Opinion

Social History: How Would Medieval Europeans React To Modern-Day Food?

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This question originally appeared on Quora. Answer by Ray Schilling.

A similar thing would happen as to the German population after WWII.

The basic nutrition was simple at that time. Germans ate rye bread, but wheat was introduced more and more. The bakeries mixed wheat in with rye bread as mixed bread (“Mischbrot”). In the early 1960’s most bread was just wheat flour bread alone. This is what’s used to make toast. But it is utterly devoid of fiber. Fast foods came to Germany in the 1960’s and even more so in the 1970’s. The end result was that diabetes flourished, the first obesity wave hit Germany with millions of heart attacks and strokes. The diets of civilized countries -- in the U.S. it is called Standard American Diet (SAD) -- caused inflammation within the blood vessels, in the joints and the brain. The extra sugar causes tooth decay and gum disease. This is why heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and many more illnesses develop.

So, essentially you're asking what would have happened, if someone had introduced the SAD diet into a village or town in medieval Europe.

I have no doubts that exactly the same would happen to people then that is happening to people today. Right now we are experiencing the second obesity wave, largely because of an increased consumption of sugar and corn syrup. There is a diabetes wave, an Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease wave, an arthritis wave etc. Why would this happen? Because food can change our metabolic balance as outlined below.

  1. Inflammation is causing the illnesses already mentioned. Inflammation also comes from a change of gut bacteria where the good bus are replaced by bad bugs. This leads to inflammation: Just How Can Bacteria Be 'Healthy' For Your Body?
  2. The overload with omega-6 fatty acids from processed foods, mostly from soybean oil is disbalancing the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Fish and seafood provide you with healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately not all fish are healthy. Tuna is a predator fish that accumulates a lot of mercury from the polluted oceans. As a result of this it is not on my fish list. I prefer wild salmon. I also take molecularly distilled fish oil, which has omega-3 fatty acids in it. Many processed foods contain only omega-6 fatty acids, because this is the cheapest way to produce them (they are based on vegetable oils). Also, avoid soybean oil, which is the most popular oil in the last few decades to foul up the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. This ratio should be 1:1 to 3:1, but many Americans’ omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is 6:1 to 18:1. Omega-6-fatty acids cause arthritis, heart disease and strokes. Instead you want to eat healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids contained in nuts and fish. You can also add molecularly distilled, high potency omega-3 fatty acids as a supplement to help restore the balance between omega-6 and omega-3 in your food intake.
  3. Overconsumption of alcohol and red meat, the typical diet of the affluent (kings included), causes gout and arthritis. The elimination of alcohol in the kidneys is interfering with the breakdown of purines, causing a back-up of uric acid in the blood with precipitation of uric acid crystals in and around joints, which is extremely painful. In the middle ages royalty was suffering from gout as is amply documented in history books.

Conclusion

Modern junk food would be as effective making you sick in a medieval town in Europe as it is effective now wherever it is consumed. The key is to learn from this medieval thought experiment and use this information to prevent the deterioration of your health from a bad diet.

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