Characteristics of traditional diets

Delicious  portion of  fresh salmon fillet  with aromatic herbs,

From the Weston A. Price foundation.

Characteristics of traditional diets

  1. The diets of healthy, non-industrialized peoples contain no refined or denatured foods or ingredients, such as refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup; white flour; canned foods; pasteurized, homogenized, skim or lowfat milk; refined or hydrogenated vegetable oils; protein powders; synthetic vitamins; or toxic additives and artificial colorings;
  2. All traditional cultures consume some sort of animal food, such as fish and shellfish; land and water fowl; land and sea mammals; eggs; milk and milk products; reptiles; and insects. The whole animal is consumed; muscle meat, organs, bones and fat, with the organ meats and fats preferred;
  3. The diets of healthy, non-industrialized peoples contain at least four times the minerals and water-soluble vitamins, and TEN times the fat-soluble vitamins found in animal fats (vitamin A, vitamin D and Activator X, now thought to be vitamin K2) as the average American diet;
  4. All traditional cultures cooked some of their food but all consumed a portion of their animal foods raw;
  5. Primitive and traditional diets have a high content of food enzymes and beneficial bacteria from lactofermented vegetables, fruits, beverages, dairy products, meats and condiments;
  6. Seeds, grains and nuts are soaked, sprouted, fermented or naturally leavened to neutralize naturally occurring anti-nutrients such as enzyme inhibitors, tannins and phytic acid;
  7. Total fat content of traditional diets varies from 30 percent to 80 percent of calories but only about 4 percent of calories come from polyunsaturated oils naturally occurring in grains, legumes, nuts, fish, animal fats and vegetables. The balance of fat calories is in the form of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids;
  8. Traditional diets contain nearly equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids;
  9. All traditional diets contain some salt;
  10. All traditional cultures make use of animal bones, usually in the form of gelatin-rich bone broths;
  11. Traditional cultures make provisions for the health of future generations by providing special nutrient-rich animal foods for parents-to-be, pregnant women and growing children; by proper spacing of children; and by teaching the principles of right diet to the young.

Foods for heart health

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Heart disease accounts for nearly one third of all deaths worldwide.

Your diet plays a major role in heart health and can impact your overall risk of heart disease. In fact, certain foods can influence your blood glucose response, blood pressure, trigylerides and cholesterol levels along with total inflammation, all of which are risk factors in heart disease.

Here are some foods that can improve your overall heart health.

Salmon
One of the best sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids which can lower the risk of irregular heart beat as well as plaque build up in the arteries. Wild caught is preferred over farmed.

If you’re not a fan of salmon or seafood in general, then fish oil supplementation is another option. Fish oil supplements have been shown to reduce blood triglycerides, improve arterial function and decrease blood pressure.

Blueberries
Rich in antioxidants and flavonoids, blueberries can protect against oxidative stress, decrease blood pressure and dilate blood vessels.

Citrus
High in flavonoids that are linked with a reduced rate of ischemic stroke caused by blood clots, and rich in vitamin C which has been associated with lower risk of heart disease, like atherosclerosis.

Tomatoes
Cardio-protective functions provided by the nutrients in tomatoes may include the reduction of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, homocysteine, platelet aggregation, and blood pressure.

Extra virgin olive oil
Rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), extra virgin olive oil may help lower your risk of heart disease by improving related risk factors. For instance, MUFAs have been found to lower your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels.

Avocados
Avocados are particularly rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, potassium and vitamins C and K. Regular consumption has been shown to reduce heart disease risk factors by improving cholesterol and blood triglyceride levels.

Butter
Butter is rich in fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and other beneficial compounds like butyrate and conjugated linoleic acid. High-fat dairy products like butter have been linked to a reduced risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants like flavonoids, which can help boost heart health. It has been associated with a lower risk of developing calcified plaque in the arteries and coronary heart disease.

Be sure to pick a high-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70%, and moderate your intake to make the most of its heart-healthy benefits.

