Ancestral Nutrition and Diversity

As Nassim Taleb pointed out in his book “Fooled by Randomness”, ingesting ten one mL servings of different poisons (assuming no synergy) is “safer” than ingesting 10 mL of a single poison.  The saying “the dose makes the poison” exists for a reason.

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I tend to think of my diet as one of my “practices”, and consider the term “movement” to be a broader term then one relating to physical exercises. To me, movement also relates to the directional orientation of our lives: do we move towards things that help us flourish or towards those which destroy us? Do we move towards social engagement or move towards social isolation? Do we move towards growth or towards stagnation on a daily basis? I could elaborate further but I think the above statement makes the point clear; the point being that choices are movements. If we choose to do so, nutrition could be viewed through that lens: as a set of different movements/choices we make on a daily basis. In that vein, we can relate to our overall nutritional pattern, much in the same way we relate to our physical practice. It may be useful to ask ourselves how “developed” our diet actually is. Is it compensated, weak, strong, ancestral, optimal, rigid, or lacking? How do we move within the nutritional sphere? Much in the same way that my physical practice thrives, my experience has been that nutrition becomes truly “balanced” by diversity.  

The hallmark of a healthy eco system is diversity, as the more that an environment relies on any one organism, the easier it is for that ecosystem to be destroyed. A diverse environment is more adaptable to shifting pressures of the natural word. In some ways you can look at the term “thriving” and think “diverse”.  There are many animals that exist on singular foods without a large variety of foods to sustain them. One of the negatives of such an adaption is that if the food source disappears that animal is likely to go with it. Domestication and civilization (at least the type we have today) seeks to sanitize and remove this wild diversity by injecting predictability into it.  The longer global society exists, the more we rely on the same movements, languages, animals and crops. An optimal diet is similar to a well thought out movement program, in that there are many elements to consider and a variety of effects to train for. The same way our body-mind benefits from increasing strength, mobility, flexibility, endurance, coordination, and balance; is the same way it can benefit from many different vitamins, minerals, amino acids, carbohydrates, fatty acids, beneficial bacterial species, zoo-chemicals and phytochemicals.

There are many tribal cultures that subsisted on a just a handful of foods and did very well, though the opposite examples exist also. Some environments are not “ideal” for humans, and do not possess a wide variety of edible compounds, though due to our extreme adaptability, we make it work. The idea of diversity as mentioned earlier relates to thriving, much more so than “making it work”. Yes, we can survive on a few foods, just as we can limp along with a few heavily loaded movements, but for many, it is not the optimal path. It all depends on what you want to achieve, but if your goal is to do the best you can, the intention of diversifying your eating patterns can be very beneficial. Many of us eat the same 15-20 foods over and over again, day in and day out when we do not have to. In the end, it is not just about feeding ourselves, but also the rest of travelers who come with us, such as our microbiome. A larger variety of plants fosters a broader and richer microbiome. Click on the link to learn more. 

Humans are omnivores with a broad variety of acceptable compounds for intake because we have adapted, as a species, to diversity.  All foods contain toxins of one form or another. Plants are especially notorious for this, as that is their way of protecting themselves lacking access to strength, claws or teeth. The funny thing is that many, if not all nutrients, can become poisons at high enough doses. As nutritious as consuming liver is, if over consumed, you could acquire copper toxicity and some argue for vitamin A toxicity as well. Over long periods of time, a species adapts physiological pathways to process and remove the toxins it is interacting with over long periods of time. If a diet lacking diversity in a human, it allows these pathways to become saturated and overburdened. Rotating your food protects you against this. In fact a “rotation” based diet is a common strategy for food sensitivities.  See here: 

 

Another obvious benefit besides what you don’t want is what you do want. The broader your diet, the more nourishing it can be. Not only are their different beneficial nutrients in different plants and animals, there are different parts to be used in each. Learning to eat the whole animal including organs, bones and skin, as well as all the edible parts of a plant can be extremely nourishing. Following the same line of thought, re-wilding advocate Daniel Vitalis offers the perspective of eating abundantly from the “four kingdoms” which he outlines as the animal, plant, fungal and bacterial kingdoms. See here: 

Realistically, eating is a “sequestering” process involving a lot of work and care. Consuming “stuff” from the outside world is in some ways a risky proposition for any living thing and for most species, it seems as though the body wants to keep it tightly regulated. In fact, what goes “into” your body is not so much the food you eat, as it what your body decides to extract from it and what it can’t keep out. Think about it, there is one large unbroken tube from the mouth to the anus, which in many ways keeps what you eat “outside” of your internal organs. Digestion makes the safe taking “inside” of particular compounds possible, and as freaking amazing as it is, it is a less than perfect process. This is why “leaky gut” syndrome or whatever disorders can be attributed to that type of process, is so harmful: because this tube meant to keep stuff out is not able to do what it was meant to. With this understanding of tight regulation, it is easier in my opinion to understand why diversity is so important: we are not machines taking in a generic “fuel” like gasoline. We are nutritional alchemist processing and dispensing a wide variety of useful and volatile compounds. An overabundance of any one element disturbs these organic cycles.  

The overall message here is that it is possible to view your nutrition as a practice and develop it, expand it and diversify it. Doing so is likely to confer many benefits, while reducing the potential drawbacks of eating the same foods all of the time. There is no need to be “perfect” with this or drive yourself crazy. My personal recommendation is to allow your budget and current time demands, to determine the maximum degree of diversity that is possible for you at the moment. If you have been eating the same foods over and over again start small by adding an organ, buy a vegetable you don’t normally eat or try quail eggs over chicken eggs. It is a spectrum and the broader your food choices the better.