Diet: Eating According to Traditional Wisdom

Sourdough
Since learning more about traditional diets, I’ve started experimenting with traditional recipes like this overnight fermented (leavened with a starter) whole grain sourdough bread!

Summary

  • Our ancestors in traditional cultures have thrived on their diets for millenniums
  • They did not suffer the degenerative illnesses prevalent in our industrialized society today
  • Although the actual diets differed across cultures, there all shared similar dietary principles that our generation have largely forgotten
  • Returning to these principles is simple and will benefit the health of everyone in the family

I first heard of the Weston A. Price foundation when I started listening to the Wise Traditions podcast on itunes. The foundation is dedicated to delivering accurate information on nutrition and health and has its roots in traditional practices that have kept people healthy for hundreds of generations. The more I listened, the more something clicked within me and I started to realize that this might be the answer to a question which has been at the back of my head for a long time: What is the natural diet of a human?

Contents

  1. About Dr. Weston A. Price
  2. Characteristics of Traditional Diets
  3. Dietary Guidelines
  4. Dietary Dangers

About Dr. Weston A. Price

Dr.Weston A. Price (1870-1948) was a dentist who travelled the globe studying indigenous “primitive” people and their cultures to find the answers to the cause of dental decay and physical degeneration he was seeing in his practice. He realized that many of his patients did not have fully formed physical features such as a wide jaw and this resulted in crowded, crooked teeth and unattractive appearances. He suspected this was caused by nutritional deficiency as a result of abandoning a traditional diet and adopting the modern, western diet.

napd-seminole1
“Primitive” Seminole girl (left) with wide, handsome face with plenty of room for the dental arches. Source: Copyright © Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation®, All Rights Reserved, www.ppnf.org
napd-seminole2
The “modernized” Seminole girl (right) born to parents who had abandoned their traditional diets, has a narrowed face, crowded teeth, and a reduced immunity to disease. Source: Copyright © Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation®, All Rights Reserved, www.ppnf.org

His travels took him to isolated human settlements such as “sequestered villages in Switzerland, Gaelic communities in the Outer Hebrides, Eskimos and Indians of North America, Melanesian and Polynesian South Sea Islanders, African tribes, Australian Aborigines, New Zealand Maori and the Indians of South America.” And wherever he went, he observed perfectly developed bone and teeth structure as well as strong hardy bodies resistant to disease and people with fine characters. [3]

Comparing the traditional diets of these natives to the western diet at the time, he also found that the natives’ diets “provided at least four times the calcium and other minerals, and at least TEN times the fat-soluble vitamins from animal foods such as butter, fish eggs, shellfish and organ meats.” [3]

Apart from learning about the different diets, Dr. Price also documented other traditional practices such as premarital nutrition for both parents, spacing of children (about 3 years apart) to allow the mother to regenerate her health and produce subsequent healthy offsprings and special foods for growing children and pregnant or lactating mothers. All these can be found in his classic volume Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.

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Characteristics of Traditional Diets

Instinctively or through generations of trial and error, our ancestors knew which foods provided optimal nourishment for the human body such as organ meats and raw milk. Their dietary wisdom passed down through the generations also told them that there were certain foods that needed special preparation to obtain the most nutrients from them and avoid ill-effects from their anti-nutrients such as soaking grains and legumes before consumption. Other interesting characteristics of traditional diets include consumption of at least some form of animal products (there were no vegan cultures) and plenty of enzyme rich foods like fermented vegetables or raw meat.

