Say Yes to Ancestral Diets

Heirloom corn. Ancestral Diet

One of the points I emphasize in my work is the concept of “traditional nutrition and foods.” These are foods, diets, and preparation methods that have been used by our ancestors for millennia. They are foods that have evolved to optimize nourishment. In modern society, which usually follows the standard American diet (SAD), food and diet are often dissociated from authentic cultural traditions.

We are, however, experiencing revitalization across modern SAD societies of reclaiming local, fresh, nutrient-dense, and optimally prepared traditional foods made relevant to our needs for the 21st century.

In this series of blogs I explain low-cost approaches to mental health nutrition. As you will see, food is much more than nourishment: Food is medicine; food is nutrition; food is ceremonial; food is sacred; food is culture and tradition; food is an anchor to culture and personal well-being.

The traditional nutrition—also called authentic or ancestral nutrition—approach to mental health suggests that in order to achieve health and well-being, mentally and physically, we should eat the types of foods that are similar to the foods our ancestors ate. This means foods free of refined sugars and grains—minimally processed—with no synthetic preservatives or food coloring. These foods should be prepared in their natural state. Traditional or authentic foods are low glycemic, anti-inflammatory, and rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Depending on the region of the world, traditional foods may include a low-to-moderate or even high complex carbohydrate, moderate-protein, moderate-to high-fat diet. These foods include antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables of all colors, as well as fiber sources—also known as prebiotics—which may include bark flour, psyllium, chia, cactus, bran, and oatmeal. Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and fresh natural yogurt and kefir provide probiotics for digestion, colon health, and detoxification.

There is a tremendous diversity of foods available, and we have the ability to adapt and use many foods of our neighbors as well as ancestors. Some of our ancestors ate a diet of fresh blood and raw milk (and still do); others ate lots of blubber and fish and only a few carbohydrates in the forms of berries and roots during the summer months. Traditional diets obtain dietary fats from fish, birds, plants, and wild game. Wild animals have only one-tenth the fat of farmed cattle, include natural essential fatty acids, and they also do not have the harmful antibiotics and hormones that disrupt endocrine function and gut health.

The prominent dentist Dr. Weston Price, in the course of his global travels in traditional societies, researched the question: “Who is the healthiest among peoples on the planet?” While looking for an answer, he found that the healthiest societies in the world consumed moderate amounts of saturated and monounsaturated animal fats, suggesting that our modern fears of saturated fats are among the myths of modern medicine. He and other researchers also failed to find any society that was vegan, which suggests that veganism is a modern dietary invention and while there is much emotional and spiritual merit in veganism, there is little evidence for any biological merit.

Authentic foods are those foods and medicines that naturally evolved over time within a specific human culture. These foods bring balance to the body, mind, and spirit. How does one integrate authentic foods, traditional foods, and whole foods today while living in rural or urban settings? What are the options for using food as a delicious source of nutrition and medicine?

Stay tuned for part 2 and 3 of this blog. Or you can start learning more by reading my book “The Good Mood Kitchen: Simple Recipes and Nutrition Tips for Emotional Balance.”

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