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Healthy Habits of Early Americans

by | Jul 4, 2014 | Healthy Living

In honor of America’s Independence Day, let’s review a few of the healthy habits of early Americans. (We’ll focus on the healthier habits that our founding fathers and early Americans enjoyed in late 1770s and early 1800s because we know they weren’t perfect either!)Healthy Habits of Early Americans

I will admit that some of these bullet points come from my personal reading, listening to history buffs (Dave, Vic, Jeff, thank you), and commentaries on diaries and correspondences from the post Revolutionary War era.

But, again, in the spirit of the Fourth of July, let’s celebrate the existence and health of our great nation!

  • Cuisine was typically dictated by the region you lived in. Of course the different societal classes also dictated what a typical meal looked like but everyone ate vegetables, roots, fruit, pickled/canned vegetables, dried fruit and other native vegetation. These foods were consumed much closer to the ripening or picking dates because they could not preserve them for weeks like we can today.
  • It goes without saying that they ate much “cleaner” because processed foods were not available. Their whole food based diet perhaps wasn’t always the healthiest according to our standards (roast pigeon, bread and real butter, potatoes, ragout of cucumbers, fried ox tongue, mince pies anyone?). But they consumed all natural, fresher, whole foods and they would probably scoff at our cheez its, poptarts, grande macchiatos, Marie Callendars frozen pot pies and sprayable cheese.
  • They ate fermented food. Y’all know I have become passionate about gut health based on the recent research, but early colonialists and Americans ate fermented foods chalk full of good probiotics: aged cheese, pickled vegetables, cabbage, cultured dairy, a ton of different native roots and vegetables and fermented beverages (how much fermented drink is controversial!).
  • They typically went to sleep and woke up with the sun which created consistent circadian sleep cycles.
  • They walked, they rode horses, they worked their abs in jostling horse carriages. They were active in their transportation.
  • Out of necessity, they were not as sedentary as we are now. It wasn’t just because of transportation needs or the agrarian culture though. They danced a lot more than we do (actually danced); they had active and industrious hobbies like fishing or playing music;
  • They worked their minds as well. The literacy rate in Massachusetts and Connecticut from 1640-1700 was as high as 95% for men, ands 62% for women, even though the latter received little formal education at the time (1).
  • Although medicine was severely lacking in the 18th century (they still did not really know about or understand bacteria or viruses) they were knowledgeable about herbs, spices, teas and therapeutic remedies that we typically dismiss today. Even if the doctors at the time didn’t know what they were doing, they were called for when necessary though. This is an important balance: keeping an open mind to non traditional medicine but knowing when scientifically proven medicine is necessary and the best option.
  • Thanks to the Great Awakening, many early Americans pondered, considered and educated themselves on questions of their life purpose, God and religion. This led to higher biblical literacy and stimulating conversations that provided an outlet and answers that gave meaning and purpose to many.

Of course every era of history has their mess ups and their “why don’t we do that any-mores.” Happy Independence Day all you Americans and use today to reflect on the positive health habits of the early Americans. Is there a healthy change you can make taking a history lesson from the founding fathers?

1. Literacy Then and Now
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us
David W. Kirkpatrick Senior Education Fellow – See more at: http://www.educationnews.org/articles/literacy-then-and-now-.html#sthash.9kAZNGxo.dpuf