Friday, June 16, 2006

Delete your greens

Haters of broccoli, rejoice - many cultures thrive while avoiding vegetables.

Shortly after recovering from the tale of Louise Arnold - a British woman who has a phobia for peas - news reaches us of the Scottish brothers who never eat vegetables.

The Campbell brothers of Aberdeen have all defied medical advice to live to ripe old ages, despite the fact that John, 91, Jim, 88, Colin, 85, Sid, 82, and Doug, 78, have spurned vegetables in all their guises. "'I've never liked them and I avoid them all the time," John told the papers. "I can't think of anything worse than a plate of carrots."

Apart from two plates of carrots, one imagines. Still, it is a tale that shakes to the very foundations not only the food pyramid on which modern nutritional advice is built, but also pretty much everything we ever believed in. Roswell? Man on the Moon? Elvis's death? We're questioning all of it. But, first, let us look at who else has rejected the way of the broccoli and lived to tell the tale.

The Inuit

In his explorations of the Arctic in the early 20th century, Vilhjalmur Stefansson found that the Inuit survived on almost nothing but meat and fish, with fruits, vegetables and other carbohydrates accounting for as little as 2 per cent of their total calorie intake. And yet they appeared healthy, and somehow avoided scurvy, despite the fact that we are forever being told that avoiding scurvy is all about lemons and oranges.

It was Stefansson's contention that the Inuit sourced their vitamin C from meat that was raw or barely cooked, and on his return to the West he put that theory to the test. He followed a meat-only diet for one year under medical supervision at New York's Bellevue hospital - and he, too, remained scurvy free.

Vitamin C can apparently be found in a variety of Inuit delicacies, including the organ meats of sea mammals, the stomach contents of caribou and the skin of beluga whales, which is said to contain as much vitamin C as the aforementioned oranges.

The Masai

Vegetables are largely alien to the diets of the Masai of Kenya and Tanzania, who rely on their humped zebu cattle for food. Rather than eat the meat, the Masai feast on the milk and blood drawn from their cattle.

The blood is mixed with the milk to make, one assumes, a sort of gruesome milkshake. There are apparently variations on this blood and milk theme: blood and milk can, for example, be thickened to produce a concoction with the consistency of scrambled eggs and served with rice.

This may not sound that tempting to the Western palate, but then it appears not to have done the Masai much harm. Any recent degeneration in the health of the Masai can arguably be attributed to Ernest Hemingway who, in The Green Hills of Africa, writes of introducing some of the tribe to the delights of bread, canned mincemeat and pudding.

Remote Swiss villagers

In the 1930s, an Ohio dentist, Dr Weston Price, embarked on a 10-year expedition to see if those cultures regarded as "primitive" by our swaggering Western culture might, in fact, consume a diet promoting rude health and fine gnashers.

One of his findings was that the dairy-rich, vegetably impoverished diet of the inhabitants of a remote Swiss village, Lotschental, resulted in hardly any dental cavities and few childhood illnesses.

The villagers dined on unpasteurised milk, butter, cream and cheese, rye bread, meat on occasion, bone broth soups and the limited number of vegetables they could cultivate during the short summer months.

Admittedly, the children's teeth were covered in green slime, but at least they didn't have to eat brussels sprouts. You win some, you lose some.

Dr. Atkins and Co.

A couple of years ago, about one in 11 adults was following the Atkins diet, which extols the virtues of a low-carb, high-protein eating plan.

A typical Atkins menu looks a little like this ... Breakfast: fried bacon and eggs. Lunch: chicken with mozzarella. Dinner: pan-fried rump steak with soured cream. Snacks: 17 slices of ham, 12 prawn cocktails, large brie, small bucket of saturated fat. Note: this is just the "Induction Phase of the Atkins "diet". Later stages allow for far more vegetables.

There was little room for vegetables in the Atkins plan, other than a small, decorative smattering of lettuce. The Atkins plan had various side-effects, ranging from halitosis to weight loss, some of which were more desirable than others.

Sadly, Dr Atkins died in 2003. But this is no reflection on his low-veg diet: in fact, the bad breath and constipation that accompanied his plan were not his undoing; rather, the good doctor slipped on an icy footpath and hit his head.


Lowcarb_dave said...

Hurrah for meat!

I'm on day 3 of a 45 day meat and egg challenge!

It does wonders for the waistline!

Steve said...

Hi Dave. Please keep us all updated via your blog at or on the empower forum. Good luck mate. Steve