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History and Food: Evolution of the American Diet (And How to Make it Healthy Again)

When: Monday, July 25, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Derry Public Library, 64 E. Broadway, Derry
Cost: Free. Registration required.
Visit: derrypl.org




Food roots
Lecture explores origins of American diet

07/21/16
By Angie Sykeny asykeny@hippopress.com



 With new information about food and diet trends surfacing all the time, one local woman is showing people how the key to understanding nutrition isn’t in future discoveries — it’s in the past.

Laura J. Wolfer of Chester is a food educator, certified health coach and advocate of local and organic farming. With master’s degrees in molecular biology and archaeology, she has studied nutrition with a focus on the science and history of humans’ relationship to food.
“I’m interested in the evolutionary aspects of food and in looking at how our bodies are designed,” she said. “A lot of work in microbiology is going back and trying to figure out what it is we need to be healthy rather than just guessing, which is what we’ve done for a long time.”
On Monday, July 25, at 6:30 p.m., Wolfer will give a presentation at the Derry Public Library called “History and Food: Evolution of the American Diet (And How to Make it Healthy Again),” where she’ll discuss the major historical events that have made today’s Western diet what it is, the problems with that diet and how we can improve it by understanding the science behind food and the human body.
Wolfer has given public talks in the past about GMO foods and farming, but this will be her first talk focused specifically on the history and evolution of food. The format will be a PowerPoint presentation with plenty of opportunities for people to ask questions.
“People are tired of not knowing what to eat,” she said. “There are so many fad diets. [People] have chronic health problems and don’t understand why, and their doctors can’t help them … so I think people are ready to change and are interested in understanding how the body works, because that goes a long way in deciding what to eat.”
Wolfer will give a historical overview of the evolution of diet, beginning with the era of hunters and gatherers, then on to the development of agriculture 10,000 years ago and finally to the Industrial Revolution and rise of the industrial processed foods we’re familiar with today. She’ll also cover some information about government food policies and how what they tell people to eat isn’t always the most nutritious and healthy.
“It’s interesting to me how history is so incorporated into our lives,” she said. “We don’t even think about it. We just go to the grocery store and buy these packaged foods and don’t realize how all that has happened in the past has influenced why we eat what we eat today, and what might be better to eat instead.”
The biggest problem in the American diet, she said, is the excessive amounts of sugar. Most people are aware that soda, sports drinks, juices and processed junk foods have high sugar content, but there’s another culprit that isn’t always considered: low-fat and diet foods.
“They use an incredible amount of sugar to replace the fat,” she said. “And it’s not the fat that makes you fat. That’s a huge misconception. It’s the sugar and carbs, so avoiding all fat in your diet will actually make you more obese.”
The solution for this, she said, is to replace refined sugar with natural sugar from vegetables, which metabolizes more quickly. Instead of cutting fat from your diet entirely, eat foods with healthy fat like avocados, nuts and olive oil. The best way to start eating healthier is to limit your shopping at the supermarket altogether and buy food from your local farmers market or CSA program, Wolfer said, but she noted that many people are apprehensive about the higher costs.
“People have to start thinking about quality over quantity,” she said. “You spend money to get more of the inexpensive foods, thinking that you’re getting more nutrition, but if you spend that money on better-quality food, it’s actually more nutrition for your dollar. It’s hard to see, but you have to change your mindset.”  





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