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The human body requires a number of building-blocks in order to grow and maintain itself. Some of these building-blocks, the body can manufacture for itself, but even for those, the body needs raw material in order to build them.
We ingest nutrition in the form of macronutrients and micronutrients.
The macronutrients are water, fats, fatty acids, proteins, carbohydrates, and alcohol (yes, that's a nutrient).
The micronutrients consist of minerals and vitamins.
It's obvious to us that the macronutrients are needed. If you go without water, you dehydrate and die. If you go without fats, protein or carbohydrates, you starve and die. Fatty acids and alcohol can mostly be manufactured by the body from the other macronutrients, so you can go without those for longer.
The micronutrients are less obvious. You can go without specific ones for years without noticing any side-effects at all. For example, a vegetarian can go without vitamin B12 for decades before the deficiency causes any issues (I know from experience).
Because we mostly like to vary our diets (eating porridge every day is boring), we tend to accidentally get our required micronutrients without specifically looking for them. For example, do you know exactly what vitamins are in your dinner? Most of us don't, but we trust that the food contains at least enough of what we need.
Humans evolved from ape-like creatures on the African continent. We hunted and ate meat, we ate fruits, we got plenty of sunlight. Our bodies are tuned by evolution to do these things.
However, we also roam. There are humans on all continents of the world, some of which are grossly deficient in what we need for nutrition (try growing fruit in the Antarctic), and some of which are not obviously deficient but the deficiencies can be measured. 70% of all Irish people are vitamin D deficient, for example, because of how far north the country is.
In this chapter, we will look at some of the history of nutrition, to find out how we discovered what our bodies need.
Even today, there is still no such thing as a completely balanced meal, despite our best attempts to do so.
Government recommendations are inadequate - they say to eat several servings of fruit, for example, but which fruit? How do you know you are not over-concentrating on some nutrients and not getting enough of others?
Recently, so-called "future foods" have been invented which try to provide exactly 100% of the recommended daily amounts of every nutrient. Examples include Huel, Jimmy Joy, Soylent.
Feeding yourself using future foods can actually be cheaper than if you were to feed yourself as normal. The average food cost per person in Europe is €1982 per year, or €5.43 per day.
Current costs per day for future foods (in Euro, so we can compare the above):
These prices have reduced since the last edition of the book. I expect this will continue.
Future foods are still not perfect. They are designed to feed the average person. But who is average? Is the average person female? Male? Asian? Pregnant? Irish? There is no such thing as an average person.
Over time, we've discovered that different people need different amounts of macro and micro nutrients. These differences are usually small enough that you really can give the same food to everyone and expect there to be no obvious effects in the short term. The US government, for example, has compiled tables o f macronutrient recommendations for different people, and have also done the same for minerals and vitamins.
Food is a complex business, so it's really good that some people are putting in the effort to try produce future foods so we don't need to calculate it all ourselves. If you are serious about extending your life, I recommend you get some future foods and supplement your normal diet with them.