How to Stay Young: Advice from Wisconsin’s Healthiest Septuagenarian Couple

The mystical fountain of youth… could it exist? Maybe it’s not some magical elixir, high tech drug, or enchanted hot spring bath. What if your choices on a daily basis, the people you choose to surround yourself with, your environment, and the food on your plate could slow down the aging process?


The idea isn’t so far-fetched; we know there are many things that speed up the aging process such as stress, malnutrition, exposure to pollution and toxins. Just as we know there are things proven to slow down the aging process, such as regular exercise, a low-stress lifestyle, and daily consumption of key antioxidants. The fascinating book “Secrets of the World’s Longest Living People” highlights “longevity hotspots” around the world, where people not only live longer but look younger, feel younger, chronic disease is rare, obesity is nearly unheard of, and they are active into old age.

I happen to have two people in my life who seemingly have stumbled upon this “fountain of youth.” From a young age, my great aunt & uncle Rachel & Greg Kresse of Wausau, Wisconsin have been role models to me. I credit them with sparking an early interest in herbs and nutrition in first my mother, then myself. Growing up my mother always had Echinacea in the garden, fresh vegetables and herbs, and zinc tablets in the medicine cabinet to keep us from getting sick. Rachel has always been on top of cutting edge research in the fields of health and nutrition and has shared that information with the family. She blends that expertise with her knowledge of traditional farming and foraging gained from growing up on a mid-century northern Wisconsin farm. Her mother, Esther, brought over the ancient traditions of mushroom & berry foraging from Russia, a tradition my husband and I are passionate about reviving. Greg on the other hand, has a career specializing in psychiatry. I think this beautifully accentuates the other half of the “fountain of youth” equation- social well-being and support, emotional health, a good sense of humor, self-care, and the role of exercise and food on mental health.


A race in 2019

When you see them sharing pictures with their medals from cross-country ski races or of the biking adventures they’ve gone on, you’d think you’re looking at a 50-something couple blessed with the luck of good genes. But what you’re really looking at is a couple who are the products of their lifestyle… at 70 & 71 years old.

Not only are Greg & Rachel an inspiration to me, but they are a fascinating case indeed because their health simply cannot be attributed to purely “good luck,” as they are genetically unique. I set out to interview them to find out exactly what their secrets are, and what kind of advice they have for the rest of us who want to live long, healthy lives.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me! Can you tell us a bit about yourselves?

Rachel: “I’m a 71 year old retired educator. I currently manage the Wausau Night Gliders which is a middle school Nordic Ski Racing Team, I’m a gardener, and continuing athlete (bike, swim, walk/hike, Nordic Ski, and Yoga). I still compete in shorter Nordic races of 10K, but often pleasure ski for 2 hours at a time.”


Greg: “I’m 70, and work part-time as a Psychotherapist specializing in addiction. I’m head coach of the racing team that Rachel manages, do all the heavy gardening work, and am a continuing athlete (bike, swim, hike, Nordic Ski, and not enough yoga per Rachel J). I continue to win in my age division in Nordic races including the Kortelopet, which is a race of 29 K = 17.98 miles. I was excited to finish the Classic Korte in 1 hr 52 minutes in 2019, coming in overall in 48th place out of 1068 skiers of all age groups.”


What was your diet like growing up, and what is your diet like now?

Rachel: “I grew up with whole foods from my parent’s farm and pastured beef, pork, and chicken/eggs. Everything was naturally organic until the 1950s/60s, when pesticides including DDT began to be used. The danger was not known at the time. Growing up we foraged blackberries, blueberries, mushrooms (we think they were honey mushrooms), and asparagus. My parents grew things like cabbage, green beans, peas, corn, tomatoes, carrots, apples, pears, leaf lettuce, potatoes, sometimes okra, and they made traditionally lacto-fermented sauerkraut. Kale wasn’t popular back then but we grow lots of it in our garden now.


Picking wild blackberries near their house

Greg had a terrible diet growing up- lots of processed cereal and milk. They probably had a pretty typical diet for someone who didn’t live on a farm in the 50s and 60s; they ate a lot of their food out of cans.

