What Is Your Ancestral Diet?


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Early Humans
Early Humans

Imagine the earth in 50,000 BC. Mankind is entering the final stages of its evolutionary journey from animal to human.  How is he living? And what is he eating?  What types of foods? And how are they processed?  We have all heard that we need to eat a natural diet, full of fresh fruits and vegetables, and low fat.  This is generally true but somewhat misleading considering what foods mankind has evolved to eat.

Many of the facts about how evolution works are misunderstood, although it is very complicated, here is a fictional example to help explain in basic terms how evolution works, especially regarding food digestion and health benefits:  A long time ago in jungle in Africa there was a tribe of people.  They all have similar genetics but due to breeding with other tribes and mutation there are slight variations of every kind: some of them are lactose intolerant, some of them need more calories to be healthy, some of them are better hosts for certain probiotics( good bacteria in the digestive system to help break down food), some of them need certain foods to help regulate blood sugar.  The way evolution works is that the people who are thriving in this environment are more likely to be healthy, attractive and reproduce. So they will pass on their genes and the next generation should be better equipped to handle the environment. The ones that are not thriving will be less likely to pass on their genes, so those negative traits will be less common in the next generation.  Mutation continues to occur at a regular rate and introduce new genetic material, good and bad into the population. Also environment changes regularly and requires different traits to thrive.

What foods were these common ancestors of ours eating?  They didn’t have science or modern nutritionalists to tell them what was healthy; their primary goal was to keep from starving, with limited food that meant get as many calories as possible.  So they did, humans evolved on a diet of eating anything and everything they could find that was not poisonous, and even some things that were poisonous, but not in small quantities. We all know they ate mammals, fruits, and vegetables, but here are some of the forgotten edibles that humans are meant to eat: reptiles, amphibians, Arachnids, slugs, worms, ticks, insects, arthropods, bee honey, inner tree bark, fungus other than mushrooms, and a very wide variety of leaves and seeds.  Some of these things are taboo in many cultures and some of them might be unhealthy if not prepared properly.  But this is the best diet for mankind because it is what evolution has led us to.

The majority of the foods we commonly eat consist of roughly 100 to 500 organisms, some estimates are much lower.  The number of edible organisms on the planet is somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 depending on how they are defined.  The number of good tasting and enjoyable edibles is estimated to be between 12,000 and 25,000.  With these numbers we can see what we are missing.

Modern nutrition has us focused on vitamins, minerals, and calorie intake, which are very important but these tens of thousands of edible plants and animals also contain complex byproducts that can affect our health in positive and sometimes negative ways, if over-consumed.  Many of the medicines we have today are derived from plants and animals such as codeine, atropine, benzyl benzoate, caffeine, heparin, menthol, morphine and many more. Certain plants also have benefits to people such as antibiotic and antiparisitic properties, balancing blood sugar, many different types of antioxidants and other cancer fighting components. When eaten in their natural form in the right quantities, these plants and animals give us a balanced and relatively safe way to get the benefits from their compounds and byproducts. One example is Rose of Sharon(Hybiscus syriacus) which is know to reduce blood pressure when taken on a regular basis. High blood pressure is a common problem today, and medicines often have side effects. Drinking Rose of Sharon tea or eating leaves and flowers could help people to lower their blood pressure, with no bad side effects.

Now we see what potential benefits this large variety of plants and animals has to offer.  There is one more part to this story though.  All people today still have different genetic makeup and require different nutritional needs.  Our ethnicity will help us to determine a little better what diet is best for us.  Some conditions such as hypoglycemia, lactose intolerance, and obesity are more common in certain ethnic groups.  We know now that variety is very important and we should always be asking the question: what is my ancestral diet? Because this is what the evolution of your ancestors has lead to.  This is the diet that you were made for.


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Grasshoppers and Locust, A Delicious Swarm Of Protein


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Grasshopper
Grasshopper

The famous grasshopper( Suborder: Caelifera) is known as an edible insect to many people.  This is often a first insect meal to people who have never eaten insects or bugs before.  They are eaten in substantial amounts, in south America, Africa, Asia and some parts of the Middle East. There are some species that change their behavior to swarm when populations increase, these are called locusts.  Grasshoppers cover the globe, so nearly everyone can harvest this edible insect.

