“When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need,” affirms one Ayurvedic proverb.
Just three weeks remain in 2021:
how will you close out the year?
Will you be gathering with cherished loved ones, or do you prefer to spend time alone enjoying some peace and quiet? However you’re planning to celebrate the holidays [or if you’re abstaining], we’ve put together a list of the most nourishing ancestral foods and practices for protecting your sacred peace. We’re here to help keep you sane during the coldest month of the year.
Social Isolation - Grief - Seasonal Depression. These and other symptoms plague millions around November and December. Even those who normally express content mental states the rest of the year can fall into temporary anxious and depressive states during this time.
So, how do we manage this SAD (seasonal affective disorder) this time of the year?
Mental health experts say light therapy, psychotherapy, and vitamin D can help, all of which can be relatively cheap or even free. For starters, try getting a dose of sunshine or finding a therapist near you who offers pro bono services. Also, eating foods naturally rich in vitamin D like fish liver oil and fatty fish such as salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel, etc. can do a lot to improve your mood in any season.
Take a moment to surrender to the truth. Things look different … still.
For many individuals, families, and groups of friends who wish to gather this December, there are more obstacles keeping us apart than ever before. Accepting what’s beyond your control may help you prepare for making alternative plans and choices that are healthy for you now. Clinging to past attachments may make alternative holiday traditions challenging, rather than enriching.
Eating like our ancestors: what does ancestral eating actually mean?
Ancestral eating is all about one word: ingredients. You can also think of it as a diet that focuses on eating real food, or food that’s closest to its natural state. For thousands of years, regardless of our culture and origins, our ancestors have eaten primarily (or exclusively) whole foods that are unrefined and unprocessed. All ancestral foods have this in common: they are actually food.
Local - Sustainable - Seasonal. These three words should help guide your food choices.
To simplify the overwhelming amount of shame-based information often prevalent in so-called wellness spaces, start by figuring out how to access food from local farmers, CSAs (community supported agriculture), and farmers markets where possible. Next, get to know how the natural order of things impacts your body and your community. Organic and chemical-free foods will always provide the most nutritious value, but if you can’t access them, what’s the closest thing you can get? Start small, and continue to invest in learning about your food sources.
Be realistic: most of us aren’t going to hunt, gather, or forage (though some will!).
Humans are very intuitive creatures. Don’t stress or overwhelm yourself by trying to be a “perfect consumer” or by making ancestral eating a fad you’ll move on from in a short while. Instead, try to create a plan for yourself and your family that integrates real and whole foods into as many meals and recipes as possible, building up to the healthiest diet for your household.
Prebiotics and Probiotics 101
Gut health warriors. Better health cousins. These are just some of the ways you can think about prebiotics and probiotics, which work hand-in-hand to support your body in maintaining a healthy colony of bacteria and other microorganisms.
Prebiotics are a type of specialized plant fiber that cannot be digested by the human body. Their primary role is to serve as food that stimulates growth of the preexisting “good bacteria” a.k.a. probiotics. They are present in fiber-rich foods. Think: fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Probiotics are tiny, living strains of bacteria that occur in many fermented foods, which add good bacteria to your digestive system. Think: yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and tempeh. To aid digestion and support gut health, probiotics and prebiotics work together to provide food and to promote an internal environment for microorganisms to flourish.
8 ANCESTRAL FOODS
to boost immunity, mood + wellbeing
Below are five prebiotic and probiotic ancestral foods that have been used for centuries to boost immunity, mood, and overall well being, including their origins and major benefits.
If not already part of your diet, consider bringing them to your holiday potlucks or trying a new recipe. It could end up being a new favorite tradition among your professional and social circles.
Origins: Mexico + Central America
Benefits: Pumpkin flesh and seeds have long been an essential staple in the time-honored food traditions of many indigenous peoples. Did you know that pumpkins are also packed with potent prebiotics? This incredible superfood is brimming with micronutrients and antioxidants. It is also an excellent source of prebiotic fibers, which help support healthy gut bacteria, a key source of good overall health. Several varieties of the pumpkin family have been cultivated since approximately 3500 BC (Agricultural Alternatives). While pumpkins are thought to be native to the Americas, their seeds and fruits were also recovered in the southwestern US among cliff dweller ruins. In the Abenaki language, wasawa is the word used for pumpkin or squash, and in indigenous diets in North America, pumpkins are more than just a sweet finish to November dinners; they’ve long been a staple in diets of Indian nations. Seminole pumpkins, for example, which are native to southern Florida, were used long before immigrants arrived by the Miccosukee, the Creek, and the Seminole people (food tank). Ancient containers filled with pumpkin seeds were discovered in Mayan ruins in Mexico, dating as far back as 7000 BC!
Bonus: Try our beloved Silvia Bifaro’s adaptogenic pumpkin pie recipe, just posted on the blog here.
Origin: South Asia
Benefits: In and beyond Asia, over 100 species of Curcuma (turmeric) have been identified worldwide (NIH). Turmeric root is an anti-inflammatory master, an alkalizer, and a tonic for the skin, muscles, and joints that is worth making a very integral part of your diet year-round, but especially during the cold and flu season. If you’re thinking of making curry tonight, be generous with your turmeric seasoning. Research now shows what countries like India, Burma and Sri Lanka have long known: this yellow spice has countless benefits beyond flavor boosting. Used for more than 4,000 years to treat a variety of ailments, curcumin—the active ingredient in turmeric—is known to ward off dementia and helps prevent cancer and other viruses. Ayurveda and other ancient medicinal systems suggest pairing turmeric with black pepper, whose piperine compound combines with the curcumin to keep your immune system in optimal shape. Recent studies have explored turmeric extract as a source of powerful prebiotic compounds.
