I was thinking the other day during my annual flu shot about this idea of herd immunity. For those that don’t know, herd immunity is the idea that when you have a group of 10 people, if 9 of them receive a vaccine then the last person is indirectly protected (at least within their normal circle of friends). This has been shown countless time with the HPV vaccine most young girls receive.
I wondered whether this might show up elsewhere in life and I began thinking of the foundation concepts of nutrition; Moderation, Variety, and Nutrient Density.
Health proponents have long preached the benefits of moderation but few give a satisfactory reason WHY other than “because it’s safer”. In fact, it’s said so often that I feel people have word fatigue from the term.
Back to the concept of herd immunity. What if our earliest ancestors received a benefit from the combination of nomadic grazing and seasonality. Let’s call it Grazers Immunity. When they ate, they rarely had the opportunity to eat the same foods for much more than a few months and that’s during ideal conditions. Between weather, pests, climate, or necessity to relocate based on herd migration, it wasn’t a choice they made but a survival technique. And I wonder whether they were better off for it.
See when you constantly try new things you’re communicating your environment with your body. Sugar content could communicate season or climate, polyphenols might communicate UV index, minerals communicate soil quality and so much more.
When you constantly try new things you’re communicating your environment with your body
What this means is that modern diets, which are typically made up of about 60 core foods, are communicating very little.
What’s more, in addition to communication, the variety not only enforced moderation, but it was a way to hedge the bet in meeting nutritional needs. Each food has a unique nutrient profile and varying levels of nutrient density. Without help of modern nutrient identification there really wasn’t a way to determine if nutrient needs were being met. There lies the value of grazers immunity. By increasing the numbers of foods in the rotation they were also increasing the chances of getting the proper nutrients and preventing malnutrition related diseases.
It’s unfortunate in a way, we place so much faith in food scientists to take care of our nutrient needs we don’t realize that we’re the most overfed and undernourished people the world has ever seen. If that doesn’t strike a chord I’m not sure what would.
We’re the most overfed and undernourished people the world has ever seen.
So long story short, next time you hear the phrase “everything in moderation” or find yourself deciding between your normal produce and that fancy new vegetable you’ve never tried, remember the value of grazers immunity and communicate something new to your body.
Be Good to Each Other.
Joshua Iufer, RD