December 29 2016

Dietary Trends: Are Popular Interests Inching toward Ancestral Wisdom?

By Mark Sisson

Food trends printed on an old typewriterAs the calendar draws toward the close of another year, I’m inclined to take stock of where the Primal vision stands. Are people slowly warming to the idea of Primal eating (and living), or are we merely seeing inconsequential, lateral shifts within the same old confines of conventional grain-based, saturated fat-averse, dietary “wisdom”?

All right, all right. It’s fair to say that, without examining the numbers, the majority of people are still stuck in their same detrimental ways. But are the cracks in CW I noted a few years ago deepening and expanding? If we look closely enough, could there be a bit of whole-food common sense shining in there? Or is it just some refracted marketing gloss that catches the right angle from time to time? Or just wishful, starry-eyed delusion?

All good questions with their own claim on truth. Still, are there any substantive takeaways from 2016? And how are things shaping up for the next year at that? Let’s take a brief look.

2016 in Review: Where did Grok fit in?

Last month, Google released its report on 2016 Food Trends. (PDF) With its window into public curiosity, it gives us a refreshing take on how the (Internet-connected) world views food, highlighting popular interests rather than dietitian recommendations. And while I’m always a little hesitant to jump into the brain of your average calorie-counting consumer, it’s useful to get an overall idea of what people are thinking with regards to food.

For one, it appears “gluten-free” is dropping in the charts. With Google reporting a decline in searches for “Gluten Free Cupcakes” and “Wheat Free Bread,” it appears that perhaps the average Joe/Jane has lost interest—at least in non-gluten bake goods. (Somehow I’m not too optimistic that they’re being replaced with the likes of Primal stew and Big A$$ salads.)

There was also a significant decline in interest for classic “healthy” examples of kale chips, quinoa, and agave nectar (sorry, there’s no such thing as guilt-free).

But enough of the “has-beens”…. What about the up-and-comings of the great Google food query?

It appears that the world’s love affair with pasta, bread and rice continues to flourish. Of the 7 Sustained Risers of the 2016 Google food search, 3 fit the pasta category (ramen, rigatoni and linguine), 2 relate to wheat and baked goods (empanadas, bundt cakes), and 1 was a rice-heavy (but admittedly delicious) Korean dish (bibimbap). I have to say that, minus the bibimbap, I’m a little disappointed.

Uncured bacon was a slightly promising trend. I wouldn’t have put that at the top of the concern list, but maybe beggars can’t be choosers.

Still, credit to Internet searchers everywhere, there were some genuine bright spots. According to Google, the new rising stars of the food world include turmeric, jackfruit and cauliflower rice. I’ve shared my thoughts on turmeric recently. I hear jackfruit is a superfood contender—and a sustainable food source to boot. Cauliflower rice has long been a staple for many in the Primal/paleo and low-carb crowds.

So, a few wins here, and a few losses there. I like to think that we all got something out of the trendy gluten-free stint though. While searches might be down, I don’t think there’s any going back to total denial at this point. And from where I’m sitting, the market has been changed by gluten-free “fadism”—for the better. (Just don’t fall for the gluten-free sugar.)

The “experts'” crystal ball…Hints for 2017?

Despite some of the aforementioned dietary pivoting, Americans will plunge into 2017 with a bit more food know-how under their belts. While the “gluten-free” movement may appear to be losing some steam, there’s undeniably a growing recognition of food as medicine.

Four of the top five “health benefits of”-type Google queries of 2016 related to apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, cinnamon, and bone broth. Now we’re cooking with gas.

The final query in that grouping was “health food stores near me,” suggesting that more people are actively seeking out sources for nutrient-dense, minimally-processed foods. Who knows? Maybe a few of them stumbled on Thrive…or PRIMAL KITCHEN™ in the process.

This newfound food research fanaticism may or may not guide people towards a more Primal way of eating. To get a glimpse of the not too distant edible future, I’ve skimmed some of the more notable predictions for 2017 floating around the net. Here’s a small taste:

Plant-based protein will be all the rage.

Apparently 2016 was the International Year of Pulses. Who knew? It certainly did see a return of the legume back to the kitchen table—even among the Primal and paleo circles. Personally, I’ve got no beef with legumes. I’ll throw them in for taste and texture sometimes. That said, I wouldn’t ever depend on them for my protein base. Sure, there’s nutrition there, in some more than others, but let’s be honest, too—the carb count hasn’t changed.

Brace yourself for an onslaught of beans in the coming months, people.

(Good) fats may catch a welcome reprieve.

At last, a prediction to truly get excited about! After a casual 4-plus decades of hating on fat of any kind, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has grudgingly admitted that certain fatty foods may in fact not be the devil incarnate. Avocado, almonds and salmon all get the thumbs-up from these dietary sticklers, which may herald a new golden age for the fat-starved masses. Grok’s nodding in approval.

