Should You Become An Ancestral Health Believer?
Perhaps you’ve heard of the “ancestral health” movement?
Or, maybe not, I wouldn't be surprised if you hadn’t.
In the past 2 years or so this movement (especially the dietary component of the movement) has gained quite a bit of fame (and notoriety) for shunning the Standard American Diet (SAD) in favor of mostly animal-based foods.
Interestingly the rise of the ancestral health movement has happened in parallel with the advice of powerful people like Klauss Schwabb of the World Economic Forum telling the world they must quit eating meat because it’s “unsustainable.”
I couldn't disagree more and am happy that the tenets of ancestral health are becoming more popular.
Of course, I’ve been waxing eloquently on why animal-based foods are helpful for human health for years. And I always did that while maintaining that you should eat these foods in conjunction with other naturally-harvested foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
But, and I think this is rather fascinating, a recent addition to the unofficial manifesto of the ancestral diet is a concept that very little of our diet should come from man-made products at all.
And maybe shouldn’t even include vegetables.
Essentially, what you should eat shouldn’t be processed at all, and you would do well to avoid many kinds of vegetables as they are potentially harmful to us.
Today I’d like to talk a bit about this health movement, whether or not their claims around vegetables and nuts being ”bad for us” are valid points, and also inform you on other nuances of “ancestral health”
In October 2020 I wrote about one of the more infamous aspects of the diet which is the “carnivore diet” where you only eat meat.
I still am not convinced that this is the best way for people to eat…
And yet, I can’t dismiss how many thousands of people have been able to reverse a myriad of chronic diseases that could have killed them dead in their tracks, simply by stripping their diet of everything but meat and organs.
The most important thing to note is with as many as 60% of Americans dealing with some sort of chronic disease… conditions that rarely affected anyone until 150 some odd years ago, it’s critical we do something now to stem the tide of lives cut short and lives half-lived owing to the infirmity of being chronically ill.
Something is going on here and as I’ve long said, food is medicine… but the wrong kind of food could poison you just like the wrong prescription.
Let’s get into this.
So What Is Ancestral Health?
What really is ancestral health?
The most simple definition is that ancestral health is an adoption of the eating patterns of our ancestors.
They could have lived 200 years ago or 2,000 years ago.
Now, I will say this, there are some claims around the ancestral health movement that are difficult to reconcile. Especially for Christians.
My attempt here isn’t to debate Darwinian evolution and whether the claims around us having evolved from apes 3 million years ago did or did not happen.
I will discuss some of the theories of those in this movement regarding our evolutionary path, but only to give you context around why they think the way they do.
I also want to address a common objection people present to ancestral health and its dietary considerations.
Frequently when people pick on things like the paleo diet (which falls under the umbrella of ancestral health) they don’t believe this way of eating could have been the best diet for us because people died so young 4,000 years ago.
They usually say something like “if living this way, and eating those foods is so good for us, why are we living so much longer than cavemen?”
The truth is for years and years (centuries and even millennia) people died young, and frequently so, because of difficulties in childbirth, accidents, and a general trend of overwhelming violence.
When you compute all of those early deaths into the average age of a person 1,000 years ago it skews quite low.
However, those that did live long healthy lives typically lived quite well and didn’t die of the kinds of diseases we die from now. And you can attest to this today by analyzing the diets of hunter-gatherer societies who still follow ancestral diets and recognize their burden of diseases looks nothing like ours.
Plus, it’s well worth noting that we have millions of people alive today who may be “alive,” in the sense that their bodies are still here, but their mental faculties are ruined and their bodies are husks of what they could be, so a longer lifespan doesn’t mean that they’re really “living.”
Ok, now that I have that out of the way, let’s talk about the actual diet, and what it may, or may not include.
What Can You Eat When Practicing Ancestral Health?
The fact is if you practice a diet focused on ancestral health you can eat whatever you want.
No one is telling you what you can and cannot eat.
However, the advice is that you should mainly eat animal-based products and some fruits and vegetables.
Underneath this movement is several different kinds of diets.
Paleo: Means you eat anything and everything that would have been around circa the time of Jesus. Which include ancient grains, vegetables, meat, grass-fed dairy, and nuts, among other foods. Processed foods are OK provided they’re made of paleo ingredients...
