22nd of March 2014

The Ancestral Health Diet

What is the Ancestral Health Diet?

I came to the Ancestral Health Diet after about 2-3 years being Paleo. This evolution came from testing the Paleo Diet on myself, realizing its limitations, then reading more and more about food and evolution and biology and starting to put all the pieces together. For example, I can process dairy easily, and I think some of the things the paleo people focus on are wrong. But realize that all of these things are just discussions on the margins. None of the fundamentals really change.

Who is the Ancestral Diet best for?

Please, do NOT start with the Ancestral Diet. It is far too complicated, you’ll get overwhelmed and quit.

Start with Slow Carb, it is really easy to understand and effectuate.

Then move to Paleo and, if you are really interested, read more about the Ancestral Diet, and do that. Only when you’re comfortable with the concepts should you start incorporating those principles into your primary way of eating, and evolve into that diet.

My shift to the Ancestral Health Diet was not a result of looking to improve my testosterone scores. I was already feeling great, and though my testosterone went up on this diet, it wasn’t by much. For most of you, if the only goal is testosterone, don’t worry about going this far. This is much more about going from good health to optimal health. I went Ancestral as I began to focus on other things in my health, like longevity, appearance, recovery, and joint mobility (for mixed martial arts).

Remember: the Ancestral Diet isn’t a set, defined, never changing diet. It’s a set of principles, and changes at the margins along with the leading edge science, so it’s constantly evolving. My personal diet and meal examples are outlined later in this book, but the basic premises are as follows:

What can I eat?

– All the meat and vegetables emphasized in the Paleo Diet
– Organ meats (like liver, kidney, heart)
– Bone broth
– Fermented, probiotic-rich foods (like yogurt and sauerkraut)
– Full-fat products (like butter, eggs, cheese, and whole milk)

What can I not eat?

– Carbs (keep them under 100g per day)
– Vegetable oils (like Canola, Corn, Cottonseed, Soy, Sunflower, Safflower)
– Low-fat products

What else do I need to know?

– Eat vegetables with fat, salt and acid (to optimize your body’s ability to absorb its nutrients)
– Dairy is great, as long as it’s either grassfed raw dairy, fermented, or both
– Legumes work great too, as long as they are properly soaked and cooked
– Certain starchy carbs like potatoes, can be good for you (either after really intense workouts, or as prebiotics to help with gut biome issues)
Special attention should be paid to WHERE your food came from, and also with meat, what your food ate when it was alive. The more natural the source, the better. This stuff can get very complicated, but it’s pretty simple: You want your meat to eat what it meant to eat; cows eat grass, chickens eat bugs and grubs, etc. Most animals are fed grain, which makes them just as sick as humans when they eat grain.

You’ll notice a lot of overlap between all three of these diets. The biggest differences are that while the Slow Carb and Paleo diets focus on what NOT to eat, the Ancestral Diet also focuses on foods you SHOULD be eating but probably aren’t. Thus, the emphasis on organ meats, fermented foods, and bone broths. Now, you can absolutely eat a Slow Carb Diet and emphasize these things, so applying Ancestral principles to that diet is easy and advisable.

The other difference is that in the Ancestral Diet, you pay a LOT of attention to where your food came from and how it’s made. I never mentioned organics or anything like that with the Slow Carb or Paleo/Primal diets not because that stuff doesn’t matter (it does…a lot), it just matters far less than the bigger principles of being grain, sugar and soy free. One step at a time. I won’t go into the various complications that can arise from sourcing food, but I spend quite a bit of time thinking about where my meat comes from, what it ate, how it was processed before it got to me, etc, etc.

More Information:

Deep Nutrition and Food Rules by Catherine Shanahan
Catherine Shanahan’s Blog
The Weston A. Price Dietary Guidelines

Some of the best places for Ancestral recipes are the cookbooks your Grandmother might have used…
The Professional Chef by the Culinary Institute of America
Le Cordon Bleu at Home by Le Cordon Bleu
The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer (only buy editions published before 1960)
Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume I and Volume II by Julia Child (buy the first edition, the new reprintings substitute healthy fats with vegetable oils)

A Note On Organic/Grass-fed Food
A lot of people ask me about this: “How important is organic/grass-fed/local/heritage breed/pasture raised/etc?”

The answer is not a simple one, for any of these categories. I use the Ancestral Diet (my personal eating habits are covered later), and I find that paying attention to the source and quality of the food I eat is very important to me. But I’ve seen people on the Slow Carb Diet that don’t even know what organic means, and they do great as well. Here’s probably the easiest way to think about it:

At the beginning, don’t worry about the source of your food. It’s hard enough to make these changes, don’t make it over complicated for yourself. Start with the Slow Carb or Paleo Diet, and see what results you get. If you get great results and you’re happy, then don’t sweat it.

If you’re getting good results but want more, or if you feel like you really want to dive into the specifics and learn more and get the very best results possible, that’s when you should start paying attention to the source and quality of your food. Organic does matter with some things (like leafy vegetables), and grass-fed does matter with some things (like lamb and beef), and sourcing your food can be very, very beneficial for your health. But these things aren’t the most important things in eating, so get to them later, and then, only if you want to.

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