But don’t be fooled: most dietary bigwigs are still convinced that fat is the enemy. A skim (pun intended) through the 2015 Dietary Guidelines reveals  an immovability with regard to saturated fats, and I don’t think a year has done much to budge them. Note that we’re still getting the same old recommendations for “fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages.” Here I was thinking we’d finally hit a home run.

Progress: We’ll take it where we can get it.

Despite the apparent dietary see-sawing, maybe it’s not too much to suggest there’s less disagreement when it comes to what constitutes healthy eating. Those who are willing to do the research agree that low/moderate carbs and high fat are good, as long as it’s healthy fat. The rising stars of 2016 showed that nutrient density is quickly becoming a benchmark for healthy eating, along with the growing notion that maybe eating so much sugar isn’t the best decision ever.

If ancestral logic isn’t getting the credit, it’s perhaps because we remain uncomfortable looking to our uncivilized past for direction. As a tech-savvy consumer society, most people prefer to believe sources for dietary wisdom are situated in cutting edge science rather than innate sense. We’re more inclined to trust “progress” than history.

Still, if popular interests and, brace yourselves, conventional wisdom are indeed inching toward ancestral principles (even as they disown them by name), the overall direction perhaps creates new entry points for more folks to discover a larger picture of health in the Primal Blueprint or paleo models.

And, btw, let’s not overcomplicate things.

All said, it’s refreshing to see an increase in people actually showing some degree of consciousness regarding the ingredients in their food. Yet, it’s also frustrating to discover that most people still believe being healthy is hard. Among the commentary and observations offered with the report is the notion that “to eat healthy, you have to pay a lot of attention.” To me, we walk a fine line with these kinds of statements and may actually deter people from trying to get healthy in the first place.

People think that eating healthy is complicated, that the rules change all the time, and the mainstream media chronically perpetuates this misconception.

That’s the beauty of ancestral logic. The Primal Blueprint diet is, at its core, very simple. Healthy fats, fresh produce, high-quality meats. It’s not rocket science, and that’s why it works. Perhaps 2017 will see a continuing shift towards dietary simplicity. For the sake of public health, I certainly hope so. I’m ready to do my part.

Thanks for stopping by everyone. Is there anything food-related that’s made a big difference to your life in 2016? What are your predictions for popular food trends in 2017?

Happy holidays, and I’ll see you in the new year!

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20 thoughts on “Dietary Trends: Are Popular Interests Inching toward Ancestral Wisdom?”

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  1. OK, I’ll play. After giving up bread for too long, I did some research and committed myself to making my own sourdough bread. Made my own sourdough starter, bought some storage buckets of ancient grains (Spelt, Einkorn, Kamut and others), bought my own grain mill, a bunch of bread baking books and began my journey in making my own sourdough bread from fresh home milled ancient grain flour. The sourdough culture supposedly transforms the flour, not only taste wise, and also making the nutrients more readily available and diminishes the negative properties of the gluten that’s produced. I have noticed a number of blogs, baking books, and baking sites increasing their coverage of how to bake with fresh milled ancient grains. So that’s the trend I’ve noticed in 2016.

    1. Bubba, I admire your commitment. Surely bread as you’ve described is superior in every respect and possibly deserves a place at the tip of the primal food pyramid (versus being the cornerstone of every meal, as we were all taught). I never gave up bread totally (80/20 rule), but on the rare occasions that I do eat any, it has to be really, really good or I don’t want it.

  2. My experience with gluten-free baked goods has been all bad. When I tried it a few years ago, I decided I’d rather just do without than assault my taste buds with that stuff–and in fact junk food is still junk food whether it’s gluten-free or not.

    “Healthy fats, fresh produce, high-quality meats”… Yes, indeed! That’s where it’s at. It isn’t a hard eating plan to follow, particularly if observing the 80/20 rule most of the time. Word has gotten out, and I do think more and more people are getting on board with this healthier, more nutritious way of eating, but it will take time to reverse bad eating habits that have been entrenched for decades.

    1. +1. Experimenting with alternative flours, I found ANY acellular carbs spiked my blood glucose (it’s so easy to get a meter these days, no reason not to have one for n=1 experiments).

  3. very very true:

    “but let’s be honest, too—the carb count hasn’t changed.”

    1. I always chuckle when people claim that you can plenty of protein forom beans . legumes and lentils. If they mean enough for a sedentary person to avoid outward signs of malnutrition, then sure. No problem.

      But all snarkiness aside, beans and lentils are pretty reasonable on the carb side considering how “carby” they feel when eating them. A full cup of black beans has 40 grams of carbs but 15 grams of that is soluble fiber. So the net carbs is only 25 grams. That’s a lot of beany satisfaction for a pretty low carb content. Two cups of beans is only 50 grams net carbs. That’s a lot of beans!

      Toss in a sweet potato and you cap out about 75 grams net carbs. If the rest of your day is mostly veggies, meat and eggs you can have the satisfaction of what any primal type person would feel is eating a lot of carbs without eating a ton of carbs…plus they are loaded with all sorts of vitamins and minerals.