Currently and for quite a few years previous we have followed a mostly organic diet high in vegetables and fiber, low in meat, and have been dairy-free for at least the last 3 years. Our diet has changed as we have aged. Generally we eat a vegetarian diet today with a little bit of fish and eggs. We do a lot of vegetarian soups with beans, peas, lentils, and full of every vegetable and mushroom I have. In summer we eat from the garden every day. A consistent lunch for us is a blend of beans and a whole grain (usually barley, freekeh, or kamut), rolled up in a healthy tortilla with lettuce, avocado, and tomato. Then we have a side of a cooked veggie like cauliflower, carrots, zucchini, broccoli, green beans, or something else from the garden. Most of our protein comes from beans. We lacto-ferment things like cucumbers to make our own pickles and last year’s batch was the best.”


A colorful homemade meal I enjoyed at their house last summer

What are your favorite foods that you incorporate daily?

“All vegetables (especially the cruciferous ones), onions/garlic, beans and/or legumes every day, olive oil, and avocados. We grow much of our food organically in our gardens.

We follow Dr. Fuhrman, M.D.’s book “The End of Heart Disease” dietary recommendations, which is filling your plate mostly with veggies, then beans, whole grains, nuts, and fruits, and very small amounts of meat. We also follow many of the guidelines found in the book “Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life” by David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., PhD. This book recommends eating lots of fruits and vegetables, staying away from white sugar and bad fats such as trans-fat, exercising, fostering a positive mental outlook and practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation.”


Beautiful veggies from their garden

What foods do you avoid like the plague?

“Mostly saturated fats and foods high in omega-6 fatty acids – whether organic or not! That includes processed snacks, fast foods, baked goods, fatty meats, and cured meats. While saturated fats are important for kids, once you get past a certain age they are more detrimental and you don’t need as much in your diet.

We avoid white sugar as best as we can, but we follow a 80/20 rule for treats and special occasions. We use maple syrup that our friends make, raw organic honey, or organic agave for sweetening foods instead of white sugar.”

How are you involved in your local community, and do you feel that’s played a role in your health and wellness?

“We maintain a Little Free Library on our property, and of course engage with kids and their parents through summer and winter ski programs that we run. We actively try to encourage neighbors to garden, and have healthy pesticide-free lawns. Our neighbor read that article you shared about Minnesota compensating people for replacing their lawns with bee-friendly native plants, and he’s actually thinking about getting rid of his lawn chemicals!

Being active definitely made a difference in our lives as we made many friends from all over the state in our early years being runners and skiers, and have maintained many of those friendships for over 40 years.”

(Greg and Rachel’s Little Free Library even made it into USA Today magazine!)


Are there any health issues that run in your families? Have they become issues for you?

Rachel: “I inherited my mother’s bunions and osteoarthritis. I’ve managed my foot issues with orthotics, especially when I was a runner for 30 years. Movement helps osteoarthritis, so continued physical activities are important.”

Greg: “Much of my family history is overshadowed by lifestyle issues that caused my father’s death at 64 (2 pack a day Camel unfiltered cigarette smoker all his life and obesity). My mother lived to 95. She had far fewer issues, with heart disease being a primary problem. Our diet changed a number of years ago because of my atherosclerosis and an increase in my LDL which had not been a problem when I was younger. The physician wanted to prescribe statins and we chose to go the diet route instead. The goal was LDL of 70 and I achieved that, to my cardiologist’s surprise, in about 6 weeks. I’ve maintained an excellent level below 70 and extremely low triglycerides.”

July 2019 Rachel & Theo

Rachel and my son Theo

How much time do you spend outside?

“Greg spends much of his time outdoors in all seasons. If he is not doing a sport activity he is doing something with the garden or landscape/prairie or building another rock wall! In comparison to Greg, I spend less time outdoors because I do most of the garden harvesting, preserving and cooking, and I dislike summer heat and bugs.

A warning about childhood and early adult sunburns – Greg has had permanent DNA damage from major youth sunburns which has resulted in skin cancer. It’s important to get vitamin D from the sun, but burns are damaging and the damage won’t show for many years.”


Greg showing Theo around the gardens

You have a beautiful yard full of both prairie and food gardens. Is gardening something you recommend to others?

“It’s important to grow your own food because you have control over how it is grown and you know exactly what you’re getting. If you have the space, why not grow plants you can eat? You don’t even need a lot of space to grow some of these things as they are vertical- beans grow up, peas grow up. Why not plant a fruit bush instead of ornamental? Then you have free raspberries, currants, or blackberries. We preserve and store so much food from our yard that I estimate we save a couple thousand dollars per year on groceries.”