Here is a summary of the characteristics of traditional diets adapted from the Weston A. Price website [5]:

  1. The diets of healthy primitive and nonindustrialized peoples contain no refined or denatured foods such as refined sugar or corn syrup; white flour; canned foods; pasteurized, homogenized, skim or low-fat milk; refined or hydrogenated vegetable oils; protein powders; artificial vitamins or toxic additives and colorings.
  2. All traditional cultures consume some sort of animal protein and fat from fish and other seafood; water and land fowl; land animals; eggs; milk and milk products; reptiles; and insects.
  3. Primitive diets contain at least four times the calcium and other minerals and TEN times the fat soluble vitamins from animal fats (vitamin A, vitamin D and the Price Factor–now believed to be vitamin K2) as the average American diet.
  4. In all traditional cultures, some animal products are eaten raw.
  5. Primitive and traditional diets have a high food-enzyme content from raw dairy products, raw meat and fish; raw honey; tropical fruits; cold-pressed oils; wine and unpasteurized beer; and naturally preserved, lacto-fermented vegetables, fruits, beverages, meats and condiments.
  6. Seeds, grains and nuts are soaked, sprouted, fermented or naturally leavened in order to neutralize naturally occurring antinutrients in these foods, such as phytic acid, enzyme inhibitors, tannins and complex carbohydrates.
  7. Total fat content of traditional diets varies from 30% to 80% but only about 4% of calories come from polyunsaturated oils naturally occurring in grains, pulses, nuts, fish, animal fats and vegetables (and not modern hydrogenated vegetable oils). The balance of fat calories is in the form of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.
  8. Traditional diets contain nearly equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids. (1:1 ratio)
  9. All primitive diets contain some salt. (often unrefined)
  10. Traditional cultures consume animal bones, usually in the form of gelatin-rich bone broths.
  11. Traditional cultures make provisions for the health of future generations by providing special nutrient-rich foods for parents-to-be, pregnant women and growing children; by proper spacing of children; and by teaching the principles of right diet to the young.

At this point, one might argue that returning to a genuine 100% ‘traditional’ diet is a tall order, what with the advent of GMO crops and the widespread pollution of the air, sea and soil due to industrialization and many other factors that render our food supply depleted of minerals as well as contaminated with toxins.

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Kombucha
Homebrewed kombucha! They taste quite different from store-bought ones, in a good way 😉

However, there is still hope if one would take the time to educate oneself about what to eat and what not to eat. The following are dietary guidelines and dangers from the foundation, based on the work of Dr. Price and ongoing nutritional research [6]:

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), fish eggs 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, full-fat raw cheeses and fresh and sour cream.
  5. Use animal fats, such as lard, tallow, egg yolks, cream and butter liberally.
  6. Use only traditional vegetable oils—extra virgin olive oil, expeller-expressed sesame oil, small amounts of expeller-expressed flax oil, and the tropical oils—coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil.
  7. Take cod liver oil regularly to provide at least 10,000 IU vitamin A and 1,000 IU vitamin D per day.
  8. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably organic. Use vegetables in salads and soups, or lightly steamed with butter.
  9. Use organic whole grains, legumes and nuts that have been prepared by soaking, sprouting or sour leavening to neutralize phytic acid, enzyme inhibitors and other anti-nutrients.
  10. Include enzyme-rich lacto-fermented vegetables, fruits, beverages and condiments in your diet on a regular basis.
  11. Prepare homemade stocks from the bones of pastured poultry, beef, pork and lamb fed non-GMO feed, and from wild seafood. Use liberally in soups, stews, gravies and sauces.
  12. Use filtered water for cooking and drinking.
  13. Use unrefined salt and a variety of herbs and spices for food interest and appetite stimulation.
  14. Make your own salad dressing using raw vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and a small amount of expeller-expressed flax oil.
  15. Use traditional sweeteners in moderation, such as raw honey, maple syrup, maple sugar, date sugar, dehydrated cane sugar juice (sold as Rapadura) and green stevia powder.
  16. Use only unpasteurized wine or beer in strict moderation with meals.
  17. Cook only in stainless steel, cast iron, glass or good quality enamel.
  18. Use only natural, food-based supplements.
  19. Get plenty of sleep, exercise and natural light.
  20. Think positive thoughts and practice forgiveness.

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sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is revered as another one of those traditional health foods. Making it at home is also really simple!

