Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Eating Omily: Nourishing Traditions

Recently my beautiful friend Rebecca gave me a new book for late Christmas/early Birthday.  It's called Nourishing Traditions, and is about basing a healthy diet off of anthropological evidence of tribes both ancient, and still living in their traditional ways.  By looking at which groups of humans are the healthiest (hint: we're not it), we can find patterns that point to what nourishes us best.  It turns out, diets high in animal fats, including some raw animal fats (raw milk products, etc.), and lacto-fermented foods, and low in added sweeteners, especially processed ones, results not only in people low in chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, etc., but in generation after generation of healthy children devoid of diseases, cavities, and even crowded teeth!  (Really?  Can we blame breakfast cereal for our braces??)
  This diet is related to the paleo diet, which I generally raise my eyebrows at, but it differs in one important way: the paleo diet endevours to craft a diet based on what we evolved eating as hunter-gatherers.  This diet (if you can call it a diet; it's awfully broad to be considered one) looks at our more recent ancestors, who cultivated crops, raised meat animals, etc., including current populations who have been eating this way for thousands of years.  That makes all the difference to me for two reasons: firstly, the people referenced in the book live(d) a lot more like us than cave people.  Secondly, these diet guidelines aren't theoretical, in the sense that we KNOW this is how indigenous people eat, because they are STILL eating that way (and surprise surprise, they're STILL far healthier than we are.)  It's really no mystery why the Inuits, who live on blubber, are so healthy: when that blubber was on an animal that ate a healthy natural diet, it's super healthy stuff, high in all kinds of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes essential for health, and the fat allows for optimal absorption of all that good stuff.

 It isn't just anecdotal evidence, though.  The introduction, which outlines the best forms of each food group to eat, has a list of references pages long, all peer reviewed articles and studies.   I'm not saying this is my new gospel of eating.  I'm inclined to take anything that takes itself this seriously with a grain of salt, but frankly, the recipes sound fantastic, and most of the guidelines sound solid, and based on science.  The most crack pot things it's suggesting you do is ferment your oatmeal overnight with yogurt before your eat it, add egg yolks to your smoothies, and enjoy a little steak tartar every now and then.  Oh yeah, and give up chocolate and coffee, but I'm not doing that, of course.

The evidence has been rolling in for quite a while now that the idea that saturated fat is the cause of all our ills and a low fat diet will save us is incorrect.  In fact, some unsaturated fats such as corn oil show evidence of being pretty bad for us.   It was never a clear conclusion that butter and lard were evil, and no one thinks margarine is a health food anymore.  We know the writing on the wall: step away from the sugar, but go ahead and pick up the bacon (Woohoo!).  Ok, so the book says beef and lamb are healthier choices than pork, but pork is still cool in moderation.

Obviously the book isn't all that supportive of strict vegetarianism.  While you can get almost all of your nutritional needs from plant sources, it's really hard.  Eating the stuff with the nutrients isn't enough: your body has to be able to absorb them, and not many of us are capable of extracting the necessary nutrients without the presents of fats, especially saturated fats.  Adding coconut oil to every meal would be a vegan-friendly way to get around that obstacle, and if you're ok with eggs and dairy, you'll still find lots to love in this book, and if you're only a vegetarian or vegan for health reasons and have really missed your animal products, it may become your new bible.  Of course, the meat you're eating matters!  Nothing factory farmed is all that healthy, because it's full of artificial hormones, antibiotics, etc., and it was fed food it would not have eaten naturally.

I haven't made any recipes out of this book yet; I'm skimming the whole thing first, but there are plenty I'm definitely going to try: fermented breakfast porridge, beef bourguignon, bottle-fermented ginger ale(?!).  I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

If you're interested, the book's available on Amazon, and probably at your local bookstore, or there are some blogs out there that have done series of posts working with recipes from the book, which will give you an idea of what you're getting yourself into, before you commit.  This one's title made me laugh.

Let me know what you think!

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