Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
6 Jan

The Definitive Guide to Using Your Recent Ancestry to Determine Your Optimal Diet

Family treeGo back 160,000 years and we all share a common ancestor: The emergence of the first Homo sapiens in East Africa. Since then, humans have spread across every environment imaginable and adapted to those environments. Much remains the same. We all breathe oxygen, require protein, produce insulin, oxidize fatty acids. But extended stays in unique environments have created genetic proclivities in different populations. For example, descendants of people who settled in high-altitude areas like the Himalayas, the Andes, and the Ethiopian highlands tend to show greater resistance to low-oxygen environments, while the Greenland Inuit show unique adaptations to cold environments, including increased activity of heat-stimulating brown fat. And among the island-dwellers of Sardinia, where the landscape constrained the amount of available food, there’s considerable evidence of positive selection for short stature.

What other differences exist, and how can we explore them to inform and improve our own diet and lifestyle choices?

One way is to directly test your genes using a service that analyzes your DNA and provides gene-based dietary, exercise, and lifestyle advice. When I got my genes analyzed by DNAFit, my current diet and lifestyle choices—avoiding chronic cardio, eating more fat, taking more vitamin D (or sun) and omega-3s—were vindicated. It turns out that since I’m of Scandinavian stock and my ancestors had steady access to fish rich in omega-3s and vitamin D, I’m adapted to and likely need a diet higher in fish and vitamin D for optimal health. I have the genetic predisposition to excel in endurance athletics, but my genes also predicted I’d be a strong power athlete; that explains why I was an elite marathoner in the old days and more recently have been successful lifting and sprinting.

Another option is to use your ancestral background as a rubric for exploration of different diet modifications.

You can still glean useful info and make realistic inferences from genetic research by examining the regional and ethnic distribution of various alleles (i.e. gene variations) and matching them against your own ancestry. Let’s take a look at some of the alleles for which we have the most data:

MTHFR Mutations and Folate-Rich Foods

There’s a lot of buzz in the alternative health world surrounding MTHFR mutations, so you may have wondered: why is a seemingly wholly negative mutation so prevalent? After all, when folate intake is low, MTHFR mutations cause poor methylation status, numerous health issues, and poor fetal survival. But when folate intake is high, these mutations confer protection against colorectal cancer and acute lymphatic leukemia, and may even augment fetal survival. Populations with sufficiently high intakes of folate would have therefore selected for the MTHFR mutations. So if MTHFR incidence is high in a certain population or ethnic group, that group’s traditional diet was probably rich in folate. If you come from a high-MTHFR population, maybe your diet should be, too.

MTHFR mutations tend to cluster in certain regions and populations. In one major study of newborns spanning 16 regions across the world, Mexicans, Hispanics living in Atlanta, Southern Italians (Campania, Sicily, Veneto), and Northern Han Chinese were more likely than other populations to carry MTHFR mutations that increased the need for dietary folate. Among the other newborns, Spanish whites, Australian whites, northeastern French, Southern Han Chinese, Russians, Israelis, Dutch, Canadian whites, Fins, and blacks living in Atlanta were far less likely to carry the mutation.

You may not have DNA test results confirming your MTHFR status. That’s okay. You can still determine whether your ancestors likely ate folate-rich diets. If you hail from Northern Han Chinese stock, or your grandparents came over from Sicily at the turn of the century, or your dad was Mexican—maybe try eating more folate-rich foods. Eat more leafy greens, chicken liver, pastured egg yolks. Even if it turns out that you don’t carry the MTHFR mutation, your immediate ancestors likely ate a high-folate diet, you may carry unknown alleles that interact with folate status, and eating more folate-rich foods could improve your health and performance.

AMY1 Copy Number and Carbs

Salivary amylase predigests starch. AMY1 is the gene coding for salivary amylase production. The more AMY1 copy numbers you have, the more salivary amylase you produce in response to carbohydrate intake. According to population genetics, salivary amylase copy number reflects ancestral starch intake. The more copy numbers you have, the more starch your ancestors ate. If you have fewer, your ancestral diet was likely lower in starch. Chimps and bonobos are our closest ancestors, but because their natural diets are fruit-based and low in starch, they have fewer AMY1 copies than humans.

The fewer copy numbers you carry, the more vulnerable you are to obesity and more likely you are to have insulin resistance. This effect persists across ethnicities and may be more pronounced in females. You have to consider the environmental context of the vast majority of people these days: carbohydrate-based diets. If you’re eating a standard American diet of fast food, sweets, and baked goods and you have a low number of salivary amylase gene copies, you’re more susceptible to obesity. So if you have fewer copies, your ancestors probably ate fewer carbs and, to stay lean and maintain optimal body composition, you should, too.

But it goes the other way, too. People with high copy numbers have a better metabolic response to starch ingestion than the person with fewer copies. How to find out?

The global distribution of AMY1 copy number variation hasn’t received a lot of attention, but we have a few datapoints. High-starch agricultural societies (Japanese and Europeans) and high-starch foragers (Hadza) have all been shown to possess higher average copy numbers than lower-starch societies like the Yakut (a Turkic people indigenous to Siberia), the Mbuti pygmies (a foraging society), the Biaka (foragers in the Congo), and the Datog (a group of pastoralists). Another study found that the mean copy number among Brazilians—a mishmash of European, African, and Native American genetics—was just 2.8 with a range of 1-8 copies of AMY1. That’s pretty low.

If you’ve got a confirmed bead on your number of salivary amylase copies, of if your ethnic background is known for having higher copy numbers—and you’re struggling with your weight—try eating a few more carbs. People with high copy numbers have a better metabolic response to starch ingestion than the person with fewer copies. Fewer copies? Eat fewer carbs. Whatever carbs you do consume, though, make sure they’re high-quality Primal carbs. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, various other roots and tubers, fruit, and low-toxin grains like rice are all great choices.

