What is Ancestral Eating and the Ancestral Diet?

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In the past, humans had ancestral eating habits. Now in our modern age, bigger and faster is better. We crave progress because we believe it will deliver us to a utopia we can imagine off in the distance. But when it comes to food, sometimes it seems, just as in the 1950s, when new kitchens and home appliances were being marketed to the mothers in the home, that we get duped into believing that technology will eventually save us.

As we can see now, with technology came many unhealthy eating options, such as processed foods. So when it comes to food, faster and bigger is not better for our health. To solve this problem, instead of looking to the future, we need to look into the past and our ancestral diet and eating habits.

Fast Food vs Ancestral Eating

When we take a look at our diets and how we choose to nourish ourselves, it’s becoming more and more apparent all the time, that we’re losing something of tremendous value in the name of efficiency. Fast food is hardly about health and we know this as a culture. And most of what’s on the grocery store shelves would be unrecognizable to our great-grandparents. Perhaps this isn’t the progress we should be hoping for.

As time steers us further from the age and memory of our ancestors, so grows the distance between our two diets. And the detriments of this reality are staring us in the face and our medical bills. Sometimes we need to take a step backward. Sometimes we just need to slow down and take that walk, or grow that garden.

So What Does Ancestral Diet Look Like Anyways?

Well, it really depends on where you are in the world. Eating ancestrally is about ingredients, and local culture and that means what’s available to you where you are. So eating this way will look different in Greece, Coastal France, Japan, Africa, Maine, Hawaii, California, or in the Rocky Mountain West.

For those who have done their research in this field of traditional diets, whether their approach is Paleo, Mediterranean, or following any of the Blue Zones recommendations, the goal of this style of eating is healthy.

And those who follow an ancestral lifestyle, or way of eating, have been found to showcase some of the lowest rates of some of the most common epidemic diseases: diabetes, heart disease, neurological and behavioral disorders, cancer, high blood pressure, and others. Hence, part of the appeal!

What is an Ancestral Diet?

Many people assume that ancestral eating is something foreign and long gone, like thousands of years (or millions), but in truth, it’s only two or three generations behind us. And there are communities in the world who still eat like this and live like this.

It just isn’t commonly seen in the world, as they are slowly being eroded by convenience and industrial influence. There are so many important pieces that we’ve let fall away. Ultimately, an ancestral diet might be one of the most traditional, basic, and logical diets known today. Plus, it’s a great way to see which of the 3 levels of diet you’re currently engaged in.

It may surprise you how good it makes you feel to go “old school” when it comes to nourishing your mind and body. It’s all about simplifying your dietary choices and going back to the most natural ingredients possible. It may also challenge your ideas of what you “thought” was healthful and nourishing – which is always a good thing.

If you’re interested in eating like your ancestors, follow these ancestral food tips and suggestions to get you started.

Ancestral Eating Food Tips


If dairy is a part of your diet already, then the recommendation of most in the ancestral community is to drink and eat it in its purest form. There’s a huge amount of information and promotion about the benefits of milk that is neither pasteurized nor homogenized, in other words: full fat and raw – cheese, milk, yogurt, etc. Other preferences include organic and grass-fed.

National mainstream science is starting to catch up on the health-promoting aspects of full-fat dairy, versus the 30-year attachment to low-fat and non-fat versions, which are not nearly as nutritious or digestible. However, if you have an allergy or do not handle bovine dairy well, some find they do extraordinarily well on goat or sheep’s milk products.

Of course, there are also plenty of ancestral eating cultures that do not include dairy at all, so this is one aspect that you can choose to play with or leave alone. If you do choose milk substitutes instead, it’s best to opt for making it yourself to avoid processing, gums, and stabilizers.


Wheat is eaten more today in our country, and in larger amounts, than ever before. Unfortunately, it’s not being consumed in the same forms as our ancestors, but instead: as “enriched,” sliced “whole grain” bread, and processed baked goods. The industrial food complex has done much to change how our food grows and therefore how our bodies digest them.

Grains are blamed as the root cause for so many of the current health problems today (such as inflammation, weight gain, leaky gut, acne, and diabetes), that many in the health community recommend avoiding them entirely.  For those trying to follow an ancestral diet as closely as possible, however, another option to consider is preparing heirloom grains properly before giving them the boot entirely!

