Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Seasons Of The Omnivore - Food For Thought

Question  - Are we apex omnivores designed to consume a wide range of whole foods based upon seasonal availablity?

"******** are omnivorous and will consume practically any food item, plant or animal. They prefer corn, crayfish, fruits, and nuts, but there is a seasonal shift in diet depending on availability of food items. During the spring, animal matter, including invertebrates, or small animals without backbones, and insects, makes up the major portion of the diet. While they prefer crayfish, ******** also consume muskrats, squirrels, rabbits, waterfowl eggs, and freshwater clams. In the summer, plant material, including fruits and nuts, becomes more important. Wild cherries, gooseberries, elderberries, wild grapes, strawberries, and garden items such as potatoes and sweet corn are relished. They also eat frogs, small fish, turtles, beetle grubs, grasshoppers, earthworms, crickets, and snails during the summer....."

Sounds like your typical hunter/gatherers.....eat what is edible, eat what is available, eat by the seasons.

"The **** is omnivorous. They will feed on invertebrates of all types, carrion, seeds, eggs and nestlings, fish and various  grains. ***** are active hunters and will prey on mice, frogs and other small animals. In winter and autumn, the diet of ***** is more dependent on nuts and acorns.....like most *****, they will(also) scavenge....Where available, corn,wheat and other crops are also a favorite food. "

Omnivorous opportunists taking advantage of the season's offerings.

"Most ***** eat anything they can find: berries, nuts, honey and fruit as well as mice, gophers, fish, birds, eggs or carrion. In the spring they feed on protein-rich fare such as insects, larvae, fresh grass, seeds, roots and fresh plant buds.....**** need foods with two characteristics. They must be highly nutritious and easily digested. During the annual cycles ***** move with the availability of their primary foods.
Also, ***** are not well adapted to eating plants. They are essentially meat eaters that have adapted to include a wide variety of plants in their diet. They do not have the ability to digest cellulose, and can only make use of the highest quality and most easily digested plant foods....As the calving season begins for ungulates certain ***** can take up to 50% of newborn elk and 42% of moose calves." 

The natural varied diet of the successful hunting omnivore.

Meet these resourceful hunter/gatherers.....

Not only do they continue to thrive even with loss of habitat but these omnivores are adaptable enough to coexist alongside us.They are clever and seem able to learn, specifically when it comes to sourcing food. Nature has certainly favored these animals with a flexibility and adaptability only an omnivore can possess.

After watching a TV documentary on the increase in urban raccoon populations across North America I got to thinking about how urbanized animals are fairing in terms of diet, health and wellbeing. Are they also suffering from diseases of civilization brought on by the abandonment of natural diets, consumption of human food via our refuse and/or also subject to food reward?

Diseases of Civilization and Urban Animals.

 Urban raccoons were tracked and studied and it seemed they were adapting to city life, becoming both urban savy yet also urban obese (from consuming the recycle bin cast offs of the SAD).


 It appears they too suffer the diseases of civilization. According to an Illinois Natural History Survey Center for Wildlife Ecology and the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine study to evaluate the health of wild raccoons they..."showed some negative effects following association with humans. Raccoons that lived in a state park and were fed by visitors had higher rates of dental caries and gum disease as well as higher cholesterol levels than those living in a farming area." Will urban raccoons pass by their traditional foods enroute to the "all you can eat" green organic recycle bins?

 Urbanized bears also have health issues specifically in regards to weight gain.According to a Wildlife Conservation Society study in Lake Tahoe bears in urbanized areas weighed an average of 30 percent more than bears in wild areas due to a diet heavily supplemented by garbage. They also discovered that birth rates of urbanized bears are increasing....

"...that because the bears weigh more they are giving birth at an earlier age — on average when they are between 4-5 years old, as compared to 7-8 years for bears in wild areas. Some urban bears even reproduced as early as 2-3 years of age around Lake Tahoe."

Another study determined that urban bears are a third less active and are showing behavioral changes along the  same lines as raccoons...."(they) have also become night owls, whereas wild land bears are active during the day."


Crows also have become urbanized and have also exhibited behavioral changes over their rural cousins......

"Downtown crows are much bolder than rural crows, the researchers have concluded, adding that they easily find food through co-operative searching strategies in which groups of crows forage as units....Researchers attribute rapid growth in urban crow numbers to abundant food sources, which the intelligent birds readily exploit by means of inventive foraging behaviour. Stan Temple, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin, says the handy availability of "Dumpster-style" food has made urban crows up to 100 times more abundant per unit area compared with their rural counterparts."


It seems urban crows are also impacted by the standard American diet.......the irony!

"Junk food is stunting the growth of young suburban crows, new research suggests. To make matters worse, and like some humans, crow parents opt to feed their young less nutritious food if it is easier to get....Bowman thinks that it's an "evolutionary mistake," that crows evolved to be opportunistic feeders, which helps them in natural environments, but may be detrimental as humans continue to urbanise the rural landscape."


Logic dictates that if we deprive our urbanized omnivores their modern processed "all you can eat" dumpster/garbage meals and they consume their natural seasonal based diets that they will(should) become healthier. That begs the question.....are we any different?It was at this point that I began thinking about human diets and how technology and globalism has made seasonal availability of our food a moot point.

I have been experimenting with dairy and starches to see if I garner any beneficial outcomes from eliminating types of these foods and, conversely, any negative outcomes when later reintroducing the same foods. It then became of question of a "tipping point" and at what point (potential) problematic foods became an issue? Then it occurred to me that maybe it isn't the food itself that was the problem but the volume and frequency of consumption. Too much of a good thing may be a bad thing? Omega 3 fatty acids now seem to fall into that category. Excessive consumption of protein and carbohydrate can also lead to issues and excess fructose intake, even from fresh fruit, has raised questions. Perhaps it is not the nature of the food that has created problems but rather we just eat too much of it far too frequently?We can now selectively eat whatever we want, whenever we want in whatever quantities we choose.The only limiting factor is our wallets.

 - Is it beneficial to get back to a more seasonal approach to nutrition?
 - Could there be a dietary component to Seasonal Affective Disorder?
 - Perhaps eating more fruit/berries/greens and seafood staples in the Spring and Summer while tuber/root vegetable starches, meat, fat and nuts are prefered Fall/Winter foods?

 The power of the omnivore is in the belly, specifically the ability to digest a variety of foods. If the digestive system is functioning correctly even limited amounts of problematic foods should/could be tolerable on a seasonal basis..Consuming a wide variety of foods also limits specific anti-nutrient loads but maximizes our exposure to a cornucopia of beneficial nutrients. Has the industrialization of food production thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into that design by making available (year round) foods previously only available during local growing, gathering, hunting, slaughter and fishing seasons? More importantly has it made it too easy to get junk/fast/processed(JFP) food that replaces traditional whole foods in our diets and actually encourages over consumption (food reward)?

Primal Nutrition = The Seasonal Omnivore

I've noticed the continuing debate over what foods constitute acceptable paleo, primal, ancestral or traditional foods. Maybe all whole foods are acceptable as part of a varied seasonal based omnivoric way of eating.Ayurvedic belief and practice has long advocated  balance, seasonal variety and local foods as a path to wellness.


If we avoid the modern JFP foods and possess a healthy belly can we embrace all whole foods as part of a balanced omnivore diet? That might explain why we see human populations across the globe thrive on different diets based upon assorted ratios of carbohydrates, fats, starches, dairy and proteins. The varied levels of amylase in human populations may be one example of an adaptation "in real time" based upon the amount of starch in any given diet.Tolerance for dairy and nightshade vegetables other adaptations. As apex omnivores our ability to adapt to our habitats, the change of seasons and a variety of food sources might be our true paleo - evolutionary heritage.

Seasons Of The Omnivore Part Two



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