How Our Grandparents Ate

You really want to know how you’re supposed to eat? Just talk to anyone who grew up before 1950. They had it right.

You really want to know how you’re supposed to eat? Just talk to anyone who grew up before 1950. They had it right. They ate fresh, whole foods that were full of fat and full of nutrients. That is until they got sold a bill of goods that said eating that way was unhealthy.

So, I’m sitting in my aunt and uncle's dining room with my aunt in the kitchen getting ready to cook me breakfast. I was there to help them move some stuff around and as is the tradition in any Italian family, there is always food to be had. Inevitably, the conversation turns to nutrition, and no, I’m usually not the one who brings it up. Most people who know what I do want to know what foods are good and what foods are bad. They ask, despite the fact that they probably won’t like my answer.

Typically when I start talking about this stuff, a lot of people will give me the obligatory eye roll followed by the blanket statement: “Geez! Ya can’t eat anything anymore!”

In this case, I got the eye roll while my aunt was spraying “Pam” in the skillet to cook some sausage, peppers and eggs. Apparently the look of horror on my face wasn’t subtle and to which she replied, as she stood there in her house dress and slippers, holding the skillet in one hand and the red can of death in the other: “What!? No Good!?”

I tried to briefly explain why canola and soybean oils are really unhealthy and that she would be better off using butter. To which she replied, “Butter?! I thought that was bad for you!!!” By the way, understand that another tradition in most Italian families is that everyone yells, that’s just how it is.

This lead to a great conversation with my aunt and uncle about food and how they used to eat back in the day. Everything was straight from the farm – their own farm mostly. Fruit, veggies, eggs, beef, poultry, pork and well, that was pretty much it. The majority of their food they either grew, raised or they knew where it came from or they didn’t eat it. In fact, the more I talked to them the more I was reminded that they HAD it right, and we got it wrong. The way they ate growing up was a heck of a lot closer to how it was 10,000 years ago.

The truth is, our food has changed more in the last 40 or 50 years than in the previous 10,000 years. Nothing illustrates this more than listening to stories from people who are old enough to remember a time before chicken McNuggets and Pop Tarts. A time when food was just food and when cancer and heart disease were rare. Today, with all the “advances” in science, medicine, frankenfoods and even supplements, the rate of cancer is estimated to be about 1 in 3, heart disease is the number one cause of death and the next generation will be the first in recorded history to live a shorter lifespan that the previous. Progress isn’t always a good thing. When it comes to food, we need to take a huge step backward.

So, you want to know how to eat? Talk to someone that’s older than 75 or so and ask them what they ate as a kid. Chances are you’ll hear some great stories of them and their parents growing their own vegetables and raising their own animals. It’s important to understand how our parents, grandparents and great grandparents ate. They are the thinning thread that connects us to a time when food was real, typically had one ingredient and was all the nutrition they needed.


Joe Rignola is a Certified Holistic Health Coach, Functional Diagnostic Nutritionist and founder of Wellness Punks, Mobile Health and Nutrition Coaching. He helps people achieve their highest level of health by teaching them not just what foods to eat, but why we should eat them. He also focuses on the many lifestyle factors that effect our health and well being. Clients have experienced improvements in weight, cholesterol levels, pain and inflammation, blood sugar issues, autoimmune problems and more. Services include easy to follow meal plans and coaching packages that take the mystery out of eating. For more information please go to www.wellnesspunks.com or call 888-955-0002.

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Joe Rignola March 19, 2012 at 03:08 PM
I'm sure we can both agree that the current state of our food supply is horrendous. Good for you from taking control of what you eat. If a vegan diet works for you I think that's great. I'm not here to judge or disagree with how people choose to eat... just want to make people think. Thanks for reading my post and commenting Jen. I appreciate it.
Joe Rignola March 19, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Very true Vito. We can certainly credit some modern medical interventions for helping us live longer. But are we living longer healthier or living longer sicker? I agree that there's more to it than diet. Environmental toxins, stress, sleep loss, pollution, genetics and many more things effect our health. I do believe diet is one of, if not the most important factor and is definitely one thing we have control over. Thanks for commenting Vito!
Jim Tampellini March 21, 2012 at 03:39 PM
I thought you and your family were Italians? How could they have lived w/o pasta?
Joe Rignola March 21, 2012 at 04:19 PM
HAHA! They definitely ate pasta. But the pasta was likely homemade and the wheat itself is very different today than it was 40- 50 years ago. What they didn't eat were all the other processed foods we have today.
Jim Tampellini March 27, 2012 at 09:58 PM
What's the issue with today's pasta?


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