I’m all about nutrient variety and eating what you feel you need to live a balanced, healthy lifestyle. But I also recognize that we’re bombarded with nutritional advice all day by so many media channels, so I’d like to plant a seed about foods that we could all benefit from adding to our diets.
Eliminating foods becomes restrictive and depriving too easily, so including some traditional, nutrient-dense foods may be a better place to start. When I say traditional eating, I’m talking about the food our grandparents, their grandparents, and those hundreds of years before ate – the real food nature provides that carried generations of our ancestors. More advanced, but also important, is each person’s own heritage, and what their ancestors ate specifically because of what was available in their region seasonally. Whole foods in general are a good place to start for everyone. It relies on the principle that our food should come from the earth, and not from a factory. A good rule of thumb is to make your meals from only whole foods, meaning there is no nutrition label, as each component of the meal is only ONE ingredient. For example, a steak, spinach, tomatoes, olives, raw milk, and raw nuts are all whole foods.
The concept really isn’t far-fetched. Traditional food includes meat and eggs, seasonal fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, herbs and spices, and high-quality dairy for those who can tolerate it. The value of a traditional diet is maximized by also using traditional cooking techniques like fermenting, making bone stock, and cooking organ meats. Technique is something you can slowly work into. In the meantime, thankfully, there are really amazing companies who are using these traditions on a large scale so we can have high-quality products like kombucha, sauerkraut, sourdough, bone broth, and liver jerky available in stores and online.
The Paleo diet, which you’ve probably heard of, is basically what traditional eating is. However, I tend to stay away from labeling the way we eat as this can lead to obsession and/or restriction. I don’t advise labeling your nutrition because it just isn’t necessary. If you start adding in the components I’ve mentioned, the benefits you’ll feel will be enough to encourage continuation of those tactics – you won’t need a diet label to restrict you. If you ever want to feel inspired by some traditional recipes, though, Paleo ones are a great place to start! I suggest using Paleo as a template if that helps you get started, but don’t ever feel like you need your whole life to be Paleo-perfect. It’s about being inclusive of the great foods that have fueled us for years, instead of being exclusive of foods like high quality grains and dairy (technically not Paleo).
Looking to research done in the early 1900s, a dentist named Weston Price evaluated the importance of traditional foods and techniques by studying tribes across the globe and how the health of their people changed when moving toward Western diets. Price primarily studied bone structure and dental health, and that a diet grounded in traditional foods correlated with excellent physical characteristics and ultimate health.
An example of this resides in the history of Native Americans before settlers invaded and made it impossible for Native Americans to live and eat culturally. Price noted the perfect health of the Native Americans who hunted and gathered all of their food before Westernization, eating primarily wild game and all of their parts. Hunters targeted larger animals for the large straps of fat that were highly valued and prized by the community. They held competitions in which the male hunters would start at opposite ends of the raw intestines and eat as much as possible of the half-fermented grasses and herbs in the organ. They cracked open femurs and cherished the rich, fatty marrow from the bones of buffalo. Today, though, we see a huge disparity in the health of Native Americans, who have a life expectancy 4.4 years shorter than the average of all races in the U.S, and a disproportionally higher prevalence of diabetes and heart disease. It’s worth noting that many American Natives rely on the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) which includes canned, processed food products, lean ground meat, fruit juice, and processed grains, none of which is natural to the diet their ancestors ate just a few hundred short years ago.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It is so obviously evident that what we eat and how that food comes is crucial to how our body develops and carries us on this earth. Whole, properly prepared, nutrient-dense food is the best way to optimize your health and quality of life, as well as that of generations to come. The proof is literally in our history.