In praise of simple food

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to get together with my sometime partner in podcasting, Seth Yoder, to interview Dr. Stephan Guyenet, who has a PhD in neurobiology from the University of Washington. He is also the author of the Whole Health Source blog, which I have been reading since the days he was still working on his PhD.

Stephan writes and speaks frequently about ancestral nutrition (and will be speaking at the Ancestral Health Symposium in Berkeley in a few days. He has also published scientific journal articles on the neurobiology of obesity. In other words, how our brains are “wired” on two different circuits. One helps to prevent us from losing or gaining more than a certain amount of body fat (i.e., it promotes homeostasis). The other, the “reward” circuitry, makes it possible, even easier, to eat more than our bodies really need, especially when food is highly palatable (i.e., high in fat, calories and sugar).
As Dr. Guyenet points out in some of his papers, it’s hard to really know for sure how our far-back ancestors really ate. However, we can get pretty good clues by looking at cultures around the globe who still eat their traditional diets, as well as looking at changes in how food is prepared since the advent of the Industrial Revolution.
In a nutshell, we used to eat much simpler meals, with foods prepared without a lot of bells and whistles. We also didn’t have as much variety in our diets. This made it easier to eat enough to meet our energy requirements, and not much more. Today, we have a tremendous variety of highly processed, hyperpalatable foods at our disposal, 24-7. This makes it easier to eat for reasons other than hunger and energy requirements.

Because I’m a geek that way, I totally enjoyed reading his papers, even the nitty-gritty stuff about the various hormones and neurotransmitters involved in these processes. But on a real-world level, it made me realize that while I do sometimes enjoy a decadent restaurant meal, or have fun preparing a complicated, takes-half-the-day recipe from, say, Julia Child, for my day-to-day nourishment need I prefer simpler fair, like some roasted or grilled meat and veggies with a tossed salad and maybe some sort of starchy carbohydrate (whole grains, root veggies, artisan bread). It tastes good, but not in some over-the-top way.

This is something I’ll post more about at some point, probably after Seth has a chance to edit the podcast. In the meantime, I encourage you to watch Dr. Guyenet’s excellent TEDx talk, “The American Diet: A Historical Perspective.”

What about you? Do you prefer your food simple or fancy?