In summary
The link between nutrition and heart health is getting stronger each year. The foods that you put on your plate and ultimately into your mouth can influence just about every aspect of heart health, from blood glucose responses, blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol levels and overall systemic inflammation.

Including these heart-healthy foods as part of a nutritious, well-balanced whole food diet can help keep your heart in good shape and mitigate many of the risk factors associated with heart disease.

Why organ meats belong in your diet

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There a few foods that actually deserve the title of “superfood”. Liver, along with many other organ meats like kidneys and hearts are some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. 

Our bodies evolved to eat these foods and to draw nourishment and energy from them. We didn’t spend millennia gulping down multivitamins and sports supplements.

Once a popular and treasured food source, liver, along with other organ meats, have fallen out of favour as nutritional staples.

The reality is that our palates and routines have evolved far from some of the foods we most need for optimal health. Instead, people are chasing the regular sugar highs that come with more modern, overly processed and hyper palatable “foods”.

Organ meats have an excellent nutrient profile. High in protein and low in calories, some of the key nutrients that are important to optimal human function are found in organ meats such as liver, include:

  • Retinol. The active form of vitamin A, which is crucial for healthy skin, fertility and pregnancy, vision, and immune health;
  • Choline. Critical for DNA synthesis, brain function, and a healthy nervous system;
  • Iron. Another essential nutrient that helps carry oxygen around the body. The iron in liver is heme iron, the kind most easily absorbed by the body;
  • B12 and folate. These nutrients are crucial for methylation, which affects everything from gene expression to the production of neurotransmitters to detoxification;
  • Zinc and copper. Zinc and copper work together to influence immune function, metabolism, and the nervous system. A single serving of liver provides enough copper for an entire week.

Sadly, most people today don’t like the taste of liver, and beef kidneys and heart aren’t high on the list either.

How to get more organ meats into your diet
Here are a few ways to get more organ meats onto your plate:

  • Pan fried. Liver goes well when fried with onions;
  • Bolognese sauces. Liver and other organ meats can be chopped or minced and then mixed with regular ground beef and added to pasta or vegetable dishes;
  • Burger patties. As with Bolognese sauces, chop or mince organ meats and mix it with ground beef to make highly nutritious burgers;
  • Adding lots of spices. By adding lots of herbs and spices, you can use strong flavours to help disguise its taste.
  • Soaked in lemon juice. Prior to cooking will reduce the strong flavour.

The bottom line is that liver and other organ meats like kidneys and hearts are a greatly underrated food source. Naturally nutrient dense and low in calories, they make a truely valuable addition to any nutritional strategy.

The evolution of the human diet

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The human diet has changed quite dramatically throughout our history. From opportunistic scavengers, to traditional hunter-gatherers to the postindustrial age.

There have been obvious advantages with the evolution of modern society, however the majority of changes in the human diet that accompanied both the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, affected the general health of modern humans, and not always in a good way.

Let’s have a look.

The Paleolithic era (2.6 million years ago – 10,000 years ago)
As hunter-gatherers, the general diet was varied due to differences in geographical location and season, however they all consisted of wild animal and plant sources.

Macronutrient distribution was approximately:

  • Protein: 19-35%
  • Fat: 28-58%
  • Carbohydrate: 22-40%

Other characteristics of hunter-gatherer diets included:

  • Low glycemic load;
  • High antioxidant capacity;
  • High micronutrient density;
  • Equal Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio;
  • Close to equal Sodium to Potassium ratio.

Did hunter-gatherers eat grains and grasses? Probably. Did they eat them often? Unlikely. The effort required to consume unprepared grains or grasses would have been too taxing on the digestive system, which would have likely led to decreased performance and not enough of an energy return to warrant regular consumption.

As a result, hunter-gatherers were generally lean and strong, with dense bones and broad dental arches. Health biomarkers such as blood pressure and cholesterol were generally normal into advanced age.

Evidence suggests that the incidence of diet related disease was low.

