New year resolutions are underway, including a renewed commitment to healthy eating. How to cut through all the contradictory diets, fake news, pseudo facts and know what to eat?
By going back basics. Back to the first foods humans relied on for tens of thousands of years. Food from the earth. This encompassed an enormous variety of plants and animals. Living in diverse communities and climates across the world, humans saw a wide range of roots, leaves, seeds, fruit, animals and obtained what they could from the earth around them.
There was no single diet. Some populations ate a lot of fat (think Inuit) and little carbohydrates; others ate the exact opposite. Yet across different diets (based on what was available from the environment) – there were common traits:
• Balanced macronutrients: protein, fat and carbs
• Micronutrient density. Miconutrients include vitamins, minerals, phytochemicasl (natural chemical compounds in plants).
• Diverse omnivorism; some did rely primarily on plant foods, but no early human diets were completely vegan
The first human diet was nutrient-dense. Nutrient-density is the concentration of nutrients (vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals, essential fatty acids and essential amino acids) per calorie of food. Nutrient-dense foods supply a wide range of micronutrients relative to the calories they contain.[su_expanding_quote_book alignment=”right” source_author=”Sarah Ballantyne, PhD” source_title=”Paleo Principles” full_quote=”Nutrients are the molecular building blocks of our bodies. Not only are we made up of these raw materials, but our cells also use nutrients when they perform their various functions. This is why we continually need to consume enough nutrients for our cells to stay healthy and keep doing their jobs efficiently. ” short_quote=”Nutrients are the molecular building blocks of our bodies.”]
Today our genes remain pretty much the same, and we have the same nutritional needs as our early ancestors – preceding the Agricultural Revolution in the 17th century. Why does this matter? Because in terms of our biological history, the reliance on farmed food crops and domesticated animals is recent. Humans started consuming increasing amounts of grain (mostly wheat) only a couple hundred years ago. Our bodies are not designed to consume refined wheat.
And in the last one-hundred years or so, refined sugar, processed foods and chemical additives came in rapid succession, completely altering the composition of food that humans consume. In parallel, we (humans) have gotten more and more disconnected from our food and where it comes from. We have also disconnected from our body’s innate wisdom that guides us towards optimal health. Increasingly micronutrient deficiency is showing up as a major underlying driver of chronic diseases.
These disconnects have led to food choices that contribute to the development of chronic diseases: cardiovascular, diabetes, cancer, even Alzheimers and Parkinson’s.
Most of the US population consumes primarily processed foods which:
• are designed to be hyper-palatable triggering pleasure points in our brain and causing us to crave more
• interfere with normal hormonal cues due to added chemical components
• bypass our natural hunger regulations system;
• lack nutrients, so we continue to eat in search of more nutrients
• lead to overconsumption of calories but under-consumption of nutrients
The Standard American Diet is energy-rich (lots of calories) but nutrient-poor: foods high in added sugars, refined grains and industrially processed oils, but devoid of the vitamins, minerals (and other health-promoting compounds) found in whole foods. The more processed or refined a food is, the more nutrients are stripped out. The result is nutrient deficiency.[su_expanding_quote_book alignment=”right” source_author=”Sarah Ballantyne, PhD” source_title=”Paleo Principles” full_quote=”Large percentage of Americans are falling short on thirteen essential vitamins and minerals. Micronutrient deficiencies are so common that some researchers speculate that nearly all of us are deficient in at least one vital nutrient. ” short_quote=”Large percentage of Americans are falling short on thirteen essential vitamins and minerals.”]
What to Do?
Eat foods that come from nature the way nature intended. Retrain our palates to enjoy simple, natural foods to reconnect to our body’s innate wisdom
• Eliminate, or at least minimize, processed food even those labeled “natural” and “organic”. Even if made with organic ingredients, (think breakfast cereals) processed foods are still processed
• Eat a wide variety of plants and sustainably-raised animals (think of meat as condiment rather than the “star” of the plate).
• Celebrate nature with local vegetables and fruits of the season
• Align with personal genetic adaptations from the part of the world we individually are descended from -incorporating traditional foods from our cultural backgrounds
• Make family meals a regular occurrence and a sacred time, turning off devices and connecting with those around the table
• Center holiday feasts and gatherings with family and friends around real food rather than sugary treats and flour
For more empowerment:
January is for Detoxifying