Lactase Persistence and Dairy

Lactase persistence allows safe digestion of the milk sugar lactose well into adulthood. The ability to digest lactose as an adult without gastrointestinal distress and watery bowel vacations allowed access to a versatile, dependable source of fat, protein, carbs, calories, and important micronutrients. The raising of dairy livestock and spread of pastoralism explain the pockets of lactase persistence that appear in otherwise lactose-intolerant areas, like Asia—where almost everyone but the Mongolians, the central Asian steppe peoples, and the inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent are entirely intolerant of lactose—or Africa—where only a few isolated pastoral groups, like the Masai, still produce lactase as adults. Clearly, lactase persistence is beneficial enough to have arisen independently in many different regions and populations. The nutrients in dairy are just too important to pass up.

If you’re Northern European (Scandinavian, British Isles) or Western European (France, Germany, etc), you’re probably lactose tolerant. Among Eastern and Southern Europeans, lactase persistence appears in 15-54% of the population. In Northern Indians, it’s 63%. In Southern Indians, it’s 23%. Hail from East Asia or have Native American ancestry, you probably aren’t.

The science is still young here. Even when researchers identify a genetic variant that interacts with diet and lifestyle, we need to know its distribution across populations and ethnicities to hypothesize about how it’ll affect us. Until we have more detailed data on these and other genetic variants, we’ll have to get speculative:

Read the ethnographical literature. It’s not always empirical. It may not even be accurate. Most often, you’ll be reading one person’s anecdotal observations, an outsider’s perspective. But they typically include frank descriptions of the traditional diet and lifestyle practices of the people and cultures being studied.

Northern European/German? Read Caesar’s accounts of the German tribes his legions faced. “They do not pay much attention to agriculture, and a large portion of their food consists in milk, cheese, and flesh.”

His observations of the Celtic Britons are also interesting. “They consider it contrary to divine law to eat the hare, the chicken, or the goose,” yet “do not sow grain but live on milk and flesh.”

Weston A Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration may be the most helpful examples of ethnographic literature. Price focused on isolated populations eating their native diets free of modern processed food, people like the Masai, Swiss villagers living in a remote alpine valley, Australian aborigines, South Pacific islanders, American Indians, Arctic Inuit, and Scottish fishermen. The diets are quite representative—almost everyone can find something that applies to their ethnic context—so read the sections most relevant to your ethnicity.

If the ethnographical literature turns out to be erroneous, so what? It’s not dangerous to try eating more kale with your food. Most people can get away with eating fermented dairy for a couple weeks to see how it affects them. You’ll get past it. You’ll learn something.

Focus on staple foods. Staples may be boring but human diets are based on them; they’re likely nutritionally significant. The Hadza prefer meat and honey to the fibrous tubers that comprise a large chunk of their diet, but the tubers provide important prebiotics that shape their microbiome. Look at the foods that consistently appear in the traditional cuisine of your ethnicity and consider implementing it.

Focus on the “defining ingredients” of your ethnic cuisine. Unique foods may be uniquely important. If you’re Thai, import and regularly eat some galangal, a variety of ginger. If you come from several generations of Americans, eat apples. If you’re a black American, try some collard greens (and pot liquor!) instead of kale and pork trotters instead of chicken breast. Korean? Keep a jar of kimchi in your fridge (your mom will probably be proud). Polish? Get on that borscht. You probably won’t ever see diet studies into the effects of adherence to traditional ethnic cuisines on members of that ethnicity. You’ll have to run the “study” yourself.

Watch out for big, recent shifts. Traditions that go back only a generation or two aren’t enshrined in your genetics. Take the traditional Indian diet, which went from using highly-saturated butter-based ghee as the basis for its cooking to using vegetable oil-based trans-fat rich vegetable ghee. If you’re Indian and go back home, “traditional food” swimming in vegetable oil actually isn’t all that traditional—or suitable for your biology.

Look for apparent paradoxes. Eastern and Southern Europeans may not have the highest rates of lactase persistence, but that doesn’t mean they abstain from dairy. For instance, though lactase persistence is uncommon among native inhabitants of Sardinia, they eat a lot of dairy. This is possible because they primarily eat aged cheeses, which are very low in lactose. Same goes for other populations in “low-to-moderate” lactase persistence category, like Greeks, Turks, or Polish, who take advantage of dairy nutrients via low-lactose alternatives like yogurt and/or cheese.

Speculate based on geography. If you come from a coastal people with lots of fish available year round—Northern Europe, the Arctic, the Mediterranean, the South Pacific, any coast, really—try eating more fish. If your people were landlocked, maybe don’t eat ten fish oil caps a day.

As you can see, it’s messy. It’s far from settled science. Very few ethnic groups have rock-solid, linear, stable genetics. No one’s ancestry is a straight line and there’s a lot of admixture from other groups. White Brits, for example, have about 30% German blood thanks to early Saxon incursions; the later Viking raids and Norman conquest further complicated the gene pool. The original Britons, the Celts, likely came from a group of Spanish hunter-gatherers. So the truth is—despite the title of this article—there’s no “definitive guide” to using your recent ancestry to determine your optimal diet, because everyone’s ancestry is different and will follow different threads. However, through synthesis of ethnography literature, allele distribution frequency, genetic testing, asking your grandma about how she ate growing up, and a little creative thinking, we can make a few educated inferences and start playing around with things.

Even if you get it terribly wrong, if your family hails from Britain but has very little actual Celtic blood or if you follow the native Maori diet despite being a white New Zealander, you’re still eating real whole foods. Anything is better than the industrial food diet.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Where do you come from and how does it inform your current diet? How are you going to play with your diet after reading this post?

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. It is also a good idea to look into sulfur processing. There are a lot of ‘paleo’ foods that just so happen to get sulfur thrown on them in an attempt to keep them looking good- shrimp, coconut, dried fruit, etc… Additionally most of us still like our coffee, wine, and dark chocolate, so it can add up quickly. If you have unexplained gastrointestinal distress, try some molybdenum. If it appears to help, that is a good indication you may have trouble with sulfur, and you probably want to clean up your diet from hidden sources of it.

    August wrote on January 6th, 2016
  2. The last paragraph of the article says it all. Eat real whole food. It doesn’t matter which foods originated with which ethnic group as long as they are made with wholesome natural ingredients that appeal to us as individuals. I think we all know instinctively which foods are right for our own body and which ones aren’t. The problem is, we don’t always pay attention.

