In 2007 there was a minor sensation created by the publication of the book The 100 Mile Diet which chronicled the efforts of the two authors to only eat foods made from within 100 miles of their home. This idea got me to thinking and well just to come out with it, I think I have an even better idea for a diet, or at least one that is similar but likely easier to accomplish, I am calling it the 100 year diet. Let me explain.
What if you only ate foods that had been available 100 or more years ago?
Certainly we hear every other day it seems about another study finding health benefits from “traditional” diets, the most well known of these being the Mediterranean diet. However there is also the French paradox, where a traditional diet that would be expected by Western medical standards to be unhealthy instead leads to low rates of heart disease and longevity. There are the Inuit Eskimos subsisting for much of their caloric needs on seal blubber, one would expect them to die in their 40s from heart disease, yet now we know that this traditional diet is rich in healthy omega fatty acids.
Weston Price more than half a century ago set out to document the diets of isolated “primitive” cultures throughout the world. In every geographic region, he found that these less developed communities had greater health, resistance to disease and an absence of the types of diseases common to developed industrial societies. When these same communities began adopting a more modern diet they too were then plagued by the diseases of modern society.
Just consider for a moment what you would avoid if you only ate foods that had been around for at least 100 years. No diet soda as this contains aspartame with all its well documented health risks. By the same token no “healthy” yogurt with aspartame or any other of the 100s of cereals, jams, syrups, candies, ice cream, etc that might have this artificial sweetener. In fact off the list would be a food with any artificial sweetener whether aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame K or sucralose. You could have a soda, however only one sweetened with sugar and not with high fructose corn syrup. In avoiding high fructose corn syrup you would avoid a whole plethora of other foods from ketchup to salad dressing and most notably nearly all the mass produced breads on the market. Of course bread 100 years ago wasn’t made from bleached, refined flour either. So one would go back to what has been done for thousands of years and get one’s bread from the local bakery. It’s not to hard to find a bakery that makes healthy bread.
There were no trans-fatty acid foods 100 years ago. These first three points really eliminate most everything from fast food joints. There was no acrylamide laden food from boiling food in over heated cooking oil, this would again eliminate fast food French fries and most potato chips.
There were no GM foods. Unfortunately these are often not labeled and especially in the United States staple foods such as corn will often be GM foods so one has to look for organic labels. There was also no recombinant growth hormone 100 years ago. Actually at that time the chickens were free range and the cows ate grass. There was no fluoridated water or fluoridated salt 100 years ago. There was no red dye #7 or yellow #3 100 years ago. Oh yes there were also no chemical butter substitutes. And so on and so forth.
There is another advantage of this approach as compared to the 100 mile diet. It can be pretty difficult and time consuming to figure out if a food was made locally or shipped in. On the other hand if you look at a label and it says acesulfame K or red dye #7 you can be pretty certain the Amish don’t have that on the dinner table. Its pretty easy to make a common sense guess if something is a traditional food or is filled with things straight out of Dupont’s laboratories. I also don’t think on the whole it is any more expensive to eat this way, yes one needs to pay more for organic produce or meats but having water with meals and snaking on carrots instead of Doritoes likely evens things out.
I’ll admit I haven’t yet tried to follow this diet strictly, but I have been moving in this direction more and more for some time without ever putting a label on what I was doing. Of course, one could still eat poorly on this diet, if all one ate was French pastries with red wine you would would have a problem but the beauty of it is that as one eliminates the chemicals and additives one’s body becomes more attuned to healthy eating, it becomes far less of a struggle to keep a healthy weight and one finds that far from missing the chemical laden foods one has no appetite for them and they often seem rather disgusting. I used to drink two 20 ounce diet sodas a day a few years back, at this point it tastes to me about like antifreeze and I wonder how I ever drank that garbage.
There is one last benefit to this approach. The tradition of different foods is also tied in with various cultures. By trying to force down our throats some mass produced, homogenized, synthetic, chemical simulacrum of what is supposed to pass for food we also risk losing an important part of our cultures. This is a way both of safe-guarding one’s health as well as voting with one’s pocket book against a greedy and crass obliteration of centuries old cultures.
Well, I would be really curious to hear what people think of this idea. I honestly do believe this is a really straightforward rule-of-thumb to keep in mind that could help people’s health immensely. Who knows we may just start the next diet craze.