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Fruits and Vegetables
Ten Ancestral Meals
reading this article, be aware that if you adopt its recommended eating
strategies that you may experience the following:
1. The smell of greasy fast-food and the smell of fast-food restaurants themselves may become repugnant.
2. Refined sugar may seem extraordinarily over-sweet.
3. Processed food in boxes, bag, and cans may not have the richness of flavor they use to have.
4. Food cravings and anxiety may subside. Thinking may improve.
5. Digestive disorders may disappear.
6. Constipation and other elimination disorders may improve.
7. You may laugh at TV show chefs who make no mention of where their raw ingredients are coming from.
8. You may be proud that you are contributing to the sustainability of the planet.
The food tastes of most Westerners are contaminated from a very young age to like the sugary, salty, and greasy tastes of processed and fast food. This is in contrast to the nutritious, whole, organic foods we all consumed prior to the 20th century.
The 20th century produced two curious phenomena in the history of the food supply. The first was World War One in which foods with shelf life were required for the American soldiers in Europe. This yielded canned, devitalized food that could last months, if not years. This was never meant to replace the food supply in the American home, but was unfortunately adopted as a standard practice and still dominates the supermarket shelves to this day.
The second phenomenon was the advent of fast food. The fast-food industry engineered our tastes to like sugary, salty, and greasy food, and continues to promote them with massive advertising budgets. The huge financial contracts for the producers of the raw ingredients goes to the lowest bidder, and the cost-cutting required to win these contracts further devitalizes the product that eventually reaches the consumer.
The net result of these
two phenomena is a public with an insatiable thirst for nutrient-poor,
high-calorie food that has never before been consumed in human history.
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The basic premise of “Ancestral Eating” is that Nature is our best chef, and through the ages has used her wisdom to develop foods for us that should not be tampered with. “Ancestral Eating” requests that when choosing your food, you should ask one basic question:
Is this food in the same form it was in when eaten by my ancestors or did it emerge out of the 20th century?
In practical terms, a fast-food burger would be viewed as objectionable not because burger in general is bad, but because 20th century processing contaminated the ingredients. Cattle are fed grains instead of grass, injected with steroids to promote rapid growth, and treated with antibiotics to repel disease brought on by an unnatural diet and living in unsanitary conditions.
The bread would be objectionable not because all bread is bad, but because many of the nutritious ingredients are processed out of fast-food bread. The condiments (catsup, mayonnaise, etc.) are objectionable because they contain refined sugar and chemicals. With 90% of the average American’s food purchases going to processed food, it is estimated that each of us consumes 20 pounds of chemicals and additives per year. The vegetables (lettuce, onion, tomatoes, etc.) should preferably be organic and local, which of course was the only way food was available to our ancestors.
The ancestral version of a pizza would have an organic, unprocessed, whole grain crust. The cheese would be from animals fed their natural diet, devoid of steroids and antibiotics. Any meats (pepperoni, sausage, etc.) should contain no chemicals and should again come from naturally raised animals. Similarly, vegetables should be from wholesome sources—fresh, as opposed to canned or frozen—and preferably organic.
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A number of changes
took place in several categories of the food supply in the 20th century
including 1) fruits and vegetables, 2) grains 3) dairy 4) omega fats 5)
oils 6) water (beverages) and 7) sugar. These changes are addressed in
the following sections.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, and several types of dietary fiber. Research in diets that emphasize fruits and vegetables have found they reduce heart disease, cancer, diverticulitis, stroke, hypertention, birth defects, cataracts, asthma, bronchitis, diabetes, and obesity.
In the 20th century, the food supply changed from a cottage industry of local growers, artisans, and craftsmen, to large corporations that process and transport fruit and vegetables great distances. This was not an improvement in what arrives on our tables.
Locally grown fruits and vegetables would seem to have the following advantages and are highly recommended:
1. Local grown produce
has often been picked within 24 hours of your purchase. This means that
it can be harvested when fully ripe, which improves taste and optimizes
2. Produce that is local is easier on the ecology than food that has been transported great distances. Shipping uses fossil fuels and in the end cost us much more than just the price of the food.