    Shary wrote on January 6th, 2016
  3. My ancestors ate a lot of heavy cream, sweetened with honey or fruit preserves, and served frozen due to their high latitude.

    Ben & Jerry’s is the closest food to their diet I’ve found so far.

    Rick wrote on January 6th, 2016
    • Did Chunky Monkey’s origin come from Africa?

      Noconago wrote on January 6th, 2016
    • OMG. Too funny, Rick. Thanks!

      Deni wrote on January 7th, 2016
    • This is gold. thank you.

      Tracey wrote on January 11th, 2016
  4. So, following this thought, if your heritage is Jewish should you consider keeping kosher, or kosher-ish? My family line is pretty much a 50/50 split of Israeli Jew and Irish, so would it perhaps be beneficial, for example, to keep dairy and meat separate at meals?
    And what about oats? My Irish ancestors had been surviving on them for centuries, so is it a good idea to test the waters and see whether I tolerate them and then, if so, occasionally incorporate them into meals?
    Hmm, this may explain my cravings for hot bowls of oatmeal…

    Sara wrote on January 6th, 2016
    • Jewish culture covers much land: Middle eastern, African, eastern and Western Europe, Russian, South American, etc. Highly doubt the cliche Eastern US Jew really does well with bagels but locks are awesome. Pass the brisket please

      Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on January 6th, 2016
      • Do you all know that Bon’s link goes to a rather political and right wing website, nothing to do with health, etc… ? He’s very funny but the link is not relevant to this website.

        Can we just link to anything here?

        embur7 wrote on January 7th, 2016
        • Hello, your view to what I link to is subjective. I’m a political atheist which allows me to focus on the root cause of problems with bias.

          If I had to label myself politically it would be anarcho capitalist. Last I checked the right wing party, and the left, strongly dislike any ideas outside the narrow allowable opinion. So I wouldn’t classify myself as a rightist

          With that said, the economist Robert P. Murphy co authored the Primal Prescription so linking to a podcast with a MDA author is not off base.

          Furthermore, MDA has challenged the status food quo from the start, which includes the approved USDA food pyramid, plate, rhombus, or whatever dodecahedron is being promoted.

          Ideas should be challenging and challenged. That’s how progress is made.

          If by linking to a podcast that challenges a Nobel Prize winner in Economics who has a column with the a major newspaper that reaches millions of people concerns, challenges, or offends you and or our ideas, then good.

          Just as MDA views are a minority in the healthcare sphere, so are ideas in liberty and freedom. If you think freedom and liberty are right winged then you should expand our understanding of societies and economics.

          Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on January 7th, 2016
    • I guess what I’m really asking is, is there any scientific evidence to back up the division of meat and dairy? Does dairy interact with meat in a negative way once it hits our digestive system?

      Sara wrote on January 6th, 2016
      • Mark did discuss that issue. the traditional notion of that (if memory serves correct) had to due with the availability of foods. You might try to search this website with terms life mother’s or grandmother’s wisdom, wivestales, or the like. He went through several of them and it was an interesting read. I do not recall it being a physical problem with mixing the two, as I would likely recall, as I do eat a lot of meat and dairy, and as a consequence, they are eaten together.

        Keith wrote on January 6th, 2016
        • Thanks Keith, I found it! (http://www.marksdailyapple.com/10-food-pairings-that-make-surprising-nutritional-sense/#ixzz3wWvKGHrn if anyone wants to read up on it)

          “But the thing about dairy is that it contains calcium, which is a potent inhibitor of iron absorption… dairy chelates the iron in meat when the two are eaten together, and this can be a positive or negative health effect depending on your iron status.”

          So then, if I have a history of anemia, would it be a good idea to keep the two separate, at least until I get the anemia sorted out?

          Sara wrote on January 6th, 2016
      • I have long pondered the separate meat and dairy thing because it officially stems from the Torah prohibition against being cruel, such as boiling up a calf or kid in its own mother’s milk. That IS cruel. But this simply does not justify separate dishes and pots for meat and dairy. So why really?
        I think some nut of a rabbi thunk it up centuries ago–and his people survived better. I do not know why, but those who separated meat and dairy to nutty (?) extremes took over almost all Jewish cultures.
        I do know that meats require a fiercely acidic stomach pH of 2, while dairy requires a much milder pH of 5.

        Esther Cook wrote on January 6th, 2016
      • Jewish history is only a few thousand years. Major dietary based genetic adaptations likely stem from a lot earlier than Judaism, and are based more on geography and available calories than cultural factors so I would think working out which part of the world your ancestors came from would be more helpful.

        Chris carline wrote on January 7th, 2016
        • According to this article, “If you come from several generations of Americans, eat apples”, so I’m thinking that if my family line has been eating this way for a little under 3400 years (Leviticus was written in 1444+/- b.c., and my grandfather was the first in his family to give up koshrut sometime in the 1940s) there may be something to it. I’m not looking at going kosher, but if we’re discussing eating a more ancestral diet then I suppose I’ve got to at least look into it.
          I’ve been Primal for 5 years, but plateaued about 3 years ago, despite changing up carb/protein/fat ratios, increasing workouts, decreasing stress, blacking out my room at night, sleeping more hours, not using an alarm to get up… You name it, I’ve tried it. So maybe it’s time to n=1 it… It definitely couldn’t hurt anything, right?

          Sara wrote on January 7th, 2016
    • Nothing wrong with oats for most people. I expect a post explaining why grains aren’t as toxic as we once thought hah

      Zach Rusk wrote on January 6th, 2016
  5. My mother has been a devoted follower for the Blood Type Diet for years – is this more or less what you’re talking about here? She is going to issue me the world’s biggest I Told You So….

    Maz wrote on January 6th, 2016
    • The Blood Type Diet is based on faulty assumptions; while subtly different, great apes also have the ABO blood groups. http://www.lpzoo.org/conservation-science/projects/great-ape-blood-typing. That automatically invalidates D’Adamo’s assertion that O is the oldest blood type and A and B very recently evolved under the stress of the Neolithic revolution.

