Ancestral Diet in Brief
My friends and family have been impressed with how healthy I’ve become by eating an ancestral diet. As they’ve asked me how to incorporate it in their own lives I’ve tried to keep it simple. These highlights are just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of detail can be involved when implementing a new eating style depending on how committed one is to making changes and the kinds of changes or health issues one is addressing: weight loss, autoimmune issues, digestive health, chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia, blood sugar regulation, thyroid, etc. The ancestral diet often leads to weight loss and an increased sense of well being if there are no egregious health issues. I’ll elaborate on each of the items below.
A helpful way to look at this diet is to imagine what foods were available 500 or even several thousand years ago in your ancestor’s homeland. We co-evolved over millions of years with foods that were available in our environment. Agriculture is the new kid on the block. Grains in particular did not co-evolve with humans. That’s why so many people have issues with gluten and wheat in addition to the changes in the wheat proteins that came about from the modern hybridization of wheat. The farming of grains several thousand years ago was a community response to a scarcity of game as populations grew. We simply could not have everyone eating meat because there wasn’t enough to go around. It takes at least several hundred generations for a body to accustom itself to a new food. We have paleolithic bodies in a post-paleolithic world. Anything newer than a few thousand years may not be readily accepted by our bodies. But everyone is different and that’s the challenge with nutrition and eating. It takes time and some experimentation to find what’s right for you. Here’s the rundown:
1. Add protein at each meal.
2. Remove added sugar products.
3. Reduce carbohydrates.
4. Remove grains except for some white rice.
5. 2-3 servings of fruit per day.
6. Drink water rather than juice, milk or ready-made teas.
7. Avoid vegetable seed oils.
8. Eat vegetables.
1. Add Protein at Each Meal
This is huge. Most American meals have more carbohydrates than any other food group. It is a particular problem at breakfast. The mere introduction of protein, just 3 ounces, at each meal can lead to improved energy, overall health and weight loss. For breakfast, this could be eggs/bacon, salmon (lox), quiche, or any meat/fish. Half of every meal (by volume) should consist of vegetables. Meat or fish should only be about 1/4 to 1/3 of the volume. Our paleolithic ancestors benefited from a wide array of nutrients because they had access to several hundreds wild plants species.
2. Remove Added Sugar Products
This of course is paramount for optimal health. For decades the food industry has convinced the public that diet is all about calories in and calories out. That it doesn’t matter what the food is that you eat, a calorie is a calorie, as long as you work it off. This falsity works in their favor so that they can sell the cheapest and most addictive products possible for a hefty profit. The type of food you eat does matter a great deal. The movie, Fed Up, illustrates this fairly well. There are 600,000 food products in the US. 80% of them have added sugar. Sugar is highly addictive and damaging to all body functions. It significantly increases the likelihood of diabetes and cancer.
3. Reduce Carbohydrates
Most Americans eat 300-400 grams of carbs/day when most people would do much better at about 100/day if they are not trying to lose weight. The weight loss amount is closer to 30g/day but this is too low for some people especially if you’re already thin or have adrenal issues. Reduction of carbohydrates can happen in several ways. A great way to do this is to stop eating all grains except for white rice. I get resistance from the suggestion that white rice is okay. This is because it’s the only grain that does not contain phytates or phytic acid which block mineral absorption in the gut.
4. Remove Grains (Except for Some White Rice)
After growing up with the belief that bread is the ‘staff of life,’ it was difficult to comprehend how it could possibly be responsible for so many health issues. These issues are not limited to celiac disease. Wheat has opioids and is addictive. It degrades the gut lining and leads to leaky gut syndrome for many. It interferes with brain function resulting in poor concentration and foggy brain. What’s insidious about cereal grains in general (wheat, corn, barley, sorghum, oats, rye, millet) is that while most people don’t have immediate or overt symptoms from its consumption, the bad effects happen unnoticed in the short term.
Grasses evolved jointly with grazing mammals like cows, sheep and goats. They evolved toxic compounds in order to sabotage a mammal’s digestive system. They pass through the digestive system without breaking down so when they are excreted as fecal matter they can grow in a new location. Grazing mammals have defenses for these toxins thanks to evolution. But humans have relatively no defenses for these toxins.
Cutting out bread, pasta and baked goods is a big step and is not easy but most people feel okay after 3-4 days of grain abstinence. You will notice benefits within two weeks of doing this.
5. 2-3 Servings of Fruit Per Day
Many people believe it’s okay to eat as much fruit as they feel like because it is ‘natural.’ But fruit has a lot of fructose that our paleolithic bodies are not accustomed to. Invoking the primates that eat fruit as part of our evolutionary heritage is not applicable to us because they have a digestive system that’s designed for fruit consumption. We do not. For weight loss limit fruit servings to just 2/day. Otherwise up to 5 per day is okay. Keep in mind that even just 200 years ago fruit and sugar were not plentiful nor available for most of the year in Europe or Northern Asia.
6. Drink Water, Not Juice, Milk or Ready-Made Teas
A good rule of thumb is to not drink calories. Recently I explained to one client that even milk has sugar in it and can create an insulin response. Water is king. Sweeteners, all kinds, should be avoided.
7. Avoid Vegetable Seed Oils
Vegetable oils including safflower, corn, soybean, cottonseed, canola, sesame, sunflower, rapeseed and peanut oil are high in omega-6 fatty acids (bad) and high in plant toxins. Most everything you eat at a restaurant or in a package from the supermarket has been cooked in a vegetable seed oil. Our paleolithic bodies did not evolve with vegetable seed oils. The major food corporations created these oils in just the last century because they wanted to make a product out of what was a waste product and they were able to convince the public that cooking with these oils was healthy. Omega-6 fats are toxic above 4% of calories per day but unfortunately many Westerns consume far above this.
8. Eat Vegetables
Although the ancestral diet encourages the consumption of more animal protein than a typical american diet, meat, fish and eggs represent only 1/3 of the volume of food that should be on your plate. About 1/3 to 1/2 of your plate should have vegetables and herbs. They should represent a range of colors, include fermented vegetables (like kimchi or real sauerkraut) and be of different types: root, bulb and stalk. Seaweeds are also very beneficial.
© Eddie Eriksson, 2014