Did I mention a good sense of humor helps keep you young??

How do you avoid the temptation to eat at restaurants?

“We enjoy eating out at restaurants, but we don’t do it as often as most people. We always carry food with us when we travel, so the temptation isn’t really there. When we do, we try to pick healthier options like vegetarian dishes at Mexican restaurants. Before you called I was cutting up apples, oranges, & grapes for snacks, put our breakfast porridge in containers for the race tomorrow morning, and I made sandwiches with baby carrots for after the race.”


Do you take any regular supplements or teas?

“We drink green tea daily, with a small amount of kombucha as a daily lunch/supper cold drink. We take a number of supplements such as turmeric root for joints, and Greg takes niacin for cholesterol.”

Do you take any pharmaceutical drugs?

Greg: “I am on a blood thinner.”

Rachel is on no prescription meds.

How has your lifestyle affected your marriage, and vice versa?

“I tell the ski kids (teenagers) to pick boyfriends/girlfriends that are “sport compatible” and they always laugh at that. But if you don’t have common interests/activities, I believe it is harder to relate and enjoy each other as you move through the marriage and/or relationship.”


How does your health compare to others you know that are your age?

“We have had some medical issues whether from inheritance or past accidents similar to many others, but our activity level in most instances is much higher than most our age. For me, an example would be the four high school friends I get together with on a yearly basis. Three of them are incapacitated by obesity (have difficulty even walking), and the other one maintains some activity biking. So while slightly overweight, she still maintains mobility and energy to do things. Excess weight seems to be the determinate.”

2018 Anniversary Bike 2

What do you think are the biggest factors in your ability to stay well and active into your 70’s?

“Sleep 7-8 hours, eat as well as you can, move in many different ways (not just one activity), meditate or have some spiritual context in your life, and have some “young” friends. I still wear makeup and lip gloss at the starting line- I might not always be the fastest, but at least I’ll still look good.”

If you could give the rest of the world one piece of advice to stay happy and healthy at any age, what would it be?

“I don’t know that I have a grand piece of advice to give, but perseverance does help!”

Thanksgiving 2019 ABR 1

Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us!! Do you have any questions for Rachel and Greg? If so, post them in the comments!


Megan Normansell, CHC, AADP, CFH

Certified Holistic Health Counselor/ Certified Herbalist/Holistic Nutritionist/Wild Edibles Guide

Follow me on Facebook and Instagram for more recipes and healthy living ideas!

Interested in healing your body naturally?
Get the answers you’ve been searching for, and heal your body for good… naturally. We have successfully helped thousands of people across the country live a healthier life than they ever could have imagined, and specialize in dozens of different health concerns. If you’re curious, schedule your complimentary consultation today!

Read the incredible reviews we’ve received over the years here. – – 920-327-2221

Copyright Megan Normansell 2020. All rights reserved.

Thai Peanut Butter Sweet Potatoes

Sweet, creamy, and zingy, this recipe makes a fantastic plant-based dish!

Ingredients for the sweet potatoes and slaw:

2 large sweet potatoes
3 cups shredded red cabbage
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 yellow bell pepper
1/4 cup green onion
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (1 lime)
1/4 teaspoon Himalayan salt
A bit extra chopped green onion for the garnish

Ingredients for the sauce:

1/3 cup organic peanut butter
2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice (1 lime)
1 teaspoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons water

Bake the sweet potatoes in the oven at 350 for about an hour or until tender when pierced with a fork.
To make the slaw, you’ll slice the red cabbage into thin ribbons, enough for 3 cups. Chop the peppers and green onion. In a large bowl, mix together the cabbage, peppers, & green onion with the lime juice and salt.
To make the Thai peanut butter sauce, you’ll whisk together the peanut butter, tamari soy sauce, lime juice, maple syrup, and water. 

To serve:

Slice the sweet potatoes in half and place a generous serving of slaw on top. Drizzle with the Thai peanut butter sauce and sprinkle with the extra chopped green onions. Enjoy!


Megan Normansell (Kerkhoff), CHC, AADP, CFH

Certified Holistic Practitioner/Holistic Nutrition/Herbalist/Wild Edibles Guide

Follow me on Facebook and Instagram for more recipes and healthy living ideas!

Interested in healing your body naturally?
Get the answers you’ve been searching for, and heal your body for good… naturally. We have successfully helped thousands of people across the country live a healthier life than they ever could have imagined, and specialize in dozens of different health concerns. Curious?
Schedule your complimentary consultation with me today! Read the incredible reviews we’ve received over the years here. – – 920-327-2221

Copyright Megan Normansell 2020. All rights reserved.

Green Bean & Saffron Lamb Stew

The authentic flavors of Morocco, bursting with flavorful superfood spices! Free of gluten, dairy, soy, nuts, grains, and a long-winded story about my childhood that forces you to scroll down for eight minutes before finally arriving at the recipe. So… enjoy! 😉



  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb organic lamb stew meat, cut into chunks
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric root
  • 3/4 tsp saffron threads
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 stalks of celery, diced
  • 3 large heirloom tomatoes, chopped with juice retained
  • 1 lb fresh green beans, cut in half
  • 1/8 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1 lime


  1. In a large pot heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the lamb, garlic, turmeric, saffron, onions, celery, salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. Add the tomatoes with their juice and 1 cup of water, cover and cook for 40 minutes.
  3. Add the beans and cook for another 15 minutes on medium heat.
  4. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the mint. Cut the lime in half, and squeeze all of its juice into the pot. Stir well and serve hot.


Megan Normansell (Kerkhoff), CHC, AADP, CFH

Certified Holistic Practitioner/Holistic Nutrition/Herbalist/Wild Edibles Guide

Follow me on Facebook and Instagram for more recipes and healthy living ideas!

Interested in healing your body naturally?
Get the answers you’ve been searching for, and heal your body for good… naturally.  We have successfully helped thousands of people across the country live a healthier life than they ever could have imagined, and specialize in dozens of different health concerns. Curious? 
Schedule your complimentary consultation with me today! Read the incredible reviews we’ve received over the years here.     –    –    920-327-2221


Copyright Megan Normansell 2019 All rights reserved. 

Organic Egg Taste Test- Which to Buy and Which to Ditch? (Round 2)


Last year my little family of foodies did a taste test to find out which organic chicken eggs were the best quality- you can read it here Little Theo was just a speck in my tummy for the last test and isn’t old enough today to indulge with us (sorry little bean!), but I included my husband Matt along with our five year-old daughter Eliana and her questionable egg-describing adjectives again.


We know that of all the options in the grocery store organic eggs are the best choice; an organic certification means the hens must be fed organic feed and have access to the outdoors; animal by-products and GMO crops in feed are prohibited. There can be no traces of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Forced molting is not allowed, the animals cannot be caged, and the certification requires maintenance of basic animal welfare standards.


Having access to your own home-raised organic chickens is obviously even better, but for those of us who don’t live in an area where it is legal to keep chickens, we need another option. It seems the number of organic brands is growing by the day… which to choose? But don’t fret- we are again taking all of the guesswork out of finding the best eggs and are putting our previous champion Blue Sky Family Farms up against four new contenders.

I purchased all five of the organic products at Woodman’s in Appleton, WI.  To stay consistent with what a typical mom’s shopping trip may look like, I used the very scientific method of “I just got done with work and need to grab the first eggs I see because I need to get home as soon as possible and make dinner.” All were fairly similar in appearance, each carton of eggs having slight variance in color, mottling, and size.


When they were cracked open, we found there were some pretty noticeable differences in the color of the yolks though. Full Circle Organics had a slightly thinner shell.


All had similar sell-by dates, were cooked at the same time in a cast iron pan at the same temperature, and were unsalted.



Our observations were as follows:

Farmer’s Hen House Organics

(free range)

$3.99 per dozen Kalona, IA “Amish/Mennonite farms, free range, certified humane” “A little bit of richness. Tasting fat, but not much depth. Clean with no aftertaste.” “A little big chemically? Good, but not much depth.” “Tastes like eggs.”
Farmer’s Hen House Organics


$4.89 per dozen Kalona, IA “Pastured, 108 sq ft per bird guaranteed, certified humane” “Definitely more flavor than the first, with the same richness.” “Rich, better than their free range version. Not complex.” “Tastes better than the last one.”
Pete &