      Another thing to bear in mind is that Homo sapiens is not monophyletic. Early sapiens interbred with Neanderthals, Denisovans, and at least two other species. We did not, however, do this equally! Most Europeans have some Neanderthal genes, many Asians carry Denisovan DNA, some Siberian/Asians have DNA of a third species, and sub-Saharan Africans carry DNA of a fourth. Homo erectus is a contender for one of these unknown species, given that it was contemporaneous with the others. Disotell, T.R. 2012. Archaic human genomics. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 55:24-39.

      No single blood type is homogenous for, say, salivary amylase 1. Gene copy number is dependent on recent ancestral diet, not blood type.

      SuzU wrote on January 6th, 2016
      • As I recall reading, Homo erectus would mate with just about anything.

        Rick wrote on January 6th, 2016
        • One doesn’t get labeled an “Erectus” for nothing!

          Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on January 6th, 2016
    • Not exactly. Blood types aren’t really specifically distributed perfectly, or even reliably correlated, between races/people groups. For example, O type is the most common blood type in the world, but it’s not more common in one heritage over another.

      Michelle wrote on January 6th, 2016
    • This is fascinating. My lot came almost exclusively from Britain, but they came to the New World at the very first opportunity, it seems. From there, one branch intermarried with the Cherokee in Georgia and stayed with them for a century or two before being transplanted to Oklahoma via the Trail of Tears. A few more generations along and you’ve got my paternal grandmother.

      I have noticed that the foods associated with Northern Europeans agree with me more. I feel healthier, stronger, more satisfied, with the whole “red meat and potatoes” deal, with seafood thrown in as well, of course. Then there’s my branch of agricultural Native Americans to deal with, which I think has made my tolerance to dairy…picky. And may have improved my tolerance to corn somewhat (a trait my son very strongly did not inherit!).

      Michelle wrote on January 6th, 2016
      • I’m a pretty similar background and yet my worst food as far as tolerance is white potato. Sweet potatoes are fine and I do tolerate corn well. I am 6 percent Cherokee and 3 percent Southern European (I presume from my genealogy Mediterranean French), the rest listed as Northern European(German, Scottish and English genealogy).

        JJ wrote on January 9th, 2016
    • An ex-boyfriend’s mom was an ardent follower of the Blood Type diet & tried to get me to follow it…. according to that I’m supposed to do well on a diet high in potatoes & starch, is what she said the book said.

      I gain weight like there’s no tomorrow eating lots of potatoes! No thanks!

      Tanya wrote on January 6th, 2016
  6. The DNA tests are wonderful. For about $99.00 you can find out a lot of neat things to consider. Being of Northern/Western European stock, I do much better with fish and all milk products.

    Noconago wrote on January 6th, 2016
    • One thing to keep in mind though, that info can get shared with third parties w/o your knowledge. There was an instance regarding Ancestry sharing the info with police without notifying the people who help those genes, for lack as a better term as they no longer truly owned the info. Privacy concerns galore with regards about this. It is fascinating, though.

      Keith wrote on January 6th, 2016
      • From what I understand, Ancestry had a public database that you could use to find relatives with your DNA, that the police used (which the police then used for a basis to get a warrant). I think it has since been taken down because of that.

        KD wrote on January 7th, 2016
      • There’s been some static with some of the DNA testing sites about this as well – selling that info to insurance companies. I have a couple of friends who sent in the samples under another name and with the gender mislabeled to try to skirt that issue.

        Tracey wrote on January 11th, 2016
  7. “Northern European/German? Read Caesar’s accounts of the German tribes his legions faced. “They do not pay much attention to agriculture, and a large portion of their food consists in milk, cheese, and flesh.”

    His observations of the Celtic Britons are also interesting. “They consider it contrary to divine law to eat the hare, the chicken, or the goose,” yet “do not sow grain but live on milk and flesh.”

    Well, that pretty much sums up my ancestry going back to the 1400’s at least. Scottish, Welsh, German, and Danish. Maybe the commitment to eating four seafood meals per week at a minimum this year, along with a serving per week of organ meat was the right decision. My people didn’t get much vitamin D from the sun.
    It also might explain why it was so easy to start looking and feeling healthy again when I dropped grains, tubers, and sugar… and my love of sauerkraut and good cheese.

    His Dudeness wrote on January 6th, 2016
  8. “Chimps and bonobos are our closest ancestors, but because their natural diets are fruit-based and low in starch, they have fewer AMY1 copies than humans.”

    What’s interesting is that, despite a fruit-based diet (which would not have much in the way of starch if any) neither Chimps, bonobos, nor humans have any salivary sucrase, the enzyme required to digest the sucrose found in fruit. The presence of salivary sucrase in fact indicates bacterial activity, as they can use it, which is why sucrose is so bad for teeth.

    Wolves have the same number of AMY1 copies as chimps, and they eat very little starch, while dogs have a variant number similar to humans.

    So it’s still a little unclear what caused selection for multiple AMY1 genes: it’s clearly some aspect of starch ingestion of course. There’s one study that finds that people with more copies of AMY1 are more resistant to cavities, which could be the selection pressure, as faster digestion of starch could prevent bacteria from digesting it into tooth-decaying lactic acid.

    The mechanism for how multiple AMY1 copies allows us to better process starch is pretty clear, though. Being able to taste glucose allows our bodies to react quickly with insulin, but less insulin is required if it’s released in anticipation of a glucose load.

    Tuck wrote on January 6th, 2016
  9. “The raising of dairy livestock and spread of pastoralism explain the pockets of lactase persistence that appear in otherwise lactose-intolerant areas, like Asia—where almost everyone but the Mongolians, the central Asian steppe peoples, and the inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent are entirely intolerant of lactose—or Africa—where only a few isolated pastoral groups, like the Masai, still produce lactase as adults.”

    This isn’t correct. The Mongolians, steppe people, and the Masai, actually have low levels of the lactase persistence gene. I’m unsure of the Indians, but they do consume a lot of raw milk. Lactase persistence is clearly not required for dairy consumption, although consumption of raw milk, which contains both lactase and lactose-digesting bacteria, may well be.

    Other non-milk-consuming groups in Africa do in fact have high lactase-persistence gene expression. Why that should be so is an interesting question.

