A person’s diet is always an evolution. Maybe you have more time on your hands and can cook from scratch. Maybe you got a second time and scratch cooking is hard to fit in. Maybe a health issue has caused you to rethink the way you eat. Sometimes a change in eating habits is triggered by a change in finances. Often, it’s many things combined that cause your eating habits to change. Whatever the reason, there’s always a learning curve as you embrace the positive aspects of the change.
We’ve made two major changes over the past couple of years.
First of all, we are very committed to eating locally. When you eat locally grown food, you don’t have that separation from it that people who simply go to the grocery store and load up a cart do. When you eat locally, you know what you’re getting, and you know it to an exponentially greater degree.
Secondly, several months ago we swore off grains as a family due to some health issues with my daughter, and we haven’t looked back. I think it’s entirely possible that many of the chronic health problems being experienced in our country could be related to the exceptionally high grain-and-carbohydrate intake of the average American. It isn’t even because people are just gorging on junk food. We’re being strongly encouraged to load up our plates with “health whole grains” despite a growing body of evidence that whole grains are anything but healthy.
And here’s the magical thing that I discovered:
Grain free and local go hand in hand.
The number one thing I noticed when we opted out of grains was that previously, when I tried to stay with more local foods, it was always grains that caused me to veer off plan. Because, well, grains don’t grow here.
I began to think about how I could eat food produced nearby and stick to my plan, and then it all clicked into place.
We stick fairly closely to the Primal Blueprint, a plan developed by Mark Sisson. (We do include beans and organic corn on occasion.) There’s some crossover with the Paleo diet, but we consume dairy products, which are forbidden on that plan.
“Eating ancestrally is about ingredients, and local culture and that means what’s available to you where you are. So eating this way it will look different in Greece, Coastal France, Japan, Africa, Maine, Hawaii, California, or in the Rocky Mountain West.
Those who have done their research in this field of traditional diets, whether their approach be Paleo, Mediterranean, or following any of the Blue Zones recommendations, the goal of this style of eating is health. And those who follow an ancestral lifestyle, or way of eating, have been found to showcase some of the lowest rates of some of the most common epidemic diseases: diabetes, heart disease, neurological and behavioral disorders, cancer, high blood pressure, and others.”
This ties in with the research of Dr. Weston Price, whose book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration was originally published in the early 1900s. Price was a dentist from Cleveland, Ohio, who travelled the world to research dental health in relation to traditional diets. What he discovered was that the change in nutrition affected far more than dental health. Through his travels, he learned that people who had veered away from their traditional diets had much higher incidence of poor health, chronic disease, facial malformations, crooked teeth, and dental problems. His findings go hand in hand with the importance of eating traditional and local foods that we were designed to consume. It’s simply not in our DNA to hunt or gather a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
The key point here is that our hunter-gatherer ancestors did not have access to imported or processed food. They had local food NAILED, though.
So, at your local farmer’s market, do they sell sheaves of wheat? No? Mine either. But they do sell abundant fruits and vegetables, farm-fresh eggs, and local meats.
By paying attention to what is available at the farmer’s market in your area, you can easily learn to eat a diet that is more local to you. And you may find that you naturally move away from the grain laden SAD (Standard American Diet).
What do you eat when you don’t eat grains?
This is a question I am asked frequently. When you first start out it takes some adjusting, but I eat many of the same foods as I did before, just minus the serving of starchy carbohydrates.
To figure out what to eat, look around your farmer’s market. Think about what you, yourself, can produce. You may not be able to grow fields of wheat and rice, but there are lots of things you actually CAN produce yourself, or easily purchase from or barter with someone nearby.
- You can grow vegetables.
- You can have an orchard that will thrive in your particular climate, or trade with someone who does.
- You can raise meat animals like chickens and rabbits, or larger livestock if you have the space
- You can raise animals to produce eggs and milk.
- You can preserve food in a multitude of ways.
- You can save seeds so that you can do it all again next year.
- You can breed livestock to expand your flock.
- You can keep bees.
- You can hunt/snare/fish for meat
Unless you live in Antarctica, it’s entirely likely that these things are within your reach, perhaps even within walking distance. And if you can’t/won’t do these things yourself, there are probably people in your vicinity that can and do.
