Is Your Diet too “Westernized”?
About a month or so ago for lunch, a friend took me out for pizza…the best pizza in town. You know the kind–the kind you save up your macros for. And when I came back to work an hour later, I popped open a can of “Coca Cola Life,”–the reduced calorie cola sweetened only with cane sugar and a little bit of stevia. I just needed a little fizzy, cold something and I wanted just a few grams of caffeine to get through the rest of the long Friday afternoon. (And because of my pregnancy, I wasn’t able to stomach even the thought of coffee just yet.)
As I sat down to study, I whipped open my laptop and decided to quickly log my lunch in MyFitnessPal. I had just recently started tracking my food again now that I was finally starting to get past the nausea in this first trimester of my pregnancy. I logged the pizza and soda and felt bad about the carb and sugar totals for the day. “I’ll eat a very healthy dinner,” I thought to myself.
While I was trying to push away the guilt that I felt over my lunch choices, I was simultaneously studying the cultural analysis of diets, as well as how the westernized diet has, for lack of better words, really screwed us all up. Sugar, processed foods, hydrogenated oils–you know what I’m talking about–over the years have messed with our natural, ancestral food sources–the ones that kept us fit and fabulous so many eons ago. Now, everyone seems to be “on a diet” these days, scrambling around to figure out what to and what not to eat. And I’m starting to think now that my pizza choice may not have been in my best ancestral interest, right?
Why Couldn’t I Have Been Born Italian?!
It’s hard to eat perfectly all the time–and no one knows that better than me. But here’s the thing: we can all make a conscious effort to TRY to make the best nutritional choices available to us at any given moment. At the moment I started reading about ancestral health, I threw away my soda. “I really don’t need this,” I thought to myself. No one in my family tree has needed cola to survive.
And then I really started thinking about the best food choices I could eat. I have an ancestral makeup of and English and German heritage. I should be eating oatmeal, beef, dairy, whole grains, stews, cooked veggies, fermented veggies, and fish. You want to know something incredibly interesting to me about all of this? These are my favorite foods. I love making stews in my crockpot. Eating meat. Cheeses and whole grain breads. Oats with my eggs at breakfast. Cooked veggies….I’ve never liked them raw and I’ve never had a love for salads. This makes so much sense to me! Why haven’t I thought of this before?
Fish and Chips?
I actually laughed out loud when I read a paragraph about the poorer Victorian English people who had to eat potatoes, bread, and cheese to survive–this was my entire first trimester! I ate like a poor Victorian Brit for almost three solid months!
Your body is your temple: Protect This House!
Nutrition has always been fascinating to me, so this is no different. Our ancestors helped develop us into strong hunters and gatherers. Skilled warriors. Strong men and women who fought for survival, rights, homes, and land. Why are we letting this westernized diet of processed and sugar-enhanced foods screw with our unique heritage and the foods that we’re designed to be eating?
All Cultures Need Macros.
While I may prefer beef where you prefer salmon, or I prefer sauerkraut over your cobb salad, no matter where I came from versus you, your neighbor, or the family down the street–we all still have one unique nutritional element in common: we ALL need both micro and macronutrients to survive. Every society needs protein, carbs, fat, vitamins and minerals. We’ll get sick, develop disease, and eventually die out without our macros.
So depending on where your ancestors came from, your personal diet–the one that works best for you–might be very different from the co-worker sitting next to you. Your ancestors may have eaten a lot of fish and maybe had limited dairy access. Makes sense if you’re lactose intolerant, right? Your ancestors could’ve been big game hunters or lived on a diet rich in cheeses and olives. Whatever your ancestors ate, they ate what was available to them. That’s the key. They didn’t eat processed, boxed, canned, preservative-added food items. They ate what was available to them at the time, which included proteins, carbs, and fats that were non-processed. They ate the natural foods available to them in their society in which they lived. Even the poorest Victorian Englanders still got their protein, carbs, and fats from their cheeses, potatoes, and breads.
We all need protein. We all need carbs. And we all need fats. But I might need more beef where you may need more fish. I might respond well to dairy while it might make you sick. You may eat rice everyday without consequence where it may make me bloat.
We need macros for survival, and we need the right macros to survive best.
Think for a minute:
What’s the ancestral makeup of your family?
What was the environment and geography like?
What are the foods your ancestors most likely consumed?
If you’re lucky enough to know these answers, you can take a better look at your health. Do you think you need to eat more fish? More wild game? Less grains? Less dairy? More fruit?
If sugar and processed foods are found in your house, you’re likely living a Westernized diet. Some people more than others, but it’s no surprise that much of our food choices have boiled down to fast-cheap-easy and processed over wholesome, nutritious, and untouched by man.
Unfortunately, these same sugar-rich and processed foods are the the ones that steal our B vitamins and much of our mineral supply. They contribute to bone and tooth decay, even the decline of body tissue. Yep, eating processed foods will help your body age faster.
WHO WANTS THAT?!