    I’d post some links to the research but I find that causes comments to disappear…

    Tuck wrote on January 6th, 2016
  10. My sweetheart gave me a DNA test for Xmas, and I just sent my tube of spit off to the lab last week. I’m really looking forward to seeing the ancestry breakdown–I know my dad’s family originally came here from Ireland, and my Mother’s people were right off the boat from Poland and Lithuania, after WW1. But still, I know there’s other ethnicities mixed in. How and how much that affects my food tolerances and preferences will be an interesting area of investigation.

    Jessica wrote on January 6th, 2016
    • An ex wanted a DNA test. I was all like, “we haven’t bumped uglies in 11 months, it ain’t mine!”

      Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on January 6th, 2016
      • Ok, this was pretty funny but the former comment on “erect*s” above was really funny. Well done. Would not let me reply on that post. Too racey??

        Not digging the right wing link under your avatar but that’s your deal. Not interested in engaging around that. Keep being funny. What were we talking about?

        embur7 wrote on January 7th, 2016
        • You were talking about not engaging by passive aggressively engaging. Carry on.

          Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on January 7th, 2016
    • I also got one for Christmas and looking forward to getting those results!

      Gail wrote on January 6th, 2016
      • What kind did you get? I’d like to get one for my mom as a gift.

        Steph wrote on January 7th, 2016
    • You can be really surprised by the results. I got one of those done through Ancestry. Maternal grandparents met on the boat from Germany and Ireland. That being said, it was mostly British and Caucasian areas (although I have sinced learned that the Celts actually spread throughout Europe to include Gauls, Britons, Irish and others). I had a few other European mixes in their two, notably from places my family never new, as from both sides it was expected Irish being the most prevalent, with English and Germans behind.

      One thing to be concerned, Ancestry can share the info you give to them with third parties, or at least last time I checked (which was after I did the check). I think at this point it is only with govt agencies, but they do not solicit your permission or inform you about it. Just an FYI.

      Keith wrote on January 6th, 2016
    • What kind did you get? I’d like to order one.

      Steph wrote on January 7th, 2016
  11. I really should see about getting my DNA tested. On one side I’m entirely Dutch, the other is kind of unknown. French and English, we think. And I’d really love to know how many amylase copies I have. Theoretically I should have plenty but I suspect I don’t.

    Wildrose wrote on January 6th, 2016
  12. My ancestry is largely British Isles, some French, German and Dutch, yet I have both MTHFR mutations. My functional med doc had me MTHFR tested after high B6 and a methyl folate supplementation made an enormous difference in my well being. Other B’s then helped enormously, too. By trial and error over decades I finally discovered that grains, all of them, undermine my health drastically. My father had full blown celiac disease and though I didn’t go to the hospital if I ran into wheat, eliminating gluten grains (before eliminating all grainsl), was key to improving my digestive health. And I eliminated virtually all added sugars 30 years ago, which cured growing arthritis and weakness, shakiness and lethargy after meals. But I didn’t begin to thrive until I finally also eliminated dairy and became a Pegan: animal proteins, tons of veggies, nuts, seeds, low glycemic fruits, an abundance of good fats, including some butter from pastured animals. To get here I made my way through studying every dietary strategy I could find, looked at my own ancestry (that was only partially helpful since one would think cow dairy would be my friend and because I assumed so, I kept it in my diet way too long), learning to cook macrobiotic, raw (terrible for me in winter: my insides want warm and cooked), vegetarianism (twice despite being educated and conscientious about it I became both protein and hemoglobin get anemic), you name it I tried it. But finally, finally I have good energy, sleep well, know that ‘moving around’ and walking are my best exercises, not pounding aerobics, and at 73 I take no meds other than thyroid supplementation, am strong and flexible and feel at home in my body for the first time in my life. Mark is right: it takes thought and experimentation, and we can be grateful we live in a time and place where there’s an abundance of both information and food to experiment with.

    Annie wrote on January 6th, 2016
  13. Mark, this was a wonderful post and something I ponder often. My ancestors were Northern European, mostly Britain, so I look forward to reading Caesar’s accounts. This reminded me of traveling in Scotland with my ex-husband who’s a native Scot. We passed a village known for it’s inhabitants enjoying robust health. Naively, I suggested it was because of all the fruits and vegetables. He laughed, commenting that their diet was mostly fish and oats. They threw away the turnip greens and ate the turnip roots. This was a crazy concept since I’m from the deep south. Diets in Scotland varied from what I understand. But the fermentation and agricultural processed surrounded oats are of great interest to me yet difficult to replicate in modern times. The starch must have been broken down into easily digestible components, maybe a combination of resistant starch and sugars that resemble those in fruit, which prevented glucose and insulin spikes. Some of my best glucose reading have been after consuming fermented oats, but I don’t tolerate acidic foods at the moment.Thanks again, Mark!

    Laura wrote on January 6th, 2016
    • Dr. Weston Price (Weston A. Price Foundation) speaks to the Scots thriving on fish and oats – that was good news for me since a good portion of my ancestry is Scottish. I missed oats when I was on strict Paleo Diet three years ago.

      Gail wrote on January 6th, 2016
      • Do you eat oats now? I experiment every now and then. I’m going to try again this month but simply soak them overnight without souring. This is the method used in Wild Fermentation. But I feel sleepy when I eat whole grains, so we’ll see. I’m going to make sure I have bacon or other sources of protein along with the oats.

        Laura wrote on January 6th, 2016
        • Hi Laura, I’ve eaten oats all my life except for the 4 months I did the Paleo Diet, which was three years ago. I soak my oats too. In the mornings I put blueberries and raw yogurt (from a local farm) on my oats, which the yogurt provides a decent amount of protein (and probiotics). Occasionally in the evenings, Ill cook up some oatmeal and have some raw goat milk on it – this relaxes me and helps with sleep, as you have experiences also.

          Gail wrote on January 6th, 2016
      • My son thrives on oats for breakfast. He gets a lot of exercise and claims the oatmeal gives him more energy than a strictly Paleo diet. His dad is of Scottish/English extraction. On the other hand, I don’t like cereal grains, never eat them, and don’t miss them. My ancestors were all central and eastern European.

        Shary wrote on January 7th, 2016
        • I have Central European roots too. I find Buckwheat groats to be tolerated better than oats for me. I get a blood sugar spike from oats that I do not with buckwheat. It’s also a good filler for meatloaf. Buckwheat flour is great for savory galettes and soba noodles.

