I’m not going to be hating on any particular diet regimen today, I’ve done that. (See “Stop Dieting, Start Eating). I’m also not going to talk too much about supplementation; I’ve also talked about vitamins and supplements. What I am going to talk about is food that our not so distant relatives used to consume, and that for whatever reason we don’t feel like we need to consume.
Before I get into the things that we used to eat, and the reasons that we used to eat them I must make a bit of a statement. Your body needs certain nutrients daily in order to be able to make many different physiologic processes work. It was intended that we consume these nutrients by eating them. Somehow through the passage of time we have learned that we can take certain things in supplement form, and while this is a great way to ensure that we get things that are missing from our diet, it is not really the way nature intended for us to get such nutrients. So with that being said, in order to get the nutrients that we need for vitality, you either need to eat them or you need to take them. Period.
With that in mind, let’s look at foods that used to be staples in the every day diet not so long ago.
Cod Liver Oil
I’m sure that you have heard your parents and grandparents complain about having to take this supplement before, it was definitely one of those commonly used supplements during their era. In my era, it’s not so popular. So why was cod liver oil such an important part of the diet? It was the original vitamin D supplement. We know that there are a lot of ways to get our required amount of vitamin D, and the most well known way of getting it was from the sun. The sun however, was never intended to be the best source of vitamin D. Our diet was. So for those of us who live in an environment where the sun is only potent in the winter, we need our diet to be high in vitamin D to help keep our immune system strong, help promote strong bones, and to help prevent the winter blues. Not only is cod liver oil rich in vitamin D, it is also rich in EPA, DHA, and Vitamin A. The great thing about also being rich in vitamin A, is that it helps to prevent vitamin D toxicity. (And vice versa) The fact that cod liver oil is high in EPA and DHA means that it is high in Omega 3 fatty acids. That is great for reducing inflammation in the body, especially since the typical North American diet contains way more Omega 6 than Omega 3, which will tend to leave your body in an inflammatory state. A lot of people are trying to increase their levels of Omega 3 by taking fish oil capsules, but many families used to just consume cod liver oil instead.
This one has been making a comeback in recent times mostly due to the increase in people following the paleo diet, but it’s not a bad thing. It’s actually a really good thing that we are rediscovering bone broth. Good quality bone broth is rich in many different nutrients, including many amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. When bone from chicken or other livestock are simmered over the course of days, substances such as the marrow, ligaments, and tendons are broken down. This releases substances like glycine, proline, alanine, glutamine, collagen, glucosamine, and chondroitin sulfate into the broth, making it much easier to consume. It also contains minerals like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus among others in forms that are far easier for us to consume. Bone broth is great for immune health, which is why so many people will consume real chicken soup when they are feeling under the weather. The amino acids that are contained in bone broth have been found to reduce inflammation in the respiratory system, and improve digestion. Substances like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are ones that many older adults are taking in supplement form to help reduce inflammation in the joints. It may take a bit of time in order to prepare bone broth, but it’s handy to have available especially during cold and flu season.
Disclaimer – I am not telling you to go out and find a farm where you can get raw milk. I am just pointing out that fresh milk has been shown to have benefits that pasteurized milk does not.
Okay, now that I have gotten that disclaimer out of the way, I’m going to talk about things that are found in raw milk that aren’t found in pasteurized milk. Raw milk is considered to be milk that is unpasteurized and unhomogenized, from grass fed cows. The first thing that is found in higher levels in raw milk are nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and potassium. These nutrients are found in lower quantities in pasteurized milk because they are mostly lost during the high heat of the pasteurization process. Raw milk can also be great for allergies, while pasteurized milk can be considered highly allergenic. Why? Raw milk contains a number of immunoglobulins, ones that are typically denatured during the pasteurization process, and probiotics, which are essential to overall health. Raw milk also contains the enzyme phosphatase, which is essential for many biologic processes. Its absence in pasteurized milk is also known to be one of the indicators that the pasteurization process has been completed. I know this one is a bit controversial, and like I mentioned before I am not advocating that you start consuming raw dairy. I am simply presenting the facts, and telling you that this is something that our ancestors used to consume.
