First, this is post will not describe the next new eating trend, it is not about the paleo movement nor any other ancestral diet. I’d like to share some thoughts and inspire a discussion. But beforehand I want to be clear about that I don’t condemn any way of eating or diet, some stuff works for some people, other works for others. I am also not a dietitian or doctor or anything and these are just my personal thoughts and ideas without any scientific background. Phew, enough of the disclaimer already!
The whole idea came into my mind when I met my friend in Cologne on Saturday and we chatted over a cup of Starbucks cappuccino. I had mine with soy milk, a remaining of my vegan time, that I still prefer over the Starbucks cappuccino with regular milk. My friend mentioned how she would have never thought that I would go back from eating vegan one day. She remembered how happy and convinced I was and how I enjoyed all the healthy, delicious meals. And she isn’t wrong. When I think about the first months or even 3/4 year of eating vegan I was enjoying it and felt all right. I never had experienced the sudden rush of energy, or thriving on the vegan diet like others described it, but I enjoyed the food and didn’t feel deprived. It took some time for the first cravings to creep in: Christmas candy bars, cottage cheese, yogurt, ice cream and eggs. I didn’t mind not having meat… until I stayed in the hospital, due to my appendix, and the doctor discovered that I was anemic – not only did I lack iron, it went so far that I had anemia. Thus I started supplementing to get enough iron and though I hadn’t noticed any symptoms of anemia before, with the time I became more and more lethargic, unfit and started losing a lot of hair. From that point on I decided that my body was definitely asking for red meat and I ultimately broke up with my vegan diet by going for steak dinner with Sina.
Somehow our chitter chatter ended with an interesting thought: since our ancestors adopted evolutionary to live of animal as well as plant based foods, my body was probably just not able to handle such a drastic change in diet. As I might have already mentioned at some point, I was born in central Russia and both, my mum and biological dad, were Russians. Some of you sure know that Russia isn’t famous for a pleasant climate and you do not get fresh fruits and vegetables year round. Russian people mastered the art of fermenting their vegetables (you’d probably tasted Russian dill pickles before) to make them durable. They also cook a lot of jam out of summer berries. But dairy, meat and eggs as well as potatoes and grains where necessary to make it through the winter months. So is it possible that this heritage influences the way I eat today?
About a year ago I started to re-introduce meat into my diet and I feel healthy and happy eating animal products as well as a variation of fruits and vegetables. I do also love to eat soups, which is something I had for breakfast, lunch and dinner when I was little, since this was an affordable meal which kept us full, like my mum told me. And think about my oatmeal breakfast love: in Russia porridge is a classic breakfast food for children and adults. Dairy is another topic: I don’t know a country which eats as much dairy as Russia. Salads are usually mayonnaise based, a common meal is tvorog with cream, my favorite ice cream Plombir is an ode to dairy.
Another phenomenon that my mum noticed is that she always looses a few pounds when she’s visiting relatives in Russia for some weeks. And it’s not like she is eating especially healthy or less than usual. She is always invited for huge meals and beautiful cakes, since in Russia every celebration needs a cake (as well as a vodka, but that’s another story). My mum gained a lot of weight in the years she lived in Germany and I assumed that this was mostly due to all the deprivation she experienced living in Russia and being poor. But could it be that she just thrives eating the way she was used too and her body doesn’t cope well with all these new foods she wasn’t raised on?
I always thought I knew it all better – the way I was raised was unhealthy and I got fed with all the wrong foods. But actually with me it was the same as with my mum: I had a normal weight before we moved to Germany and I became chubby during my childhood here. So was restricting myself from all the foods I ate throughout my early childhood just plain stupid? Not that I am thinking that you cannot gain weight on a diet that you were raised on. Emotional eating and other factors that lead to weight gain still exist.
Anyway, this post wasn’t intended to be about weight, but more about food intolerance and what our body uses best to get the energy and nutrients it needs. As I mentioned in the beginning I became anemic on a vegan diet, but I know a lot of people who are healthy vegans and need nothing more but a B12 supplement (a vitamin that you merely can get naturally on a vegan diet). Could it be that due to genetics my body is worse in making use of plant based iron than others?
Pelmeni (minced meat filled dumplings) with sour cream and the only vegetable in sight are the sprinkled herbs on top.
Or my favorite Russian food, which I could eat for lunch, breakfast and dinner:
Blini, very thin Russian pancakes, either served sweet with jam, sweetened condensed milk (drool), curd and honey or savory with minced meat, cabbage or fish – just to name a few variations.
White flour was something I tried to avoid since I turned 16. It was quite hard to accept that white flour isn’t the enemy and my body handles it well. I am also definitely not gluten intolerant. And it’s hard to believe that gluten isn’t a bad thing as long as you are not intolerant, with all the diet media out there claiming gluten to be the new foe, working together with the villains dairy and fatty meats. Fatty fish on the other hand was acquitted of charge and made it from villain to superhero overnight. We could go on with this story, but let me refocus on what I initially wanted to say: for me it seams to be naturally to thrive on grains, dairy, all kinds of meat and fish (you won’t believe how many different fish species you can get in Russia, they think it’s funny that we have just one name for “salmon”) as well as a lot of different vegetables during summer time, pickled in winter and also berries and fruits. And that is how I eat today, after years of depriving myself, condemning a lot of these foods as unhealthy and feeling miserable not having them. Could it be that what I eat and how I eat is despite everything I thought and believed determined by my genes?
What do you think? I’d really like to hear some opinions on this topics and your own experience!