Edibility And Culinary Use

The taste is very good. It has a hardy flavor.  There are no bad tastes or aftertaste.  It often just tastes like a hardier version of the herbs and spices it’s cooked in.  Grasshoppers should always be cooked when eaten, not because of anything inherent to the grasshopper, but they may contain parasites.  Grasshoppers are eaten throughout the world in many ways including, fried, baked, mashed, cooked over fire, and boiled in salt, or soup.

Health Benefits

Fried Grasshopper
Fried Grasshopper (Photo By: Thomas Schoch / Wikimedia Commons)

The primary nutritional benefit is well known and that is its protein content compared to contents of fats and cholesterol.  So in other words this is a great choice to get you protein but not put on a lot of pounds.   Grasshopper is one thing you can fill up on and still feel good, this is a great way to stay thin and healthy.

Cautions

The only known caution besides for allergic reactions is that the grasshopper should be cooked, because there is a chance of it hosting an unwanted parasite.

Conclusion

You’ve all heard about eating bugs, and some say they’ll never try it.  Eating grasshoppers is a common sense solution to the problems of lack of protein in some countries and overabundance of fats and cholesterol in others.  So we should all be including grasshoppers in our diet, the outcome will be better health, who can argue with that.


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Chicken Of The Woods, An Easy To ID Meat Substitute


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Chicken of the Woods
Chicken of the Woods. Notice the Porous bottom surface. They do not have gills. (Photo By: Jim Champion / Wikimedia Commons)

If you’re a beginner to fungus foraging, Chicken of the woods( Genus: Laetiporus) is a great fungus to seek out because it’s widespread in The United States and easy to distinguish from any look-a-likes as long as you know a few fundamental identification features. There are a number of species in the genus that all look very similar, and are all considered to be edible, a very common species is Laetiporus Sulphureus, which grows in the Northeast and feeds more on hard woods like oak rather than softwoods.

Edibility And Culinary Use

Younger brackets are edible cooked. As they get old they dry out and become inedible.  This fungus’ claim to fame is its chicken-like fibrous texture.  The taste is bland but can pick up other flavors that it’s cooked with.  You can fry, bake or boil chicken of the woods, these cooking methods produce slightly different textures and give you some options for preparation. Here is a simple chicken of the woods recipe.

Health Benefits

Chicken of the woods has the ability to inhibit certain bacteria like staph bacteria(Staphylococcus aureus). It may also help prevent absorption of nutrients  into cancerous cells.

Chicken of the Woods
Chicken of the Woods

Key ID Features

This fungus only grows on trees, either living or dead. Different species grow on different types of trees including hardwoods and softwoods, as well as different heights in the tree.  This fungus is a type of polypore which means that it has pores(small holes) on the underside, instead of gills.  The part that most people would call a mushroom is referred to as a bracket when it is a polypore growing from a tree and has no stalk.  The top of the bracket is orange/yellow and grows in a shelf-like pattern, hence one common name, sulfur shelf Mushroom.  There is typically a lighter colored margin at the edge of the bracket about 1/2″ thick(see photo).  The underside is lighter than the top and can range from white to yellow. The pores of this species are very small and dense so you will have to look closely to see them. Once you have found the fungus, chances are it will be in the same spot for a few years before it dies. You can also install chicken of the woods spawn plugs in a hardwood log or stump and grow your own.

Cautions

 Laetiporus Sulphureus
Laetiporus Sulphureus on Willow Tree( Photo By: Andy Potter / geograph.org.uk)

There are some minor cautions with chicken of the woods.  There have been rare reports of minor reactions in sensitive people including, swollen lips, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and disorientation.  These reactions may be due to a number of causes including, allergies to the fungus, individual reactions to the fungus’s proteins, toxins absorbed by woods such as eucalyptus or cedar, and eating old decaying brackets.

Conclusion

For expert and beginner fungus foragers alike Chicken of the Woods should be a staple wild edible. Its easy to identify, has no known deadly look-a-likes, and a texture that works well in many culinary dishes. This fungus is often perennial, so once you find it, you can return year after year to harvest.

Read our Article on: Safe Foraging

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