March 7, 2019
[0:01:16] Podcast Sponsors
[0:04:54] Guest Introduction
[0:07:20] Interest in Studying Animals and Their Nutritional Habits
[0:10:30] Biochemical Individuality
[0:17:21] Clara Davis’ Work
[0:23:21] Nutritional Wisdom
[0:24:56] Leg #1: Flavor Feedback Relationships
[0:28:00] Podcast Sponsors
[0:31:25] cont. of Leg #1: Vitamin Fortification
[0:37:30] Leg #2: Wholesome Alternatives
[0:38:09] Leg #3: Social and Cultural Considerations
[0:40:54] How to find the right diet?
[0:46:24] Ancestral Wisdom When It Comes to Pairing Our Foods
[0:50:57] Synergy in Diet
[0:58:14] What We Can Learn from Animals
[1:11:34] About John Hoxsey and The Formula He Developed to Heal Cancer
[1:18:48] Summarizing the Podcast
[1:20:49] End of Podcast
Fred: You know, the one thing we don't do is to realize that the body was the first nutritionist, the first biochemist, physiologist, pharmacist, neurobiologist, but I think we do ourselves a real disservice and we don't realize that each one of us is unique and that our body knows what it needs if we simply provide it with wholesome alternatives.
Ben: I have a master's degree in physiology, biomechanics, and human nutrition. I've spent the past two decades competing in some of the most masochistic events on the planet from SEALFit Kokoro, Spartan Agoge, and the world's toughest mudder, the 13 Ironman triathlons, brutal bow hunts, adventure races, spearfishing, plant foraging, free diving, bodybuilding and beyond. I combine this intense time in the trenches with a blend of ancestral wisdom and modern science, search the globe for the world's top experts in performance, fat loss, recovery, hormones, brain, beauty, and brawn to deliver you this podcast. Everything you need to know to live an adventurous, joyful, and fulfilling life. My name is Ben Greenfield. Enjoy the ride.
Well, hello, everyone. You may have heard me talk about before this idea of looking at animals to learn more about nutrition, watching animals in nature self-select their nutrition, eat plants from one section of a field then navigate to another section of the field for a different type of plant, how animals respond to pre-mixed solutions of oats and alfalfa and grains versus how they respond to those same mixes that they've self-selected themselves, all sorts of interesting things about the animal kingdom.
Well, my guest today, Fred Provenza, who wrote the book, “Nourishment,” is a wealth of knowledge on this stuff. This is a great episode and it's brought to you by my company, Kion, my playground for new supplement formulations. I was actually just on a phone call yesterday about a brand new fat loss product I'm working on that I think you're going to find absolutely mind-blowing. It even affects your microbiome, your carbohydrate cravings. This is the stuff I do behind the scenes, and this is the stuff that once ready and formulated, I bring to you in extremely high-quality format over at getkion.com, getK-I-O-N.com where you'll also discover KionU, my training program for physicians and nutritionists and dietitians and physical therapists and chiropractic docs.
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Hey, it's no secret that I live out in the forest here in Washington State with my Nigerian Dwarf goats and Icelandic chickens and wild plants all over the house that me and my children collect. And so, I have a special place in my heart for just learning a little bit more about both animals and nutrition, and specifically, what we might be able to learn from them. But I didn't have any clue until I recently read this book called, “Nourishment.” All of the things that animals can actually teach us about rediscovering nutritional wisdom and plant foraging and how to choose natural foods and how to choose the right diet for us, I was absolutely intrigued and folded over many, many pages in this new book that I read called, “Nourishment.”
Now, “Nourishment” was written by my podcast guest today, who is an animal behaviorist. His name is Fred Provenza. He actually lives not too far from me about a 10-hour, 9 to 10-hour drive over in Montana. In this book, he delves into how animals self-select diets, the type of biochemically rich foods that may or may not help humans as well. And he uses his extensive background in behavioral ecology, and wildland resources, and wildlife and animal research to weave together this amazing story about what we can actually learn from animals. And I just had so many questions. It's a favorite part of my job is reading amazing books like this then getting a chance to get the author on the show and take an even deeper dive. But I had so many questions I wanted to get them on the show.
First of all, these shownotes, if you'd like to grab them, and I'll link to his book and everything else that we discuss during today's show, you can grab the shownotes over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/nourishment, which is the name of Fred's book, BenGreenfieldFitness.com/nourishment if you want all the shownotes, his book, et cetera. Fred, welcome to the show, man.
Fred: Thank you very much, Ben. Wonderful to be here with you. No question about it.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. Well, I'm stoked. We have so many cool things to talk about here. What I'm interested in first is, I know that you studied at Utah State in the Department of Wildland Resources, but then from there, how did you get into this topic of learning from animals and studying specifically the nutrition habits of animals and how those would apply to humans?
Fred: I'm going to go back a little way, Ben, a long way actually in my visit here on the planet, too. When I was really a young child, it's just absolute fascination with things wild and free, basically; plants, animals, birds, insects, rivers, being in the mountains, the kinds of things that you were describing as you introduced this show, just an absolute mesmerization and fascination with those things. And so, that led me early on in my career to go to Colorado State University and to study wildlife biology. That was just an amazing four years there at Colorado State learning more and more about plants, animals, soils, ecology, all of those kinds of things, just opened my eyes so much to things that I'd been interested in.
At that same time though, I was working on a ranch in Central Colorado in the mountains there up at about 88,000 feet elevation, just beautiful, beautiful setting, and working hands-on with growing things, growing plants. You're getting, cutting, bailing, hauling hay, working with sheep, with cattle. That was opening up worlds to me as well. When I finished my stint at Colorado State University, I really didn't know what I wanted to do though when I grew up, so to speak. And so, the ranch I was working on that I talked about in the book, the owner of that, Henry DeLuca said, “Come out here and run the place. I need some help. Just come and run it.”
I went out there for two years. It was just a chance to sit back and reflect and think about what sounded interesting to me and what seemed–I don't know why, but what seemed really interesting to me was to try to do research, to become a researcher. And so, that led me to Utah State University where I worked on graduate degrees and started working with, specifically, with goats down in Southern Utah. That work allowed me to do what I had loved doing in Colorado, which was observing animals and observing their relationship with plants. Some of the things that the goats did and did not do, goats eating woodrat houses, for instance. Why on earth? And goats avoiding parts of plants that we thought from laboratory analysis were the most nutritious parts and yet they wouldn't eat them. It just opened up question after question to me, and basically then spent 35/40 years doing research on trying to understand relationships between plants and animals, how they talk to one another in a sense.
Ben: Yeah. And one of the first things that you lay out in the book is something that I discovered some time ago, the work of Roger Williams, a biochemist who wrote this book called, “Biochemical Individuality.” I thought that book was fantastic, kind of an older book. I don't recall when it was written. I think sometime in the '50s or the '60s. But why did you decide to lead off early in your book with this discussion of biochemical individuality? Can you explain to people what exactly that is?