  4. “I’m ready to do my part…” Mark, you have already done way more than your part. Thanks for making a huge difference in the lives of so many people!

  5. I have been experimenting with more IF and reducing my protein intake. As a personal trainer I get a ton of activity but I am finding when I get my mind out of the way I get usually eat twice a day and feel great. I tend to only do this 2X per week but it is a huge difference from a few years ago when I ate every 2-3 hours. I often will get 85-120 grams of protein now (I weight 200) versus 200-250 grams of protein and I have not loss any muscle mass. And by the way I am saving money on food!

    1. Well, 200 to 250 grams of protein was way past your needs anyway so good job in reducing it to the still beefy 85-120 grams. Most people would consider your reduced level of protein to be a worthy goal to work up to 😉

  6. Um. Most people don’t search for recipes they are already using regularly. Which might mean Primal is already mainstream?

  7. As in music and arts and literature and entertainments and wardrobe –and philosophy and values generally– so too in nutrition and health I have learned to be independent and confident (yet humble and always learning and growing), to be comfortable far outside the mainstream I cannot change, and accept that most people will not share my values and judgements. And so my ignoring the “trends” is not so much “not caring about public health” as it is not fighting battles bigger than myself and that others don’t want me to fight for them.

  8. I’ll agree with the general view that eating healthy is hard. To eat for optimal health you need to exclude nearly all the products in the entire grocery store to start. Then avoid nearly all chain restaurants. Then ignore what every main stream article, your doctor, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetic Association says about the danger of fat and the life giving properties of grains and carbs.

    Taken together, it takes a very deliberate effort to go the opposite direction. Even though my lipid profiles and science tells me it’s OK to eat all the eggs I want, still, sometimes when I’m on my eighth of the day I get a little voice in my head that says “hey, maybe that’s too many”.

    Then I quickly come to my senses and chow down.

    it’s unfair to place all the burden on individuals when the system is actively working to push you in the wrong direction.

    Yes, it’s ultimately up to the individual, but it doesn’t make someone weak or lazy to go with the flow as evolution has transformed our brain to place an extremely high value on social relationships and social cohesion.

    I see MDA’s biggest value in presenting a social space to explore alternatives to conventional wisdom, which in turn give people the confidence to give it a try.

    1. I find it very easy to eat primal but I agree with Clay that doing so in a pervasive environment of CW is hard for all the reasons stated. Family is especially hard. You hang around and listen to the litany of maladies they endure. Maladies which we in the ancestral community have experienced are eliminated by eating and living in a Primal manner. They still dismiss the Primal way as “that crazy diet you are on” or some such. All you can do is smile and nod. Oh, and please pass the bacon!

    2. I, too, find it easy to eat primal. A large part of that, I’m sure, is because of how I grew up. My parents didn’t believe in paying extra for processed or restaurant food so everything was made from scratch with fresh ingredients. I’ve always cooked along the same lines as my mother and grandmother, which is to say quite Paleo long before anybody ever heard of it. Good ingredients cost more now, but you can still eat well from any supermarket if you stick with the basics.

  9. I’m in a bubble. Been doing this for more than 5 years and slowly most of the folks around me have taken on portions of the Paleo/Primal sphere due to my casual comments and lifestyle about the subject. So my judgement would tend towards it starting to get into the collective psyche. However, deep down, there is a belief that we are still stuck on square one. Maybe I need to get out there more…

  10. Funny, I was just looking at which posts received the most hits on my blog in 2016. Coconut oil was mentioned in most of them, since it is something I use both for skin care and I blend it in my coffee every morning. And a post I wrote on ACV had a huge number of hits. I agree that a Primal way of life is actually pretty easy, and lots of fun. That’s the message I’m always trying to get out to people…this stuff isn’t really hard. You can eat food that tastes amazing, and you will look great and have more energy. If I had to pick one food related item that has made a big difference in my life in 2016 (and several years prior) I would have to say collagen. I’ve been blending it into my coffee for years now…totally firmed up my skin and I think it is the reason I never have any aches and pains. Love that I can now throw a Primal Kitchen bar in my bag if I want a boost of collagen when I’m out and about!

  11. Funny how I backed into primal eating — my ex was diagnosed with celiac disease. The doctor told her congratulations, now you’ll live longer. I didn’t quite know what that meant, at the time.

    Over the next couple years, she bent over backwards to find gluten-free bread and other bakery products. I remember one day saying, “Why do we even need baked goods? This makes no sense. If we want cards once in a while, let’s eat some rice or potatoes, and leave it at that.”

    The marriage didn’t last because she was a crazy bitch, but I’ll grudgingly admit that the experience pushed me down the road of healthy eating.

    My sister went primal last month after suffering some symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Doc recommended “eat like a celiac” and the problems all disappeared in two weeks. Now if we can only convince our seventy-yr-old mother… sigh. Easier said than done.