01 September 2006

Survivor: food, seductive food

It's still early days in the Survivor Guatemala series and already the monotony of the maize diet is starting to have its effects. Read DietDoc's interesting comments.

This series of Survivor clearly illustrates the following human reactions to monotonous diets:

- Humans are omnivores. This means that they are designed to eat a wide variety of foods. As a species, we have been eating fruit, roots, nuts, eggs, meat and fish for millions of years. Monotonous diets, such as the maize diet offered to the survivors, totally contradict the normal eating habits of Homo sapiens. The swurvivors are bored and will soon start developing deficiency diseases if they are not shown how or empowered to find other foods, such as fish for its protein content and some form of fat (as a rich source of energy).

- Eating only one type of food all the time results in cravings for foods that supply those nutrients that are lacking in the monotonous diet, namely fat, protein and vitamin-rich foods. Our bodies are programmed to receive a large number of nutrients to ensure maximum efficiency and good health. When humans are forced to eat a single starch-rich staple like maize, we develop cravings, so it is not surprising that the Survivors are hungry for fat, protein and vitamins. For example, maize is not rich in B vitamins so some of the irritability and probably some of the emotional outbursts that occur (the howler monkey irritation), may already be due to vitamin B deficiency.

- Lack of energy and drive also result from a minimalist diet. In this respect, it is humbling to remember that millions of people throughout the world, including Africa, are forced to live on a subsistence diet that consists mainly of a single staple like maize or rice. If such diets are not supplemented with some form of protein, and some fat, vitamins and minerals (e.g. legumes, eggs, some meat or sour milk, vegetables, roots, nuts and fruit), humans rapidly lose the strength to perform physical activity. It will be interesting to see how the Survivors cope with this decrease in their physical strength which is also compounded by the merciless heat of the jungle. No wonder they were not asked to do much for their reward challenge this week – the producers probably took one look at the exhausted tribes and decided to let them off the hook.

The implications for readers are clear. If you don't want to get bored, deficient and lack energy, it is necessary to eat a varied diet that contains carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals.

Don't stick to only a few selected foods when you want to lose weight, because both your body and mind will revolt. Living on diet soups and shakes for weeks on end, is not the solution.

Rather eat a well-balanced, energy-reduced diet to achieve your objective of weight loss without sacrificing energy or developing deficiencies.

Survivor solutions
Although they don't realise it, the Survivors are surrounded by diet solutions. The most obvious solution for the tribe at the river is to fish, something they are doing but not very successfully.

Fish, and crustaceans like crabs and fresh water prawns, are among the most nutritious foods available, being rich high-quality protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc.

The Survivors should try weaving fish baskets out of plant fibres to catch fish. Many African and South American tribes use such baskets to catch their daily protein supply. All it takes is a bit of patience to weave the basket and a bit of experimentation to find out where the basket can be positioned to catch the most fish. I bet Rupert would be hard at work if he were in Guatemala!

Then there are the millions of insects that inhabit the jungle. The Survivors have been looking at them, wrinkling their noses in disgust and dropping the idea of eating them. What a pity!

All indigenous Africans know and prize termites as a delicacy. All that one has to do is to dig out the termites and roast them over a fire and you have a rich supply of fat to fuel your lagging energy reserves.

But the Survivors seem to be oblivious of the benefits of eating termites or any other non-standard food.

Watch the howler monkeys
I once read an article on survival in the African bush and one tip that has stayed in my mind, is that if you are lost in the bush without food, you need to watch the local monkeys to see which fruits and roots are edible.

The Survivors have troops of howler monkeys watching them attentively, but not one of these brave, but foolhardy people has thought of watching the monkeys and what they eat, to see if they consume fruit and plant material that could possibly also feed humans. My tip to the Survivors Guatemala is, 'Watch the howler monkeys instead of ranting and raving at them!'

So, as the 39 days tick over and the Survivors eat their monotonous staple food and get hungrier and hungrier, food, seductive food, will begin to play an increasingly important role in their lives and how they play the game.

Imagine losing the chance to win a million dollars because you didn't want to experiment with new foods! – (Dr Ingrid van Heerden, DietDoc)

Read more:
Heat stroke and dehydration woes


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