Fred: You're right on Roger Williams' book, and it's amazing to me that he wrote such an insightful book back in the '50s. One of the things that struck me as we did work on animals–and of course in science, you're setting about treatment and control groups and various themes related to that, and we're looking at averages, what does the average animal do and did the average animal in the treatment group do behave differently from “the average animal in the control group.” But what became apparent in those studies is that there is no “average animal.” Every one of them is so absolutely unique in what they do relative to food selection. And we know for humans, for instance, each one of us is so different that we can be identified by our fingerprint. Bloodhound can track us by our odors.
Roger Williams' book is really a wonderful exposition about the uniqueness of individuals in terms of how we're built morphologically, how we function physiologically, and then the implications of that for how we select the foods that we select. And because we're each different, we're each going to want to need different kinds of foods. And so, it was later on in my career that I came across the Roger Williams' work but it's so fit with all the kinds of studies that we were doing, for instance. And these ties in with another issue that I think would be fun to explore that has to do with Clara Davis and her children.
But one of the studies, one of many, many, many studies we ran was to simply look at a question related to how animals are finished. In the United States and increasing parts of the world, we put animals in feedlots and we feed them these so-called total mixed rations, and they're designed by nutritionists to meet the needs of the average individual. And so, it takes several ingredients. Grind them and mix them up and then feed them to the animals. One of the questions we asked that so revealed this individuality was simply if we have one group of animals that are allowed to choose from the ingredients, in this case, there were five different ingredients that went into this total mixed ration or fed the total mixed ration, what does that do for food selection, nutrition, cost and so forth?
What we found was that the animals, given a choice, actually ended up eating less food than the animals that were fed the total mixed ration and didn't have really a choice of what they selected. So, they eat less food but they gained weight just as well. They finished in just as good a body condition. This over-ingestion by the animals fed the total mixed ration is some of the animals are over-ingesting food to meet needs for nutrients that are in limited supply.
Ben: To interrupt, just so I understand fully total mixed ration, you basically gave one group of animals unfettered access to total mixed ration, and I'd love to hear a little bit more about what total mixed ration is, because I know that people will be wondering, and then what did the other group have access to.
Fred: Okay. The group that was given free choice was offered alfalfa, corn, corn silage, barley and–I forget the other ingredient. So, they were offered five ingredients, free choice. So, five separate feed bucks. The group fed the total mixed ration, we ground all those ingredients together, just ground them up, and then offered them. And so, that's the idea behind the total mixed rations. That makes sense?
Ben: Yeah. Basically, when you combine all these foods together versus letting the animals pick and choose and self-select the ratio of alfalfa and the ratio of oats or any of the other things that they would be given, the animals that have it all ground together and pre-mixed for them wind up overeating. And essentially, part of that could be because they, based on their biochemical individuality, are not able to self-select exactly what they need based on their intuition. Some of the other factors we'll kind of get into on today's show.
Fred: Absolutely the case.
Fred: Absolutely the case. And even though five ingredients is not a lot actually, for instance, compared to animals foraging on these extensive rangelands where we spent so much of my career studying where they'll have 50, 100, 150, 200 plants, five is still better than one. And what we found was that no two individuals ever selected the same combination of foods, no individual ever selected the same foods from day to day. But each individual that was offered a choice of those five, we contended was better able to meet its unique individual needs. And that's the kind of thing that Roger Williams talks about over and over and over again throughout biochemical individuality.
Ben: Yeah. His book is fantastic. He gets into like the study that showed 5,000 different people and the digestive juices varied a thousandfold in terms of the digestive enzyme and the hydrochloric acid content. He's got photos in that book of like 10 different shapes of a stomach, and of a liver, and of a large intestine, and then he outlines how this affects physiological function pretty dramatically. Even things like vitamin D, tons of people get rid of vitamin D extremely fast, and then many people retain it, which would influence vitamin D toxicity. I mean, for those of you listening in, just get the book. It's not even that long of a read but I highly recommend you check it out. And then you also mentioned Clara Davis and the experiments that she did on children. What did Clara Davis get up to?
Fred: You know, we learned of Clara Davis', I learned of Clara Davis' work, which was done nearly a century ago now. After we published this work that I was just describing on animals given a choice versus fed total mixed rations, there was actually an author in Canada who contacted me and he said, “You know, I've been reading your work. I'm working on this book related to some of those topics. Have you read Clara Davis' work?” And I hadn't. And so, he sent me some links to the papers and I was just blown away to read them. In a way, it was as if when we wrote the papers on our studies, as if we were plagiarizing the words that she was using, and I think it reflects how similar the two studies were in a sense.
So, what Clara was doing, she was working in an orphanage and she was working with children that were given up for adoption, basically at birth, very early in life, and she ran the longest study I'm aware of that's ever been done on human beings. It went for six years. She had something like 15 different children, and she was offering them seasonally a choice of a total of 34 different foods that could be procured fresh from the market. She was simply allowing those children to self-select their own diet based on her thesis that a body knows, a body given wholesome alternatives, decent choices will select what it needs, the very basis of what Roger Williams was talking about and what we were showing in our studies as well.
And they did. She had pediatricians that were involved, closely monitoring the studies and reading their reports. It's fascinating. We never saw a healthier set of children. And again, Clara Davis was saying some of the same things when she was writing. She said, “No two kids ever selected the same combination of foods. No child ever selected the same foods day to day.” And all that gets into the tremendous nuance that we got into over the years in terms of how all of that works, why it works such that the body never does select the same combination of foods day to day and so forth.
But the bottom line is that each one of us is unique and trying to–I think what strikes me, Ben, so much is we're so influenced by the culture that we live in. And in the case of food, I'm just blown away from the human food selection and nutrition standpoint by the never-ending stream of articles in the scientific literature and the popular press telling us, “Eat this. Don't eat that. Avoid this. Don't avoid that.” and on and on and on. And I'm going to sound kind of critical here. I appreciate that, but you know, the one thing we don't do is to realize that the body was the first nutritionist, the first biochemist, physiologist, pharmacist, neurobiologist. All science does is to try to study those things. But I think we do ourselves a real disservice when we don't realize that each one of us is unique and that our body knows what it needs if we simply provide it with wholesome alternatives. That's a huge issue because we–this nutritional wisdom that we have has been so hijacked at so many levels that then it really does become a minefield of how it should become.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, when you talk about children being allowed to self-select their diet and then you look at the foods in supermarkets and pre-packed Lunchables–and I don't want to insult people's intelligence because a lot of our audience has already clued into this stuff. I don't want to preach it, acquire, but think about it this way. You can give your children these prepackaged meals, and this is related to Clara Davis' study, or–and this is what we do in our house, we fill our pantry with all sorts of wonderful whole grains and legumes and cans of sardines and all sorts of foods that mom has prepared like kale chips or flaxseed crackers. And then in the refrigerator, there are a few different ferments like kimchi and sauerkraut and there are little bags of sprouts and tubers, carrots, and even some spices like cilantro and parsley.
And when our children get home from school or when they're preparing their lunches in the morning, as they're making their breakfast and getting their lunches ready, there are no rules. We simply–we, of course, have educated them on the importance of proteins and greens and healthy fats, and they're just kind of self-selecting and go through the pantry and get what they want. And knock on wood, but it seems to be working out pretty well, just to give people an example of how you could practically implement this in your own home.
