Should you eat your traditional diet?

Should you eat your traditional diet? By traditional diet, we are referring to what your ancestors ate. While this makes common sense, there are a few arguments against to consider.

Pros

  • Your gut microbiome is likely to thrive when provided the foods it expects based on your genetics. A healthy gut microbiome is key on overall health.
  • Your metabolic pathways are likely to respond better to your traditional foods, for example you might have a better glycaemic response eating carbohydrate-containing foods that are staples in your region of origin.
  • If you grew up eating traditional foods, your palate is already adapted to those flavours.
  • If you live in the country where your ancestors came from, you have easier access to foods (ingredients and prepared foods) that are traditional to you.
  • You are likely to have access to traditional recipes and culinary knowledge.

Cons

  • You might be missing out on nutrient-dense foods that don’t belong in your traditional diet. For example, if you were born in China, your traditional diet doesn’t include extra virgin olive oil, which has many health benefits.
  • If you live in a country with no access to ingredients or restaurants, it will be difficult for you to follow your traditional diet.
  • By the same token, it can be difficult to eat your traditional foods while travelling.
  • There are healthier and unhealthier dishes in pretty much any diet. If you eat mostly unhealthy foods, it doesn’t matter if they are traditional to you, as your health will likely be compromised.
  • You might be missing out on the fun and excitement of trying new cuisines, if that’s something that appeals to you.
  • Focusing too much on limiting foods can have a detrimental effect on mental health

Should you eat your traditional diet? Summary and recommendations

  • It makes sense to try to eat a diet that is close to what our ancestors ate.
  • The main argument for following your traditional diet is that your gut microbiome is in part genetically determined, and thus likely to thrive on traditional foods
  • The main argument against following your traditional diet is that you might be missing out in some foods that have health benefits
  • Most, if not all, traditional diets have healthier and unhealthier foods. The foods you choose in whichever dietary pattern you follow will have a big impact on your health.
  • Many people (like me) have mixed genetic backgrounds. It can take some experimentation to determine which dietary patterns and specific foods work best for you.
  • Listen to your body. If eating your traditional diet doesn’t seem to sit well with you, don’t push it.
  • As always, talk to your dietitian if you have trouble troubleshooting your diet.

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