Though researchers have proven throughout decades of study that eating a wide variety of vegetables and fruits build a healthy body, there is still one main truth that has held firm over the years: YOUR diet should be built upon the foundation of what is readily available in your environment and possibly modeled after your ancestral roots.
The healthiest people in the world, based off famous researcher Dr. Weston Price, all shared several dieting characteristics which would be imperative for each of us to model:
- No diet contained refined foods such as “white” flour and sugar, no canned foods, no pasteurized milks, and zero hydrogenated oils.
- All diets contained a minimum of at least four times the quantity of vitamins and minerals of the current American diet.
- All diets contained at least 10 times the amount of fat-soluble vitamins found in animal fats, including vitamin A and D.
- All of the diets contained salt.
- All of the diets contained animal products.
- Drying, salting, and fermenting foods were the only preservation methods used, which also increased overall nutrient quality!
- All the groups studied provided sacred foods to prospective parents–mom, dad, and growing children.
- Cultures spaced children far enough apart for mom’s body to recover and replenish nutrient reserves, all while teaching the same nutritional wisdom to all their children.
Based on the above information, Dr. Price developed a set of 15 guidelines for what ALL healthy diets had in common. Simply, if the food was not eaten by the indigenous people of a society, then you shouldn’t eat it either! Here’s the list.
15 Guidelines to a Healthy Diet
These guidelines are meant to help you survive longer just by reverting to a more primitive nutritional lifestyle–the same of your ancestors.
- Eat whole and unprocessed (as minimally processed as possible) foods.
- Eat organic, fresh fruits and veggies. Steam the veggies if you don’t want them raw.
- Eating fermented fruits, veggies, and beverages adds beneficial bacteria to your gut.
- Speaking of veggies, use oil and vinegar as a salad dressing, and flavor the salad with herbs…not a store bought, too-many-ingredient-filled salad dressing.
- Eat the same meats your ancestors ate. That could be wild game, organ meats, beef, lamb, eggs, turkey, chicken. The animals should be pasture fed and not commercially raised.
- Eat wild fish and shellfish that come from unpolluted waters–meaning nothing from the Pacific and nothing farm-raised.
- Eat dairy products that are full fat and raw or fermented if you have those options available to you. Cheese, sour cream, cultured butter…it’s all good. But don’t forget–those cows need to be pasture-fed!
- Just like cheese and butter, animal fats are good fats. Eat them. Most studies actually support eating plenty of (real) butter as it won’t put weight on you. (The bread you eat it with, might.) Put your butter on your steamed veggies…or in your stew!
- Remember cod liver oil? It’s super healthy–even for the little ones. Consume it in quantities suggested up to 1000 IU per day.
- You can eat whole grains, legumes (beans), and nuts…but they should be soaked overnight first. Soak them in sour leavening to inactivate the phytic acid that interferes with nutrient/vitamin absorption, and then cook them to further inactivate the phytic acid.
- (This one is my favorite): Don’t throw the bones away when you cook meat! Both the bones and the fat are valuable. Use them in soups, sauces, stocks, gravies…or make some bone broth and freeze it for these same uses!
- Flavor your foods with herbs and spices and choose sea salt over iodized salt. Concerned with iodine deficiencies? Eat seaweed–another amazing superfood.
- Need to sweeten your food? Nature gives us honey, maple syrup, maple sugar, date sugar, and cane sugar, even stevia.
- Your favorite part: alcohol is ok! BUT–it should be unpasteurized wine or beer and of course, only in moderation and with meals. That’s doable, right?
If more people would follow this plan, we could actually help repair the greatest breakdown of our much too “Westernized Diet.” We can restore the soil to its natural health and help persuade farmers to use nontoxic and biological farming methods.
It’s NOT Paleo.
Dr. Price’s findings are similar to the now-famous Paleo diet–which I’m sure you’re familiar with. The Paleo diet works for a lot of people. (Meat, nuts, berries, seeds, some fruit, vegetables.) But some people are biologically designed to eat dairy, grains, and legumes. (It took me a long time post-Paleo trial and error to realize this about myself. I needed grains to help me feel full and perform at my best.) So don’t let it confuse you with the Paleo plan. It’s very similar, but a little less restrictive and more calcium friendly.
But What About My Macros?
Simple. Take a good look at your food choices that make up your macros. What kinds of carbs are you choosing? Veggies or cakes? What about your protein? Beef or slim jims? You can keep your macro calculations just as they are — and you can choose the BEST food sources for YOU. Think back to your lineage. What were your ancestors eating? Use those foods to fill your macro numbers.
Not a macro counter?
Just use the 15 guidelines when you choose your meals and you’ll be fine.
None of this matters one bit if your current food choices are unhealthy: sugary foods, fried foods, salty foods. You can’t live a longer, healthier, more productive and happier life if your diet, for lack of better terms, stinks. And you definitely cannot prevent or even reverse any disease by consuming processed foods. It’s only when your nutrition–the underlying structure of YOUR diet–is made up of the foods YOU were designed to eat that will leave you feeling healthier, stronger, and happier. Don’t you owe that to yourself?