In addition to fruits, vegetables, wild animals, and fish, our distant ancestors had relatively easy access to three other foods: nuts, seeds, and eggs. These foods rounded out the protein and fat requirements of their healthy diets. Fortunately, we can replicate their food choices in today’s world. We can eat more seeds, nuts, and eggs • not to mention wild, fatty fish • that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. These heart-healthy fats help to offset the heart-risky fats in the quest for optimum wellness. Curious about the foods to choose? Read on for a variety of tips, pointers, and suggestions.
As most of you probably know, there are four large categories of calories, often called macronutrients, that people routinely consume: carbohydrates, protein, fats, and alcohol. Of the four, alcohol is the only human creation and, not coincidentally, the most hazardous to human health. Along with other creations, such as dairy and grain products, hydrogenated vegetable oil, high-fructose corn syrup, and genetically-modified organisms, human beings have a less-than-stellar track record when it comes to improving on the bounty and goodness of nature.
That’s the basic premise behind the science of evolutionary nutrition. Evolutionary nutritionists seek to understand the foods we have been eating for the longest periods of time, starting with our ancestors in east Africa. The more we know about the plants and animals native to that region, across millions of years, the more we know about optimal human nutrition.
Since east Africa is in a tropical zone, tropical fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, eggs, animals, and fish • with an occasional treat of honey • were the foods that led human beings to evolve into the tall, bipedal, large-brain animals that we are today. That’s why the LifeTrek Optimal Wellness Prototype makes these foods the staples of our diet. At least 90% of our daily calories should come from these foods; were they to constitute 100% of our daily calories, it would not be too much.
In the past month, we have explored the value of eating whole, fresh, organic, locally-grown fruits and vegetables together with wild animals and fish. Today we cover the last piece that our ancestors in east Africa were gathering and hunting: seeds, nuts, and eggs. All three represent important sources of healthy fats that would have rounded out their diets.
Of course, it’s not as though they are easy to find and shell. Unlike fruits, which put themselves on display for all the world to find, birds hide their nests while seeds and nuts hide their kernels of fat inside shells that have to be cracked open or ground. That has been going on for a very long time. An archeological dig in Israel, for example, found evidence that nuts formed a significant part of human nutrition at least 780,000 years ago. Seven varieties of nuts along with stone tools to crack open the nuts were found buried deep in a bog. The nuts were wild almonds, prickly water lilies, water chestnuts along with two varieties of both acorns and pistachios.
“Nutting stones,” with indentations to hold and crack open nuts, have been found worldwide. The ability to store nuts and seeds for relatively long periods of time, in their natural state, made them valuable treasures to get through times when fruits, vegetables, game, and fish were scarce. Chances are good that human beings have been eating them for millions, and not just thousands, of years.
Like wild animals, which have a much healthier mix of fatty acids than their domesticated cousins, wild seeds, nuts, and eggs contributed greatly to human evolution. It’s not possible to sustain the human organism without protein and fat. Low-protein and low-fat diets are not only unsatisfying and unsustainable, they are also unhealthy. Eating fat is essential for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, without which we make ourselves vulnerable to blindness, cancer, and many other diseases.
The key, then, is not to go low but to go healthy. We want healthy protein and healthy fats in our diets for optimum wellness. Last week we identified sources of healthy protein; those same sources contain healthy fats as well. Wild animals are not only lean, they also have a preferred ratio of Omega-3 (heart-healthy) to Omega-6 (heart-risky) fatty acids. Ideally, that ratio should be one to three or lower. In the typical Western diet, however, that ratio is one to twenty or higher.
The fact that our ratio of good fats to bad fats has gotten so out of whack, by the introduction of domesticated meats, dairy products, hydrogenated oils, and fried foods (to mention only the four worst offenders), is one of the biggest reasons that we have so many chronic disease problems. Our ancestors in east Africa knew nothing of cardiovascular disease, cancer, or diabetes. That’s not because they lived a shorter lifespan (in fact, both lifespan and height decreased significantly with the advent of agriculture and fermentation about 10,000 years ago); that’s rather because they were eating a health-promoting and disease-protective diet.
In addition to wild meats and fish, wild seeds, nuts, and eggs have similar health-promoting and disease-protective fats. Flax seeds have the highest percentage of Omega-3 fatty acids of all seeds and nuts. Perhaps that’s why Mahatma Gandhi once observed, “Wherever flax seed becomes a regular food item among the people, there will be better health.” Consuming two tablespoons per day of fresh, ground, organic flax seed is a step in the right direction, whether or not you reduce your total consumption of fat. They help to move that critical ratio in the right direction.
As with all nuts and seeds, it’s better to eat the whole nut or seed than to eat oil extracted from nuts and seeds. To quote Udo Erasmus, who wrote the definitive work on healthy fats and oils back in 1986, with a second edition in 1993 titled Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, when oils are made “we begin with a seed that is a rich source of essential minerals, essential vitamins, essential fatty acids, essential amino acids, fiber, lecithin, phytosterols, and health-promoting minor ingredients. Even in making a fresh, unrefined oil • the highest quality of oil there is • all of the protein and fiber present in the seed is lost, as well as some of minerals and vitamins.”