Fred: Absolutely the case, Ben. I couldn't agree more. I think that's the way to do it, and that's essentially what Clara Davis did for those children, and it leads to a broader issue that we can mention specifically. Clara became the culture for those children. And so, she was playing a very, very important role as you and your wife are with your children of trying to become models for appropriate food selection. When I think of nutritional wisdom, I think of three legs to a stool. And if any of those legs is broken, it's not going to work.
When we started our research years ago, people didn't believe that domestic animals had nutritional wisdom. They figured wild animals must have a house. Can they survive? But domestics have lost it over the last 10,000 years during the process of domestication. We were not facing a friendly audience as we began our research. I remember once talking to a toxicologist, a friend actually, a very senior member of the faculty and I was telling them, “Look, these goats that I'm studying, they don't eat the most nutritious twigs on these black birch plants.” And he said, “Well, I guess that just goes to prove that domestic animals don't have nutritional wisdom now, doesn't it?”
Now, I didn't know what to say at the time but I didn't believe it, I didn't believe it. And it turns out the goats knew more than any of us know about what they were doing. Well, the same thing holds for human food selection nutrition health. I think there's not much belief that there's a nutritional wisdom of the body of human beings. And so, these three legs of the stool, if any of those are broken, you're not going to see some functionality. Let me just briefly describe those three legs because we've been hitting around them and we'll just make it explicit.
One is what we refer to as these flavor feedback relationships and devote an entire chapter to just trying to say we studied this backwards and forwards, inside and out with energy protein, ratios of that, rates at which they ferment, then we went on to minerals and self-selection. Colleagues in Australia have gone on the vitamins, and it's just clear that animals have the ability to select diets that meet their needs when they're challenged to do so. But what this flavor feedback has to do with is, in our experience as a human being, is of the flavors of foods. And if I ask you why you like a particular food, you say because it tastes good. Why don't you like a particular food? Because it tastes bad.
Certainly, that's what guides us, but that flavor that we experience is being influenced by feedback from cells on organ systems including the microbiome. In other words, they're having a say through feedback, and that feedback comes, it's mediated through hormones, neurotransmitters, peptides. We don't need to get into all the details of that and we're still learning a ton about that. But that's changing our liking for food as a function of need. I'll say that again because it's so–feedback changes liking as a function of need. And it's incredibly, incredibly complex. The more you study it, the more amazed you get.
Ben: Can you give an example of that by any chance?
Fred: I'll give you an example from animal studies that we did. And then I'll give you human–basic setup, we would take an animal and put it in a certain nutritional state. It's important to realize that it depends on the state that the animal is in. For instance, we might make an animal mildly deficient in phosphorus, not extremely, just mildly deficient in phosphorus. And then we would offer that animal a food that had no phosphorus in it, basically, that was just a very poor quality food, and allow them to eat that food. And then immediately following their ingestion of that food, we would infuse phosphorus into the intestines, or into the veins, or however. It doesn't matter. We did it a bunch of ways.
They're having the flavor of one food that's really a worthless food, but they're getting feedback from the phosphorus, and that changes their liking for the flavor of that food. Compared to a control group now, that gets infused with just water. That group has no interest in eating the food. On the other hand, the group that got infused with the phosphorus immediately following, eating the worthless food, they come to love that. Does that make sense what I'm saying that?
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Yeah, yeah. That does make sense. If I recall, another example from your book was this idea of vitamin fortification and this idea that when multivitamins are added to food or fortified in food products–as we see so commonly in things like cereals, baby food, a lot of the grains and rice on the supermarket shelves, the actual desire to eat more nutrient-rich, especially micronutrient and multivitamin-rich plants and in bitters and herbs tends to decrease. And I think this was an animal study, but basically, the palate, the self-selected palate for many of these nutrient-rich vegetables seemed to be significantly lowered in response to vitamin fortification of feed. Am I remembering that correctly?
Fred: Absolutely the case. Absolutely the case. So, one can think at the worst-case sort of scenario, if a human is on a highly processed diet that's low in some of the micronutrients or vitamins that a person would need and you put those in those foods in low amounts, it goes back to the total mixed ration thing. You can set a human up to over-ingest those to meet needs for nutrients and low concentrations. That makes sense? And energy, we can pack that away like crazy and of course then that gets packed away in the form of fat in our bodies.
Ben: And what was the other example that you were about to give before I interrupted you?
Fred: You know, there was a veterinarian that I've known. Doc Holliday is his name, and wonderful, wonderful person. He was doing holistic veterinary practices before the term was even invented. He talked with me at length and wrote about it in a book that he wrote about an experience that he had where with some dairy cattle that had become–we're exhibiting some really, really strange behaviors. They were having issues with abortions in the last trimester of gestation. They were eating like two pounds of a mixed mineral block per head per day.
The story then is how they untangled what was going on with that. Part of the untangling, relates to what we've been discussing, was to think about rather than offering this block that's a mixture of all of these micronutrients to simply offer free choice, a variety of different nutrients. And so, the dairyman that he was working with did that, and immediately, the cows started to attack him as he went across the feedlot. After a day or so, they just were going like crazy for one specific nutrient. And in this particular case here, it was zinc, and the animals were deficient in zinc. And what they were doing eating the two pounds of mixed mineral per head per day was attempting to get the zinc that they needed that was in small amounts in that block. That's the analogy that I think of related to humans over-ingesting on a highly processed diet, certain of the foods to try to meet needs for nutrients in limited supply. We did several studies that are related to those kinds of relationships, basically.
Ben: Interesting. Okay. So, that was the first leg of the stool. And remind me what you refer to that first leg of the stool as again.
Fred: So, that first leg of the stool is these flavor feedback relationships.
Ben: Okay. Flavor feedback relationships.
Fred: And that's simply cells and organ systems including the microbiome. Nowadays, you don't have to read far to realize that the microbiome is a huge issue of interest nowadays. And people are talking over and over again about how the microbiome is feeding back to change our liking for what the microbiome needs. That's the same idea here, but now think not just microbiome, think liver, kidneys, heart, brain. All those organ systems and cells in those are feeding back to change our liking as a function of what they need. If you think of a cell there in the body, the only way it can get what it needs is through the capillaries, what's coming in those capillaries. And the key thing to realize is that those cells and organ systems are altering what we like as a function of their needs.
There's some nice work that's been done in human beings to illustrate that as well. I reviewed that in Nourishment of course as I go along. But tying back with Clara just to make that point then we'll keep going here, but she found that some of the kids, rickets was a common disease back in the days that she was doing her work. She found that children that came in to the orphanage that had rickets, they were selecting more for things like cod liver oil that would help to rectify that deficit. That's that whole–their liking for that was high as a function of need. Once those needs were met, they were like most kids, they couldn't stand the cod liver oil anymore.
Ben: Right. Probably, once they had bone formation and some amount of nervous system growth, their self-selected need for vitamins like A, D, E and K began to lower.
