Eating to Rewild: Ancestral Nutrition for the Modern Hunter-Gatherer

Indian custom of eating one meal a day

Nutrition is a topic filled with fads, junk science, multi-level marketing schemes, government propaganda, and corporate marketing. We’re told for decades that fat is bad, but now fat is good. Sugars bad, then artificial sweeteners are worse, then their okay again.  Breakfast is the most important meal, but wait, no we should be fasting! Butter or margarine? White meat or dark meat? Organic or GMO? BLAH BLAH BLAH!

Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist, and I am not making health recommendations in this blog. Nor would I want to. I find most nutritionist with their institutional, one-dimensional thinking to be a part of the problem. These people go to university where they are told what to think, then they get into the professional life and parrot whatever the government and corporations are saying is good nutrition at the moment. There are a few good ones out there, and I am not deriding the whole profession as junk-science. Just like any other career field in our society, the really talented ones will not find success within the institutions of their profession. Most of the good nutritionists are going to be found running small consultancy businesses instead of holding down a job at the hospital.

So here is what works for me when it comes to nutrition. I look at the evidence from existing hunter-gatherer tribes, and what we know about the diets of our ancestors. You can research Primal, Paleo, Weston Price, or any of the other marketing buzzwords used to sell ancestral diets. I personally got my feet wet in this subject by reading Mark’s Daily Apple. The idea is simple. We have evolved over thousands of years to eat a certain balance of macronutrients. Diets varied based on location and culture, but a few things remain the same in all tribal societies:

  1. Food was not always available, leading to intermittent fasting
  2. Meat and vegetables were primary sources of food
  3. Grains and legumes were fermented
  4. Salt is used liberally to ferment everything.
  5. Fats and organ meats are prized

About four years ago I tried the Primal diet. I spent the first few weeks consuming less than 50 grams of carbs each day. I worked back up to 100 grams. After six weeks, I had lost 45 lbs! Then the problem began. My initial surge of willpower was over, the weight was off, and I was constantly surrounded by a culture that revolved around cheap, unhealthy grains. I gained most of the weight back. The two biggest challenges are time and willpower. If you can find the time to prepare foods and overcome the cultural fixation on carbs, you can experience the hunter-gatherer diet.

If I can make it work, Primal is the best diet I have found for my own personal health. Eating a diet rich in meat and vegetables with little grain seems to work best for my personal genetics. I believe our ancestors went through periods of ketosis in the winter time which regulated their weight and prevented metabolic syndrome. In temperate climates, there is very little vegetative growth between December and February. It only stands to reason that stored foods eventually ran out for Balok‘s tribe, and they were forced to subsist primarily on meat until the spring. For millennia we evolved while eating different macronutrient profiles based on the time of the year. It was only after the introduction of factory foods and modern distribution systems that fruits and sugars became available in the deep winter. As a species, we have not had time to adapt to this new reality.

So, how do we limit the damage of agricultural foods, and eat more traditionally? How do we eat the best foods without burning ourselves out with a purist mentality? It’s often tempting to sacrifice the good for the perfect, which eventually leads us to fall back into poor eating habits. Find balance and understand that you will never eat a diet that is 100% healthy for you. Make small changes and incrementally alter your habits.

  • Remove or ferment all grains and legumes in your pantry
  • Remove packaged snack foods based on sugars or grains.
  • Plan and freeze healthy meals on the weekend
  • Ferment foods you can eat as a snack or garnish
  • Keep healthy snacks in the house, car, and office
  • Make compromises or you will fail
  • Learn foods you can eat at restaurants that are less bad
  • Make social settings your cheat days
  • Shop at local farmers markets and CSA’s
  • Produce some of your own food. It will be the healthiest part of your diet

As always, I am a proponent of moderation when it comes to rewilding. Find ways to make your diet better. Never seek perfection, or you will always fail.

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