Honey, My Mummy Had Heart Disease

      83 Comments on Honey, My Mummy Had Heart Disease

When I was in college, a psychology professor told our class about a phenomenon called selective blindness – the inability to perceive things that are right in front of you.  He described experiments conducted on kittens:  some were raised in environments where everything was painted in horizontal bars; others were raised in environments where everything was painted in vertical bars.  When the “horizontal” kittens were placed in a box with vertical barriers, they couldn’t perceive them and couldn’t find their way around them.  They would ignore vertical toys, but play with horizontal toys.  Same for the “vertical” kittens, only in reverse.

I thought about selective blindness last week when some researchers announced that, much to their surprise, well-to-do ancient Egyptians apparently suffered from heart disease.  Check out the opening paragraph from this story in the Los Angeles Times and see if you can spot the selective blindness:

CT scans of Egyptian mummies show that many of them suffered from hardening of their arteries, researchers said Sunday. Cardiologists have generally believed that atherosclerosis is a byproduct of the modern lifestyle, caused by eating foods that are too high in fats, lack of exercise and smoking. The new findings indicate that “we may understand atherosclerosis less well than we think,” Dr. Gregory S. Thomas, a cardiologist at UC Irvine, told a New Orleans meeting of the American College of Cardiology. It may be that humans “are predisposed to atherosclerosis,” he said, “that it is part of our genetic makeup.”

I give Dr. Thomas credit for admitting he and his colleagues may understand less about atherosclerosis than they previously supposed.  But later in the article, it becomes clear he was raised in an environment full of horizontal bars labeled fatty meat causes heart disease!

The Egyptians ate more fruit and vegetables and less meat than we do and their meat was leaner. They also led a more active lifestyle and were not thought to have smoked. Given that they developed atherosclerosis anyway, Thomas said, it becomes even more important to take measures to forestall development of the disease as long as possible, including stopping smoking, eating less red meat and losing weight.

Got that?  The Egyptians ate more fruit and vegetables than we do, ate leaner meat and less of it, and were more active — but they were prone to heart disease, so this proves we should cut back red meat and try to be more active.  Oh, and don’t forget to eat your fruits and vegetables.

Head.  Bang.  On.  Desk.

Here’s how the diet the experts tells us will prevent heart disease worked out for the wealthy Egyptians:

Thomas and his colleagues reported 18 months ago on a study of 16 mummies, in which they found hardening of the arteries in nine. Eight of those nine were older than 45 when they died.

In the new study, Thomas and his colleagues in the U.S. and Egypt expanded the study to 52 Egyptian mummies dating from about 1981 BC to AD 364.  They were able to identify arteries and heart tissue in 44 of the mummies and observed calcification — a clear sign of hardening of the arteries that is also seen in modern patients — in nearly half of them. That included 20% of those who had died before the age of 40 and 60% of those who were older than 40 when they died.

In their horizontal world, the doctors are confused by these findings.  They’re bumping into vertical bars and not even seeing them.  The vertical bars are sugar and starch in the form of honey, wheat and beer.  Here’s how one site describes the diet of the ancient Egyptians:

Bread was the staple diet of most Egyptians. The average kitchen was usually situated at the rear of the house, or on the roof. Mostly it was in the open, but may have been partially shade. Egyptian food was cooked in simple clay pots, using wooden utensils and stored in jars.

Beer was the national drink and was also made from barley. To improve the taste the Egyptians would add spices and it was usually stored in labeled clay jars. The importance of beer to the ancient Egyptians should not be underestimated as it was esteemed so highly that it was regularly offered as libation to the gods.

I understand.  I’ve been known to talk to God after indulging in beer myself.  But apparently, the real crowd-pleaser (and deity-pleaser) in ancient Egypt was honey, which was too expensive for the peasants, but a favorite among the royals.

Honey and beekeeping were very much part of the daily lives of the Egyptian people in ancient times.    Records show that it was used as a symbol for Egyptian royalty.   It was sought after by Pharaohs, who used it as gifts for their gods.  Honey was also found to be used when the ancient Egyptians died.   It was one of the materials used in their embalming.   Honey has been found in pots next to Pharaohs in their tombs to be used in the after life.

You’ve got to really like honey to carry a pot of it into the next life.  But I’m guessing all that honey, along with the bread, beer and the other tasty treats, punched the Pharaohs’ tickets to the next life a little sooner than they hoped.  One description I found online of a meal from “the king’s table” listed bread, beer, meat, vegetables, fruits, honey, cakes, wine and oils.