Fred: Right, right. When the needs were very high, their selection was very high. As the needs were met, their selection became more moderate and more in tune with what they were needing once those deficits had been met. And that's what we showed over and over again with domestic animals as those kinds of relationships. The flavor feedback is fundamental to nutritional wisdom of the body, but that can never be enabled if there's not the second leg of the stool, which is wholesome alternatives, which we've been alluding to a bit, and you used a great example with your family and I was saying Clara Davis was providing wholesome alternatives for the children in New York. So, that's the second leg of the stool, and that's a leg that's been hugely hijacked as we're alluding to as we digress here and there along the way.
The third leg of the stool is the socio-cultural part of this. We did so many studies over the years. To me, this was just a fascinating, fascinating thing is to realize that this socio-cultural part on the role of mother as a transgenerational link to landscapes is just absolutely essential. Human beings, the animals that we were studying, many, many creatures, they began to learn about foods in the womb, when they're in the womb. The fetal case system is fully functional during the last trimester of gestation. So, the foods that mother is ingesting, the flavors of those foods are getting into the amniotic fluid. The young fetus is beginning to learn about the food world before it ever was born, actually.
Ben: Yeah. That's very interesting that that–and you get into this in the book, how a mother's diet can select the flavor preferences of the child when they're born. One of the things that I recommend to nearly every woman who I work with who is pregnant or breastfeeding is a diet called the Weston A. Price diet, which is very rich in grass-fed butter and ghee and lard and fatty fish and organic fatty cuts of meat and bone broth and bone marrow and all of these very nourishing compounds. My wife followed a very similar diet when she was pregnant. Our children have never really had a disliking for things like, say like sardines or anchovy or mackerel or liver or marrow. And after reading your book, kind of a light bulb went off and I realized, “Well, geez, part of this might be just because of what mom ate when they were in the womb based on the flavors getting exposed to them through the amniotic fluid.”
Fred: Absolutely the case. Absolutely the case. There's a really, really nice literature on all of that beginning in utero, not only in the livestock literature which we contributed to, we and others, but also in the human literature. It's an amazing, amazing thing to think. And then if we think back to Chapter 3 of the book, no two alike, this individuality, part of where that comes from–genes are being expressed as a function of the environment that we experience, and that starts at conception. This whole field of epigenetics and ability to utilize different foods, that's being triggered by these experiences that begin in utero.
Ben: Yeah. If I could interrupt real quickly, I actually wanted to ask you about that because when it comes to genetics, many people are talking about eating according to the way that our ancestors would have eaten. But one of the problems is we're in these ever-changing environments and we also have these folks, like the Hindu mother from India and the Catholic father from Argentina. How do you choose the proper diet for you if you've come from a genetic melting pot? Do you have any recommendations or advice for people based on this?
Fred: Well, as you know, I talked about that in the book and pointed out a little bit of the irony of the mixing that's taking place and all that and how do you eat that way. I've always been struck, Ben, by how–when we talk about evolution and we say there are these millions of years of evolution that have gone into making us who we are and so forth–and certainly, I appreciate that. But then you think about, “Okay, environments are changing, changing, changing so much.”
For instance, when you're reading the paleontology literature, they tell us that the average, “average lifetime” of a species is 10 million years. Can you even imagine the amount of change that that species experiences during that length of time? Once you become whatever you become as a species, you don't change necessarily into something radically, totally different. So, how do creatures deal with that? And I think this whole emerging field of epigenetics is just, it's so relevant to the research we did over 40 years on this topic here, and I think it's so enlightening in terms of how creatures cope with these ever, ever-changing environments. The fact that genes are being expressed, which means that that's going to change morphology, it's going to change physiology, and I give many examples of that in the book of how organ systems change in size, change in function as a result of these experiences early in life.
Ben: Sorry to interrupt but you mentioned environments and landscapes evolve. This can also influence a diet. I think this might be a perfect place to kind of jump into some of what Warren Angus Ferris found, and perhaps you could introduce him what he found and how it relates to this latest paper that I know that you're just now writing for the Frontiers in Nutrition journal. But before I turn it over to you to kind of get into that and why that might influence our diet choice and why we need to take into consideration more than perhaps just what our ancestors ate, I want to point out the fact that I personally am in this for the long game.
I've spoken on stage before about how I value the local biome and my children and my children's children being able to eventually grow up with a very good connection to this local, where we're at, Eastern Washington food choice, and an environmental biome in local plant life that–I'm buying land here locally and I'm building a home that my parents can come and live with me when they get old or if they're sick. And I'm also encouraging my children to set up roots in the area. And I think that despite how sexy this idea of hypermobility or nomadic lifestyle is in our hyper-connected era in which you can hop on a plane, work from your laptop from anywhere in the world, I think that there's some value to developing a very good relationship, especially from an epigenetic standpoint with your local food choices and your local biome. And not only doing that but kind of planning ahead and bringing up your family and training your family to learn the value of community and growing up in kind of a localized biome.
Fred: Absolutely the case. The genes that are being expressed are really being linked locally with the environment where we were conceived, born, reared. We've really thrown so many wrenches into that, too. It's unbelievable. You think historically of the links that we had, the transgenerational links that we had with landscapes and the ways that we lived in extended families and clans. Certainly, with domestic livestock, cattle, sheep and goats, if you let them go feral, they end up like bison and many other species, elephants are great example, cetaceans in the sea, of these extended families that are really linked locally with the landscapes that they inhabit. I just can't say enough about how functional that becomes in terms of health.
Ben: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Fred: [00:46:11] _______ those linkages to the degree that we have. I think we can't even realize how many linkages we've broken with the landscapes that we inhabit.
Ben: Yeah, or just ancestral wisdom when it comes to how we're pairing our foods. I actually want to get into food pairing–and you talk about the Maasai tribe of Africa and the benefits of having a glass of red wine with steak. This is something you open up as you begin to talk about Warren Angus Ferris and what he found in his book, “Life in the Rocky Mountains.” Can you delve into that a little bit?
Fred: Absolutely. Let's explore that for a minute. Warren was talking about their experience of eating bison and eating bison in different seasons of the year. And he was making the point that when that bison have been eating a really nutritious diet and when they're in good flesh, so we're talking about lots of fat and just healthy meat and healthy fat, that the flavor of that bison was incredible to them and that they're never tired of it. And if you think about that, that's pretty amazing to be able to make that statement.
This paper that you're talking about that we've just had accepted in Frontiers in Nutrition is really talking about this notion of grass-fed meat and dairy, and we're making the point that grass-fed isn't grass-fed, isn't grass-fed. And what we mean by that is that the plant diversity, the food diversity that's in the diets of animals is going to influence the flavor and the biochemical composition of the meat and the fat with implications for the health of human beings. And we make the argument that as you go from, for instance, a feedlot diet, which is really pretty depauperate in terms of plant diversity and what I refer to over and over again as “phytochemical complexity,” which simply means the diverse mix of compounds, the tens of thousands of compounds that an animal will ingest when they're eating a diet that's quite diverse compared to a very simple diet.