I know some people who still consume organ meats, but they are usually older or are avid hunters. We tend to stick to steak, or roasts when consuming meat. I’m with many people on this bandwagon, since I haven’t developed a taste for organ meats. While many people are grossed out at the thought of consuming liver or heart, these organ meats definitely have some nutritional benefit to them. Let’s talk first about the nutritional benefits of liver. The liver is the main detoxifier of the body, so consuming beef liver or liver from other sources can also help to support detoxification. Liver is also very nutrient rich. It contains B vitamins like Niacin, Folate, Riboflavin, Pantothenic Acid, B12, and other vitamins like Vitamin A, Zinc, Choline, and RNA. Most people are deficient in zinc, so being able to consume foods that will help improve that deficiency is very helpful. Heart is another organ meat that is very nutritionally rich. Specifically, heart is rich in CoQ10. This is a well-known vitamin when we are talking about aging, but it is of more importance when we are discussing cardiac health. Most cardiac drugs that patients are on will deplete CoQ10, so replenishing it is important. Replenishing it through supplementation can be very expensive. Heart is also rich in amino acids (since the heart is basically a chunk of muscle), and collagen. These nutrients are important for protein synthesis, and connective tissue regeneration.
Again, this one is starting to make a bit of a comeback. Kombucha seems to be one of the newest buzzwords that we are hearing. Fermented foods are amazing for us, so I’m good with them making a comeback. Kombucha isn’t the only example of a fermented food. We can also throw kefir, kimchi, apple cider vinegar, and sauerkraut into the conversation. So why are fermented foods so good for you? Bacteria. We tend to have this fear of bacteria in the body, but that fear isn’t totally rational. Yes, there are some bacteria that can be problematic when we get exposed to them. Those aren’t the ones we are talking about in this case. We are talking about good bacteria, or probiotics. Many people either eat yogurt to get them, or take them in supplement form. Probiotics help to keep your gut functioning the way it was supposed to, and help to prevent bad bacteria and fungi (like yeast) from over colonizing your intestines. That colonization can often happen without our knowledge, and we don’t notice there is a problem until we have an overgrowth. Without good bacteria present in our gut, yeast has a free pass to set up shop. How do we get yeast in our colon? We consume it in large quantities, we drink chlorinated water, and we take antibiotics (I’m not hating on antibiotics, I’m just pointing out that they kill all bacteria not just the bad ones.) So by consuming fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha we are not only exposing our bodies to probiotic bacteria, but saccromycies billardian (a good form of yeast!) This will help to improve our digestion, and improve absorption of essential nutrients.
So, we have previously been told that fats are bad. That isn’t exactly accurate. Certain fats are problematic, while other ones are actually very important. Saturated fats are actually very beneficial. Fats like grass fed butter, and coconut oil are amazing. One of the many misnomers that we have been taught is that low fat diets are a great way to lose weight. Saturated fats like grass fed butter and coconut oil are actually amazingly beneficial to include in the diet when you are trying to lose weight. Why? They help to decrease medium chain triglycerides, also known as the sugar fats. Consuming good fat will actually help to curb sugar cravings as well. That is why when people try and do low sugar and low fat diets simultaneously they usually can’t hack it. So what kinds of nutrients are found in grass fed butter (not conventional butter)? Vitamins A, E, D, K, nutrients like Lecithin, Medium Chain fatty acids, cis-Conjugated Linoleic acid, selenium, iodine, and manganese. Fat is important for us to have in our body, why? There are many reasons why fat isn’t the bad guy, but I’m a neuro nerd so I look at this one. Ever heard of myelin? It’s a coating found over most neurons. It starts developing in utero, and continues until adolescence. It’s like insulation on a wire. It helps to protect the signal going through the neuron, but it also makes the transmission happen faster. Why is myelin so important? Well, when we don’t have it because it’s been lost, we end up with a demyelination, which is hallmark of conditions such as MS, Guillain Barre, and other neurodegenerative disorders. So fats are not the bad guy (when we are talking about the right kind of fats), they are actually essential. That’s why consuming the right ones is quite beneficial to overall health. (I’m not saying that if you don’t consume fats you will develop a neurodegenerative disorder, I just wanted to point out that fat does play an important role in the development of the body.)
Dietary information changes all of the time. We are constantly being inundated with information about what might be good for us, or what we just discovered wasn’t good for us. It can be super confusing, to the point that you don’t even really know what to eat anymore. You know what, that’s okay. I’ve just highlighted a few things that used to be staples in the diet, which have kind of fallen by the wayside. Most of these are very easy to acquire, and to introduce into the diet. (Except for raw dairy) I am sure that many people don’t even realize the positive impact on the diet that these former staples can have, I know that I wasn’t until I took a course on the topic. So next time you are trying to improve your diet, give a couple of these foods a try. You never know, you may end up loving them.
*As always, this blog is for information purposes only.