Ah, there you go:  meat was mentioned.  This, of course, proves we should all cut back on red meat to avoid the kind of heart disease that afflicted ancient Egyptians who didn’t eat much red meat.

No, that doesn’t make any sense.  But in a horizontal world, it’s the best we can do.

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83 thoughts on “Honey, My Mummy Had Heart Disease

  1. C

    Are you ok? You seem to be banging your head on your desk a lot. Are you getting depressed? I recommend eggs and lots of steak, and don’t forget extra greasy bacon!

    I’m not depressed, but I’ve got a flat spot on my forehead.

    Reply
  2. TonyNZ

    Regarding agriculture, my theory would be that in the absence of refrigeration and other technologies, meat does not keep, fruit does not keep, most vegetables do not keep, but grains stored correctly do. Thus for large populations, grains were a way of eating through the winter.

    But not all agriculture is evil. I produce about 30 tonnes of grass fed beef per year and that won’t hurt anyone (unless it falls on them or something…) The milk may be up for debate (many paleo types here avoid it) but it’s gotta be better than cereal and it feeds thousands from a smallish bit of land.

    It’s the mono-crop agriculture and force-feeding livestock an unnatural diet that’s doing the damage. As we saw in Zimbabwe, when livestock are allowed to graze as nature intended, they save the land.

    http://donmatesz.blogspot.com/2011/03/operation-hope-meat-is-medicine-for.html

    Reply
  3. C

    Are you ok? You seem to be banging your head on your desk a lot. Are you getting depressed? I recommend eggs and lots of steak, and don’t forget extra greasy bacon!

    I’m not depressed, but I’ve got a flat spot on my forehead.

    Reply
  4. Picky

    This kind of stuff makes me sick. Seriously, how is it that people can be so blind? The whole thing smacks of selective blindness AND chutzpah. The Egyptians had a high carb low fat diet, and they had heart disease just like us. Not only do they not get the message that, maybe high carb low fat CAUSES heart disease, but they also assume that, we are smarter than those Egyptians (who built the pyramids, BTW). WE can eat high carb low fat BETTER than those stupid Egyptians. Chutzpah.

    Show how difficult it is to change a paradigm.

    Reply
  5. TonyNZ

    Regarding agriculture, my theory would be that in the absence of refrigeration and other technologies, meat does not keep, fruit does not keep, most vegetables do not keep, but grains stored correctly do. Thus for large populations, grains were a way of eating through the winter.

    But not all agriculture is evil. I produce about 30 tonnes of grass fed beef per year and that won’t hurt anyone (unless it falls on them or something…) The milk may be up for debate (many paleo types here avoid it) but it’s gotta be better than cereal and it feeds thousands from a smallish bit of land.

    It’s the mono-crop agriculture and force-feeding livestock an unnatural diet that’s doing the damage. As we saw in Zimbabwe, when livestock are allowed to graze as nature intended, they save the land.

    http://donmatesz.blogspot.com/2011/03/operation-hope-meat-is-medicine-for.html

    Reply
  6. LCNana

    I’ve been reading a bit about the back to the land movement in England in the early 1900’s. The theory is that everyone should own a plot of land – enough to have a cow, a pig or two and some chickens – with a kitchen garden next to the house. I think that here in Canada we could easily give each family 10 acres of arable land to feed themselves. Of course now most of our arable land grows wheat, corn, and canola. Small and medium farmers are being pushed off the land etc. We all know the story. And other mono crops like acres and acres of a single vegetable grown to ship all over creation is also a problem.

    Funny though that back in the day when hippies were trying to get back to the land (and I was one!!) we were all into tofu and grains big time!! We had a cow for milk (for yogurt of course, a hippie staple), and we didn’t eat the cow! Poor old Adele Davis was Queen of health in those days too so we all took literally dozens of supplements daily.

    I’m starting to lean towards more of a Weston Price way of thinking – that there are many populations who ate properly prepared grains and corn – with the emphasis on ‘properly prepared’ – and that does not mean Twinkies and Tortilas but sour doughs, well soaked beans and porridges etc. I find eating mostly meat to be really expensive on a fixed retirement income. In a perfect world my family and I would eat complete paleo nutrition (without silly re-enactment of actual foods) but in my world I’ll have to find a middle way. Love this blog, Tom and hope you never get tired of giving us your funny and thoughful opinions.

    I don’t think a good diet has to be nearly all meat. Some of us seem to do well on very low-carb, meat-based diets, but I think the real key is to eliminate sugar and refined carbs and eat real food.

