Have you noticed that many people you know have serious food allergies? Do you remember your grandparents having such allergies? Probably not. The number of people with food allergies in the U.S. increased by 50% between 1997 and 2011 alone and it’s rising, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s estimated that more than 17 million Europeans have a food allergy and that number is rising as well. (1)
How Your Grandparents Avoided a Food Allergy
So what’s the generational difference?
1. Seasonal Real Food
Up until the 1950s or so, food came from local sources (or home-grown) because preservative chemicals weren’t widely used and technology didn’t support long-distance shipping. There may have been more frequent trips to the grocery store (or the garden) and this resulted in fresher food devoid of additives. Most produce can lose a significant percentage of its nutritional value within a few days of harvest, making them less nutritious after a few days of shipping. (2)
The foods available at the local store were whatever was in season and not originating from the other side of the world. Additionally, produce is less nutritious now than it used to be, due to soil nutrient depletion—the result of conventional farming practices. (3) Food 60 years ago was more nutrient-dense for this and other reasons
2. Fad Dieting
We have been taught that food is either our enemy or our entertainment, rather than our very survival. Our grandparents didn’t hop on the newest diet trend wagon—they simply ate what was available and what they felt like eating.
What we eat affects every cell of our bodies. Eating too much of this and not enough of that, denying certain foods, counting calories, and yielding to the marketing influence of food manufacturers puts too much emphasis on what our brains tells us we “should” do (according to someone else) rather than listening to our bodies to satisfy needs and cravings.
A clinical study into the relationship between dieting and food cravings found that if you are actively dieting, whether to lose or maintain weight, you’re likely to crave foods that you are restricting yourself from eating. (4) In addition, eating the same foods all the time lead to cravings. (5)
Your body can tell you what it needs if you pay attention. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be mindful of what we eat (a sugar craving doesn’t mean your body needs a candy bar). Eating a variety of real whole foods served our grandparents well because they didn’t mess up their metabolisms by tinkering with manufactured diets.
3. Traditional Cooking
Your grandparents would probably have bought a lot of packaged foods if they had been available, just like we do—because it’s convenient and saves time. Because they didn’t have that luxury, everything was prepared from scratch using real food ingredients and cooked on a stove, oven, or open fire. They would probably have used a microwave like we do and for the same reasons. But then the molecular structure of the foods they ate would’ve been altered by the electromagnetic radiation like ours is.
There was no such thing as buying prepared baby food. Baby ate what everyone else ate; cooked longer and mashed, perhaps, but they didn’t get the additives and genetically-modified organisms found in today’s jars. Infants’ food was breast milk: always fresh, in-season, nutritious, and just the right temperature. Plus, breastfeeding supplies essential bacteria and has the ability to drastically reduces food allergy of all kinds in children. (6, 7)
4. Organ Meat
The mindset around food was different than it is now. Food wasn’t wasted. They saved bones to make broth and ate organs as well as flesh. There are vitamins and minerals in these parts of the animals that make them significant contributors to well-rounded nutrition. Furthermore, farmers didn’t inject animals with antibiotics and chemicals to make them grow faster. Most of all, meat packaged for sale didn’t contain chemicals and dyes to make them look fresher. Adequate nutrition supports the immune system, dispatching potential allergens.
5. No Additives, Thickeners, Stabilizers, or GMOs
Even nutritious, healthy food can be adulterated by the stuff that’s added to it. Packaged foods contain extra “ingredients” that enhance texture, add color and bulk, and prolong shelf life. Genetically-modified organisms (GMO) didn’t exist when your grandparents were kids so what you saw was what you got. Farming practices didn’t yet employ the widespread use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides that cause food allergy.
6. Limited Doctor Visits
When your grandparents were sick, they took care of themselves with the help of traditional medicine. Lots of fluids, chicken soup, rest, home remedies, healing foods and herbs were all part of the process. They didn’t go to the doctor every time they weren’t feeling their best. They didn’t take medication for every little discomfort but relied (from previous experience) on the normal healing process to feel better again. Many didn’t even have access to a nearby clinic or hospital.Going to the doctor meant you needed a bone set or stitches or suffered a life-threatening condition.
Every human-made medication has an impact on the immune system and can impair immune function, causing food allergy.
7. The Great Outdoors
In days gone by, people actually spent time outdoors playing, socializing, traveling, and exercising. There weren’t electronic devices at their fingertips for entertainment and many people still worked outside in labor or agriculture. Exposure to fresh air, activity, and sunshine kept their immune systems working optimally. In fact, there is a direct correlation to vitamin D deficiency and allergies; the best source of vitamin D is sunshine.
How all these generational differences affect the experience of a food allergy is fairly straightforward.
- The progressive introduction of chemicals in/on food and the air contribute significantly to allergic reactions.
- Proper nutrition and physical activity are necessary for healthy immune system function.
It’s interesting to note that genetically-modified food hit widespread production in the American market in the mid-1990s, immediately before allergy rates began to exponentially increase. A coincidence?