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Traditional Diets

Posted: 12/21/11 11:30 AM ET

As the seasons change and the weather gets cold, it's time to fire up the stoves. Families are coming together, meals are prepared and shared, and the promise of a New Year allows reflection on the one past. For many, managing illness -- from diabetes, to allergies, to cancer -- has become an increasingly large part of daily life. Inspired by the writing and research of Robyn O'Brien ("The Unhealthy Truth," 2009) and Michael Pollan ("Food Rules," 2009), among others, it's impossible to ignore the apparent linkages between our food habits and our failing health.

For all the "progress" and "technological advances" that our modern society boasts, our low-calorie, low-fat, low-cholesterol diets don't seem to be living up to their hype. Not surprisingly, these "low" products are also usually highly processed. They resemble very little their original forms, and are nutritionally lacking. A traditional diet, on the other hand, is characterized by being nutrient dense, which means you can eat less, feel satisfied and get the nutrition you need to fuel your active lifestyle. Plus, no surprise here, foods made with eggs, butter, simmered stocks and animal fat taste delicious! You won't even miss that processed white flour and refined sugar.

"Nourishing Traditions" by Sally Fallon Morrell (revised 1999) outlines a diet that, quite simply, makes an awful lot of sense to us.

The premise of this book is that modern food choices and preparation techniques constitute a radical shift from the way man has nourished himself for thousands of years and, from the perspective of history, represent a fad that not only has severely compromised his health and vitality but may well destroy him; and that the culinary traditions of our ancestors, and the food choices and preparation techniques of healthy nonindustrialized peoples, should serve as the model for contemporary eating habits, even and especially during, this modern technological age.
Here are the first five (of 20 each), of the guidelines for the Nourishing Traditions diet.

Dietary Guidelines

1. Eat whole, unprocessed foods.
2. Eat beef, lamb, game, organ meats, poultry and eggs from pasture-fed animals.
3. Eat wild fish (not farm-raised) and shellfish from unpolluted waters.
4. Eat full-fat milk products from pasture-fed cows, preferably raw and/or fermented, such as raw milk, whole yogurt, kefir, cultured butter, whole raw cheeses and fresh and sour cream.
5. Use animal fats and butter liberally.


Dietary Dangers

1. Do not eat commercially processed foods such as cookies, cakes, crackers, TV dinners, soft drinks, packaged sauce mixes, etc.
2. Avoid all refined sweeteners such as sugar, dextrose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup and "fruit juices."
3. Avoid white flour and white flour products.
4. Avoid all hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats and oils.
5. Avoid all refined liquid vegetable oils made from soy, corn, safflower, canola or cottonseed.

Although many of these ideas are not new to us (nor to you, we're guessing), it's inspiring to see them laid out in such a way so as to allow traditional eating to become a guide to eating well. By taking time to consider what we eat, and make more conscious decisions about food, we can purchase better, eat better and feel better.

"These traditions require us to apply more wisdom to the way we produce and process our food, and yes, more time in the kitchen, but they give highly satisfying results -- delicious meals, increased vitality, robust children and freedom from the chains of acute and chronic illness."

Convenience, of course, has increased immensely over the past 30 years. It is now easier than ever to consume an excess of calories with very little output. But what exactly are we doing with all that extra time that is so much more important than our health? Economically, we are spending time and energy (not to mentions billions of dollars) managing the ills that our "convenient" foods are inflicting upon us. I believe that many intolerances, allergies and diseases are caused by genetically modified and highly processed foods, and are being treated, by and large, by costly prescription medications. What if managing these illnesses were as easy as turning the clock back and eating as our parents and grandparents did?

Making food "from scratch" should not be some arcane concept, wrapped up nicely for marketing purposes. Instead, cooking basics should be taught in the home, and preparing nutrient-dense sustenance for (yourself or) the whole family, should again be the standard of daily life for every person. It is a valuable way to spend your time, and cooking together thoughtfully will only benefit your health and the health of your family.

This holiday season, avoid food that has packaging (that's a good place to start!). Take a little time, among friends, with family, and cook something delicious. Next time the conversation (inevitably) turns to who's allergic to what, or another loved one is diagnosed with cancer, spread the word that this is not a coincidence. The more we learn ourselves, and the more we tell others, the more likely we are to make healthy, delicious changes in the year ahead!