$4.99 per dozen Monroe, NH “Free range, small family farms, certified humane, vegetarian feed & outdoor forage” “Rich but less complex flavor compared to the last two. The white is very good.” “Creamy, but it feels like it should have more flavor given the texture of it.” “Mushrooms. Mushroom eggs.”
Blue Sky Family Farm Organics $5.79 per dozen Warsaw, IN “Pastured, outside 365 days a year, certified humane.” “Much more full flavor. You experience the taste across the whole of your tongue. The whites have more flavor than the others.” “Mmm. That’s really good. Rich, deep, savory.” “Buttery”
Full Circle Organics  

$4.19 per dozen


Skokie, IL “Feed does not contain processed animal proteins, free roaming hens” “Well-rounded flavor. The whites are better than all of the others.” “Good and rich. But with a weird flavor that sticks to my tongue.” “Bleeegh. But good.”


What was particularly interesting to me was that of the same Farmer’s Hen House brand, you could clearly taste and see the difference in the eggs that were from pastured chickens vs the ones from free range chickens. According to the rather broad “free range” regulations the chickens must be allowed to move unrestricted without being confined, and eat a vegetarian diet. Which is odd to me, because chickens are not natural vegetarians. There is no requirement for access to pasture, they must only be allowed gravel or dirt.  Pastured chickens on the other hand, must have access to pasture and have the opportunity to eat a more healthful, natural diet for them which includes bugs, worms, and other non-vegetarian things.


So which were the best and which failed the test?

#1- Blue Sky Family Farms  (again! our reigning champion!)

#2- Full Circle Organics ( I must note, my husband and I disagreed on this- I felt it was tied with Pete & Gerry’s)

#3- Pete & Gerry’s

#4- Farmer’s Hen House Pastured

#5- Farmer’s Hen House Free Range

So there you go! While I must say they all were good (and much better tasting than the cheap eggs) it was yet another interesting experiment. I’m rather impressed with Blue Sky Family Farm’s consistency and exceptional quality, and they are now officially our best pick out of NINE organic products. The old adage “you get what you pay for” certainly rung true yet again; Blue Sky was well-worth the extra cash, and the cheapest of the five was the only one I would never buy again. Stay tuned and follow my blog and facebook page– I’ll be sourcing more brands to taste test in the future. Which eggs would you like to see tested? Let me know!


Megan Normansell (Kerkhoff), CHC, AADP, CFH

Certified Holistic Practitioner/Holistic Nutrition/Herbalist/Wild Edibles Guide

Follow me on Facebook and Instagram for more recipes and healthy living ideas!

Interested in healing your body naturally?
Get the answers you’ve been searching for, and heal your body for good… naturally.  We have successfully helped thousands of people across the country live a healthier life than they ever could have imagined, and specialize in dozens of different health concerns. Curious? 
Schedule your complimentary consultation with me today! Read the incredible reviews we’ve received over the years here.     –    –    920-327-2221


Copyright Megan Normansell 2019 All rights reserved. 

The Paleo Diet- It Isn’t What You Think It Is


The Paleolithic period, also known as a part of the Stone Age, lasted 2.6 million years ago to about 12,000 years ago and has inspired many an idea of what your plate should look like today. The modern dietary theory called the “Paleo Diet” or “Caveman Diet” professes that ancient hunters/gatherers shared a certain diet during that period, and that diet is still essential for reclaiming our health in contemporary times. While there is variability in the way it is interpreted, the diet typically includes specific vegetables, fruits, nuts, roots, and meat and excludes certain other vegetables, dairy, grains, legumes, certain oils, artificial ingredients, salt, & alcohol.

Now, my profession consists of telling people to eat vegetables. I’m not here to put down any diet that aims to do the same. I’ve been professionally trained in the modern Paleo diet, along with dozens of other dietary theories that I use with my clients. Any diet that says “just eat real food” is always going to point you in the direction of better health. But alas, I am an eternal “vegetable truther.” Where there is misinformation in the nutrition industry, I will seek to set the record straight. Do you follow the modern day “Paleo Diet?” Cool. Keep eating it. Just know it’s not actually Paleo. Many foods that are today being touted as being “paleo” did not even exist during the Paleolithic era. Many foods on the modern paleo diet “no” list were actually staples in a true, historically accurate Paleo diet. Don’t believe me? Keep reading. Are you interested in learning more about the real Paleo diet? Cool. Also keep reading.

