AMERICAN HEALTH & NUTRITION

Agrarian Societies

Agriculture became the primary way of life for many societies approximately 10,000 years ago.1 Today there are still societies that obtain food partially foraging wild food as hunter-gatherers and partly by agricultural.2 The transition from purely hunter-gatherer societies to the cultivation of specific food plants or seeds happened gradually over time.1,3 Many associate the 'Fertile Crescent' with the origins of agrarian/ agricultural societies.4 There were eight founder crops of the Fertile Crescent: emmer and einkorn wheat, which is the first crop believed to be sown and harvested on a large-scale, barley, peas, lentils, bitter vetch, chickpeas and flax.1 Around 8,000-12,000 years ago in China,5,6 rice was domesticated as the primary crop and around 6,000 years ago corn was first planted in the Americas.1 There is also evidence that small-scale 'trial agriculture' as well as grinding tools to make flour, were a part of the lifestyle of people living near the Sea of Galilee >20,000.7 Over time, China and India, having a great wealth of species of plants, have contributed almost half or our crops.8

Nutritional Renaissance

The surplus of food from agriculture provided a way for people to develop culture. Instead of spending the majority of their time seeking and obtaining food as hunter/gatherers do, agrarian societies allowed people to focus on other tasks, such as developing writing, engineering, art, science and advanced political systems. Agricultural increased dietary intake of calories, protein, carbohydrates and fat as well as micronutrients. People learned to save seeds from plants that tasted better and that could be ground into meal more easily, etc., for the next year's harvest.9 This 'nutritional renaissance' fed large-scale human populations and led to more stable populations, villages, cities and, long-term, to nation-states.

Nutritional Aspects of Ancient Grains and Other Crops

Agricultural development led to new forms of food such as bread made from wheat.10 The wheat in the ancient world and in the U.S. up until the 20th century, contained the wheat germ and wheat bran, making a whole grain.10 All grains eaten in ancient societies were whole-grains. There was no 'Wonder Bread' or processed carbohydrates such as French fries.

Today many people are eschewing grains, believing carbohydrate-rich diets to be a source of many health problems. What they may not realize, is that whole grains and 'ancient grains' actually provide health benefits, being anti-inflammatory and protective of cardiovascular health.11 These cereals contain vitamins B and E, minerals - magnesium, zinc and potassium, phytoestrogens and antioxidants and, of course, a healthy level of dietary fiber.11 In a randomized controlled trial of 45 healthy subjects by Sereni et al., consumption of bread produced with ancient grains for eight weeks resulted in a reduction in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and blood glucose.11 Recent research shows that bread made from the ancient grain einkorn flour exerts anti-inflammatory effects greater than whole wheat bread.12 In the past century, farmers cultivating wheat have aimed to improve yield production of wheat, at the expense of nutrition. Many ancient varieties are not suitable for the modern high-input conventional cultivation system and so capitalism and mass production may be compromising nutrition.11

In addition to ancient grains, including ancient varieties of wheat, there is archeological evidence that other high-fiber, nutrient-dense foods were commonly consumed legumes (beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils) and nuts (pistachios) in places like ancient Turkey (Anatolia, 7100-56--BC).13 In Ancient China, protein consistently came from beans, including soy, especially among the common (less wealthy) people.14 Considering that legumes have more dietary fiber than any other food, this further confirms the higher fiber dietary pattern of ancient agrarian societies.