THE BLOG

Trouble Digesting? Try the Pre-Industrial Diet

10/03/2013 12:10 EDT | Updated 12/03/2013 05:12 EST

Almost all vegetables we buy today had a 'wild' ancestor, and many plants were originally consumed for their medicinal values. Interestingly people with diverse food intolerances often find they digest these pre-industrial foods particularly well. There is an argument that society exposes us to foods our species has not had time to genetically adapt to. Some academics like Stephen Boyden suggest we remain naturally conditioned to a hunter-gatherer life style as that was the way our species lived for more than a million years and it's still largely what we are biologically programmed to require for various types of well-being.

We have adapted to the extraordinary speed of social change only superficially. I contend that our bodies, organs and intestines may still be more comfortable with the food our older species digested, as you can see explained on my website. In sum, we are internally out of sync with contemporary life.

Mountains are fascinating places for food because their geography and gradients usually prohibit industrial, mass-produced farming and due to remoteness their cultures often retain some old traditions. Many European mountains like the Sibillini in Central Italy represent an intriguing blend of hunter-gatherer and early peasant agriculturalist traditions, which could offer a unique recipe for human health today.

Historians claim the relative ease of access, vast pastures, prodigious richness of vegetation, animals and water made the Sibillini a place attracting pastoral people from the most remote ancient times. Local people were the embodiment of the classic culture of the shepherd, coming into clear focus from the year 2000 B.C. They were keen hunters, and benefited from their intimate knowledge of the forests in terms of the wild food they gathered, and use of wood. They lived in an Arcadian tradition, tending the flocks in harmony with the natural resources to hand. Bonding with nature at a relatively inaccessible altitude their diet was dictated by the environment instead of by agricultural changes affecting the population living below. Eating in an environmentally friendly way gave them a very healthy and tasty diet.

The staple protein was always sheep cheese. Forging for wild vegetables and hunting supplemented their diet. Shepherds ate lamb seldom. They preferred to wait for a lamb to be injured, or attacked by wolves, rather than slaughter it. Later when domestic animals were raised for meat they were slaughtered very sparingly by today's standards. Depending on the size of the family one pig, or two at the most would be killed to last a whole year. Contrary to the stereotype, high altitude settlements had neither olive oil nor pasta. The lard of the pig was the only fat and carbohydrates were beans and legumes. For bread, the ancient tribal people, the Piceni, used spelt and later the Romans used the forefathers in seed terms of the plants farro and orzo. Still today most people find these grains much easier to digest than wheat.

While the environmental destructiveness of industrial agriculture is well known, how bad is it really for our health?

At an organic bakery on the side of the mountains, called Il Forno di Collina, they use traditional practices to make bread, including cutting the grains with a scythe. The young owner shows me a laboratory analysis of their whole-wheat flour compared to industrial produced whole-wheat flour. Every hundred grams of flour provides: 0.32 mg Vitamin E, 0.05 mg Vitamin C, 0.09 mg Vitamin B1, etc. None of these vitamins are found in commercial whole-wheat flour.

The high nutrient value results from being harvested by hand. Traditionally, 10 days before it is ripe the wheat is cut with a scythe and left outside for a week or more. During this crucial phase nutrients rise up the stalk of the plant and enter the seeds. In the mechanized harvest the seed is instantly separated from the stalk when cut, prohibiting nutrients from entering the grain. Learn about the Hunter-Gatherer Mountain Shepherd's Diet by visiting www.sibillinimountainhealth.com where I am compiling information for a book on this subject and please tell me your views. There is a lot we can learn from the way we used to eat.

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