Now the wonderful thing about any ancient, traditional diet is that there were no orthorexic rules that our society seems so obsessed with today- it was eat what nature provided, when nature provided it. A true paleo diet can best be described as “opportunistic omnivores.” I like that. Unfortunately today, that same term would translate to going to whatever McDonalds is closest to your house.


Using today’s terminology we could describe a true paleo diet as organic (all food was organic until the 1940’s), non-GMO (genetically modified crops were not manufactured and introduced into our food supply until the 1980’s), whole, local, seasonal, and wild. There were no isolated synthetic vitamins and minerals to fortify with, no preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, MSG and synthetic flavor enhancers, pesticides, herbicides, etc.

Paleo people were more well-nourished and had less famine than the Neolithic and more agrarian cultures that followed them. They had a wider variety of natural foods and they were foragers, with no dependence on a small number of crops and cultivated foods like we do in modern times. I can personally harvest over 30 species of wild plants in the park in my suburban village- imagine how much more food a person would have had within arm’s reach back in that period of time.


Although not quite old enough to be Paleolithic, Otzi the ice man gives us unique insight into what a diet looked like before most of our food was cultivated. As he lived near regions that we’ll be discussing and used most of the same methods to obtain his food, his diet likely would not vary much from a typical version of a true Paleolithic diet.

Otzi, the incredibly well-preserved iceman discovered in 1991, lived in the region that is now northern Italy, some 5,300 years ago. And his last meal consisted of… wild goat (Ibex) and Einkorn wheat.

Now wheat is an interesting one, as it’s been demonized by many different dietary theories today.

As a holistic nutrition practitioner with Celiac disease, I understand better than most how damaging gluten-containing grains can be. However, I also understand that everybody’s bodies are dramatically different, one man’s poison may be another man’s food and vice versa. Unless I work with a client and find them to have a genuine wheat or gluten allergy or intolerance, I will not immediately rush to tell them to eliminate it. When we get into cutting out whole foods without any solid reason other than “I read about it in this book” or “this guy says it’s bad for everyone” or “this person punched this into a machine and the printout says I can’t eat it” then meal planning and eating becomes this stressful, confusing, frustrating, messy, overly-restricted and eventually despised regimen. Common sense gets thrown out the window too many times. Keep it simple.

But I digress.

In some people the culprit may not even be the wheat itself, but what’s been done to it. The modern wheat you get in stores today is not even remotely close to distant cousins like Einkorn. For my wheat-eating clients I recommend ancient, organic varieties of it such as Einkorn or spelt, in the unrefined, unmilled form.

The term Einkorn wheat refers to two different types- the wild form, triticum boeoticum, or the domesticated form, triticum monococcum. As records of domestication of wheat go back to just 8,650 to 7,950 BC, this clearly was not a part of the true Paleolithic diet. However, archaological evidence in Syria found that humans may have started harvesting this wild wheat around 30,000 years ago. That makes this wheat a very paleo treat. Triticum boeoticum has been traced back to pre-neolithic sites in Turkey and areas throughout northern Europe. It is a low-yielding grain, thus was eaten in small quantities. Wheat was eaten in the same way we’d eat it in its whole food form today- boiled in water whole or eaten as porridge, similar to how we make oatmeal today.

Compared to modern wheat, Einkorn has more protein, healthy fats, magnesium, b6, beta carotene, and potassium.


wheat! it’s coming for you!

Anthropologists have found that proportions of foods consumed varied quite a bit. You tend to find that chillier areas are more meat-heavy out of necessity. The extra calories, fat, and warmth were needed to thrive in cold climates. When you were hungry, you hunted.

Certain areas have also been found to be far more plant-based, with very small amounts of meat. Other areas were higher in carbs, with tubers being a main staple. So a paleo diet did not necessarily mean lots of meat or low carb, either. It is estimated the average true Paleolithic diet consisted of 3.6-4.2 pounds of fruits and vegetables daily.

So lets compare. How does the modern “Paleo diet” stack up against the true historically accurate Paleo diet?