3. Local produce keeps our bodies in touch with the seasons. We get our food when it is the most abundant and least expensive.
4. Your food dollar is kept in the local economy, supporting your neighbor, your schools, and your local goverment.
There is no substitute
for freshly harvested, local produce. With the exceptions of a few historical
preservation methods such as fermentation and drying, all modern preservation
methods such as canning, freezing, chemical preservatives, and irradiation
only devitalizes the natural life force in these foods. Additionally,
buying organic, when possible, is safer for yourself, safer for farm workers,
safer for the environment, and more nutritious. Our ancestors only ate
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Grains are a fairly recent phenomenon in the history of man, mostly occurring in the last 10,000 years. The types of grains include wheat, millet, oats, rye, spelt, barley, quinoa, and rice, among others. In their whole form, the kernel contains three components: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.
When grain is processed, the bran and the germ is removed, eliminating most of the B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid). Also, much of the fiber and iron is lost. Often, synthetic versions of B vitamins are added back into foods (enriching), but critics argue that this is not as nutritious as the unprocessed product. Most nutritionists recommend grains be left whole with the bran, germ and endosperm intact.
Foods that come from grains include breakfast cereals, pasta, bread, donuts, bagels, pizza crust, crackers, cake, cookies, muffins, noodles, pancakes, popcorn, pretzels, and cornbread. Many of these are now offered in either whole or processed versions, and consumers are recommended to choose the whole product, just as our ancestors would have eaten it.
Of major concern with grain's relatively recent introduction into the food supply is its role in the recent obesity epidemic. Most of the foods listed above are calorie-rich and nutrient-poor, especially when processed. In addition, these foods turn to sugar quite rapidly in the bloodstream and the hormone insulin rises to bring blood sugar down to manageable levels.
When this happens, carbohydrates turn to fat. Thus grains, which are a newly added carbohydrate to the human diet, have become a major cause of obesity. As a result, nutritionists often recommend that those wishing to lose weight eliminate or severely reduce grains in their diet.
Of secondary interest
is that corn, another grain, is fed on factory farms to almost all the
animals we eat including chicken, turkey, pigs, cattle, and fish. We would
seem to be getting grain not just directly, but indirectly as well. The
consequences of this are addressed in an upcoming section entitled "Omega
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I used to teach a research writing course for several years and my students and I used to wrestle with the "Dairy Question" over and over. It's been drilled into us since we were little children that "Milk Does a Body Good." Many of my female students especially, drank milk for its purported bone density benefits. We would pour over the scientific literature and these are some of the findings we came up with.
We are the only species that has ever drunk the milk from another species. It is estimated that only 2% of the population of the world at any given time drank milk past infancy. Ninety percent of Asians are lactose-intolerant (can’t digest milk sugar), as are seventy-five percent of African-Americans.
were pasture-fed and milk was neither pasteurized nor homogenized. To
avoid bacteria, cows had to be kept healthy and milked in sanitary conditions.
Today, cows are fed grains because they're less expensive than grass and hay, which changes the composition of the milk. Grains are unnatural to the ancestral history of the cow; they irritate the intestinal tract of the animal, making them susceptible to disease. Antibiotics are regularly used as a result. In fact, two-thirds of all the antibiotics consumed in the U.S. are consumed by animals. Additionally, steroids are administered that vastly increase milk production. Many physicians suspect they contribute to hormonal cancers.
From there, the milk is heated (pasteurized) to kill bacteria, again changing its composition.
It can safely be assumed that between grain-feeding, antibiotics, steroids, and pasteurization, there is little resemblance to the raw milk consumed by our ancestors, which was apparently only about 2% of the population anyway. This does not take into consideration non-fat, low-fat and other changes that are often made to milk that have no precedent.
Historically, the consumption of other dairy products such as butter, yogurt, and cheese would apparently be more widespread than milk. Those who are lactose-intolerant can generally eat these products since the processing reduces the effects of the milk sugar (lactose). However, it should be noted that although the use of butter, yogurt, and cheese is pervasive in today’s culture, it is rarely in its ancestral form since cattle are still grain-fed and the milk is pasteurized. Unless organic, these products still contain hormones and antibiotics.