And so, we're arguing that when that occurs, animals are eating these very diverse diets, the quality of meat and fat and milk, dairy kind of products that comes from that is totally different from an animal that's, for instance, fed in a feedlot or finished on a pasture, but that pasture is a monoculture, only has a very limited number of plant species. And the fact that Warren Angus Ferris could say what he said to me harkens to the basic hypothesis of this paper that the richness of that meat, the biochemical richness was such that it was really meeting their needs across the board. And so, they could eat that day after day after day and never tire of it.
Ben: Yeah. And then you get into some of these tribes. It's kind of interesting like a lot of people, for example, these days are into the carnivore diet. And you talk about the Maasai tribe, which is often cited by folks who championed carnivore diet. The Maasai certainly do eat a diet that's high in red meat and they include milk as well. But there's also, as you note in the book, I think almost 30 different herbs that they add to their meat-based soups and a bunch of different herbs that they add to the milk to get them the antioxidants and the phytochemicals that would be found in an herbivore diet that can protect against excess iron in meat and improve vascular function by kind of forwarding some of the negative effects of fat on endothelial function.
You talked about having a glass of red wine with steak and other red meats for the polyphenols to decrease the amount of the aldehydes, the carcinogenic aldehydes that would build up in the meat. And this idea of eating a widely varied diet, especially that's rich in these wild plants and phytonutrients is something that we see in nature and that seems to translate to humans. And even, as you're noting in your recent paper and also as Ferris alluded to that this might be actually changing our body, this phytochemical richness, actually having an impact on our genes as well.
One thing I want to ask you about that you delve into in the book as well, when it comes to these different foods that we're selecting, these different phytonutrients that we're selecting, is there any type of advantage to kind of like the group of phytochemicals you'd get from eating a plant-rich diet versus isolated, concentrated synthetic molecules that we could supplement with to replace some of those foods or take the ease of preparation out of the equation? You know, actually using these isolated molecules. Can you get into that and the concept of synergy?
Fred: Absolutely. And it is all about synergies. No question. I think one of the most interesting papers I read as I was doing research on the literature for this book on human food selection nutrition was by two researchers in Australia. The title of the paper was something like, “Food, not nutrient, is the basic unit in nutrition.” And they went on to build this case throughout that paper. It's just a fascinating, so important of a read that as you move from individual compounds–for instance, DHA, EPA as a part of omega-3 fatty acids, as a part of fish oil, as a part of oily fish and so forth. As you move up, that's what becomes etiologic in health. The more you focus on individual compounds, these health effects go away.
And in this paper that we're referring to that's just been accepted for publication, we certainly make that case. A lot of people tout the benefits of grass-fed meat and dairy based on omega-3 fatty acids, the health benefits of that. Well, if you start to review that literature really thoroughly and carefully as we did as we got into this paper, you'll realize there's not much to say for that. All the clinical trials, all the trials are running, all those effects go away. The recommendation now, if you want to get your omega-3s from some source, eat oily fish, for instance.
So, it's really about the synergies that occur. In whole foods, for instance–and I'm sure you do this, too. My wife and I, she's just a champion at this sort of stuff. We love to grow our own vegetable, herbal, and medicinal gardens. And so, she grew some wonderful garlic last year. Well, what you're going to get from eating that garlic that she grew versus a garlic capsule, worse yet, one that's odorless, you can't even breathe on a person and knock them over. There's no comparison. It's about synergies and it's about eating whole foods and wholesome foods that are grown under good conditions. I think that's the bottom line of it all.
Ben: Yeah. But when it comes to these kinds of like synergistic relationships between phytochemicals, I know that there are some supplementation companies that are beginning to develop. I guess what you might consider would be pharmaceuticals or nutraceuticals or supplements that seem to weave in some of these synergies. I think it's a–is it a Chinese company that you talked about in the book?
Fred: Yes. No. And there's a growing appreciation I think from both a medicine standpoint in that case, as well as that food might be that medicine, so to speak, across the board. I find that research very interesting because it's an appreciation of this notion of the importance of synergies. I think that's very, very interesting and worthwhile research that they're doing. I'm thinking to a story that's in that part of the book too where I–a biochemist working for the pharmaceutical industry was interviewing a farmer who's into holistic medicine and herbs and those sorts of things, and she's just pointing out the challenge from a research standpoint of–I forget the number of herbs that he provided for a certain treatment. I'd say 10 or 12.
And then she's talking about the number of compounds that are in each of those, hundreds to thousands. And you'd come to realize it becomes a virtual impossibility using our traditional reductionist kind of approaches to science to even begin to study all the interactions that can take place with 12 herbs each with, say, even as few as 100, which is not many compounds compared to what many plants produce. You have to get a whole different mindset related to that. Some of the groups are really trying to think about and wrestle with that and appreciate the importance of that.
Ben: Yeah. I thought it was quite interesting how you get into like the Mexican physician who claimed to be able to cure cancer with these mix of 12 different plants that had some amount of cytotoxicity. And the uphill battle that you fight against the demand for clinical research showing which of those compounds is actually working when there's such an enormous number of alkaloids and plant phytochemical compounds that could be found between those 12 ingredients alone that you simply cannot isolate one single compound even though all 12 put together seem to work to actually fight against cancer.
Fred: Let me tell a story here that I think really–it's where I've–you know, we did a lot of reductionist kind of research over the 40 years that I was involved in all of this, and certainly, trying to look at compounds and what they do and so forth. As we move more and more and looked at relationships and complementarities and synergies amongst different plants and compounds, it all faded away to me to this notion of if you provide wholesome alternatives and let the body sort it out, it becomes a miracle.
But I was visiting–and here's where I want to go. I was visiting with a friend a couple of weeks ago. He has an amazing grass-fed operation in Idaho. Glenn Elzinga is his name and he has his place, Alderspring Ranch, and they use shepherding practices basically to be with their cattle day-in/day-out throughout the spring, summer, and fall on the landscapes where they run. And his wife and he are both into plants and botany and so forth and he points out, he says, “I've got like 500 species of plants on this landscape and our cattle select from all of those different species.” He was giving specifics.
And if you ever follow animals around on a really diverse landscape and watch them, they take a bite of this, a bite of that, a bite of something else. It looks just totally chaotic, actually. You think how on earth could you ever make sense of all this, but it does make a sense. But the point I'm driving to, and that Glenn was making when he gave a talk to some ranchers, 200 ranchers a couple of weeks ago, he said they were asking me really pointed questions at the end of the top related to, “How do you doctor animals under those conditions?” He said, “I can tell you honestly, I've never had to doctor an animal on these landscapes.” “So, what do you do for mineral? How do you provide mineral?” He says, “Well, you know, I really don't need to provide mineral on these diverse landscapes because they're getting it from this diverse mix of plants.”
What it makes you realize is that it's not just about these so-called primary compounds; energy, protein, minerals, and vitamins or the so-called secondary compounds; phenolics, alkaloids terpenes, on and on and on. It's about the higher order interactions and synergies amongst those things that are occurring that will probably never be able to fully study in a reductionist sense but you come to appreciate that that's what health is. And those animals, when they eat a little bit of a whole bunch of things, are actually in a sense self-medicating prophylactically, preventatively.