  • Dairy? The modern Paleo Diet says no. Is it truly Paleo? Yes! There is evidence that late paleo cultures most likely domesticated reindeer for their meat and dairy as early as 14,000 BC.
  • Against the grain? Now we know that the true paleo diet did indeed include grains. One variety of quinoa (chenopodium quinoa var. melanospermum) was believed to be in the ancient paleo diet. But since they were not cultivated they were not available in large quantities. Your plate reflected what you picked. Small servings.
  • Soy free? My research says yes, the paleo diet was devoid of soy.
  • Gluten free? Nope!
  • Sugar free? No! The true paleo diet embraced all fruits that were available to them.


wild grapes would have been eaten during paleolithic times

  • Refined sugar free? Yes! Just say no to refined white sugar.
  • Vegan? No! At least not by choice. Opportunistic omnivores. However if the opportunity was not there or if you were a terrible hunter, you may be a temporary (and hangry) vegan.
  • Alcohol free? Probably. One archaeologist believes fermented wild grape wine traces back to 8,500 BC, which is not quite long enough ago to be considered Paleo. Unless they kept their magic spirits secret…
  • BACON! Maybe. There is evidence of wild pigs being hunted as far back as 11,000 BC so it’s not outside the realm of possibility.
  • Legumes? Legumes have been found in Paleolithic archaeobotanical findings in Kebara Cave, Israel and there are varieties that would have been consumed during the Paleo era including Fabaceaes like peas, vetch, and clover. Archaeological finds have found peas to be a part of the Paleolithic diet in Switzerland. Lentils have been traced back to the Greek diet as far as 11,000 BC, which puts it in that Paleo grey area. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that they could have been consumed around 12,000 BC, so we’ll label lentils as a “Paleo maybe-o.”

Vicia americana

vicia americana, American vetch

Foods you think are Paleo that really aren’t:

  • Bell peppers: these are a modern cultivar
  • Kale: came about around 300 BC
  • Broccoli: made from a kale predecessor in the 1500s
  • Cabbage (savoy): dates back to the 1500s
  • Kohlrabi: also from the 1500s
  • Brussels sprouts: first used in the 400’s, the modern cultivar you eat today came about in the 1200s
  • Cauliflower: bred in the 1300-1400s
  • Bananas: the bananas you eat today have been around for less than 200 years. If you lived in Papua New Guinea, you would have eaten banana cultivars beginning around 5000-8000 BC. But still not exactly paleo.
  • Apples: any that are not crabapples. This includes your honeycrisp, golden and red delicious, gala, braeburn, and so on.
  • Chicken: The chicken you’re eating today is a modernized hybrid of junglefowl and would not have been a component of a truly Paleo diet. The first records of the chicken you know and love today being eaten are from 600 BC.
  • Zucchini: this is a pretty new food- zucchini as you know it was developed in the second half of the 19th century in Italy. Summer squashes are native to Mexico and can be traced back to 7,000 to 5,500 BC, so would not have been part of the paleo diet in Europe.
  • Olive oil: Olives were not known to be picked until the Neolithic peoples, and archaeological evidence shows that they were first made into olive oil between 6000 BC and 4500 BC in Israel. Sorry, your olive oil isn’t Paleo.

So while of course there are large variances in the true Paleolithic diet based upon what was available at the time, here’s the rundown of what was really eaten during that time period:

  • Fish
  • Legumes
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Grains
  • Children were weaned much later than they typically are today, so children had the advantage of breastmilk for many years
  • Animals such as wooly mammoths, deer, seals, elands, shellfish, carrion, & birds
  • Eggs
  • Tubers & roots
  • Fruits
  • Insects
  • Raw dairy

watercress nettles motherwort catmint

ancient wild foods harvested near my home

On top of that there are many of today’s wild foods that we know were around during Neolithic times. I have no reason to believe these were not available 12,000 years ago or longer:

  • Stinging nettles
  • Beech nut
  • Garlic mustard
  • Lambs quarters
  • Acorns
  • Hazelnuts
  • Burdock root
  • Wild grapes
  • Elder flowers and berry
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Wild turnips
  • Crab apples
  • Bolete mushrooms: mushrooms are a difficult food to detect in ancient remains, but we do have evidence of bolete mushrooms being consumed in Spain 18,000-12,000 years ago


boletes like these that my husband harvested would have been eaten

Curious, intriguing, surprising, and inspiring isn’t it? While I’m not telling you to go make this your end-all diet, I do think our modern “diet culture” can take some lessons from the Paleolithic peoples. Eat real food, mostly plants, no whole natural food is inherently bad, and relax. Oh, and eat your nettles.


Megan Normansell, CHC, AADP, CFH

Certified Holistic Practitioner/Holistic Nutrition/Herbalist/Wild Edibles Guide

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