Physicians often recommend that their patients avoid dairy entirely. I do see advantages, however, to butter, yogurt, and cheese in their ancestral forms. Unfortunately, these forms are not available even when organically purchased since that only guarantees that cattle will eat organic feed and not be injected with antibiotics or steroids; it does not guarantee that they are pasture-fed, which will maintain proper Omega fat ratios (see Omega Fat section below).
There is a movement afoot to make raw, un-pasteurized milk more available in the many states that ban it. I think few people would dispute that it is healthier, but many are afraid of possible bacteria, especially when mass-produced.
Clearly there are both ancestral and modern cultures that have done fine without milk. However, many of us consume it for the calcium to promote bone health. Yet, much of the world population drinks no milk (or is even allergic to it) and has a far smaller fracture rate than us.
Recent research has indicated that poor bone health is more likely attributed to the excessive animal protein in our diet, lack of exercise, and too little vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin required for calcium absorption).
Many non-dairy cultures
obviously get adequate calcium from other foods. These include greens
such as lettuce, kale, swiss chard, cabbage, spinach and collards. All
nuts and seeds have calcium. Beans such as pinto, navy, kidney and black
are sources as well.
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No discussion of animal food is complete without addressing Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential to our diets and must be gotten largely from animal products. It is important to understand that Omega 6 is inflammatory and Omega 3 is anti-inflammatory, and has serious implications to our health (see The Root of Disease). Historically, the ratio between these two fats in the human body has been 1:1. Today, the ratio in most Americans is 20:1 or more, creating an inflammatory environment that is at the root of much disease.
One of the primary reasons for the change in this ratio is that grain is high in the inflammatory Omega 6 fat and has become the primary food fed on commercial animal farms. All animal products at fast-food restaurants are factory farmed, as are most other restaurants unless specifically identified as wild or naturally fed. Many people now ask their waiters in restaurants and their butchers in the supermarket if their meats were fed their natural diets. Several excellent books are now available on anti-inflammatory diets and the restoration of a balanced Omega 6:3 ratio. Many authors now recommend a fish oil supplement, which is high in the anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fat, to aid in the process.
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We’ve always eaten oils, and they are necessary to have in our diet. The glaring change that took place in the 20th century that departs from our ancestral tradition is the emergence of vegetable oils—particularly corn, safflower, and soybean oils. These three comprise most of the oils in salad dressings and cooking oils, and are especially common to the fast-food restaurant. Soybean oil is found in 75% of all processed food.
All three have something in common—they are all high in the inflammatory Omega 6 fatty acid. Along with the grains fed to factory-farmed animals, they would be a second factor responsible for the imbalance in the Omega 6:3 ratio in the human body.
Almost all dietitians now recommend olive oil as the primary cooking and salad oil because of its superior Omega 6:3 ratio, flavor, and anti-oxidant composition.
Clearly, the trans-fats (partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil) that emerged in the 20th century and are common in cookies, crackers, and margarines should be completely eliminated. Recent labeling laws make their presence more apparent.
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Fresh, freely running water exposed to air and sunshine is the gold standard of all beverages. It has historically been our most popular beverage. The designer waters that are bottled in plastic, stored for months at a time, and transported thousands of miles do not match this benchmark.
Of course, who has access to free-running water that is freely exposed to air and sunshine? What we’re left with is a range of substitutes that usually include some filtering system that may or may not approach the desired criterion.
Still, water has been our main beverage historically and should be yours as well.
Unfortunately, other beverages have contaminated our tastes. It’s sad that soft drinks have become popular. Many of us have become addicted, and numerous brands openly advertise themselves as energy drinks due to high amounts of caffeine. The additional ingredients read like a “who’s who” of unpronounceable chemicals.
Obviously, there is no historical precedent for soft drinks. Without going into a lot of scientific detail, they are very acid, upsetting the natural acid/alkaline balance of the body. Acidity is one of the primary causes of aging and a substantial amount of water has to be drunk to restore the necessary alkalinity.