The Agricultural Revolution (about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago)
Archaeological data indicates that the domestication of various types of plants and animals started happening in separate locations worldwide around 12,000 years ago.

The transition from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and settlement, made larger populations possible. This however, greatly narrowed the diversity of foods available, resulting in a downturn in human nutrition.

Grains and dairy products from sheep started to become dietary staples at the expense of larger wild animals.

As a result, common characteristics of early agricultural diets, compared to hunter-gatherer diets included:

  • Higher carbohydrate, diary fats, milk sugars and alcohol;
  • A decrease in protein intake;
  • A decrease in Omega-3
  • A decrease in antioxidants and micronutrients;
  • Higher overall caloric density;
  • Higher glycemic loading;
  • Higher sodium to potassium ratios.

The transition to an agricultural dietary pattern led to a decrease in lifespan, a reduction in height, an increase in dental health problems, iron deficiency anemia, and several bone mineral disorders.

These health issues can be still seen today in hunter-gather communities that have only recently been exposed to post-agricultural diets.

The Industrial Revolution (about 250 years ago) and Modern era (the last 50 years)
The introduction of novel foods with the industrial revolution altered several nutritional characteristics of human diets, which has had far-reaching adverse effects on human health.

Extensive evidence shows that the consumption of westernized modern era diets adversely affects gene expression, immunity, gut microbiota and increases the risks of developing cancer, heart disease, obesity, type-2 diabetes, and a plethora of other chronic health conditions.

Common characteristics of industrial and modern era diets, compared to hunter-gatherer diets include:

  • Higher carbohydrate, alcohol, trans-fats, sodium & omega-6;
  • Lower in fiber, antioxidants, protein and omega-3;
  • Higher glycemic load;
  • Higher energy density;
  • Lower micronutrient density;
  • Higher sodium to potassium ratio.

Even with the advances in medicine and technology, it has been estimated that the next generation will be the first in over one thousand years to actually have a shorter lifespan average than the current generation.

Many of the diet related diseases of the modern era can be reversed by increasing daily physical activity and modifying diet by eliminating known inflammatory foods. The issue however, is figuring out how to implement these changes at population-wide levels.

The benefits of bone broth

As we enter the cooler months of winter, the need to take good care of our health becomes more of a priority, as colds come and go quite often. Most people try very hard not to end up with the sniffles each year, without much luck. Regularly adding a cup of bone broth to your diet just might be the solution?

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What is bone broth?
Bone broth, which is nothing new to home cooks around the world, is the strained stock that results from boiling animal bones, usually with attached meat, herbs, and vegetables to add flavour.

Bone broth is an ingredient than can be used to create or flavour all kinds of dishes. It contains parts of the animal we typically like to discard (like cartilage and bone marrow), all nicely broken down so we get the full dose of nutrients.

The importance of Collagen
Collagen is a group of amino acids making up 25-35% of our body. It’s found in our bones, skin, joints, tendons, and ligaments. As we age, we lose collagen. This contributes to age-related joint issues, not to mention the loss of skin elasticity.

Glycine is the primary amino acid found in collagen. And it’s a pretty significant amino acid in terms of what it does for the body.

The human body requires about 10 grams per day for basic metabolic processes, so we have a pretty significant daily requirement that we need to get through dietary or supplemental means. Most of us these days aren’t eating ligaments and tendons and rougher cuts of meat containing glycine.

Bone broth contains approximately 27 grams of glycine per 100 grams of protein. Therefore, it makes for a great source of this amino acid. Rather than taking an isolated glycine supplement, bone broth contains glycine with other amino acids and minerals, which act synergistically with each other. 

Some other benefits include:

  • Improve overall gut health;
  • Improves immune system;
  • Improves joint health;
  • Keeps the skin supple;
  • Restores Glutathione levels;
  • Improves sleep quality;
  • May improve cognitive function.

How to make bone broth
Here is a simple recipe on how to make a bone broth at home using beef bones.

