Monday, February 9, 2009

Cranial Development in Nepal, etc.

I saw a great movie on Saturday called "The Sari Soldiers". It's a documentary about the bloody three-way struggle between the Nepalese monarchy, Maoists, and political parties that ended with the dissolution of the monarchy in 2008. It's shot from the perspective of several very strong women affected by wartime atrocities.

I was getting on my friend's nerves during the movie because I couldn't stop commenting on the beautiful teeth, broad faces and great skin nearly everyone had. These were not actresses, they were regular people. They almost all had straight teeth and broad dental arches. I came to realize during the movie that people who have a great smile typically have a broad dental arch. There's something about seeing that wide, straight row of front teeth that attracts us. Here's a shot of one of the main characters (click for a larger view):

The Maoist army claimed to be 40% women. They were marching with heavy sacks and rifles all over the countryside, fighting the royal Nepalese army. That's no job for the feeble.

Of course, I had to look up Nepalese food as soon as I got home. It centers around rice, legumes and dairy, with a few spices, some vegetables and a modest amount of meat. Their primary fats are ghee (clarified butter) and yak butter. The national dish is called dal bhat, which means "lentils and rice". Here's one of the first recipes I found in a Google search:

Plain Rice (Bhat)
2 cups rice (Basmati or Long grain preferred)
4 cups (1 lt) water
1 tsp butter (optional)

Lentils (Dal)
1½ cups lentil (any kind)
4 to 5 cups of water (depends preference of your consistency of liquid)
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp garlic, minced
6 tbsp clarified butter (ghee)
3/4 cup sliced onions
2 chillies (dried red chilies preferred) (depends on your preference)
Salt to taste

¼ tsp (pinch) asafetida
¼ tsp (pinch) jimbu
1 tbsp fresh ginger paste

Wash rice and soak for 5 minutes.
Wash rice and soak for 5 minutes.

Boil the rice over medium heat for about 10 -15 minutes. Stir once thoroughly. Add butter to make rice give it taste as well as make it soft and fluffy.

Turn the heat to low and cook, covered, for 5 more minutes until done


Wash lentils and soak lentil for 10 minutes.

Remove anything that float on the surface after it and drain extra water.

Add drained lentils in fresh water and bring to a boil again. Add all spices.

Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes until lentils are soft and the consistency is similar to that of porridge.

In a small pan heat the remaining of butter and fry the onions, chilies and garlic.

Stir into the lentils few minutes before you stop boiling. Serve with rice.

Did you catch the quantity of butter it calls for? 6 tablespoons of ghee and a tablespoon of butter! By my calculations, that's 784 calories worth of dairy fat for a 3,124 calorie dish, or about 25% butter by calories. I'd be willing to bet their butter is not the anemic industrial variety. With the amount of vitamin K2 MK-4 their diet is providing, it's no wonder their dental arches and teeth look so good. I'm sure not everyone can afford to eat that quantity of butter, but it's clearly a staple food in Nepal.

That recipe would typically be made with split lentils, which it's not critical to soak (although I still do). Recipes that called for whole lentils typically recommended a long soak before cooking.

Nearly everyone in the movie had great skin as well. Even the older people had nice skin. It was wrinkled, but firm and smooth between the wrinkles. Yet another feature of healthy cultures. Take a look at chief Sealth of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes at 78 years old (photo taken in 1864). He's the city of Seattle's namesake. He lived most of his life as a hunter-gatherer in the Pacific northwestern United States:

OK, it's not the sharpest picture, but I think it's clear his skin is relatively smooth and firm for a 78-year-old. The object on his knee is the tribe's traditional reed hat.

I'll leave you with a quote from a book I'm currently reading, Paleopathology at the Origins of Agriculture:
Dental crowding should be indicative of nutritional or other chronic, severe stress since teeth will be less affected by chronic stress than alveolar bone size. Widdowson and McCance (1964) have demonstrated this effect in undernourished piglets and Trowell and co-workers (1954) have noted increasing crowding and impacted molars in severely malnourished children. Increased dental crowding may be indicative of severe and chronic stress in archaeological populations. However, we are unaware of the use of this potential indicator in any evaluation of health in prehistory.
So in archaeological sites, dental crowding is "indicative of nutritional or other chronic, severe stress", but in modern populations it's a fact of life? I think this is a testament to how resistant people are to coming to logical conclusions that challenge cultural norms.


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