Dietary Dangers

  1. Do not eat commercially processed foods such as cookies, cakes, crackers, TV dinners, soft drinks, packaged sauce mixes, etc. Read labels!
  2. Avoid all refined sweeteners such as sugar, dextrose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup and fruit juices.
  3. Avoid white flour, white flour products and white rice.
  4. Avoid all hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats and oils.
  5. Avoid all industrial polyunsaturated vegetable oils made from soy, corn, safflower, canola or cottonseed.
  6. Avoid foods cooked or fried in polyunsaturated oils or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
  7. Do not practice veganism. Animal products provide vital nutrients not found in plant foods.
  8. Avoid products containing protein powders as they usually contain carcinogens or damaged proteins formed during processing. Likewise, avoid lean meat, skinless poultry, reduced-fat milk and egg whites without the yolks. Consumption of protein without the cofactors occurring in animal fats can lead to deficiencies, especially of vitamin A.
  9. Avoid processed, pasteurized milk; do not consume ultrapasteurized milk products, lowfat milk, skim milk, powdered milk or imitation milk products.
  10. Avoid factory-farmed eggs, meats and fish.
  11. Avoid highly processed lunch meats and sausage.
  12. Avoid rancid and improperly prepared seeds, nuts and grains found in granolas, quick rise breads and extruded breakfast cereals, as they block mineral absorption and cause intestinal distress.
  13. Avoid canned, sprayed, waxed and irradiated fruits and vegetables. Avoid genetically modified foods (found in most soy, canola and corn products).
  14. Avoid artificial food additives, especially MSG, hydrolyzed vegetable protein and aspartame, which are neurotoxins. Most soups, sauce and broth mixes and most commercial condiments contain MSG, even if not indicated on the label.
  15. Avoid caffeine and related substances in coffee, tea and chocolate.
  16. Avoid aluminum-containing foods such as commercial salt, baking powder and antacids. Do not use aluminum cookware or deodorants containing aluminum.
  17. Do not drink fluoridated water.
  18. Avoid synthetic vitamins and foods containing them.
  19. Avoid distilled liquors.
  20. Do not use a microwave oven.

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Taken from the Principles of Healthy Diets brochure from the Weston A. Price foundation.

Milk Kefir
Another one of my favourite traditional foods. Milk Kefir is refreshingly tasty as a breakfast food!

Since discovering about the foundation and their message, I have delved deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of nutritional research. When it comes to the often complicated and confusing field of diets and nutritional advice, I realize this post is barely scratching the surface with easy to follow guidelines for the general public.

If you are interested in knowing more about traditional diets, practices and the latest nutritional research, myths and truths, a good starting place is the Weston A. Price foundation’s website: https://www.westonaprice.org/ All articles from past journal publications are also posted on the website. In addition, you may like to consider becoming a member of the foundation which offers perks such as free educational brochures and a copy of their quarterly journal delivered to your door. You’d be supporting their cause too.

I’ve signed up for the membership as well as bought a copy of another nutritional classic, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig. Sally Fallon is the founding president of the Weston A. Price Foundation and a wealth of knowledge when it comes to nutritional science. Listen to her interviews on the Wise Traditions Podcast here.

Nourishing Traditions is also more than just another cookbook. Besides hundreds of traditional recipes based on the dietary principles outlined above, there is also a ton of nutritional information and education as well as interesting stories, folk tales and trivia about traditional diets and foods in the sidebars of every recipe page. I would recommend a copy of this book for every household!

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References

  1. Weston A. Price Foundation – https://www.westonaprice.org/
  2. Wise Traditions podcast – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/wise-traditions/id1072618042?mt=2
  3. Dr.Weston A. Price – https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/nutrition-greats/weston-a-price-dds/
  4. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price
  5. Characteristics of Traditional Diets – https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/abcs-of-nutrition/characteristics-of-traditional-diets/
  6. Dietary Guidelines and Dangers – https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/abcs-of-nutrition/principles-of-healthy-diets-2/#guidelines
  7. Weston A. Price Quarterly Journal – https://www.westonaprice.org/category/journal/
  8. Weston A. Price Membership – https://www.westonaprice.org/why-join/
  9. Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig
  10. About Sally Fallon – https://www.westonaprice.org/about-us/board-of-directors/

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