Fred: And then if they do get into problems, we showed in our studies they can certainly learn to self-medicate therapeutically as well. They can figure that out. But if they've got really wholesome alternatives and they're under good wholesome kind of conditions that don't stress them, that leads to health.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. By the way, that Chinese company that I mentioned did, just before it slips my mind that you alluded to in the book, is PhytoCeutica, and they're developing basically a blend of different plant species that could be used to kind of cover the bases for many folks when it comes to taking advantage of all the different liver protection and anti-cancer and antiviral activities from specific plants. They're developing a product called PHY906. If I can find more research on that one, I'll put that in the book.
But of course, this idea that certain cancers, for example, can be susceptible to the cytotoxicity of plant-based compounds kind of raises the question of balance. Is there a paradox between eating a diet, whether in plants or whether in animals or in humans that has a lot of these phytochemicals and is rich in herbs and spices and the potential for toxins or damage building up in the body from those foods? Because a lot of these are xenohormetic compounds. Certain amounts are good and then you reach a certain threshold. So, can we learn anything from animals when it comes to avoiding toxicity from, say, like excess with phytochemical intake?
Fred: I think that's where listening to a person's body becomes very, very importantly, paying attention to cues. From the standpoint of the animals, what's amazing to me is their ability, seeming apparent ability to limit intake of these plants to levels that don't cause toxicity. We know that, for instance, cattle, sheep, goats from a domestic animal standpoint, all the large herbivores, they don't eat just one food; they love to eat a variety of foods. And while three to five foods may make up the bulk of the diet, it's nothing to find 50, 75 species in the diets when you start to study that within a meal. It's amazing.
So, there are different explanations that people have posed for why do animals eat a variety of foods, and one is that they do it to meet needs for nutrients. And that's certainly the case because plants all vary in terms of their energy and protein, as well as mineral profile. So, eating a variety of foods enables animals to meet needs for nutrients. But one of the most interesting papers I think about all the time was published back in 1974 by [01:02:38] ______ 1974. It's a classic paper. And what they argued is animals eat a variety of foods because all the plants that they're eating are potentially toxic to them.
And so, in order to meet needs for energy, for instance, which is the nutrient we all need in the greatest amount, the only way they can do that is to eat a variety of different species that contain different kinds of these secondary compounds, and they'll limit their intake of those below toxic thresholds and in mixing and matching foods with tannins with foods, with alkaloids with foods, with terpenes with foods, with cyanogenic glycosides and on and on and on, that's really the way that they do that, is eating a little bit of a whole bunch of these species which spreads the load of herbivore across a broad array of plants in the plant community. But from the animal standpoint, that's just a beautiful way to let food be thy medicine and thy health. It's amazing to see that. We did many, many studies and I won't go into but it was stunning to see how good animals are at figuring that out and limiting their intake below toxic thresholds.
Ben: Yeah. I think one of the things you talk about in the book is I think it was–I think maybe it's sheep or goats and how they'll eat the new buds, like the new plants, but then eventually, kind of taper off their consumption of those once they've reached kind of like a phytochemical threshold, in this case, induced by, I believe nausea. Am I remembering that correctly?
Fred: Right, right. I think we don't fully, probably barely understand the nuance that goes on there with how they do figure out to limit their intake in ways that clearly prevent toxicity. When we started our research, people thought, “You see the cop there in the pasture in this pretty pristine, boring kind of setting. There's not much challenge there.” But during the 50 years, 40 years we were doing our research, this whole area of chemical ecology exploded. It was amazing, amazing work by ecologists looking at plant chemistry, and you'll realize it's a minefield out there in a sense. All those pretty species, all those beautiful flowering plants, all that stuff, they're all loaded with these secondary compounds that'll kill you if you eat too much of them.
And so, it's amazing to realize the abilities of animals to do that. Certainly, we were able to show that at excessive levels, nausea is probably really an experience of what those animals have. If they really get in over their heads, that's one of the powerful messages they get. And we were showing that by providing animals with these antiemetic drugs which basically knock out the ability of them to experience nausea and saying that, “Oh yeah, they'll eat more of toxins. They'll eat more of grain, actually, which was very, very interesting.” [01:06:02] ______ told me that on these really high grain rations and feedlots, animals are experiencing a lot of nausea. They're sick, basically.
Ben: Yeah. I think that one of the things that we as humans have an advantage with over animals as well, we may not be able to or may have lost the ability to be able to go out into the forest and select a certain number of plants that would address parasites, a certain number of plants that would be antitumorigenic, a certain number of plants that might offer some sort of let's say protection from the sun or protection from malaria or measles or something else that might be passing through the tribe.
We do have the ability to be able to quantify using modern science. I'm not against the idea of adopting a certain diet and then getting a blood test or a gut test to see how your body is responding to that diet, whether there are any inflammatory markers, whether there are little holes that need to be filled in with specific nutrients. And also using things like heart rate variability testing to see how your nervous system is responding to certain meals and whether it's getting low or high in response to a meal. But then of course, I think there are also those in our community, shamans and healers and physicians, who are able to help people navigate through this, or able to teach people how to better listen to their bodies.
One guy who you actually remind me a little bit of, my friend Paul Chek. He'll often stand before the selection of foods that are available to him on a table and he'll pick up a certain dish and set it down and pick up another one and set it down and begin to listen to the cues that his body is sending him about what he should actually eat. And I've begun to kind of assemble my lunchtime salad similarly. They're always different. I open up the refrigerator and I say, “Well, the sprouts are calling my name and today I'm kind of feeling like the celery instead of the carrots. I'd like the almond butter instead of the Dijon mustard.” And so, I think that there is a certain kind of a horse sense we can rely on, but I think that that should be paired with some amount of self-quantification.
Fred: Right. I think that combination, Ben, can help to guide a person back to their own wisdom, the combination that you're explaining, and then to become aware just the way that you said that. I really, over the years of working with the animals and watching that, it's just to become aware of what sounds good or does anything sound good at the moment. All those are cues, basically, to what your own body is telling you. And I think becoming aware of that can really complement some of the science that we know about and appreciate nowadays as well.
But really tuning in, getting on wholesome foods, that's a huge topic in and of itself of vegetables, fruits, nuts, meat from–like we're taught, Warren Angus Ferris kind of meat and so forth. And then just becoming aware, as I talk in the book, becoming aware of what is calling you or what isn't calling you. I'd give that one example, it's in my mind right now, of people that are deficient in vitamin D which facilitates uptake of calcium and their greater liking for a cheese that's high in calcium, some of the experiments that they did on that. All that can become an awareness kind of thing in us.
Ben: Right, exactly. I also know Dr. Daphne Miller gets into this in her book, The Jungle Effect, about folks and populations having self-selected diets that reduce their risk for certain diseases that they might be genetically predisposed to. Like I think the example you used in your book is the Greek immigrants to Australia who have a low level of cardiovascular disease due to their Mediterranean self-selection of leafy vegetables and herbs and spices.