    Reply
  7. Laurie

    I am in Madrid, Spain visiting my daughter. Yesterday at the airport we had about a 2 hour take-off delay. We found ourselves among a nice pod of teachers leaving for Europe for April break. We were chatting and the subject of diet came up. I did NOT say a word, but this is what I heard and observed. They were talking about how their Docs told them to drink skim milk and avoid eating any cheese and never eat steak. Two were very overweight and a short while later I saw one having a snack (I have found I no longer snack or need to because I eat enough animal fat cholesterol and protein and zero grains). Her snack was a totally invented, man-made, manufactured cereal bar- oats, chocolate, sweetener, fiber, ‘healthy whole grains’- what have you. So this woman is warned off eating real body and brain feeding and maintaining whole foods we are adapted to, and instead eats in their place- grains. The grains are winning.
    And then early this morning- we were offered breakfast on the plane about 1.5 hours before landing. It consisted of a twix candy bar, orange juice, a muffin, a fruit cup, and a danish pastry. Neither of us took any of it. I would become an instant diabetic if I ate this.

    More victims of the standard advice.

    Reply
  8. Picky

    This kind of stuff makes me sick. Seriously, how is it that people can be so blind? The whole thing smacks of selective blindness AND chutzpah. The Egyptians had a high carb low fat diet, and they had heart disease just like us. Not only do they not get the message that, maybe high carb low fat CAUSES heart disease, but they also assume that, we are smarter than those Egyptians (who built the pyramids, BTW). WE can eat high carb low fat BETTER than those stupid Egyptians. Chutzpah.

    Show how difficult it is to change a paradigm.

    Reply
  9. LCNana

    I’ve been reading a bit about the back to the land movement in England in the early 1900’s. The theory is that everyone should own a plot of land – enough to have a cow, a pig or two and some chickens – with a kitchen garden next to the house. I think that here in Canada we could easily give each family 10 acres of arable land to feed themselves. Of course now most of our arable land grows wheat, corn, and canola. Small and medium farmers are being pushed off the land etc. We all know the story. And other mono crops like acres and acres of a single vegetable grown to ship all over creation is also a problem.

    Funny though that back in the day when hippies were trying to get back to the land (and I was one!!) we were all into tofu and grains big time!! We had a cow for milk (for yogurt of course, a hippie staple), and we didn’t eat the cow! Poor old Adele Davis was Queen of health in those days too so we all took literally dozens of supplements daily.

    I’m starting to lean towards more of a Weston Price way of thinking – that there are many populations who ate properly prepared grains and corn – with the emphasis on ‘properly prepared’ – and that does not mean Twinkies and Tortilas but sour doughs, well soaked beans and porridges etc. I find eating mostly meat to be really expensive on a fixed retirement income. In a perfect world my family and I would eat complete paleo nutrition (without silly re-enactment of actual foods) but in my world I’ll have to find a middle way. Love this blog, Tom and hope you never get tired of giving us your funny and thoughful opinions.

    I don’t think a good diet has to be nearly all meat. Some of us seem to do well on very low-carb, meat-based diets, but I think the real key is to eliminate sugar and refined carbs and eat real food.

    Reply
  10. Laurie

    I am in Madrid, Spain visiting my daughter. Yesterday at the airport we had about a 2 hour take-off delay. We found ourselves among a nice pod of teachers leaving for Europe for April break. We were chatting and the subject of diet came up. I did NOT say a word, but this is what I heard and observed. They were talking about how their Docs told them to drink skim milk and avoid eating any cheese and never eat steak. Two were very overweight and a short while later I saw one having a snack (I have found I no longer snack or need to because I eat enough animal fat cholesterol and protein and zero grains). Her snack was a totally invented, man-made, manufactured cereal bar- oats, chocolate, sweetener, fiber, ‘healthy whole grains’- what have you. So this woman is warned off eating real body and brain feeding and maintaining whole foods we are adapted to, and instead eats in their place- grains. The grains are winning.
    And then early this morning- we were offered breakfast on the plane about 1.5 hours before landing. It consisted of a twix candy bar, orange juice, a muffin, a fruit cup, and a danish pastry. Neither of us took any of it. I would become an instant diabetic if I ate this.

    More victims of the standard advice.