There’s a long tradition of sourdoughs and sprouting that has gone the way of the dinosaur in most American kitchens. These methods have a history of making these often hard-to-digest foods more easily assimilated and their nutrients more readily available.

Whether we’re looking at the artisan-style true sourdough baguette, or injera at the local Ethiopian restaurant, fermented, soured, or sprouted grain dishes are rich in enzymes and vitamins. The whole process neutralizes much of the phytic acid that can bind up minerals in the body.

Human beings on this little planet of ours have been eating properly prepared grains in different cultures for millennia, so maybe they know something we don’t. The underlying recommendation is: don’t fear the food – consider it an invitation to really listen to your body.

Plant and Animal Wisdom

The truth is, when you walk into most grocery stores in America, you’re only seeing a teeny tiny fraction of the foods available to us. For instance, while there are more than 2000 different varieties of apples, most supermarkets will showcase no more than the usual 5. Or out of the thousands of potatoes, we see maybe 3 in the bin to choose from.

The reality of an ancestral approach to food is taking in the true variety available to our ancestors: heirloom varieties of food that is also organic (to ensure the product is free of pesticides), and locally, or even wild-harvested and foraged, have been proven to have richer nutrients and diversity for our genes to benefit from.

There are so many ways the plant kingdom can nourish us if we’re willing to engage in what’s available in a deeper, richer way. In the same vein, choosing foods from the animal kingdom deserve an old-school spin as well. Make sure the animals you choose to make a part of your diet are benefiting from ancestral husbandry methods.

Start with what your meat eats: Cows eat grass, not corn. Fish should not be farmed. Chickens eat bugs, not soy. Make sure your meat is raised well, experiences a habitat that is natural and most conducive to its health and well-being, and of course, that they’re cared for before the humanely is dispatched. Eat locally.

Get to know your farmers, ranchers, and hunters. Support those who have an interest in keeping their animals in good balance with the environment. Avoid Feedlot meat. If you haven’t looked into this topic yet, it may be worthwhile to do so.

The Quality of Our Foods

There’s a reason our quality of life has decreased and our healthcare costs continue to climb. When it comes to eating ancestrally, the quality of your food is extremely important. Access to fresh produce, quality proteins, and health-supporting fats and oils is key. In an effort to bring your body into a healthier state, banish the industrial food complex from your pantries.

There is no amount of trans fats that are safe for the human body to consume. Watch it on the vegetable oils or polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) too. Avoid processed sugars and seek out true old-fashioned cane sugars, raw honey, and maple syrup in lieu of the common alternatives. Avoid chemical sweeteners like splenda, aspartame, etc.

It’s been shown over and over again how addictive these substances are, and how many processed foods trigger cravings, and reduce satiation, leaving you hungry and unsatisfied. If you wanted to make any significant change in your diet, it’s best to start by mixing the processed junk food and going back to the basics. Natural foods will never steer you wrong!

Making Time for Nourishment

Eating Ancestrally isn’t only about food, it’s also about a state of mind. Our ancestors weren’t eating in the car on the run, or indulging in a drive-thru. A meal was an occasion. You sat at the table. You came in from the world and made time for the sacred aspect of true nourishment. And you shared this event with others!

So consider this another component when following an ancestral lifestyle – and check the level of stress in your life: especially at mealtimes. Ask yourself if your kitchen reflects the garden of your ancestors… Know that making small shifts can be momentously rewarding.

Experiment with no media at the dinner table. Turn off your TV and cell phones. Relax. Take the time to breathe. Eat with awareness. Be willing to be present and mindful in the experience of dining. Slowing down has tremendous benefits. Make sure to make time for pleasure, relaxation, and some time to cultivate a sense of purpose in your life. Don’t forget to include those other unexpected superfoods!

There are so many nuggets of wisdom that our ancestors have passed down to us. In connecting with our planet, body, and mind, we are paying homage to the lives that have come before us and the ones that will follow. We hope you loved the ancestral eating habits we shared.

Here at The Institute for the Psychology of Eating we do NOT endorse or promote any particular diet or nutritional lifestyle. We highly encourage each person to openly explore the wide variety of nutritional approaches and dietary strategies that are available to them. We see nutrition as an ever-changing journey. We believe that a healthy relationship with food and a well-functioning metabolism is possible when we can each be open to what works best for ourselves, and others. We believe there’s a nugget of wisdom to be found in just about any diet that’s been designed with care in mind for people and the planet.

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