We often approach nutrition as a blanket solution for all. Though some things are good rules of thumb for all humans to follow, this blanket isn’t all the advantageous for as as an individual. There are countless factors going into understanding what makes our bodies function best in terms of nutrients and food sources. The truth is, we all hail from different areas of the planet. Some of us are of European descent, some from African descent, some from Asian or Latin descent…and this matters.
For example, my story is that I’m basically a Northern Anglo-European mutt. I’m second generation South African on my dad’s side, whose family originally came from Scottish English Heritage and on my mom’s side I’m 6th generation South African but her father was born in England and also has Northern Anglo-European Roots. So what does that tell me about nutrition?
Let’s walk through the 4 things to keep in mind about your genes and personal history in order to advance your health. We will use my lineage and personal history as an example and I hope that these ideas can open up a whole new way of thinking about your nutrition.
#1: Where Do You Hail From? Your Personal and Family History
I think one of the most important questions is where do you hail from? What is your personal and family heritage? If you take a broad look at my heritage, it’s not like most of my ancestors evolved running around eating mangos and pineapples or other tropical fruits. I probably don’t have the genetic adaptation in my long lineage to handle those on a regular basis. Eating them every once in awhile is fine but in reality, my ancestors were probably eating a lot of meats in the winter because there wasn’t many other crops around. They’d have eaten a lot of fish and there weren’t that many cows around so they didn’t consume dairy too much.
These things are important to keep in mind. Where does your long-term lineage land you? What sort of things grow naturally in that area or were a staple of the diet of those people? Do a little research here as needed and make a mental list of those things that were more common for you ancestors and those that were foreign. Knowing this doesn’t have to mean you never eat something outside of your ancestral zone, but keeping it in mind can help you make smarter decisions about what you consume on a regular basis.
#2: What is Your Latitude? Your Personal and Family History
When it comes to natural nutrition, lineage isn’t the whole story. There’s this whole idea of latitude. Where I am right now affects the way I handle food. If my northern European ancestors were at approximately 50 degrees, they would have endured cold winters and all that comes with that. I was raised in the subtropics around 30 degrees latitude which is much different with hot most of the year. Because of where I grew up I ate fruits and foods from all over the world due to South Africa being a hub when people moved from the West trying to make it to the East. Even though this diversity was available to me, it didn’t mean that my body was prepared to handle it.
So where are you living? Is it at a much different latitude than your ancestral zone? Is it at a similar latitude? In terms of immigration to the United States, many Europeans who crossed the Atlantic ended up settling at a similar latitudes to their home countries. This was a natural draw to a similar climate and luckily, means many of us now live at a latitude that is beneficial to our nutrition. But are you eating locally? Keep this all in mind as you get to know your nutrition better.
#3: What Season Is It? Seasonal Variety
Seasonal variation is a big thing I think about. I do believe that we are totally screwing ourselves over these days. A lot of health problems are related to the availability of the same foods all the time. We eat 85% of our diet from the same 15 foods. Most people eat the same things every single day. Usually some sort of greens, sugar, butter, eggs, etc. We make up a great deal of our calories from baked goods and sandwiches to everything else. But it’s not natural to eat the same thing every single day for the rest of your life! There’s unfortunately no seasonal variation in our diet like there would have been naturally. Foods are coming from all over the world so I can have avocados in the middle of winter and kiwis from New Zealand.
What season is it currently where you are? What foods grow naturally in your region at this time of year or what would your ancestors have eaten during winter, spring, summer, and autumn? Staying in tune with this is important. Try checking out your local farmer’s market. This will give you a good idea of what is truly in season in your area. The more you align your diet with this, the more likely you are to eat foods that are advantageous for your body.
#4: What Is Your Religious/Social Group? Your Personal and Family History
Something that we got to think about is your religion and social group because there are certain things that won’t be allowed. Just because your religious or social group consumes something doesn’t necessarily mean that it is healthy for you but through many many generations and thousands of years of eating a certain way, they probably adapted to that food very well. It’s when we start practicing new religions and getting involved in new social groups that this may be problematic. This boils down to the ideal of tribalism.
What I mean by tribalism in that we all know that we individuals and we all know that we like being part of the social following. We have to realize that nutrition and our social group can, and oftentimes should, be different. You can have a connection with people without having blind allegiance to a tribal mentality or nutritional choice. For example, I can be someone who is full of social consciousness and believes in animal rights but I don’t necessarily survive or thrive as a vegan. On the flip side, I can be someone is pro-meat and very dedicated to being a carnivore and then not really adapt to digesting that meat very well. Overall, it is important for us to watch out with how we associate ourselves and what’s it doing to a health.
So which of these four topics have you considered when it comes to your nutrition? Which ideas are new to you? How can this information about your family and personal history influence what you choose to eat and when? I hope this topic was of interest to you and if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me. Happy discovering!
-Dr. Jerome Craig