    Reply
  11. tracker

    The Egyptians may not have smoked, but they may have used other drugs. Some nutty Germans in the 90s said they found trances of nicotine and cocaine in some mummies, but nothing was ever concluded about that. Not that that is very surprising. Egyptology is one of the most exclusive dogmatic cliques on the planet. Whether they had drugs that came from the Americas or not, they more than likely did use drugs. People are people, and the rich are the rich, now and five thousand years ago.

    Reply
  12. Jack

    I’m guessing the unusually wide new formatting for some is caused by the extra long URL without a break in the comments above. 🙂

    Could be, but I’m not sure how to fix that. Messing with WordPress is one of my least favorite activities.

    Reply
  13. tracker

    The Egyptians may not have smoked, but they may have used other drugs. Some nutty Germans in the 90s said they found trances of nicotine and cocaine in some mummies, but nothing was ever concluded about that. Not that that is very surprising. Egyptology is one of the most exclusive dogmatic cliques on the planet. Whether they had drugs that came from the Americas or not, they more than likely did use drugs. People are people, and the rich are the rich, now and five thousand years ago.

    Reply
  14. Jack

    I’m guessing the unusually wide new formatting for some is caused by the extra long URL without a break in the comments above. 🙂

    Could be, but I’m not sure how to fix that. Messing with WordPress is one of my least favorite activities.

    Reply
  15. LCNana

    Head. Banging. On. Fridge. Door.

    After a day (really a meal) trying to eat carbs and not so much meat, I’m sitting at this machine shaking with low blood sugar and hunger. In a fry pan cooking now is a nice lot of ground pork in home-made ghee. I know: experiment of one. But I may be that sensitive to carbs. I had half of DH’s fritata consisting of eggs, peppers, onions, a small bit of sausage and potato. So several hours later I should be satisfied – not.

    So hang the expense. Hang trying to eat like “everyone else” – back on the meat wagon.

    Reply
  16. Katy

    If Brad’s comment above is collapsed, all looks normal; the other URLs wrap just fine.

    Hmmm, just something in how long URLs are rendered, I guess.

    Reply
  17. LCNana

    Head. Banging. On. Fridge. Door.

    After a day (really a meal) trying to eat carbs and not so much meat, I’m sitting at this machine shaking with low blood sugar and hunger. In a fry pan cooking now is a nice lot of ground pork in home-made ghee. I know: experiment of one. But I may be that sensitive to carbs. I had half of DH’s fritata consisting of eggs, peppers, onions, a small bit of sausage and potato. So several hours later I should be satisfied – not.

    So hang the expense. Hang trying to eat like “everyone else” – back on the meat wagon.

    Reply
  18. Katy

    If Brad’s comment above is collapsed, all looks normal; the other URLs wrap just fine.

    Hmmm, just something in how long URLs are rendered, I guess.

    Reply
  19. Calvin

    Hi Tom! I just watched your movie — been reading a lot about the Primal Diet and lifestyle and honestly… I feel like this all makes so much more sense than what we’ve been fed by conventional “wisdom”.. I have a question I was hoping you could help me out with, but I want to first of all say, THANK YOU for all your work with the movie, this website, and your sense of mission around this.

    Here’s where I was hoping to get some help: “conventionally known” that Asian populations had lower incidences of cancer and heart disease, presumably attributable to diet. But… the Asian diet is pretty heavy on the white rice, so I’m having a hard time reconciling everything. I’m sure you know of the “China Study” as well — there seems to be a gulf of discrepancy between what it suggests (“animal proteins BAAAAAD!”) and what a Primal or Paleo Diet suggests (“have at the animal protein AND fat!”) — what are your thoughts?

    Thank you for your time Tom!

    Asian diets are high in rice, but very low in sugar. Despite the rice, Asians consume fewer carbohydrates overall than Americans, and the longest-lived Asians (the Okinawans) consume the most fat and protein. Pork and lard are dietary staples.

    The China Study … classic case of cherry-picking. Read all about it:

    http://rawfoodsos.com/2010/08/03/the-china-study-a-formal-analysis-and-response/

    Reply
  20. Walter

    Same here, collapse Brad’s comment and everything is normal. Again, I’m using Google Chrome. Hope this helps.

    Reply
  21. Marilyn

    I guess I’m not the only one for whom the formatting seems different. I’m running Safari — same as I have been all along. Today, the text is strung out in long lines, and if I enlarge it to what I’m used to, it runs off the edge on the right side.

    Yeesh. In my Mac/Safari browser, it only happens if I don’t collapse the comment everyone mentioned. I guess I should tinyURL it.

    Reply
  22. Garrett Smith

    Is this the paleolighinc computer nerd’s site?

