the lower the death rate.

Does this mean vegetables will save you? Not quite.

There were lots of confounding factors in these studies. Though the authors tried the usual “controlling of variables,” people who eat a lot of vegetables also tend to walk; move around a lot; get outside; pay attention to their health; use stress reduction techniques; live on the “better” side of the tracks.

But fruit and veg still helped – just like the movie characters Wallace and Gromit always told us it does.

Bottom Line

Humans are omnivores with a 30 foot gut. That makes us very good at eating lots of plant stuffs.

Eating those plant stuffs – in many different varieties and colors – seems to make our 100 trillion bacteria happy. It also appears to give populations a better shot at living longer.

Omnivorous as we are – we can successfully eat hundreds of different insects, and historically probably did – humans do well with eating plants.

Especially if we walk directly following the meal.

Good omnivorous abilities makes for highly effective herbivorous behaviors.

Whole plants, anyone?

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