We are living through an - often - arduous era of taking apart everything our ancestors instinctively knew and attempting to put it all back together in a manner that best serves our wellbeing.
The physiological discomforts and lack of ease (or disease) we sometimes experience are manifestations of an evolutionary mismatch. The rapid evolution of the world we live in today has far outpaced the evolution of the human race even though it has made valiant efforts to adapt to its new environment. Traits that served us in our old environment are now maladaptive in the current one.
We are still hard-wired for potential scarcity (hence the strong inclination to gorge when food is in the vicinity) and yet, never has food been more abundant. We used to hunt and forage for food because not doing so meant certain death. Today - if nothing takes your fancy at your nearest food outlet - practically everything can now be delivered to your doorstep at the click of a mouse.
"Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them."
Whether we all agree on what constitutes a healthy diet remains in contention. That said, I think we can all agree that foods reared or grown as nature intended are more likely to bring our bodies back into alignment. It is also clear that where the standard Western diet dominates, so does chronic disease. This is evident in the exploration of any ancestral diet and the events that occurred following its abandonment in favour of instant gratification.
I hope that this does not lead you to believe that clinging to dogma and reenactments of the past is the way forward. This is a conversation that must allow room for individuality. There is no one-size-fits-all - the same food that enables one to thrive could enable another to merely survive. This is not to say that there isn't a basic framework on which the optimal human diet is based.
Our ancestors lived in close contact - and in harmony - with nature. They revered the seasons and their bountiful gifts. Through trial and error, they discovered that the body has an innate capacity to heal, given the right conditions.
Hunter-gatherer populations ate (and thrived on) meat, offal, fish, seafood, an extremely diverse range of non-starchy and starchy vegetables, minimal - and properly prepared - grains, fruits, properly prepared nuts and seeds and traditional fats. More recently, dairy consumption saw a sharp increase when European-derived populations developed the ability to digest lactose in adulthood, owing to the rise of dairy farming. The emphasis now placed on less nutrient-dense foods like legumes (as a substitute for the more nutrient-dense animal proteins) grains and pseudograins (like quinoa, for example) is unprecedented - particularly among the health-conscious subset of society.
Whilst considering the above, I would suggest that you keep an open mind. The press has a tendency to engender a mentality of elitism, guilt and even fear where food is concerned. Most confusing of all is the fact that substances that rob us of our health and vitality are not only referred to as food but touted as healthy. Terms like "superfood", "treat" and "guilty pleasure" do nothing to acknowledge the nuances required in determining the multi-faceted needs of the average 21st century human.
Essentially, you are what you - and your beneficial bacteria - eat, what you then absorb and what you do or do not detoxify.
This behooves you to consider the following:
Find a practitioner who will work in partnership with you. Figuring out the foods that help your body to unlock its full potential is best not attempted alone. The key is to find someone who discourages the use of quick fixes and is willing to dig deeper using appropriate testing. Determining whether or not you absorb nutrients from your food (or detoxify optimally) is vital for fine-tuning your unique dietary needs. If you feel at any time that you are being talked down to or that your feelings or questions are not taken into account, I would suggest that you find another practitioner.
Experiment. Listen to your body and pay attention to the signals it sends you. Remember that symptoms of gut disorders are not limited to the gut itself and can often manifest anywhere in your body. You could try eliminating the usual suspects, (e.g. processed foods, industrial seed oils and sugar) and highly allergenic foods (like soy, wheat, eggs, dairy or nightshades, for example) for a minimum of thirty days before reintroducing them individually. Notice how you feel with each reintroduction over a 3-day period. Do you feel depressed, fatigued or have stiff or painful joints? Remember that there can be no better expert on you than you so it is important to familiarise yourself with your physiological quirks. The information you glean will be doubly valuable, should you choose to work with a practitioner.
Dispense with the idea that food should be cheap and convenient. Good quality food costs money. Your body is, arguably, your most prized possession and therefore warrants the biggest investment you can afford. Just as cars require a non-negotiable type - and quality - of fuel to function optimally, so do our bodies. Attempting to decipher the average label on any ready-made product can be challenging. Do not be fooled by seemingly benign ingredient lists as there are legal loopholes that allow the addition of undeclared chemical additives. Cooking from scratch is your safest bet and buying ingredients rather than products (many of which are not food, strictly speaking) works out cheaper, anyway.
Cast your vote wisely. Buying food-like substances perpetuates the status quo. You have the power to change the course of history and to create a better, disease-free world every time you reach for your wallet. Consider making your next purchase from a local farmer who treats animals and the earth with the utmost respect.