Carnivore: You only eat meat, grass-fed (or raw), dairy, and organs. No vegetables, fruit, or nuts, and certainly nothing manmade.
Animal-based: You eat the same as Carnivore while also consuming fruits, some tubers, and some grain (like rice). Nothing processed or artificial.
Lion: This means you only eat red meat.
Locavore: Pretty much paleo, except for the fact everything comes from your immediate area and is seasonally based.
One other thing about all of these ways of eating is they all reject unhealthy foods.
That means saying no to vegetable oils, such as soy, corn, canola, cottonseed, and others.
It means zero refined sugar, zero gluten, and not a spec of processed soy. You can also say no to fake meats and for that matter, any packaged products with preservatives, artificial colors, or flavorings are off-limits.
Now some of these diets, like Lion and Carnivore, reject vegetables too.
Why? They believe that the phytochemicals vegetables make, things many of us in integrative medicine believe to be helpful for health, may interfere with human health and poison us.
Dr. Paul Saladino in his book The Carnivore Code writes extensively on how many of the chemicals in plants evolved over millions of years to serve as defense mechanisms for the plant and when eaten can impair cell function in humans and even lead to inflammation.
For me, the jury’s still out on if these claims are true, although, Dr. Saladino does have ample amounts of evidence to support his claims and I believe over the coming years we’re going to get a lot more clarity around these many thoughts and ideas.
He does contend that plants can be used as medicine. And the fact is supported historically as for centuries humankind has relied on food as medicine and only resorted to herbs and other kinds of “medicinal implements” in times of stress.
At the end of the day, ancestral eating is likely to benefit people more than almost anything else we can do.
Here are 4 reasons to consider “going ancestral,” and no, you don’t have to do the carnivore diet to start, but you may end up there as several patients here in our office have (and with phenomenal results I might add)
4 Reasons to Think about Going Ancestral
Dr. Kriss Kresser is one of the foremost researchers on integrative health and functional medicine and I decided to share 4 points of his with you.
1. Weight Loss
Over two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight. Calorie-for-calorie, ancestral diets are generally more satiating, leading to consuming fewer calories and contributing to weight loss. (23, 24) Although low-carb and ketogenic diets are all the rage, a study from Stanford showed that on average, people who reduce added sugar, refined grains, and processed foods lost weight over 12 months, regardless of the macronutrient ratios. (25)
- Decreased Inflammation
Refined sugar, grains, and seed oils increase chronic inflammation and drive chronic disease. In contrast, ancestral diets that eliminate these foods and instead focus on nutrient-dense, whole foods, including both plant and animal products, have been shown to decrease markers of inflammation. (26, 27, 28) A 2019 meta-analysis of eight Paleo diet randomized controlled trials showed significant reductions in inflammatory marker C-reactive protein and also improvements in blood pressure, waist circumference, and lipid profiles. (29)
- Reversal of Metabolic Syndrome
- Large waist circumference
- High blood pressure
- Elevated fasting glucose
- Elevated triglycerides
- Low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
In clinical trials, ancestral diets outperform other diets recommended by national health organizations like the American Heart Association. A number of studies ranging in length from weeks to two years show that a Paleo diet improves blood pressure, body weight, waist circumference, triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. (32, 33, 34, 35, 36)
- Better Gut Health
Gut health, which encompasses gut wall integrity, microbiome diversity, and more, is linked to better overall health. (37) A 2019 study published in PLoS One found very diverse microbiomes in people who ate modern Paleo diets and even compared them to traditional populations like the Inuit, Hadza, and Matses. (38)
Studies of ancestral populations who eat both animal and plant foods reveal greater microbial diversity compared to people following an industrialized diet. (39) Acellular carbohydrates, like refined flours and sugars, wreak havoc on the gut microbiome. (40)”
Look, this new “ancestral health movement” doesn’t necessarily mean cavemen lived this way and we should too.
It’s more to the fact that our ancestors, even the ones who preceded us by just a few decades, had a ton of wisdom on how to live properly,
And, just because we’re alive in the most advanced time on Earth, doesn’t mean everything that’s available to us and at our fingertips is essentially great!
Fix your diet and you can fix your life!