Bonus: Try these herbal elixirs, tonics, and superfoods featuring our single origin heirloom variety of turmeric root, grown in a women’s cooperative in Guatemala and 100% organic.
Origins: Northwest Mexico + Sonoran Desert
Benefits: Also known as Phaseolus acutifolius, tepary beans have been a staple part of indigenous diets in the Sonoran Desert, Northwest Mexico, and the Southwestern US for more than 5,000 years. In addition to being an ancient crop, these beans can serve as a substitute for any dried bean with high protein and soluble fiber content, which prevents and controls cholesterol levels and diabetes, among other health concerns. The O’Otham people know the tepary bean by the name of S-tota Bav, and their prebiotic fuel is one of the gut microbiome’s best allies. Over the last three decades, tepary beans have spread to other desert-dwelling peoples in arid regions worldwide. Compared to other beans, exponentially more nutrients—magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, and potassium, to name a few—are packed into this ancestral food. Master Herbalist Dr. Paul Haider says tepary beans also contain powerful antioxidants, found in their phytosterols and isoflavones, preventing DNA damage and diseases. Plus, Dr. Haider says their fiber content may help slow the aging process and prevent age-related diseases.
Origins: Madagascar, mainland Africa + Australia
Benefits: With ten times the level of vitamin C found in oranges and packing a strong prebiotic punch, the fruit of the baobab tree also boasts antioxidant qualities in addition to antimicrobial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. This ancient tree is believed to carry deep ancestral wisdom throughout its native regions where several myths also refer to it as the “upside down tree”. The oldest known baobab tree was approximately 2,500 years old, and more than 300 different uses for the tree have been documented by ecologists. Its medicinal values are well documented and well known by both African and Asian communities, ranging from an antidote to poison to a skincare aid to help give children smooth skin during bathtime. The fruit pulp of the baobab contains the soluble fiber needed to promote lactobacilli and bifidobacteria in the digestive tract, which stimulates the growth of probiotic bacteria and other good gut health.
Benefits: In recent years, fermented foods have become so trendy and widely celebrated that the six-time World’s Best Restaurant winner, the Denmark-based Noma, is specifically known for its state-of-the-art fermentation kitchen. Far from being anything new, fermentation is actually an ancestral practice from countless cultures around the world, which has been a regular and essential practice since food has been consumed by human beings. For instance, ancient southern African ferments include amasi (sour milk), amahewu (alcohol-free fermented maize drink), as well as sorghum beers in Zimbabwe and non-alcoholic drinks like mabisi, munkoyo, and chibwantu in Zambia. Also sorghum-based, in Nigeria and throughout West Africa, traditional fermented foods include ogi, iru, and gari. While these can be consumed at other times throughout the year, incorporating these sacred fermented foods into the menus for weddings and other ceremonies is also common practice. In rural communities where antibiotics are not accessible, these abundant probiotics have served as essential food medicines. Academic articles, like this paper by a collective of Mexico-based scholars, detail some of Mexico’s most popular fermented drinks (both non-alcoholic and spirit-based), including: tequila, mezcal, sotol, bacanora, pulque, tejuino, colonche, pozol, tepache, and tuba. And on the other side of the world, an ancestral flavor-enhancer made from chickpea miso has been gaining popularity among diverse communities in São Paolo, where over 2 million Japanese-Brazilians reside.
Origin: Southeast Asia
As one of the most popular ingredients in the world, ginger has a long history of use, and has been present within healing practices for well over 5,000 years. Ginger contains gingerol, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that assists both immune function, and mood! Yes, a healthy immune system is actually known to boost mood! Its antibacterial and antiviral properties can be a powerful decongestant, and for upper respiratory support. If you’re feeling a bit under the weather, boil some ginger slices, garlic, and citrus of choice.
Origin: Central + South America
Benefits: Cacao has a rich history in Amazonian and Mesoamerican native cultures. Traces found of its use date back to over 4000 years ago. Cacao gained a divine status in different cultures like the Olmecs, Izapan, Maya, Toltecs, Aztecs, and Incas. As a frothy, godly, and highly prized drink it was mainly consumed by the elite. Deities were worshiped for bringing cacao to the world and it was used in rituals, ceremonies, feasts, and festivals. Because of their value, the beans were used as an early form of money, tax, and even counterfeited! Really good quality cacao contains many beneficial components such as antioxidants, magnesium, theobromine, phenylethylamine, essential minerals, and vitamins (A, B1, B3, C, E, and pantothenic acid). Theobromine, phenylethylamine, and ‘bliss chemical’ anandamide are the primary compounds within cacao that elevate our mood, encouraging feelings of joy and love.
Origin: South America
Benefits: Nicknamed the “gold of the Incas,” lucuma has been used as a traditional remedy in South America for centuries. It is often used as a sweetener, but it is significantly healthier than table sugar. It contains a variety of antioxidants, supports blood sugar regulation, and is known to gently support heart health. Lucuma is a great prebiotic to the gut due to the high amount of soluble fiber it contains. Soluble fiber feed your beneficial gut bacteria, which in turn produce short-chain fatty acids, like acetate, propionate, and butyrate. These are then used as food by cells in your gut, keeping them healthy. And thereby, boosting your immune system. We love adding lucuma to many of our formulas like our Happiness powder, Golden Sun Milk because its naturally sweet, and nutrient dense.
And of course, there’s many, many more! But this is an invitation to dig deep into your ancestry and perhaps find some fun recipes to integrate into your diet, or holiday season spread!