Fruit drinks would seem to be healthier, although they are no longer a whole food since pulp and other ingredients common to fruit have been removed. Many are just sugar beverages masquerading under a healthy pretext.
Still, some variety in our drinking tastes is needed. Green teas have particularly gained recognition for their anti-oxidant properties and fermented beverages have some historical precedent. It’s important to recognize though, that tea, coffee, soft drinks, milk, and alcohol cause dehydration. As much as twice their amount in water is required to restore hydration to the cells.
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The body requires sugar. Approximately 2 teaspoons should be in the bloodstream at any one time. A 12-ounce soft drink has approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar. When combined with desserts, candy, and alcohol (which is also a sugar) the pancreas, adrenals, and other organs are heavily taxed. Never in human history has their been such an assault on our blood sugar levels, resulting in much disease.
At the turn of the 20th century, the average person ate 5 pounds of sugar per year. This was largely in the form of whole fruit, maple syrup, honey, and molasses, since refined sugar was still largely unavailable. Today, the average person eats 150 pounds per year, most of it refined. Refined sugar is devoid of vitamins, minerals, or food enzymes, and is addicting.
This makes the consumption of sweets, something to which we have all become accustomed, somewhat difficult. Certainly fresh or stewed fruit is a logical choice, but something more is often desired. Many nutritionists suggest dark chocolate, due to its anti-oxidant properties; however, it is usually sweetened with refined sugar. Ice cream is problematic due to the problems listed in the dairy section, but some brands may in fact be sweetened with honey, which in its unrefined version is a natural, whole food.
Organic food stores can be particularly helpful in this category. Many other individuals are trying to decrease sugar intake and are looking to ancestral traditions for solutions. Organic, unrefined maple syrup and honey are often used as sweeteners.
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Is it OK to have something that is not good for you? The answer is YES!!
something that is not good for you (even smoking and alcohol) yields psychological
pleasure, there is a cascade of desirable biochemicals from the emotional
centers in the brain to all the cells of the body. The question becomes,
"When does physical harm outweigh emotional benefit." Ideally,
with "Ancestral Eating" you'll find foods that give you all
the emotional benefit that your current foods do so you don't have to
make that choice.
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If I’m away from home I take a lunch with me. I don’t like to be on the road and be forced to buy food I don’t respect. If I’m out of town I search out the organic food stores for carry-around food and pre-made fast-food.
I like to have both a fruit and vegetable for lunch and, keeping consistent with having some fat and protein as well, I’ll usually pack some organic nuts, maybe a hard-boiled egg, and perhaps something sweet that I picked up at an organic food store (usually dark chocolate).
If I’m at home I will sometimes make a little salad with whole-fat cottage cheese (just like our ancestors, right?). Of course we run into that old problem with dairy since, even if organic, the milk is pasteurized and the cows are usually grain-fed.
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My most common meals that include meat are 1) Wild Salmon, 2) Free-range Poultry, and occasionally, 3) Free-range Buffalo. They can be stand-alone entrees or be part of a summer salad.
I have two meals I like without meat:
4) Steamed vegetables topped with an appropriate fat (un-pasteurized cheese, organic sour cream, or butter).
5) Beans with organic, sprouted corn tortillas, vegetables, and taco condiments. (Note: beans and corn tortillas, when eaten together, form a whole protein, just like meat).
All the above meats have been fed their natural diets, ensuring the proper Omega 6:3 balance, but let’s address some larger issues.
I once spent years as a vegetarian but have since felt that I do better with some meat in my diet. I have struggled with the idea of killing animals. They clearly resist death and I don’t like to be a part of it. But plants resist death as well. It forces you to come to terms with some big issues in life and I don’t think you avoid that responsibility by just buying shiny packages of meat in the market that you don’t have to personally kill.
I like the stories of how the Native American Indian have killed the buffalo, praying to its spirit in gratitude for sacrificing its body for the good of all, and respecting its journey into the spirit world. I personally buy wild salmon, due to its impressive Omega 3 content, from Indian friends here in the Northwest. I am frequently present when the fish are caught from the Columbia River, and I like to silently thank the salmon for giving their physical lives so others can flourish. Similarly, when I eat other types of animal products I like to have the same gratitude.
