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Characteristics of Healthy, Traditional Diets

After sifting through the information on the varied diet choices of traditional cultures, let's compare the key characteristics between traditional diets and our modern western diet so that we can see the big differences between the two:

Elderly lady of the Akha tribe

What is clear is that their diets varied tremendously:

  • Some had very little plant foods
  • Some had very little animal foods
  • Some had large amounts of raw foods
  • Some had dairy products, some did not
  • Some had grains, some did not
  • Some had fruits, some did not

Side-By Side Comparison:

Traditional Diets   Modern Diets
Food from fertile soil   Food from depleted soil
Organ meats over muscle meats   Muscle meats, few organ meats
Animals fats   Refined vegetable oils
Animals raised on pastures   Factory-farmed animals
Dairy always raw and/or fermented   Pasteurized dairy
Grains/legumes soaked and/or fermented   Refined & genetically modified grains
Bone broths   Artificially flavored broths
Natural sweeteners (e.g. honey)   Refined & artificial sweeteners
Unrefined salt   Refined salt
Natural vitamins in foods   Synthetic vitamins added to food
Traditional cooking   Irradiated and microwaved food
Fermented vegetables   Canned or processed vegetables
Fermented drinks   Soft drink & energy drinks
Traditional seeds   GMOs & hybrid seeds

The diets of traditional cultures...

Key Characteristics

No refined or denatured foods

  • Heavily processed, refined foods
  • Refined/hydrogenated oils
  • Factory-farmed animal products (meat, fish, eggs, and dairy)
  • Canned or frozen prepared foods
  • Protein powders
  • Supplements
  • Pasteurized dairy, soy, & other products

Most diets contained animal products

"The fats of traditional diets were heavily saturated, coming from butter, meat and fish fat, and coconut oil.  Yet heart disease & high cholesterol were not present."

Weston A. Price

These animal products included:
  • Red meat
  • Organ meat 
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Reptiles
  • Insects

Animals foods were eaten whole
This included all the organ meat.  Fish were prepared whole, as were chickens and other fowl (including the back, neck, and feet).

Traditional cultures used the bones of the animals they ate
The bones were typically cooked in broth.  Bone broth supplied calcium and other minerals in a form easy to assimilate and which helped build healthy cartilage.  The bones also helped supply gelatin to aid with digestion.  Check out our recipe for bone broth!

Diets were much higher in minerals, calcium, and fat-soluble vitamins

No matter what traditional foods were eaten, the diet was extremely dense in nutrients - the opposite of the standard American diet.  Primitive diets contained 4 times the calcium and other minerals, and 10 times the fat-soluble vitamins A and D of the modern American diet.  Sources of Vitamins A and D are primarily from seafood, grass-fed land animals, insects, egg yolks, liver, organ meats, butter/cream, and animal fat.  

Extensive laboratory studies have shown that most people cannot absorb more than half of the calcium and phosphorus from supplements.  This is not only because they are difficult for the body to digest, but also because the amounts absorbed depend directly on other substances such as fat-soluble vitamins.  This is one of the reasons that many people are unable to utilize synthetic mineral supplements in our body, because we are deficient in the fat-soluble activating substances needed for making these minerals available to the human system.  

The Body Healer ProtocolLearn more about:
-  When to use supplements & which ones to avoid
-  Synthetic (common) vs. natural supplements
The Body Healer Protocol...

Even though we may have minerals in abundance, they do us no good if the body cannot utilize them because of a lack of fat-soluble activators.(2)   Atherosclerosis is a build-up of calcium in the arteries, in part due to a lack of proper absorption.

Both cooked & raw foods were eaten 

Milk, butter, cream, and cheese were always eaten raw (unpasteurized), as were shellfish and marinated fish.  Traditional, ethnic raw meat dishes today include carpaccio, kibbeh, cerviche, and steak tartare.

Raw dairy is filled with important enzymes that helps us appropriately predigest it, and which are destroyed by pasteurization.  The healthy human body lives in a symbiotic relationship with many microorganisms that are killed in pasteurization.  These bacterial organisms help us digest and assimilate our food, and protect us against toxins.  The absence of food enzymes forces the body to produce these missing enzymes, over time directly affecting the health and longevity of these organs.  

Preparation of nuts, seeds, grains, & legumes

These foods were soaked, sprouted, fermented, or naturally leavened.  This proper preparation makes seed foods more digestible and their nutrients more available due to:

  • Deactivating enzyme inhibitors (which block digestion)
  • Neutralizing phytic acid (which blocks mineral absorption)
  • Neutralizing tannins and lectins (both of which are irritants)
  • Pre-digesting complex starches and sugars (increasing digestibility)
  • Beginning the breakdown of gluten (increasing digestibility)
  • Beginning the breakdown of cellulose (which is impossible to digest)

When it comes to soy, traditionally prepared soy is very different to the synthetic and highly processed soy of today, in both its preparation and the minute quantity eaten.  Asians ate very little soy - on average 2 tablespoons per day or less.  The phytic acid (which blocks the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and especially zinc), and the protease inhibitors (which block protein digestion and can cause swelling of pancreas) are removed when soy is fermented.  But most of the soy in food today is not fermented. 

When animals are given soy products, reproductive problems, infertility, thyroid disease, and liver disease (due to dietary intake of isoflavones, which are plant-type estrogens) have been observed in several species of animals including mice, rats, birds, cheetahs, quail, sheep, pigs, marmoset monkeys, and sturgeon.

High saturated fat content

In today's processed world, we no longer use the lard and butter originally used in traditional diets, and instead use highly refined vegetable oils that contribute to degenerative diseases.  Traditional diets used under 5% of fats from polyunsaturated fatty acid sources (contrary to the high quantities of polyunsaturated fats recommended by some nutritionists).  The myths surrounding saturated fats have caused a great deal of confusion with the general public.  The fats of traditional diets were heavily saturated, coming from butter, meat and fish fat, and coconut oil.

Traditional foods contained a healthy omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.  Most of our diet today is high in omega-6, which causes an imbalance at the cellular and hormonal level.  Due to the way poultry is raised and the processed diet they are fed, today, supermarket eggs have about 20 times the amount of omega-6 content to omega-3.

The Body Healer ProtocolLearn more about what omegas are & the best sources:
The Body Healer Protocol...

All diets contained some salt

Mined salts, sea salts, burned sodium-rich marsh grasses, and salt from the blood and urine of animals were all used.  Traditional cultures understood that salt was needed for many bodily functions, healthy and natural salt full of trace mineral content.  Modern, refined table salt is now used in much larger quantities, has been stripped of all the trace minerals, and instead contains aluminum-based additives.

Salmon roe

Special foods were used at special times

Specialty foods were fermented or specially prepared and given at key times in life, such as to pregnant women, nursing women, infants, and children.  Instinctively, traditional cultures understood that during periods of intense growth, the body benefited from these foods.  

Examples include dried salmon eggs, and cod heads stuffed with oats and cod liver.