There are examples in Dr. Miller's book about the Tarahumara Indian tribe and how they genetically possess a higher than normal risk for diabetes and how many Hispanics that relocate to the U.S. and adopt a westernized diet actually manifest that diabetes but yet in a traditional Mexican diet with slow carbohydrate staples like legumes and fermented foods and beans, et cetera. The mazes and the starches that are a little bit lower on the glycemic index compared to the sugars and the processed flours in the U.S., they don't develop the same propensity for diabetes.
So, yeah, this idea of striking a balance between I think some amount of modern self-quantification, some amount of paying attention to your body and its symptoms, some amount of just a wide diversity of plant matter, and then some amount of looking what our ancestors would have eaten can at least give us a lot of clues about how we should assemble the diet that's perfect for us.
Fred: I think so. That's right. All those can be information that a person in this year 2019 can use as a way to try to work their way through the jungle that food selection has become.
Ben: Yeah. And I guess the last comment I want to make on this is that diversity is important, actually, not having the same subset of foods that you're eating over and over again. There's this guy named John Hoxsey that you get into in the book. Do you want to describe who John Hoxsey was and his formula he developed for healing cancer that was a blend of so many different herbs?
Fred: Yes. John Hoxsey has an amazingly interesting story. He was a farmer and he had a prize stallion that developed cancer. And as a Quaker and just as an individual, he notes in the writings, he couldn't bear to shoot the animal. And so, he put it back out to pasture figuring that the animal didn't have long to live and it could live out the remainder of its life on this pasture. Well, he observes then that the animal is going to places it hadn't frequented in the pasture eating plants that it had not eaten in the past and does this over, I forget, a few weeks, a month, a couple of months, whatever, and the horse isn't dying, and in fact, the cancer is going away.
And so, that really started a whole series of things going in John's mind and he believed them that the plants that the horse was selecting had therapeutic kind of benefits from the standpoint of cancer. So, he retreated from the pasture to the lab so to speak and started to develop his device, his formulas for cancer-based on what he'd learned from this horse sense, so to speak. That was passed down through the generations then to his son. And then his grandson really took it and ran with it and developed kind of like the Chinese folks that we were talking about just a little bit earlier thinking about formulations that could be put together with anti-cancer kind of effects.
There was huge pushback, and I refer to articles and read articles, huge pushback from various organizations like AMA and so forth to the approaches that he was taking. He was asking, “Please just do some studies of what I'm up to here.” And there's still not been a lot done related to that reviewing those literatures. But I think in the scientific literature, there's really a very strong appreciation for what was being talked about now that what he was talking about back then, about the importance of these phytochemicals and their abilities to actually counter all of the different hallmarks of cancer that these compounds can have, anti-cancer influences. There's a really nice body of research that's studying all of that nowadays that I reviewed and tried to review in Nourishment and give the flavor of–
Ben: Yeah, yeah. And it's–
Fred: And of course, there's a huge–as you probably know, Ben, there's a huge literature on herbal medicine and stuff. That's an enormous field in and of itself that with some very, very important players and work, it makes me think of a pharmacist that's a very good friend of mine from the ranch days. I met her then. She was the daughter of Henry DeLuca who I talked about in the book. She's entered 80s now, she and her husband. She's a pharmacist. She spent her life as a pharmacist and a good one.
We traveled to Ireland, she and her husband, my wife and I, in 2014 and had a wonderful trip. We were visiting some of the castles there. One of them in particular, I remember, they had their herbal or their medicinal garden out there where they all the plants that they used to use. And we just had a marvelous time looking and talking. She spent a lifetime in pharmacy and it's very interesting to me to visit with someone who's done that and who now reflects back on that. She said, “You know, when I was going to school, we had to take classes in plants. We had to learn about medicinal plants. That was a part of our training.” She says it's gone now from the programs as far as she knew. And she's become very critical of pharmaceutical industry and what goes on. And not that she throws the baby out with the bathwater, let me say that, but it's very interesting to visit with her and to think about–
It goes back to some of what we talked about is when you purify and amplify compounds, you extract and purify, you can amplify effects, and that certainly can be valuable into some situations, but there are so, so many side effects with that approach. And I think some of the folks that are moving, pioneering now, and you mentioned them earlier, the Chinese group and others like that are really–I see them as moving back.
I participated in a symposium a couple of years ago, and title of it was PharmEcology, pharmacological aspects of ecology. And there were ecologists, there were people interested in self-medication, and there were people from the pharmaceutical industry who participated in that. And one of the most interesting talks to me was from a lady from the industry who said, “You know, we started out with plants as the basis of this. We moved into very highly synthetic kind of drugs.” And now, her feeling was that the frontier is going to be moving back in this other direction related to multiple compounds and synergies and much less side effect kind of outcomes due to purifying and amplifying effects in ways that lead to this huge, huge, huge array of side effects that we're all aware of nowadays.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. For example, this John Hoxsey, his tea, perfect example that he developed was native plants like ragweed and burdock and sagebrush, and then he would use artichoke and lettuce and spinach and ginkgo biloba, and all of these different sesquiterpenes and flavonoids and polyphenols and terpenes derived from the mix of these plants. And by the way, the modern version, this is called Essiac tea, E-S-S-I-A-C tea. You can buy on Amazon as a tea or from companies like Mountain Rose Herbs, which is another very good source for teas.
You can piece together a lot of this yourself but I think, long story short is this comes down to bacterial diversity, to plant diversity, to eating locally, to surrounding yourself with an environmental microbiome you can depend on, then self-quantifying, eating like your ancestors, paying attention to the cues that your body is sending you, just psychologically, and then just being sure to eat a wide variety of foods that agree with your body and in your gut. I wish we had more time. We've really only scratched the surface of all the different pages that I folded over in your book. But what I would tell people to do is go out and get this book. Give it a read. This one, with some books I read in a day, this one took me about five/six days to get through because I was very interested in the topic matter and the subject matter and I think that a lot of our listeners who are very interested in nutrition, especially if you're a physician or a nutritionist or dietitian, I think this book is a must-read.
So, I'll link to this. I'll link to some of the other books that we talked about, like “Biochemical Individuality” and Warren Angus Ferris' work and some other resources for you in the shownotes over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/nourishment. But Fred, I want to thank you for forgiving of your time. And I would also say if you're ever driving through Montana and happen to come over to the Washington side, mi casa es su casa. You can stop in to Spokane, Washington and we can eat a biochemically diverse meal together.
Fred: Thank you very much, Ben, for hosting me on this show. I absolutely love visiting with you and I will get over your way and it'll be fun to actually meet and visit with you.
Ben: Awesome, awesome. All right, folks. Well, I'm Ben Greenfield with Fred Provenza, author of “Nourishment: What Animals Can Teach Us About Rediscovering Our Nutritional Wisdom” signing out from BenGreenfieldFitness.com. Have an amazing week.
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Animal scientists have long considered domestic livestock to be too dumb to know how to eat right, but the lifetime research of animal behaviorist Fred Provenza and his colleagues have debunked this myth. Their work shows that when given a choice of natural foods, livestock have astoundingly refined palates, nibbling through the day on as many as fifty kinds of grasses, forbs, and shrubs to meet their nutritional needs with remarkable precision.
