You are what you eat. Your choice of food can significantly affect your life and health, especially if it is not correct. That is why a lot of people believe that most of the current health problems that people experience all over the world are the result of an unhealthy diet. But who is to blame in this situation? Since unhealthy food is cheaper in general, more accessible, and popularized nowadays, people choose to have a huge hamburger and soda for lunch, instead of buying more expensive organic foods and eating a nutritious well-balanced meal.
Growth of popularity of fast and processed foods, which are rich in empty calories provided by unhealthy nutrients such as refined and simple carbs and saturated and trans fats, led to the increase in the rates and chances of various chronic diseases including type II diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and others (14). These rates were significantly lower in the past, which makes people wonder whether the ancestral diet is the key to optimal health.
Can consumption of what your ancestors ate make you healthier and reduce the chance of modern health issues? In this article you will find out more about what an ancestral diet is, what does ancestral eating look like, what do ancestral diet foods include, and what are the benefits of the ancestral diet.
As may be clear from its name, the ancestral diet is a nutritional plan which is based on the foods that your ancestors consumed. It may confuse some people and lead to questions such as “Is ancestral diet vegetarian?” The answer is no, but you may try following a vegetarian variant of this dietary plan.
The regular ancestral diet includes wholesome, natural, unprocessed and organic foods, such as vegetables, fruits, meats, healthy fats, nuts, and seeds, and recommends avoiding industrial, heavily processed foods, sugar, fat, alcohol, and others. It emphasizes the consumption of food to which your ancestors would have had reasonable access. This means that you need to consider seasonal and regional food differences.
So, the ancestral diet may vary depending on what region you came from. If your ancestors lived in a cold region and consumed primarily meat, fat, and dairy, your body is probably better adapted to these foods and accepts them better than some others. That is why, people who decided to stick to an ancestral diet should have a better understanding of evolution, history of food, and their history.
Now, a lot of people tend to compare the ancestral diet with the Paleo diet and wonder if there is a difference between them. The Paleo diet or the Paleolithic diet is a nutritional plan which focuses on eating foods that were around in the Paleolithic era. It is based on foods that were available before the modern agriculture development around 10,000 years ago, which include unprocessed foods that people could hunt or gather, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, lean meats, and fish (9).
Although this set of food is similar to that of an ancestral diet, one of the differences here is that the ancestral diet is more locally focused. Ancestral eating doesn’t mean that you should eat what people ate in ancient times, it means eating what is natural and organic, no matter what century it was consumed in. That is why it allows you to eat even the foods that appeared after modern agricultural development, such as dairy, grains, and others.
Ancestral diet is not a strict nutritional plan, with a set of unbreakable rules to which you should adhere. This dietary plan is very flexible, and its main principle is to eat healthy, organic foods. With that being said, let’s take a closer look at what foods may be the right option for you.
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Although it is recommended that you stick to the foods that your ancestors could personally have access to, the most important thing here is not on what to particularly eat but what to avoid, which is modern, processed, and industrialized food. First things first, let’s take a look at what is NOT on the list of ancestral food.
Besides the above-listed foods, you should also limit the consumption of the following:
Now, to the foods that you can eat on an ancestral diet. As mentioned before, you may want to stick to the indigenous cuisine of your direct ancestors, but you don’t have to limit yourself with only prehistoric foods. You can consume any type of healthy food, as long as it is organic and natural, and eaten traditionally. Here are the foods that your ancestral diet meal plan can include:
All ancestral food is natural, seasonal, and is mostly processed at home by you. It doesn’t have multiple ingredients and is usually a single, whole ingredient itself, like fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, etc. Let’s take a closer look at each category of ancestral foods:
It may be surprising and contradict the common idea spread by the media, but research shows that a bigger part of the calories which hunter-gatherer groups consume comes from animal food, rather than plant-based (10). The meat was a part of the diet of hominids even 2.5 million years ago (6). Animal foods are among the most nutrient-rich foods. Some of the components that are abundant in animal products are difficult to get somewhere else, because their counterparts of a plant nature have less bioavailability (4), meaning that they are poorly absorbed or converted. These nutrients include the following:
It is important to keep in mind that animal food is not just meat and fish. Since the ancestors didn’t waste food, they always were eating almost every part of what they caught or hunted. Such an approach provides for a more nourishing and healthy diet. For example, bone broth and cartilaginous cuts are filled with amino acid glycine, which helps to balance out the high methionine content of meat (5). Organ meats, which are often referred to as “superfoods”, are very rich in nutrients such as (2):
Although the dominant source (65%) of energy in the diet of hunter-gatherers was an animal product (15), vegetables also played a very important role and took up the large majority of the volume of the meal. Vegetables are not as high in calories as animal products but are still nutritionally dense. They feed your microbiome and promote better digestion. Vegetables also offer a vast plethora of other health benefits, including better heart health, reduced risk of cancer and type II diabetes, weight loss, optimal gastrointestinal health, and many others. They are a prime source of many essential micronutrients. Some of the most health beneficial vegetables that you can consume on the ancestral diet include (21):
These are often seasonal, and some of them may not be available geographically, but fruits, nuts, and seeds are also an important part of a well-balanced ancestral diet. The fructose from whole fruit is healthy and may be a great option for those who have a sweet tooth. The type of fruits that you may consume varies regionally. You can do some research to find out which fruits, nuts, and seeds your direct ancestors ate or just consume in moderate amounts. These are the following:
Grains and legumes have long been consumed by people all over the world, but not in the way that most people eat them now. The industrially baked goods, and other processed grain products that are part of a modern diet are often considered to be the root cause for lots of health issues, including obesity and weight gain, acne, and type II diabetes.