“During processing, most of the remaining minerals and vitamins are removed. All of the protein and fiber are already gone. Lecithin, phytosterols, and minor components are also removed, and some essential fatty acids are destroyed. In addition, processing introduces toxic molecules resulting from the breakdown and alteration of fatty acid molecules. Fully processed oils are the equivalent of refined (white) sugars, and can therefore be called ‘white’ oils. Like sugar, they are nutrient-deficient sources of calories but in addition they contain toxins that are not present in sugar.”
That description makes you almost never want to consume oil again (which is minimized in the Optimal Wellness Prototype and which we will discuss in detail a few weeks from now). This is especially true for men, when it comes to flax seed oil. Research has documented an association between flax seed oil and an increased risk of prostate cancer. Something changes about the health properties of flax when all those other things, including the antioxidant lignans, are stripped from the seed and we are left with nothing but the oil. Better to stay with the whole seed in smoothies, salads, and toppings.
I like to grind my own flax seeds, using an impeller-style coffee grinder. The whole seeds stay fresh for longer periods of time. Once the seed coat is broken, the flax meal becomes vulnerable to degradation by heat and light. Keep flax meal in a closed container in the refrigerator at all times.
An even better seed, from the standpoint of sustainable nutrition, is hemp. Unlike flax seeds, which have more Omega-3 fatty acids than Omega-6 fatty acids, hemp seeds have the magic one to three ratio along with a healthier form of Omega-6 known as gamma-linolenic acid. Unfortunately, live hemp seeds are illegal in many countries because they can be used to grown marijuana. Hemp seed meal and protein are not illegal and should be a regular part of a healthy diet. I include a scoop of hemp seed protein, as well as two tablespoons of flax seed meal, in my morning fruit smoothie. By starting the day with healthy fats, I minimize food cravings later in the day.
In addition to flax and hemp seeds, ideally from organic sources, other healthy seeds include pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame. Healthy nuts, which are to be eaten raw and unsalted rather than roasted and salted, include walnuts, almonds, and filberts. Other nuts do not have significant amounts of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. They should be minimized or avoided altogether. Because of the high-fat, high-calorie content of seed and nuts, it is important to limit consumption to a total of no more than 1/2 cup per day from all sources.
Eggs can also be an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids, but that depends upon the diet and habitat of the birds from which the eggs come. Domesticated birds in overcrowded conditions with conventional feed do not produce healthy eggs that are worth eating. Local birds in sustainable conditions who scratch for seeds and greens produce high-quality, Omega-3 rich eggs that can be eaten on a regular but limited basis. Our ancestors would have eaten eggs only as a delicacy, when they were in season and able to be found. The LifeTrek Optimal Wellness Prototype recommends eating no more than 6 good eggs per week. I eat even less than that.
Avoid frying eggs altogether, or at least in high heat. Boiled eggs (hard or soft) can be added to salads while beaten eggs can be added to lightly steamed vegetables and cooked just before serving. This keeps the heat down to 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius) or less. For most people, the cholesterol in good eggs does not result in increased blood cholesterol. Work with your doctor to determine if you are especially sensitive to dietary cholesterol.
Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and sable are also excellent sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, the long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids in fish and eggs are more easily and more fully absorbed by the body than the short-chain Omega-3 fatty acids in seeds and nuts. Because of concerns about mercury, many people have started to avoid fish. This is a mistake for all but certain at-risk individuals, such as pregnant women. The benefits of the Omega-3 fatty acids far outweigh the risks of the mercury. Many ultra-pure fish oils have the mercury removed, which can be an excellent way of getting long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids on a regular basis.
Healthy seeds, nuts, and eggs rounded out the nutritional profile of our ancestors. Together with fruits, vegetables, wild animals and fish, they constitute the ingredients of a healthy diet that we can emulate today. Far from being an anachronism, stone age eating in the space age is both possible and desirable from the standpoint of optimal wellness. The more we veer from that path, as we will see in the weeks ahead, the more risks we take with our health and vitality.
So don’t do that! Make whole, local, organic fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, eggs, animals, and fish your foods of choice at least nine times out of ten. When that happens, you’ll be amazed at the difference in how you think, look, and feel. You’ll be blessed with the things that make for life.
Coaching Inquiries: What seeds, nuts, eggs, and fish do you eat? How do you get your Omega-3 fatty acids? How could you improve the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids? Are there ways to make healthy fats a more regular part of your diet? Where could you go to find the seeds, nuts, eggs, and fish that would make it so?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob..
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, wisdom, and intellect this week. Your Provision on Perfect Protein is very timely as my husband and I were just discussing our needs and desires to find local, organic food sources. I’m curious to know what you do for food sources in winter when the Farmer’s Markets are closed. (Ed. Note: What we cannot freeze and store, we buy from sources such as Trader Joe’s.)
Once again, great Provision! You mention eating scant amounts of meat if you have no other choice. I personally will not touch meat unless it is free range or organic. This includes 99% of the restaurants and fast food chains in the world; with the exception of Panera Bread. They use free range chickens and they have organic vegetables for their salads I do believe. I also look to tempeh or tofu as an alternative. But once again, the availability is usually tough.
What’s your take on soy products? There is conflicting data on this topic. Is soy toxic? There is much on the internet plus entire books devoted to the topic. (Ed. Note: I intend to address this when I come to Provision on legumes. So keep reading!)
Thanks for including my birthday in this week’s issue of Provisions! That’s the most all encompassing birthday wish I will ever have!!! I told people that this birthday was a birthday of relationship not of things and it was nice to have so many think of me!
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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