By a traditional diet, I mean one that has been eaten for hundreds or thousands of years, by an ongoing culture of people with good health. Every isolated native population that we’ve found in the last 100 years fits this: they have all had great health, good teeth, and no signs of the “Western diseases” of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, cancer, or osteoporosis. They are all lean and strong. Older people in these cultures are also lean, fit and vigorous.
As soon as they start eating a Western diet, particularly wheat, refined sugar, and canned food, their health suffers. Teeth rot, children have malformed dental arches and crowded teeth, and Western diseases become the norm. This change has been documented in group after group over the last 100 years.
What makes a traditional diet so healthy? Or, put another way, what is it that makes our diet so unhealthy? Why do we think that we are meant to degenerate as we age, that a little pot-belly is normal, that gaining 1 to 2 pounds per year is normal?
The carbohydrate/fat content of traditional diets is all over the map (the table is as a percentage of calories):
|Swiss Alps||Loetschental Valley||35%||46%||19%|
|many hunter-gather groups||World Wide||20%||65%||15%|
|Inuit winter diet||Alaska||0%||80%||20%|
All of these groups, from very high carb to zero carb, from extremely low-fat to extremely high-fat, were vibrantly healthy on these diets, with great teeth and none of the chronic Western diseases.
What can we learn from these cultures? My list:
- all of these cultures limit average protein to no more than 20% of calories, but it is possible to be healthy on a wide range of fat to carbohydrate. So limit your protein intake, and eat what works for you in terms of fat and carbohydrates.
- don’t eat much sugar. The fructose half of table sugar, or the fructose sugar in fruit, is toxic once it gets above 25 grams per day (100 calories). It is much healthier to eat less than 12 grams per day (50 calories). Fructose raises uric acid, affects blood vessel health, and unbalances your calcium to phosphorus ratio, which causes cavities and osteoporosis. If you are trying to heal yourself, or to treat osteoporosis or dental cavities, don’t eat sugar or fruit at all.
- wheat, other grains, and legumes must be properly prepared to be fit to eat. All of these plants have strong defenses against being eaten, and traditional diets fermented, soaked, or sprouted them. Even when optimally prepared, they still affect many people. Wheat in particular has a number of defenses that cannot be broken down, and is not a healthy food. Industrial food does not prepare these ingredients properly, so is not healthy. Instead of grains and legumes, eat root vegetables such as sweet potato, rutabaga, parsnip, turnip, carrots, taro. White rice is also ok, because polishing the rice removes most of the anti-nutrients, which are concentrated in the rice bran.
- vegetable oils are not part of a traditional diet. These oils have high levels of trans-fats, high levels of polyunsaturated fat, and most have high levels of omega-6 fats. Eating them leads to weight gain and inflammation. Instead, eat natural, non-industrial fats: butter, coconut oil, palm kernel oil, cocoa butter, beef tallow, lard.
- industrial food generally has a mix of improperly-prepared grains and legumes, sugar, and vegetable oils, not to mention manufactured flavoring and preservatives. It is also highly addictive, and overeating it leads to weight gain. Instead, eat natural, whole food.
An excellent book on how to eat is The Perfect Health Diet, by Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminet.