Traditional Diets – Q&A Session Part 1

I have a post up at the Natural Parents Network (NPN) which offers a brief introduction into Traditional Diets. For those of you who have been following my blog, you have read or at least seen that I have three posts up discussing the tenants of a Traditional Diet as well as my own personal journey making the switch to preparing and eating traditional foods. The post on NPN does not offer any additional information beyond what I wrote for my blog however, it has sparked some great questions from one of the readers (Hannah at Loving Earth Mama). I decided that it might be beneficial to some of my blog followers if I turned these questions into a blog post. If you are interested in traditional eating, please read on. This may clarify a few points about Traditional Diets.

1) It is weird to me to take a cross-cultural view, scan for similarities and then extract lessons based on that top level of commonalities. It is like skimming off the cream but missing out on the milk or something like that. I mean to take all the variety and richness of the world’s cuisines and reduce it to a one-size fits all plan perplexes me. Afterall, the diet of a Berber is nothing like the diet of the Inuit. If you took a Berber and fed him what the Inuit eat, I would imagine he would get pretty sick, if he were even able to get it down – so foreign would it seem.

… But again I really should read the book, it is just that I am finding your exposition so clear and easy to follow that it is tempting to continue the debate to try and understand this approach from a real and enthusiastic practitioner. I don’t want to argue, I want to understand, I want an in-depth, to-and-fro conversation… though I realize this is probably not the place.

Anyway, what I mean is that each culture has uniquely crafted their diet to the environment and climate they live in. The Inuit eat fatty fish and whale blubber ‘cos they need all that fat to keep their bodies warm, no? People in hot countries eat lots of juicy fruit – topped up with fluid and electrolytes, as well as natural sugars. Nature, in its wisdom provides exactly what we need for the climate, season and environment we are in. The desert’s few plants are… succulents, filled with life-giving water. I don’t want to oversimplify this either, but it makes sense to me to eat according to your OWN culture, environment, climate, etc… not just to take the ‘best’ from each culture around the world and think that will apply to everybody everywhere. It is exactly in the differences between these cultures’ Traditional Diets that the beauty of natural selection begins to shine, in my view. In fact, it would make more sense to me if this title ‘Traditional Diet’ applied to the food that was traditionally eaten here in the United States say 200 years ago – seeing as most of its followers seem to be American. Corn, beans and buffalo meat, anyone?

I could really go into a long dissertation about this question (in a positive way…not argumentative.) The simplistic answer, based on my understanding of where the concept of a Traditional Diet comes from, is that the term “traditional diet” describes a pattern of eating and drinking (including foods or groups of foods and drinks) that was commonly followed in a particular culture, country, or part of the world for centuries, or even for thousands of years. Traditional dietary habits practiced among healthy non-industrialized peoples are identified by the foods grown, raised, produced, and/or cooked in a region or local area. The cultures consumed different specific foods, but the patterns among these different peoples were easy to identify. All traditional cultures:

·         Consumed some sort of animal protein, including organ meats and fat, every day.

·         Consumed foods that contain very high levels of minerals and fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin K2 found in seafood, organ meats and animal fats).

·         Consumed some foods with a high enzyme and probiotic content.

·         Consumed seeds, grains, and nuts that are soaked, sprouted, fermented, or naturally leavened in order to neutralize a portion of the naturally occurring anti-nutrients in these foods.

·         Consumed plenty of natural fats but no industrial liquid or hardened (partially hydrogenated) oils.

·         Consumed natural, unrefined salt.

·         Consumed animal bones, usually in the form of gelatin-rich bone broths.

·         Provided extra nutrition for parents-to-be, pregnant women, breastfeeding women and growing children, to ensure the health of the next generation.

·         Did not consume refined or processed foods, including white flour, refined sweeteners, pasteurized and lowfat milk products, protein powders, industrial fats and oils and chemical additives.

A diet of traditional foods is based on the above tenants and not so much on specific foods since America (as well as the rest of the industrialized world) now has access to a much wider variety of food. However, when it comes down to it, it is still best for our bodies if we consume seasonal, locally grown produce and meats.

I hope that this VERY abbreviated answer clarifies things a little. I will expand on this in a separate post. I did not want to overwhelm everyone! J

2) How much does this system or approach go into body types and different constitutions? I am very influenced by both Chinese and Indian thinking in this regard. I believe different people need different foods according to their unique health picture and genetic blueprint. Some people thrive on meat, others really can’t digest it well (some might argue none of us do – since it remains in the gut, undigested for years). Likewise dairy (and I agree with you on this: whole, organic and raw is best) is okay for some individuals but not well tolerated at all by many others. Same goes for wheat and gluten. Is it not dangerous to generalize like this? Or again, perhaps they go into this with many more nuances in the book/site.  Those three examples are not random. Wheat, dairy and meat are all extremely acid forming. As you undoubtedly know, all chronic illnesses are diseases of over-toxicity found in people whose tissues are acidic. Diet can re-balance the pH in our bodies but these three foods are strictly off the list of anyone striving for alkalinity.

Yes, there is A LOT more information on all of these points both in the book, at the Weston A. Price website and on a lot of other websites/blogs related to following a Traditional Diet. I agree that you cannot lump everyone into a single category and promise that all of the principals of a Traditional Diet will work for them. A more paleo focused diet might be better for some people while a diet richer in beans and grain based and/or dairy based protein sources might be better for another. The main tenant of eating a Traditional Diet is that everyone needs to eat FAT liberally! Low fat/non-fat eating principals that are so prevalent today are NOT healthy. How each individual goes about doing this is really up to their dietary restrictions and preferences. I’ll be honest, the Traditional Diet has everyone consuming liver on a regular bases. I have not been able to incorporate that. Liver is just not for me. I make sure to do what I can to compensate for the health benefits liver offers.

My daughter is gluten intolerant so we have to adapt to that. There are still several wonderful, nourishing grains that we can enjoy per a Traditional Diet approach. You just have to find what does work for you. Having said this, there is A LOT of research and information out there about gluten intolerance and there are some pretty strong arguments that this can be reversed by following a Traditional Diet and properly preparing grains. Once I get my daughter’s health issues more in balance, I am going to be looking into this further and conducting my own experiment.

There is most certainly a genetic factor that can cause true celiac disease and those individuals with this need to live a gluten free lifestyle. However, there is also a gluten sensitivity/intolerance that has reared its ugly day due to modern day processing/over processing of food as well as a host of other factors. Beyond all of this, there is also a lot of studies that have proved that a grain free diet (not just gluten containing grains) can reverse the symptoms of autism, cancer, and a host of other diseases. You can still make a Traditional Diet work for you even if you avoid grains. You might want to look at the following blogs if you are interested in grain free or gluten free diets as it relates to traditional eating:

 Same idea goes for anyone who has a dairy allergy. Raw milk and raw milk products typically do NOT produce the typical lactose intolerant type of reactions. It is the pasteurization and homogenizing of milk that actually contribute to most of the dairy allergies/intolerances. (This is explained in great detail both in the book and on the Weston Price website. However, here is the gist of the issue with consuming anything other than raw milk).  The path that transforms healthy milk products into allergens and carcinogens begins with modern feeding methods that substitute high-protein, soy-based feeds for fresh green grass; and breeding methods to produce cows with abnormally large pituitary glands so that they produce three times more milk than the old fashioned scrub cow. These cows need antibiotics to keep them well. Their milk is then pasteurized so that all valuable enzymes are destroyed-lactase for the assimilation of lactose; galactase for the assimilation of galactose; phosphatase for the assimilation of calcium. Literally dozens of precious enzymes are destroyed in the pasteurization process. Without them milk is very difficult to digest. The human pancreas is not always able to produce these enzymes; overstress of the pancreas can lead to diabetes and other diseases. Non-fat dried milk is added to 1% and 2% milk. Unlike the cholesterol in fresh milk, which plays a variety of health promoting roles, the cholesterol in nonfat dried milk is oxidized and it is this rancid cholesterol that promotes heart disease. Like all spray dried products, non-fat dried milk has a high nitrite content.

If you are allergic to the casein in milk protein, then that is a true allergy and yes, you would need to be dairy free. Coconut milk and coconut milk products can be a suitable substitute.

I know that there are a lot of people who believe in the “eat right for your blood type” principals and even they can follow most of the tenants of traditional eating. There is A LOT that Traditional Diets offer. Once you understand the basic principals you can make it work for every dietary situation.

3) Saying everyone should take Cod Liver Oil is a hard one for me, too. For one the fish is endangered and there are good alternatives to it, so it makes no sense to keep eating an animal to extinction, in my view. For two, liver-oil is particularly prone to concentrating toxicity… although to be fair they are getting better at screening and filtering for that.

This link explains everything related to cod liver oil much better than I ever could!

