We need to take responsibility for our food choices and in doing so our health. We’re all as different on the inside as out. When it seems diet alone is not working, it’s probably not.
But listening to your body sounds like a lot of work. And it is. It actually changes all the time too. Luckily there are principles (not formulas) we can all look to in order to start from:
Learning from our ancestors: The Weston A. Price Foundation
The best clues we have to healthy eating are found by looking at what humans were eating before the rise of industrially processed foods. That would be real food.
One of the most detailed studies available comes courtesy of Weston A. Price, a dentist working at the turn of the 20th century. Price spent over ten years studying indigenous groups of people living all over the world that had yet to be exposed to modern foods. They were eating the foods that their ancestors and ancestors’ ancestors had eaten. He found that the healthiest of these populations all ate very different diets, but that each of them included some form of animal protein and an emphasis on foods that contained fat-soluble vitamins: a diet rich in traditional fats, pastured meat, organic produce, raw dairy, fermented dairy and vegetables, (and soaked and sprouted whole grains and legumes, though personally I have seen these are not for everyone, no matter how well prepared).
Michael Pollan, is his book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, also advocates for eating food that only your grandmother or great-grandmother would recognize as food. He is a fierce critic of food processing and modern USDA-based dietary advice.
We operate at our best when we eat real, whole foods just like our ancestors. After all, these real, whole foods make up the diet to which our human bodies are adapted.
Modern variations: Paleo, Primal, and more
The Paleo and Primal diets are based on the ancestral model, but they are often more restrictive.
- The Paleo Diet as we know it today has gone through several evolutions of its own. It was originally conceived as a fairly strict interpretation of ancient hunter-gatherer diets: It included lean meats, vegetables and a little fruit, but shunned all “agricultural foods” like grains, legumes, and dairy, as well as saturated fats and fat-filled organ meats. Over time, the diet has relaxed a bit, and now includes an emphasis on animal fats and other nutrient-dense foods like offal.
- The Primal Blueprint was originally considered an offshoot of Paleo, and allows for dairy and indulgences like wine and chocolate. Primal also calls for functional exercise (running, weight lifting, walking, etc), sleep, and a healthy work-life balance. Today, Paleo and Primal diets look very similar.
Health practitioners like Chris Kresser stress the idea that everyone has an individual biochemistry and therefore different dietary needs. His book, Your Personal Paleo Code, aims to help people adjust to an ancestral style of eating with as few restrictions as possible. He suggests starting with a strict Paleo diet, and then gradually reintroducing potentially problematic foods like dairy, grains and pseudo-cereals, legumes, nightshades, eggs, alcohol, natural sweeteners, caffeine, and chocolate.
Ultimately, smart dietary choices comes down to individual biochemistry. We all thrive on different types of food and different styles of eating. The path to good health begins with an open mind and willingness to experiment, test, and play until you’ve landed on your best fuel.