          Jack Lea Mason wrote on January 7th, 2016
  14. i’m a mutt, a true melting-pot american, with ancestry from 9 different countries. i’ve always wished there was one way of eating mapped in my ethnicity, and figured this is why america has so much trouble with food choices- because there’s no time-tested culture. perhaps that’s why paleo has worked for me, i’ve bypassed the recent history and gone straight to the source!

    adina wrote on January 6th, 2016
  15. A basic premise of Primal eating is that agriculture, i.e. grains, were only introduced into the human diet no later than 10,000 years ago. Therefore the human genome has had insufficient time to adapt to eating grains.

    So why would a mere few or even several centuries has been sufficient for local genetic adaptations to diet to have taken place? Even if you argue that it is epigenetics and not genetics that creating local variations, would not epigenetic effects turn off after a few generations of eating a new diet, i.e., a diet at variance with that of immediate ancestors?

    Samuel Dinkels wrote on January 6th, 2016
    • Very rapid adaptation to a change in diet can occur. There’s founder effect, for example, where a group of individuals moves into new territory and has little gene flow with outside groups. Those individuals who can’t handle a high meat or high starch diet don’t do well, and leave fewer offspring. Infants with less fortunate genomes may well die shortly after weaning, if they can’t digest the staple diet and there are no alternatives. Then there may be situations where the people stay put, but social change brings about big dietary shifts. Until fairly recently, people with caeliac disease died in high numbers before they were of reproductive age. It’s been estimated (Itan et al. 2010) that individuals lucky enough to gain the lactase persistence gene may have had a reproductive advantage of 19% over their less fortunate kin.

      Within a few generations, the allele frequencies of the group can shift dramatically, although it never becomes homogenous. Sexual reproduction, as well as the constant minor shuffling of the genome caused by jumping genes and gene insertions, sees to that. Genes can be lost or gained. Many Inuit have lost the ability to produce sucrase, and suffer as badly from sucrose-containing foods as do people unable to produce lactase. The smaller the group, the more rapidly the new genome becomes established.

      SuzU wrote on January 7th, 2016
  16. I know I have Irish, Native American, and Germanic blood, but not sure how much of each. I have very bright red hair but only my great grandma had red hair as well, no one else that I’ve known of in my family. So I wanna say I have strong Irish roots but I’ve no idea. I’ve always been interested in eating the way my specific more recent ancestors have. My fiancé has African, South Indian, Scottish, and Jamaican blood, so our baby is a huge mix of things. :p

    TF wrote on January 6th, 2016
  17. Um, as a long-ago copy editor, I feel compelled to point out that the acronym is incorrect: it is MTHFR, not MTFHR, which is used throughout this post. It stands for Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase. And yes, those of us with this variant who work hard to maintain cellular homeostasis of the methylation process (which constitutes cellular-level detoxification) do use the curse words to help us remember it! :)

    People might not find this article when searching for MTHFR, so I think it’s important to have your web-sters correct this error, so you can help people find the info they need.

    Love your books, your understanding of the needs of the (primitive) human body. SO helpful! I practice ancient Daoist medicine in NYC, and find most of your diet and exercise information coincides with the Daoist sages’ understanding of the human body and it’s exercise and dietary needs. Kudos!

    Karen Bauer wrote on January 6th, 2016
  18. I believe you’re on the right track in this article. As a biologist and genealogist, I’ve suspected for a long time that there is more to it than a one-size-fits-all diet. Thousands of years of gene mixing has created too many variations in the human genome for any one treatment or diet to work well on everybody. There has to be different genomic groups that share common needs within a given group. That’s how I view the subject.

    By the way, where the hell would I go for a “watery bowel vacation”? I want to avoid that spot! (1st para. under Lactase …Dairy.)

    Grumpy Grokus wrote on January 6th, 2016
  19. Oh, and I’ve done several DNA tests this year, first to find out about my forebears (I’d done a lot of genealogical research last Summer), and discovered to my surprise that rather than being half German, half British Isles (mostly Irish), I am in fact one-third Scandinavian (those Vikings conquering northern Europe in 800 to 900 AD), one-fifth Iberian (the Portuguese did invade the coast of Western Europe in the 13th or 14th Century, giving us the black Irish, of which my grandmother is one; and now you tell me the original Britons, the Celts, were actually from Spain!), one-fourth Eastern European (my Dad’s family, though ethnic Germans, had lived on the Eastern edge of Poland in an area that was Russian one month and Polish the next, back and forth), and only 4% English and 4% German. What a surprise! Explains why everyone assumes I’m Scandinavian when I’m traveling in Europe!

    Will definitely look into the implications of genetics on my diet. Thanks for the post, new food for thought!

    PS. Did you know that 1 out of every 5 people of Celtic or Scandinavian descent has celiac disease? That’s a very high incidence! Might be useful info for those beginning to look into their genetic background, a very serious reason to stop eating gluten.

    Karen Bauer wrote on January 6th, 2016
    • That doesn’t surprise me. Both my grandmother, who passed away, and my uncle have celiac disease, and last names in my family include Drake, Mocbee,and Enloe. A friend of mine of Irish descent and her sister also suffer from this disease. This doesn’t prove anything, but still, you can’t help but notice. I’m probably gluten intolerant myself, recently developing abdominal pain that went away after discontinuing gluten. It’s interesting how since I stopped gluten, I can better tolerate dairy. My father, also deceased, had type 1 diabetes. I read an interesting paper in Scientific American about the genetic link between these diseases,and few others, and the autoimmune connection. I’m well versed enough in the science to say much more about this, though.

      Laura wrote on January 6th, 2016
  20. It dawned upon me, after 3 years on Paleo, that beans are a staple food for me. I can eat beans without any problems, while rice still gives me problems (that many Paleo prefer it over beans). I’ve done the 23andMe thing a few years back, and my ancestors really are from Balkans all the way. Pretty much none of them moved a muscle away from there… And beans are a staple in the region. Having said that, wheat is also a staple there, but I can’t tolerate it at all.