Basic ingredients:

  • 1 to 1.5 kg beef bones. Any type of bones will do, but for the richest, most gelatinous beef broth, add some collagen-rich knuckles, tails, feet, or neck bones;
  • 2 carrots, chopped;
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped;
  • 1 onion, peeled and quartered;
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and halved;
  • 2 bay leaves;
  • 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar;
  • Water (about 4 to 6 quarts/4 to 6 L).

Cooking instructions:

Browning the bones before simmering gives the broth a deeper, richer flavor, but this is optional. Preheat oven to 375 °F / 190 °C. Spread the bones out on a large roasting pan. Roast for about 30 minutes, until nicely browned.

Place the bones in a large stockpot or slow cooker. Add the vinegar, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, bay leaves. Add enough water to cover the bones by an inch or two.

If you’re using a stockpot, simmer on very low heat, with a lid, for a minimum of 8 hours, or up to 24 hours to extract the most nutrients and flavor, occasionally skimming foam and fat from surface.

In a slow cooker, cook on low for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours.

The broth is done when it has a rich, savory flavor and deep reddish-brown color.

Pour broth through a strainer to remove any solid ingredients, and you’re done. Enjoy.

Protein Powders: which are best?

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Protein powders are considered a staple of many person’s supplemental regimens, and for good reason too. Protein powders are cheap, simple, and effective. They can be used for fat loss, muscle-building, or for general health.

Recently, I have been asked about which protein powders are the best to use. I did a bit of research and have come up with the following information. Protein powders can fall under two main categories:

  • Animal-based proteins; and
  • Plant-based proteins.

There a many reasons to supplement with protein powders. Below is a list of situations where protein supplementation may be beneficial:

  • Post exercise recovery of muscle function and performance;
  • Increasing the duration or intensity of workouts;
  • Trying to gain weight or muscle mass;
  • Athletes participating in advance training;
  • Recovery from an injury or medical procedure;
  • Deciding to go vegetarian or vegan;
  • For the elderly.

Bio Availability (BV)
The BV is one way to measure a protein’s “usability”. The higher the BV, the greater the proportion of available protein that can be synthesized by the body’s cells. Note, BV scores are averages and does not refer to the amount of protein in the powder; it only refers to the usability of the protein in the powder.

 

Animal Based Proteins
Animal derived proteins are better overall than vegetarian derived. They are complete protein sources and are typically better absorbed and digested than their plant-based partners.

 

Whey (BV: 95-100)
The standard protein powder. Whey is derived from milk as the liquid component. It’s main benefits that make it stand apart from the rest are:

  • 25% branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) content by weight, approximately;
  • High cysteine and glutamine content, which aid in glutathione production and gut health; and
  • Fast absorption speed relative to other protein sources (1-3 hours).

Various forms exist, such as Whey Concentrate, Whey Isolate, and Hydrolyzed Whey (digested slowest to fastest).

Out of all protein sources, whey can also be seen as the “healthiest” due to it’s cysteine and glutamine content increasing levels of glutathione (an intrinsic anti-oxidant) in the body, and providing an abundance of glutamine for cells lining the gut.

The BCAA content is also notable as it is rich in the amino acid Leucine, which has many muscle-building properties in the body and is one of the most important amino acids to ingest in higher-than-normal doses with the goal of building muscle mass or retaining muscle mass when losing fat.

Casein (BV: 75-80)
The standard ‘slow release’ protein source. Casein is the curd (solid) portion of dairy protein. The typical benefits associated with casein supplementation are:

  • A very high insulin secretion value relative to other protein sources;
  • Slower absorption in the intestines;
  • Great evening protein source.

Casein is found in various forms such as Calcium Caseinate and Micellar Casein. These are generally slow digesting proteins (6-8 hours). These proteins are also a great source of dietary glutamine, which feed the cells lining the gut.

Casein is also a protein source that some people find difficult to digest. If you have any digestive issues with dairy products then I’d stay away from this.

Egg (BV: 100)
Egg protein is typically dehydrated egg white albumin. Egg’s main marketing points are:

  • An excellent bioavailability;
  • A balanced amino acid profile; and
  • Is a medium release protein source (3-6 hours).

