This article first appeared in mindbodygreen.com and is written by Dr. William Cole
Our modern lifestyle has given us spectacular technological advancements and conveniences that would have bewildered those living even just 100 years ago. But modernity has made us forget Hippocrates’ timeless advice: “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine thy food.”
As someone who helps people lead healthy lives, I see the foods eaten daily by the standard American, foods that would be unrecognizable to our ancestors. Our ancestors understood nutrient-dense food and incidentally didn’t suffer from the chronic diseases — the diseases of wealth — that society suffers from today. Here are six foods that today have been marginalized to some extent, but were an integral part of abundant ancestral health:
Used in Central America for thousands of years, the legend is the sweet potato made its way to Europe with Christopher Columbus when he took this delicious starch back home. The orange flesh of sweet potatoes may be one of nature’s unparalleled sources of vitamin A. Several studies have shown the superior ability of sweet potatoes to raise our levels of vitamin A, which is an essential nutrient for healthy skin and vibrant eye health. Sweet potatoes are also great sources of vitamin C, manganese vitamin B6, potassium, copper and fiber.
Fermented cod liver oil
Fermented cod liver oil, or FCLO, has been used for thousands of years. Used in ancient Rome and Scandinavian cultures, this superfood is rich in the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA. These fats are essential for healthy weight management and for brain and nerve health. FCLO is also a great source of fat-soluble vitamins A and D. The fermentation process keeps all these wonderful nutrients in tact and vital. If that last doesn’t make you want to try fermented cod liver oil, nothing will!
Called the “Immortal Health Elixir” in ancient China, this fermented tea has been around for over 2,000 years in the traditional Asian diet. Rich in B vitamins, this drink will help increase energy levels. B vitamins also serve as methyl donors which decrease inflammation in the body. As kombucha is a fermented drink, its probiotic cultures will help with digestion and immunity. Kombucha is also very high in glucaric acid, which recent studies have shown helps prevent cancer! You can make your own at home or you can find some in your local health food store.
Bone broth was an essential healing food for ages in a wide variety of ancient populations from every continent. The broth from grass-fed beef bones or organic chicken bones is an extremely nutritious liquid and unheard of in the Standard American Diet. The bones can be boiled from anywhere between six ours to 40 hours. As the bones are boiled, they release minerals into the broth that can be easily absorbed. Bone broth is incredibly nutritious and promotes optimal health because it contains a high amount of antioxidants, vitamins and many essential minerals. It’s a great superfood for people with food sensitivities, weight loss resistance, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), autoimmune responses and other symptoms of gut hyper-permeability (Leaky Gut Syndrome).
This ancient Korean dish is a delicious blend of fermented vegetables and spices. Lauded in Korea for its healing benefits, research has also linked kimchi with lower blood pressure and body weight. Other studies have shown kimchi to have anti-cancer effects and a reduction of atherosclerosis and autoimmune responses. Homemade kimchi is normally better than store bought, but if you do buy some in the store, look out for added sugar and excess salt content.
In our modern age, the overwhelming majority of the beef in the United States is grain fed, raised on factory farms and given growth hormones, antibiotics and vaccines. Throughout history, though, cows were allowed to graze on grass, just as they were meant to live. Grass-fed beef is naturally leaner than conventional meat, and the fat it does have has great benefits: A 3-ounce serving contains 35 milligrams of the heart- and brain-protecting omega-3’s EPA and DHA, compared with only 18 milligrams for the meat from grain-fed cows. Grass-fed cows that get to enjoy green pastures also have twice the conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) per serving. Higher CLA levels have been linked with easier weight loss and a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer.
Dr. William Cole, DC, graduated from Southern California University of Health Sciences in Los Angeles, California. He has his post-doctorate education and training in Functional Medicine and Clinical Nutrition.