I think this is one of the things that I dislike most about modern food processing. The animals are regarded only as commodities and raised in filthy, painful conditions, and then slaughtered unceremoniously. They’re then presented as so much fodder to an uncaring public. It seems so distant from that image I have of the Native American Indian passing along their respectful animal traditions to their children. Instead, meat magically appears in supermarkets, totally unconnected to the spirits that inhabited them.
The accompanying dishes to my dinners are invariably steamed vegetables, salad, or both. The fruit and vegetable section is an interesting part of the market. Like everyone else, my food tastes became contaminated by processed food as a young man and I grew away from the whole fruits and vegetables my mother served me as a child. She was quick to recognize the changes that were taking place in the food industry and was highly resistant.
Still, I was influenced by the habits of my teen-age peers and developed a taste for fast food like everyone else. I ignored the produce section of the market for many years, but finally said to myself “Are you really going to go your whole life ignoring what’s good for you?” It became a matter of self-esteem and I actually made a commitment to buy some rather expensive cookware that worked particularly well with vegetables. It was very much like joining an expensive gym in which the cost either becomes the motivation to finally exercise or the most regretful chunk of money you ever spent. With me it worked and I proceeded to de-contaminate my tastes from processed food and never looked back.
Salads, especially local and organic, are good for you unless you’re talking about loading them up with processed meats. Meats have already been covered in another section so I won’t go into detail. I like cheese and use unpasteurized brands made from raw milk (just like our ancestors). Organic is always recommended and a variety of colored vegetables and fruits tend to balance the vitamins and minerals.
concern is the dressing. Almost all dressings use soybean oil, which have
a poor Omega 6:3 ratio. There is no ancestral precedent for this. Olive
oil is the oil of choice and a “spray mister,” available at
many kitchen stores, helps to keep from overdoing it.
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As I previously
mentioned, I’m not recommending my meal choices to you—only
showing my rationale for choosing them. Notice that I had to make some
tough choices; not everything is available the way we would like it.
Now it's up to you. Devise 10 meals around ancestral traditions, making them as tasty as you wish.
1. Form a relationship with an organic food store. Most have delicatessens, so even your fast-food purchases will be in accordance with the objectives of the plan.
2. Try to have variety and make fun of this. This is not a penalty. You will thrive on this diet but you probably have some habits to break.
3. You will not be able to make these changes overnight (although some do). Be patient!!
4. When you travel to different locales, do an internet search for organic food stores and restaurants.
5. You will lose your taste for many foods but that does not mean you shouldn’t enjoy an occasional social event with friends.
6. Do not deprive yourself. This is not a restrictive diet. You will find, however, that your portion sizes may naturally decrease since ancestral food is more complete, and therefore more filling.
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A NOTE REGARDING WEIGHT LOSS
Since whole, ancestral foods are so filling, and digest and eliminate so well, people often lose weight. Many find that this is all they ever had to do to achieve their weight-loss goals. If you are in the weight-loss category and find that you would like to do more, try the following:
1. It’s hard to lose weight on your own, especially when everyone around you in the home and the workplace are not. Partner up with someone, or better yet, get a group of people together to share the same goals.
2. Some estimates say that emotions account for 60% or more of the problems with weight loss. Consider purchasing A Guided Visualization to Weight Loss and Healthy Digestion to help address that issue. Take a look at the article entitled The Root of Obesity as well.
3. Insulin levels are spiked by simple carbohydrates such as sweets, bread, pasta, cereal, crackers and potatoes. This sends calories to fat cells for storage rather than muscle cells for burning. Our ancestors didn't have access to the processed junk food we have today, but be aware of your intake of simple carbs regardless.
a food scale. Learn to know what constitutes a cup or tablespoon by sight.
It is very deceiving what food portions really are.
5. Exercise is not optional. Find something that you enjoy doing and will stay with. Read Ancestral Exercise on this website for some other insights into physical activity.