Egg white protein is heat processed, so the biotin-binding compound called ‘Avidin’ (which may lead to biotin deficiency via consumption of raw egg whites) becomes a non-issue.

Collagen (BV: 90-95)
Collagen hydrolysate or Collagen Peptides are produced from collagen found in the bones, skin, and the connective tissue of animals. Collagen is the key structural protein that ensures the cohesion, elasticity, and regeneration of all of our connective tissues.

Supplementing collagen provides all the amino acids you need for connective tissue repair, and it thickens the skin for a more youthful appearance.

Some of the benefits of Collagen:

  • Gut bacteria turns collagen into butyric acid which is good for digestion;
  • Supports connective tissue repair;
  • Supports bone health;
  • Great protein source for people who can not tolerate dairy based proteins;
  • Has a high glycine content (an amino acid that increases Glutathione production which has been dubbed the master antioxidant).

 

Plant Based Proteins
Not as good as animal based protein powders. Various vegan options exist each with their own list of benefits and drawbacks. They generally do not have complete amino acid profiles and need to be paired with other sources to transform them into complete protein sources.

Soy (BV: 75-80)
Soy protein is a protein source based on soy beans. It’s main selling points are:

  • A complete vegan amino acid profile;
  • Hormonally active constituents that may benefit bone health and anti-cancer effects; and
  • Very high and diverse micronutrient profile.

Soy is a controversial topic. Soy itself in an unprocessed (food) and unfermented form has many noted downsides to it, including:

  • Protease and trypsin (intrinsic enzyme) inhibitors;
  • Disruptions to the estrogen / testosterone balance in the body (via phytoestrogens);
  • Disruptions to thyroid metabolism;
  • Lectin content;
  • Phytic acid and similar anti-nutrients.

The significance of these concerns are dependent on the form of the soy ingested (fermented, unfermented and raw, processed, etc), on the person ingesting it (post-menopausal women v. 20-year-old male) and in the dose consumed.

Rice (BV: 80-85)
Rice protein is a protein powder created from rice after the protein and carbohydrate sections have been separated by enzymatic treatment. Rice proteins main marketing points are:

  • Very easily digested (easy on the stomach);
  • Low allergen content.

It is usually paired with Pea / Gemma protein to get a more complete amino acid profile.

Pea / Gemma (BV: 70-75)
Can be seen as the ‘Whey’ of the vegan options. Pea protein is higher in the amino acids leucine, arginine, and glutamine. Pea protein’s main selling points are:

  • High leucine content;
  • High digestibility.

It is usually paired with rice protein in order to get a more complete amino acid profile.

Pea Proteins typically contain isoflavones, lectins and phytates and other anit-nutrients similar to soy.

Regarding Lectins, Phytates and similar anti-nutrients
Lectins are an extraordinarily sticky protein that particularly like carbohydrates (sugars). Once it enters into the small intestine, it has the tendency to stick to the intestinal epithelial cells, or as we’ve come to lovingly know them, the microvilli lining.

It’s here that the stage is set for yet another wonderful phenomenon known as leaky gut syndrome (I’ll save the rest for another post).

Much like lectins to carbohydrates, Phytates love to bind with calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. The take-away here is that due to the high amount of Phytate (found in cereals, grains and legumes), vegetarian and vegan diets are almost certainly deficient in calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc.

This is the main reason why smart supplementation, and timing is required when following plant-based diets.

In summary
Use the above information as a guide only. While supplementing with protein powders can help you reach your goals, the best option is to get as much of your daily protein requirement from your diet by eating plenty of lean meats, seafood and eggs.

My personal preference is using Whey Protein Concentrate or Collagen. They have complete amino acid profiles and have excellent bioavailability.

Noting that not everyone can tolerate dairy and other animal based products, or choose not to consume them for other reasons, there are suitable plant-based proteins on the market to help you reach your daily requirement.

The choice is yours.