In his brand new book “Nourishment: What Animals Can Teach Us about Rediscovering Our Nutritional Wisdom,” Fred presents his thesis of the wisdom that links flavor-feedback relationships at a cellular level with biochemically rich foods to meet the body’s nutritional and medicinal needs.
Provenza explores the fascinating complexity of these relationships as he raises and answers thought-provoking questions about what we can learn from animals about nutritional wisdom.
What kinds of memories form the basis for how herbivores, and humans, recognize foods? Can a body develop nutritional and medicinal memories in utero and early in life? Do humans still possess the wisdom to select nourishing diets? Or, has that ability been hijacked by nutritional “authorities?” Consumers eager for a “quick fix” have empowered the multibillion-dollar-a-year supplement industry, but is taking supplements and enriching and fortifying foods helping us, or is it hurting us?
On a broader scale, Fred explores the relationships among facets of complex, poorly understood, ever-changing ecological, social, and economic systems in light of an unpredictable future. To what degree do we lose contact with life-sustaining energies when the foods we eat come from anywhere but where we live? To what degree do we lose the mythological relationship that links us physically and spiritually with Mother Earth who nurtures our lives?
Provenza’s paradigm-changing exploration of these questions has implications that could vastly improve our health through a simple change in the way we view our relationships with the plants and animals we eat. Our health could be improved by eating biochemically rich foods and by creating cultures that know how to combine foods into meals that nourish and satiate. Provenza contends that voices of “authority” disconnect most people from a personal search to discover the inner wisdom that can nourish body and spirit. That journey means embracing wonder and uncertainty and avoiding illusions of stability and control as we dine on a planet in a universe bent on consuming itself.
Fred Provenza is professor emeritus of Behavioral Ecology in the Department of Wildland Resources at Utah State University. At Utah State, Provenza directed an award-winning research group that pioneered understanding of how learning influences foraging behavior and how behavior links soils and plants with herbivores and humans.
Provenza is one of the founders of BEHAVE, an international network of scientists and land managers committed to integrating behavioral principles with local knowledge to enhance environmental, economic, and cultural values of rural and urban communities.
The many awards he received for research, teaching, and mentoring are the creativity that flowed from warm professional and personal relationships with over 75 graduate students, post-doctoral students, visiting scientists, and colleagues. Along with colleagues, he authored over 250 publications in scientific journals and books.
His first book was Foraging Behavior.
He co-authored a second book with Michel Meuret, The Art & Science of Shepherding: Tapping the Wisdom of French Herders.
In our podcast, we take a deep dive into all these questions and topics and many more, including:
-How Fred got interested in studying animals and their nutritional habits…7:45
- He was fascinated by all things having to do with nature from a very young age
- Led to studying wildlife biology at Colorado State U; worked on a ranch concurrently
- Ran the ranch after graduation for 2 years
- Led to Utah State studying for a grad degree
- Eating habits of goats contradicted conventional wisdom
- Book: Biochemical Individuality by Roger Williams
-Biochemical individuality: what it is, and why it's important…10:48
- There's no such thing as an “average animal” in regards to food selection
- Study on how animals “finished” eating…
- Total Mixed Ration: mixing ingredients together (5 total), versus offering them individually
- Animals with a choice on what to eat ate less than animals with no choice
- Gained weight, body composition was just as good
- Animals with no choice suffered over-ingestion
- 5 ingredients are not nearly as much as animals foraging in the wild
- No 2 animals selected the same combo of ingredients; nor the same food from day to day
-How Clara Davis' studies on children over 100 years ago is similar to Fred's work today…17:38
- Longest study ever done on human beings
- 6 years; performed on adopted children
- Choice of 34 different foods
- Allowed children to self-select their own diet
- “A body knows, will select what it needs.”
- Eerily similar findings; as though they were plagiarizing her words
- Children with Rickets Disease chose cod liver oil, then stopped eating it when they were cured
- Article: Clara M. Davis and the wisdom of letting children choose their own diets
-How nutritional wisdom is akin to three legs on a stool, where if one is broken, it won't work…23:38
- Leg #1: Flavor feedback relationships
- Feedback changes “liking” as a function of need
- “Vitamin fortification” affects our innate desire for nutrient-rich foods
- If someone is on a highly-processed diet, small amounts of nutrients are akin to the total mixed ration practice
- Energy gets packed away in the form of fat in our bodies
- Example of cows eating a 2 lb mixed mineral simply because they craved zinc in their system, which was in a small amount in the block of feed
- Leg #2: Wholesome alternatives
- Leg #3: Social and cultural considerations
- Role of mother to children is essential
- Babies' fetal taste system is fully functional during last trimester
- Learning about food world via amniotic fluid
- Mother's diet can influence flavor preferences of children
- Genes are being expressed as a function of the environment we experience
-How to find the right diet if you come from an ethnic and genetic melting pot…41:10
- Epigenetics: the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself. Very relevant to Fred's work
- Play the “long game”
- Establish and maintain a strong connection with your community, local environment, and diet
- Our genes become linked to the local environment over time and generations
- Bison, elephants, etc. with extended families become linked to their environment
- When you break the linkages, it's very difficult to reestablish
-Ancestral wisdom when it comes to pairing our foods…51:00
- Book: “Life in the Rocky Mountains” by Warren Angus Ferris
- When eating bison that were in good health, on a healthy diet, the taste was phenomenal; never got tired of eating it
- Grass-fed isn't grass-fed, isn't grass-fed
- Plant diversity in animals will influence flavor and biochemical composition of meat and fat, with implications for the health of human beings
- Feed-lot diet: diverse mix of compounds vs. simple diet
- Quality of meat, fat, milk, etc. from an animal free range very different from one on a feed-lot
-Synergy in diet, and when it's appropriate to supplement our diet with synthetic ingredients…55:40
- Research paper: Food, not nutrients, is the fundamental unit in nutrition
- The more you focus on individual compounds, the more deleterious health effects go away
- Need to eat wholesome foods, grown in good conditions
-What we can learn from animals when it comes to avoiding toxicity in our diets…1:00:40
- Pay attention to cues in your body
- Animals have innate ability to limit intake to levels that don't cause toxicity
- Animals love to eat a variety of foods
- 50-75 species within one meal
- All plants they eat are potentially toxic
- Variety contains secondary compounds; reduces toxicity
- Sheep will eat new buds but will taper off once they reach a phytochemical threshold induced by nausea
-About John Hoxsey and the formula he developed to heal cancer…1:11:45
- Had a prized stallion that developed cancer
- Couldn't bring himself to shoot it
- Put it to pasture to live out his days
- Began eating plants it hadn't eaten before
- Eventually cancer goes away
- Started a series of research that led to his formula
-And much more…
Resources from this episode:
-Book: The Art & Science of Shepherding: Tapping the Wisdom of French Herder by Fred Provenza and Michel Meuret
-Book: Foraging Behavior by Fred Provenza
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