    Eugenia wrote on January 6th, 2016
    • Wheat these days does not resemble wheat from centuries ago apparently.. might answer that one for you…

      Carly wrote on January 6th, 2016
    • What Carly said. Have you tried heirloom wheat, like einkorn, spelt, emmer, and farro (fermented of course)?

      Suzanne wrote on January 7th, 2016
      • I would never eat that stuff. As I said, I get sick occasionally from even just rice (which is much more innocent than these varieties), so these wheat varieties would get me to the hospital. Celiac disease was prevalent in ancient Greece, even if they were eating these old varieties of wheat. I might or might not have celiac (all symptoms say I do, and a genetic test), but I will never put any kind of wheat in my mouth, ever again.

        Eugenia wrote on January 7th, 2016
        • Ok, that’s cool. Some people are fine with heirloom wheat, but it looks like you aren’t. I’m a rice is ok but wheat is not person personally. I’m half Asian so that might help. On the other hand, I’m also half northern European but can’t eat casein without having a reaction so who knows.

          Suzanne wrote on January 8th, 2016
  21. This is interesting and I’ve always wondered if where our ancestors came from had an impact on dietary tolerances. I found out through 23andme that I’m almost 25% Japanese which was a shock to me since I thought I was pretty much just mixed European. The highest percentages were Japanese, British/Irish and Italian. I tend to do well with fish (I mostly eat salmon, sardines and shellfish), red meat, veggies, fruits and dairy. I can also eat rice and feel fine. I get an upset stomach with beans and too much wheat though.

    cehb wrote on January 6th, 2016
  22. Well this is going to be a little harder for me to figure out as I’m Australian… my heritage goes along the lines of being followed back to the Vikings/ Scandinavians on one side, Jewish and Pommy thrown in with Irish and and American Soldier tossed in the mix and somewhere along the line is Mediterranean… Not sure that that even covers it because there’s some loss of documentation along the line.

    Carly wrote on January 6th, 2016
  23. Reason why I made the first statement of being Australian is because aside from the Aboriginals we are all imports lol!!

    Carly wrote on January 6th, 2016
  24. Are there significant differences in information provided by the testing companies that would make one more preferable? I’m more interested in knowing how I can improve my health than ancestry.

    Lori wrote on January 6th, 2016
  25. What is a high AMY1 copy number?

    How can I find out my AMY1 copy number?

    jethro wrote on January 6th, 2016
    • +1 Can someone give us the rs number (the SNP) of AMY1? I’m on 23andMe and can’t find info on this, but if I have the rs number I can find it via promethease.com.

      I’d like to know how to figure this out as well. I have some purple yams from Whole Foods that want to know, too…

      Monikat wrote on January 8th, 2016
  26. Does anyone have a DNA testing service that they recommend? Mark has talked about DNAfit. Is that the best?

    Jon wrote on January 6th, 2016
    • I use 23andMe to get the raw data from the genes. Then run it thru Sterlings App from MTHFR Support to interpret the raw data for ancestry, snps and etc.

      Sandy wrote on January 6th, 2016
      • Thanks, Sandy. Can you explain further so I can do so also? I looked on the app store for Sterlings, and for MTHFR support but there are no matching apps. Is “MTHFR Support” you are referencing a website, with a link to the Sterling app?

        Thank you in advance!

        Monikat wrote on January 8th, 2016
        • It is not located in any app store but it is on the MTHFR Support website. Go to https://mthfrsupport.com and then look under their blue logo top left. You will see “Sterlings App” click on that for information how to upload the 23andme data. This will coast $30. This app is probably the best written one with the most info on the internet. (FYI – I’m not affiliated with them, just a satisfied costumer) I hope this helps. :)

          Sandy wrote on January 9th, 2016
        • Thank you, Sandy!

          Monikat wrote on January 10th, 2016
  27. Great post! This will likely be the next frontier of health/diet scientific exploration. We know that macronutrient composition or sugar or fat etc is not the whole story given the tremendous variability of healthy human eating habits. However, one word of caution: there are numerous traditional diets that have been documented not to have necessarily led to great health and well being or healthy longevity. Some cultures were forced by centuries of war, conflict, geography etc to do the best they could with what they had. So its probably important to look at ancestry plus the health of the specific ancestral group. Given that, there is probably always a healthy alternative for whatever your genes “tell you.” Thank you for a provocative and well researched article.

    wade smith md wrote on January 6th, 2016
  28. I’ve always just loved dairy – I mean really passionately loved it (steady there!). I have Swiss and British heritage, so this figures. Now I have something to say to the annoying ‘milk is for baby cows’ brigade. In any case, that argument is meaningless – what are eggs ‘for’ then – for hatching?

    Chris carline wrote on January 7th, 2016
  29. An interesting article. I’ve been doing my family history for a few years and and a couple of years ago I had a couple of DNA tests done with familytreedna.com who were at the Who do you think you are exhibition in London. The test showing my ethnic mix was interesting. I’m 47% British, 35% Western & Central European, 8% Scandinavian, 6% Finnish & Northern Siberian and 5% Eastern Middle Eastern. No idea where the middle eastern comes from. The Scandinavian wasn’t a surprise. I’m Coeliac and can’t tolerate oats either and am also lactose intolerant. In fact I do better on a Paleo diet with plenty of fish. I can tolerate hard cheese in moderation. Eating gluten free grains & sugar really puts weight on especially on the stomach and waist. I do crave root vegetables in the winter in the UK, especially parsnips and carrots. When I go out for a meal I always have some potatoes.

    Diana wrote on January 7th, 2016
  30. I’m descended basically 100% from the barbarian Celtic and Germanic tribes of Northern Europe. Apparently, we barbarian freewomen were never meant to be small and lithe like our Mediterranean counterparts.

    To quote Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus: “A whole band of foreigners will be unable to cope with one [Gaul] in a fight, if he calls in his wife… and poising her huge white arms, [she] begins to rain blows mingled with kicks, like shots discharged by the twisted cords of a catapult”.

    Or how about this, from British historian Alfred Edwards: “The average female Celt was a foot taller and from fifty to a hundred pounds heavier than the average female Roman. Her bones and muscles were much bigger and stronger in much the same way that the average modern man… compares to the average modern woman.”