However, if you want to follow an ancestral diet as closely as possible, you don’t necessarily have to give them up completely, rather prepare them differently. For example, you can try to follow a long tradition of sourdoughs and sprouting, which often makes grains more easily digestible and their nutrients more readily available. Fermented, soured, or sprouted grain dishes are filled with enzymes and vitamins, and the process of preparation neutralizes a lot of phytic acids which can interfere with the absorption of nutrients (22).
If you already consume dairy products and want to follow an ancestral diet, it is recommended that you continue to eat and drink them in their purest form. Stick to full fat and raw dairy, including cheese, milk, yogurt, and others. You should choose organic and grass-fed dairy products. Avoid low-fat and nonfat versions, as they are processed and not as nutritious and digestible (22).
The ancestral diet focuses on whole foods and bans harmfully processed and industrialized modern foods, which fuel various diseases. There are a lot of health benefits of an ancestral diet, most of which are the same as of a Paleo diet. Here are some of them (9):
The modern diet is one of the main causes of high overweight and obesity rates. Junk food, sugary drinks, sweets, and other sources of empty calories could lead to weight gain, without offering any benefits to your health. Ancestral diet is well-balanced and, overall, more filling, which results in lower energy intake and weight loss.
A healthy gut is one of the keys to overall wellness. Following the ancestral diet may add to the microbiome diversity. Due to a great amount of fiber-rich foods, this nutritional plan promotes better digestion, which in turn, carries other health benefits.
High blood pressure is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. An ancestral diet may not only help you lower your blood pressure, but also lower the level of bad LDL cholesterol, thus reducing the risk of heart disease even more.
One of the main factors that contribute to the chance of chronic diseases is inflammation. This process is natural and often occurs in your body. However, when it turns into chronic inflammation, that is when the tables turn. Refined sugar and grains, and seed oils add to chronic inflammation. That is why if you exclude them from your diet, as an ancestral diet recommends, you could notice inflammation decreasing and thus lower the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, neurological disorders, cardiovascular diseases, mood disorders, and others.
Like any other nutritional plan, an ancestral diet requires certain modifications and adjustments in your current diet. You may need a certain amount of time to get used to these changes. So, here are some tips on how to gradually transition to a whole-foods ancestral diet:
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If you have decided that you want to try following the ancestral diet, and your doctor or dietitian approved this idea, you could start even today. If you still hesitate and feel like without flavor enhancers, tons of sugar, and a long process, your meals will be plain and boring, it is time to change your mind. These simple, but nutrient-rich and delicious recipes will make you immediately include them into your ancestral diet meal plan.
This super tasty, protein-packed, and easy to prepare ancestral dish is a perfect option for dinner. It is low in salt and carbs and provides you with a great amount of healthy fat. Here is the nutritional value of 1 serving of this baked salmon with fennel and tomatoes (3):
Calories: 398; Carbs: 5 g; Fats: 25 g; Protein: 37 g
Ingredients for 1 serving:
Another protein-rich dish is one-pan summer eggs, which is a perfect seasonal breakfast choice. It will provide you with a pack of nutrients, while the delicious taste will elevate your mood for the rest of the day. One serving of one-pan summer eggs contains the following (8):
Calories: 169; Carbs: 7 g; Fats: 13 g; Protein: 12 g
Ingredients for 1 serving:
This colorful dish is a real celebration for your taste buds. The tender chicken balances out the juicy and rich vegetables, resulting in an ultimate delicious nutrient punch. One serving of this dish can offer you the following (12):
Calories: 288; Carbs: 11 g; Fats: 11 g; Protein: 37 g
Ingredients for 1 serving:
This heart helper smoothie is a great option for breakfast or snacks. Like any other smoothie, it is extremely easy to make. It is filled with health-boosting nutrients like vitamin C, potassium, manganese, folate, and others. One serving of this smoothie provides (7):
Calories: 88; Carbs: 19 g; Fats: 0 g; Protein: 2 g
Ingredients for 1 serving:
Have you ever imagined what your life would be like if you lived in the past? If that happened, you would have had to stick to an ancestral diet and eat minimally processed foods, without flavor enhancers, lots of added sugar, and other popular food components nowadays. And that would be times healthier than the modern diet, which encourages the consumption of junk food and increases the risk of various health problems.
There is no need to travel back in time to change that, as you can try eating what your ancestors ate even today. An ancestral diet is a nutritional philosophy, which advises you to minimize the consumption of industrialized, processed foods, and encourages you to eat natural, organic whole foods, which your direct ancestors used to eat. You should consume seasonal, local foods, which were minimally or not processed at all. It is recommended to eat anything that can be obtained by hunting or gathering. You can buy organic food in specialized stores, on local markets, or even grow it yourself in a garden. The above-presented recipes will make sure that your ancestral diet meal plan is nutritious, filling, and delicious. Keep in mind that before making any adjustments in your current nutritional plan, you should consult a dietitian.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
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