In brief, there is A LOT of misinformation about the toxicity of liver-oil. It all comes down to how it is processed and the dosage that you are taking. There are really only a select few brands of cod liver oil that can be safely and effectively taken. Most of the cod liver oil out there is useless. Also, there is a lot of value in taking a cod liver oil that is blended with a high vitamin butter oil. That information is also addressed on the website.

I cannot respond to the issue of cod endangerment. I tried to do some online research to see how this is being addressed but since cod isn’t nearly as “sexy” as the whale or other larger endangered animals, there is not much out there about the efforts to repopulate the fish. I am going to look into this issue further and will post an update with whatever information I find. I am not at all interested in contributing to the extinction of any animal.

4) Lastly: soy. Whilst I agree that TVP is quite nasty stuff and GM soy should be avoided for sure (hard as that may be), surely traditionally prepared tofu consumed together with zinc-rich seaweeds has been consumed *traditionally* in China and Japan for centuries to quite positive effect, no? Am I missing something?

You are not missing something although there is lot more to the story. Here is a little more information on properly prepared soy (fermented).

Soy was first used as a food during the late Chou dynasty (1134-246 BC), only after the Chinese learned to ferment soy beans to make foods like tempeh, natto and tamari. The average consumption of soy foods in Japan and China is 10 grams (about 2 teaspoons) per day. Asians consume soy foods in small amounts as a condiment, and not as a replacement for animal foods. While fermented soy products contain protein, vitamins, anti-carcinogenic substances and important fatty acids, they can under no circumstances be called nutritionally complete. Like all pulses, the soybean lacks vital sulfur-containing amino acids cystine and methionine. These are usually supplied by rice and other grains in areas where the soybean is traditionally consumed. Soy should never be considered as a substitute for animal products like meat or milk. Claims that fermented soy products like tempeh can be relied on as a source of vitamin B12, necessary for healthy blood and nervous system, have not been supported by scientific research. Finally, soybeans do not supply all-important fat soluble vitamins D and preformed A (retinol) which act as catalysts for the proper absorption and utilization of all minerals and water soluble vitamins in the diet. These “fat soluble activators” are found only in certain animal foods such as organ meats, butter, eggs, fish and shellfish. Carotenes from plant foods and exposure to sunlight are not sufficient to supply the body’s requirements for vitamins A and D. Soy products often replace animal products in third world countries where intake of B12and fat soluble A and D are already low. Soy products actually increase requirements for vitamins B12 and D. Are soy products easy to digest, as claimed? Fermented soy products probably are; but unfermented products with their cargo of phytates, enzyme inhibitors, rancid fatty acids and altered proteins most certainly are not.

Here is an excerpt from The Ploy of Soy by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. “To summarize, traditional fermented soy products such as miso, natto and tempeh-which are usually made with organically grown soybeans-have a long history of use that is generally beneficial when combined with other elements of the Oriental diet including rice, sea foods, fish broth, organ meats and fermented vegetables. The value of precipitated soybean products is problematical, especially when they form the major source of protein in the diet. Modern soy products including soy milks and ersatz meat and dairy products made from soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein are new to the diet and pose a number of serious problems.”

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this question and answer session. Another follower has emailed me a list of great questions that delve into my personal journey with traditional eating and I feel that my responses also warrant a blog post.

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  1. says

    Dear Hybrid Rasta Mama,

    Thank you so much for your long, considered and very balanced answer. I really appreciate the time, energy and care you poured into responding to each of my questions. Thank you – really.

    In reading it I realise our positions are even closer than I realised. I would sumarise what we have in common like this: eat ‘real food’ (not hydrogenated, pasteurised, processed or refined cr*p). That includes fats – I am absolutely with you on that, too. I think we also agree that seasonal, local (reflecting the climate and geography you live in) and adjusted to the individual’s constitution (are they active or lethargic?; grouded or spacey?; etc) is going to be best – and is exactly what each of the ‘traditional peoples’ did and that is why their individual diets worked for them despite being sooo different from each other. They were right for *their* climate, their lifestyle, their seasons, etc. Nature is amazing like that, ei? It gives what we need when we need it, where we need it and humans definitely do best when they stay atuned to that, from my observation.

    Your writing is clear and your understanding of this approach is obviously extensive. I am grateful that you would share it with me, with us so generously.

    Gauri of Loving Earth Mama

  2. says

    I am so happy that you found my response helpful! I am more than happy to respond to insightful questions from my readers!

    Yes, you are correct – Nature IS Amazing like that!

    Stay tuned…I have a giveaway dealing with Traditional Foods coming up in a few weeks! You’ll like it! :)


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