Keeping in mind that it’s the height of garden season, here are some examples of grain free meals we’ve eaten in the past week:
- Ham or bacon and eggs with sliced tomatoes
- Zucchini and potato hash browns with sausage
- Homemade yogurt and fruit
- Smoothies with raw milk and fruit
- Salad with leftover meats
- Cucumber and tomato salad with goat’s milk feta
- Veggies with yogurt dip
- Leftovers from the previous night
- Southwestern chicken vegetable soup
- Steak with grilled vegetables
- Grilled chicken topped with salsa served with grilled corn
- Meatloaf with cauliflower/potato mash
- Stir fry with green beans and chicken
We’re pretty busy during the day and don’t sit down for a full meal until supper – lunch is usually a grab-and-go kind of thing for us, and sometimes we eat breakfast later in the day and just have an early dinner.
Once you get into the swing of things, it isn’t hard to convert many of your own recipes to grain-free ones. Here’s a list of substitutions and conversions that can help you do this.
Many of the cookbooks for primal or paleo eating rely on exotic ingredients that aren’t really part of our plan, but you can often substitute something more realistic. These cookbooks have some great recipes, and the creative cook can easily tweak them to fit the food available.
- Primal Blueprint Quick and Easy Meals
- The Primal Blueprint Cookbook
- Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans
- Wheat Belly 30-Minute (Or Less!) Cookbook
- Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats
For more ideas, you can follow me on Instagram. I often photograph our food to share how easy it is to live a grain-free, local food lifestyle. Sometimes seeing what a real family eats can help more than a cookbook because we live with a strict budget and don’t have a million crazy ingredients from Tahiti in our kitchen.
What do you eat in the winter?
Sticking to local foods all year long can seem like quite a challenge, especially if you live in a place with dark, cold winters. Many people rely on supplementing their local goodies with a serving of grains at every meal, even though no farms with the same area code as you even produce grains.
We live in California, which means I have a longer growing season than most folks. However, we still use strategies that can get you through the winter.
- We preserve food: I can, freeze, and dehydrate lots of local goodies when they’re in season. During zucchini season, for example, I make zucchini noodles with my Spiralizer, then dehydrate them to enjoy later in the year. I make marinara sauce, salsa, ketchup, and tomato broth from my garden bounty. Fruits, veggies, and nuts all get put back in one way or another to see us through the winter.
- We stockpile using the agrarian method. Centuries ago, eating in season and putting food back for the winter was how people survived. Each year we build up a stockpile to use over the winter, and each winter we eat most of our stockpile before replenishing it again. This is one of the strategies explained in my book, The Pantry Primer.
- We eat in season: For our “fresh” produce, we enjoy things like rutabagas and turnips in the winter. We eat salads in the spring and fall. We enjoy apples throughout apple season, oranges in the winter, and strawberries in the spring. By focusing on what is in season, we get fresh local goodies when they are at their best.
- We use strategies to extend our growing season: We have a greenhouse in which we grow some greens in the winter. This year, we plan to really branch out and see how much we can produce in it. We have a small hoophouse set-up to go over raised beds to extend the harvest past the first frost. We grow sprouts, herbs, and lettuce in a sunny kitchen window.
- We eat meat, dairy products, and eggs: We get our meat locally, our milk from a nearby neighbor, and eggs from the backyard. These excellent local protein sources are an important part of our diets and make up the majority of calories.
- We eat easily stored root vegetables. In colder temperatures, we rely on things like winter squash, rutabagas, turnips, onions, carrots, and occasionally potatoes. Fruits like apples, if stored carefully, will last long into the colder months too.
- At the grocery store, we focus on frozen foods. Since I’m not a millionaire, I purchase a lot of frozen fruits and vegetables in the winter to supplement what we’ve put back from local harvests.
If you’ve been thinking about going grain-free, now is the time
If you haven’t been living in a cave, you’ve most likely heard about the research by prominent physicians like Dr. William Davis, Dr. Jack Wolfson, and Dr. David Perlmutter. They all concur that the Standard American Diet with its high carbohydrates and massive reliance on grains is linked to a variety of serious health issues such as heart disease, fatty liver disease, obesity, diabetes, and more.
We’ve been programmed by the USDA (which has a vested interest in promoting the sale of millions of pounds of grains), the FDA, and the AMA to believe that our plate must be half full of starchy carbs. This is simply not true, and has caused epidemic chronic illness. Are you going to blindly follow the advice of government agencies that are heavily influenced by corporate farms or are you going to experiment and see what works best for your particular situation?
Summer is possibly the easiest time to take the plunge into grain-free eating, but no matter what season it is, consider making a change for a few weeks. See how you feel. Let your body heal.
You just may decide this is the lifestyle for you.