Ancestral eating: Should you take meal inspo from your elders?

Fad diets, fancy restaurants, and processed foods galore. Is it time to cast aside complicated cuisine and eat like our ancestors?

They say variety is the spice of life, and when it comes to food, the modern consumer is spoiled for choice.

Our supermarket shelves are stacked with produce that’s processed and packaged for maximum convenience, and our suburbs are bursting with cuisine from every corner of the globe.

But would going back to our gastronomical roots be better for our health?

According to ancestral eating advocates, the answer is yes.

What is an ancestral diet?

Dietitians Australia spokesperson and dietitian Dr Anika Rouf, says ancestral eating centres around consuming the whole, unprocessed and unrefined foods of our direct ancestors.

“It’s about eating like your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents,” Dr Rouf says.

Because this varies according to our background, there is no single ancestral diet – but the principles are the same all over the world and revolve around consuming whole, unprocessed local and seasonal foods.

Ancestral vs Paleo: what’s the difference?

While an ancestral diet is commonly confused with the Paleo diet, there are several key differences.

The Paleo diet focuses on foods that were around in the Palaeolithic era (roughly 2.5 million years ago to 10,000 BC), before modern agriculture, so that means things like dairy and grains are excluded.

The ancestral diet is focused on local, seasonal and cultural food, which can vary greatly depending on where you live in the world.

What are the benefits of ancestral eating?

Studies show obesity rates have skyrocketed since the 1970s, largely due to diets high in processed foods, and this is a major risk factor for many conditions such as diabetes, heart attack and stroke.

And the latest Global Burden of Disease study found more than 42.3 per cent of cardiovascular deaths in Australia are attributable to dietary risk factors.

A diet high in refined sugars, grains and industrial seed oils is believed to be a key driver of these poor health outcomes.

How do you eat like your ancestors?

Proponents of ancestral eating say there’s no “one size fits all” approach to the ancestral diet, because it varies depending on your background.

And while, ideally, you should eat the foods your direct ancestors had access to, the philosophy is more about what you avoid.

In its simplest form, an ancestral diet means eating less:

And eating more:

  • grass-fed and pastured meats, poultry, eggs and dairy
  • wild-caught seafood
  • seasonal fruits and vegetables
  • fermented foods including sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir
  • ancient grains such as wheat, barley, rice, legumes and beans
  • unrefined fats such as butter, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil.

More on diet types:

Written by Dimity Barber.