    Fast food websites’ links; nice. Maybe readers can delude themselves into thinking obesity is OK, right?

    Well I don’t need those; I can stay ripped and strong (while you get to look, well, like an American (sorry, I know that’s mean). But I’m sure those things’ll help speed up global warming (methane, transport).

    “Having a brain” (sic) does aptly qualify one as a public leader.

    No, no, no, it’s having a functioning brain — even a paleolighinc brain.

    Reply
  23. Rob R

    For what its worth I greatly enjoyed the vertical / horizontal analogy Tom. Psychology + analogies really strike me as useful in conveying meaning. I think this kind of analogy is really powerful and useful for your purpose of spotting bad science in comparison to good science. As well the comparison of ancient Egyptian diets to modern USDA recommendations was useful.

    Perhaps this is why they say scientists need to die off and let the next batch forward the field. Frankly I don’t think there are that many scientists out there. Just a bunch of parrots, mistakenly looking for white swans while surrounded by a field of black swans….and millions of dollars of “funding”.

    What actually concerns me is my own ability to think critically is so mired that I’m not sure I would do much better. I think I’m lucky to be irresistibly drawn to speakers who cite evidence and back it up with sound logic. Or funny documentaries about a guy eating hamburgers, that also gets my attention. It is a saving grace of the paleo movement that vegans are so pious that their messages don’t usually contain any humor.

    Thanks Tom 🙂
    (especially in 60 years when I don’t have cancer, heart disease, dementia, alzheimers, diabetes, or 1000 other dietary ailments)

    Rob

    Thank you for reading, Rob.

    Reply
  24. Kate

    Even after reading Garrett Smith’s comment a few times, I still have no idea what he means. I say “what he means” because what he wrote is four incoherent paragraphs.

    That’s why I didn’t say much in reply. I wasn’t sure what he was trying to say.

    Reply
  25. Your Older Brother

    If you take a look, besides being incomprehensible, he also left an open paren, which seems pretty weird for a guy whose website touts him as a javascript programmer. Debug.

    I think we’re dealing with a case of instantiatile dysfunction.

    Cheers!

    Reply
  26. Tomasz R.

    Egyptians ate bread from emmer wheat. Emmer wheat has more proteins and less carbohydrates compared to modern varieties of wheat. But it has lower yealds per area, so it was abandoned.

    Reply
  27. Elaine

    okay…then what do we eat????? Pesticides, gmo, canola oil ( no such thing as a canola…derived from Canada and Oil, which is used in machinery lubrication), honey should be good in small amounts , but, there we go again….where are they gathering? Sure it has pesticides.
    The idea is, is to go as close to unprocessed and organic as we can.If the grains are so different from the beginning and they are not good for us, nothing else is by far.
    I personally dont believe that. The Egyptian Royalties were not very active. The slaves were.The people of today are not very active and the kids are taught to be lazy and government dependent. Sad.Of course there are going to be a lot of these kids with heart disease, etc. right from the beginning.Even the milk has bad hormones and all and the government knows that the whole, unprocessed milk is better for us.That is why they don;t want us to have anything. They have even dwindled the vitamin shelves down to nothing. People dont even notice because it happens s-l-o-w-l-y.A lot of vitamins have added garbage and need to be checked.
    Immunizations are a big part, I believe in the diseases we are developing. They Are Not Good.Check out all the problems with children and deaths that have occurred because of them.People don;t want to listen or pay attention. That is why our country is gone and will never come back….only is God ( Yahweh) wants it too, but He does have a timeframe. It is close.People just need to know God as their Savior, NOW, because after they die, it is too late.

    Heart disease has also been a problem among populations where people work hard but have a lousy diet. Diet is still the prime mover.

    Reply
  28. Tabetha

    But you have the same blindness. The study was looking at wealthy Egyptians, yes? The STAPLE food for Egyptians was bread. Meat has historically been just as expensive if not more than it is for the masses today. The wealthy WOULD have been eating more meat and fats (also, oils were expensive…regardless of how healthy they were). The diet of Egyptians overall does not and will not reflect the diet of the wealthiest of Egyptians anymore than the diet of Americans overall today reflects the diet of the wealthiest Americans. The difference between the two is that the highly processed foods back then were actually MORE expensive (and technically, they still are today) and less accessible (today, they are MORE accessible) meaning only the very wealthy could afford them. Right?

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      The wealthy Egyptians would have likely have eaten far more honey, which was considered a luxury.

      Reply

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