    Now… who’s up for some Highland Games? Caber tossing, anyone?

    Boudicca wrote on January 7th, 2016
    • Haha… I love this image, Boudicca!

      Caroline wrote on January 8th, 2016
    • That explains a lot… LOL!

      Cindy K. wrote on January 8th, 2016
  31. When I visited Hawaii we were made aware of how the introduction of the western diet has changed the overall health of the native people.

    Rob wrote on January 7th, 2016
  32. Ive had a test done through 23 and me and was fasinated to find a scandinavian probably swedish link from my dads side. He was blond bue eyed as are most siblings yet always just though of myself as english. I would happily live on fish with salad, veg and berries every day if my partener didnt complain so something in this. Does anyone know how to find out the information on AMY1 copy numbers please?

    abigail wrote on January 7th, 2016
  33. 23 & Me does not report on the AMY1 gene or at least they don’t call it that. It’s strange they don’t report on that.

    Tuba wrote on January 7th, 2016
  34. I had my mitochondrial DNA analyzed and I learned that my maternal ancestors are part of haplogroup K, a relatively recent haplogroup from Europe that arose 15,000 years ago. Nowadays about 5-7% of Europeans are in this group. Some of them are Ashkenazi Jews and a lot are Irish. Evidently some of our foremothers married men from the Middle EAst and converted to Judaism; others moved West and settled in the Gailtach. My ancestors are Irish and Scottish and English and Scandinavian, going back to Thorfin the Dane, King of the Orkney Islands. I do love me some fermented dairy, which is likely what the earliest farmers of our lineage lived on.

    shannon wrote on January 7th, 2016
  35. I have celiac and am descended from people from the British Isles. I became lactose intolerant while suffering many years with undiagnosed celiac but after about 5 years of no wheat I could tolerate milk again!

    Put on weight with gluten free grains and sugar. Low carb seems to be the way to go for me. I don’t feel quite right when I eat low carb though and I just feel so incredibly good when I eat sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc. I can go months without sugar just eating veggies, fruit, and meats and then one day the craving for sugar just comes out of the blue like crazy and will not be denied.

    Walking seems to be my best exercise.

    Interesting that the Celts came from Spain as I read that the Basques also have a lot of celiac.

    Cheryl wrote on January 7th, 2016
  36. Thank Heavens above for these DNA testing kits….turns out my only relative is from Melmac and we do very well on a “chocolate cake and beer” diet.

    stud muffin wrote on January 8th, 2016
  37. That’s a very interesting approach. My ancestors came from all over (Western) Europe – France, Italy, Germany, Slavs from the Western part of what today is Poland -, which isn’t exactly helpful. I’m also not sure about the amount of Celtic or Central Asian blood in our family. (Gene testing is currently not an option for me.)
    My grandparents on both sides already lived in bigger cities most of their adult life and didn’t follow any traditional diet, I believe. My maternal grandparents and their parents are/were big on potatoes (but these aren’t native to Europe, so what does that mean?), oatmeal, and I remember my grandmother frying liver (which totally freaked me out as a child, I still don’t eat liver). I have no clue what my paternal ancestors further back ate, but I think as they lived in villages in Rumania for a while they relied on both livestock and agricultural starches.
    Some members of my family show moderate intolerance to egg white, fatty food, milk, and one couldn’t eat any meat at all before hitting puberty. I grew up on a starch based diet (rice, pasta, and bread, occasionally potatoes or lentils) with a bit of cheese, yoghurt, and lean meat. And I never seemed to gain any weight before my late teenage years! When I started to add more vegetables to my diet as a young adult, I found I can’t eat any bell peppers without stomach troubles, tomatoes are only okay when cooked. My best guess would be some kind of sensitivity to specific acids.
    I tried to cut out dairy, wheat products and other white starchy stuff, and meat (not all at the same time, of course), but all the time I felt like something was missing. Eating mostly vegetables I feel hungry again very quickly. Right now I feel and perform best when I consume some fermented dairy, rice, poultry, and beef at least every few days. For bread I rely mostly on traditional homemade sourdough bread now. When I was in East Africa I ate lots of ugali (cooked maize flour mush), which seemed to be good for my gut as well, so all kinds of grains – even ones not native to Europe – must have definitely been staples for my ancestors. Pork, fish, and pasta seem to be okay in moderation, I’m still not sure about eggs and most fruits; and because I do so well when eating lots of rice I started to experiment with different ingredients more prominent in Asian cuisines, with mixed results. Do you have any ideas what else I could try?

    Starfish wrote on January 8th, 2016
  38. Mark’s faith in evolution is off-putting, because the lifestyle and nutritional guidelines he proposes do not depend on such a theory (thankfully).

    RG wrote on January 8th, 2016
  39. And for the people who are a mixture of an ethnicity what are they to do? I find the advice to black Americans slightly uninformed as the reason people of African descent in America ate some of these items historically were directly linked to slavery. Collard greens were of the field and pork parts were leftover. Slaves had to eat what they could get and that had nothing to do with their ancestral health. In fact, I’d make a leap to say because people of African descent had to eat the leftovers it may have something to do with many of the health problems that overwhelm this population.

    This whole post just seems a bit simple and when it speaks to black Americans, misinformed.

    Parson wrote on January 9th, 2016
  40. I have not done the dna testing but am very tempted. I get sinus infections from grain. Stopping it got me off of many medications…asthma, antihistamines, sinus meds. allergic to shell fish(so horrible, like food poisoning,,,it comes out both ends at the same time) , food color (hives, Migraines) preservatives, headaches and hives. No tolorance for sugar or alcohol. I get horrible reactions from pharmaceutical drugs. I have blood sugar issues with very small amounts. Eating Paleo was not enough. I had to eat ketogenic. Some plant foods cause allergic reactions. Grass causes allergies. Crazy,,, cant even touch it.
    My fathers mother was 100% Swedish. His father 100% German. My mothers father was English and Welsh. Her mother was Suponi, Susquehanna, Catawba, and Cherokee. I have all the documentation on the Native line… Since doing the family geneology, I have wondered about the allergies and how much from each grandparent I inherited. This is very interesting.

    lynn weiler wrote on January 9th, 2016

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