I recently had the opportunity to listen to a two-hour lecture by Sally Fallon, founder of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the work of Weston Price and co-author of Nourishing Traditions, a cookbook full of recipes for and lots of useful information on traditional food.
In this compelling talk that explores the differences between traditional and modern foods, she attempts to answer the question, “What is a healthy diet?”
Here is my interpretation of what she said:
What is a healthy diet?
There are many theories about what constitutes a healthy diet which has left people confused. Sally Fallon is convinced that Dr. Weston Price, a man she described as “The Grandfather of Nutrition Research” can help answer this most confusing question.
Dr. Price was a dentist and researcher who believed that the teeth provided a mirror of one’s health. He was concerned by the increasing amounts of tooth decay, chronic decay and dental deformities he was observing in his Ohio patients back in the 1920s and 1930s.
Dr. Price embarked on a 10 year study of the diets of isolated populations throughout the world that demonstrated good health through naturally straight teeth, no tooth decay or dental deformities, and overall wellness that culminated in the 1939 publication of a 500 page study called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, which is considered a classic work of anthropology, nutrition, and disease prevention.
The Studies of Dr. Weston Price
Dr. Price studied preindustrial communities that included an isolated village in Switzerland, a Gaelic island off the coast of Scotland, Alaskan Eskimos, Seminole Indians in the Florida everglades and South Seas islanders in Papua New Guinea. In each of these remote places he found people with beautiful teeth, perfectly formed faces, little to no tooth decay, and excellent overall health, with none of the chronic diseases seen at home in the US.
However, when these people were exposed to the typical diet of the industrial world that included white flour, sugar, and refined vegetable oils, their health declined. They developed crooked, crowded, cavity-filled teeth and chronic diseases. He concluded that their traditional diets were responsible for good health.
What did these people eat to stay healthy? The diets were all local so they varied significantly from region to region. The isolated Swiss ate whole raw milk, cream, butter, and cheese, dense sourdough rye bread, meat once a week, and some vegetables during the summer. The Gaelic population off the coast of Scotland primarily ate seafood, seaweed and oats. The Eskimos consumed mostly seafood and meat with very few vegetables. The Seminole Indians ate mostly fish, reptiles, and meat. People in the South Seas ate seafoods, roasted pigs, and lots of vegetables and fruit including coconut and fermented taro root.
From his findings Dr. Price concluded that these diverse diets shared four factors in common. They were comprised of whole foods, they lacked sugar and refined flour, they were abundant in fish and meat, and they included only unrefined fats.
Ms. Fallon said that it is important that in addition to nourishing our bodies, food also must nourish our taste buds. A healthy dietary philosophy should be as inclusive as possible to allow supporting as many different ways of eating as possible while avoiding feelings of deprivation.
She then outlined 11 principles of a traditional healthy diets based on the findings of Dr. Price that have been further expanded from additional research by the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Characteristics of Healthy Traditional Diets
1. No refined or denatured foods. No refined sugar, white flour, refined vegetable oils, canned foods such as condensed milk, high fructose corn syrup, pasteurized milk, low fat milk, hydrogenated fats, protein powders, artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives. Modern vegetable oils only came into existence in 1895 with the stainless steel press. Before that the only vegetable oils in existence were sesame oil and olive oil.
2. Some animal products. Animal products made up 10 – 100% of the traditional diets studied and included fish, shellfish, birds, red meat, milk, milk products, eggs, reptiles, insects. Every part of the animals were used. Some nutrients are only available in animal foods. These include vitamin A, vitamin D, cholesterol, B12, and very long chain fatty acids. Some nutrients are more easily absorbed from animal foods – calcium, B6, magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper.
3. High amounts of vitamins A&D foods. Sources include fish eggs, livers, shellfish, oily fish, grass fed butter, cream, egg yolks, lard, fish liver oil, red meat, liverwurst.
4. Some amount of raw animal food. Modern examples would include steak tartar, carpaccio, raw milk and cheese. Raw milk is full of enzymes and organisms that increase immunity to many pathogens that are reduced or inactivated through pasteurization.
5. Enzymes to aid digestion. Raw honey, raw dairy, meat, fish, tropical fruits, cold pressed oil, wine, unpasteurized beer, lacto-fermented foods are all rich in enzymes and beneficial bacteria.
6. Properly prepared grains, seeds, legumes, and nuts. Many cultures used these foods. Phytic acid, which is commonly found in these foods can blocks mineral uptake. It is important to prepare these foods in ways to make all the nutrients more bio-available. This may include soaking and fermenting as is the custom with traditional fermented soy such as miso and tempeh.
7. Fat content between 30% – 80%. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature but solid in the refrigerator. Polyunsaturated oils are liquid in the refrigerator. Most of the fats of the traditional diets were saturated and monounsaturated. Saturated fats are vital. If you don’t eat them your body makes them from carbohydrates. Someone who craves carbohydrates is probably deficient in saturated fats. You need them for healthy cell membranes, heart function, liver function, healthy bones, lung function, kidney function, the immune system, omega 6 and omega 3 function and detoxification.
8. Near equal ratio of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. To bring these into balance get rid of the vegetable oils, add flax oil to salad dressings, and eat organic and pasture fed dairy and animal products.
9. Sea salt. Salt is essential for protein digestion and activates enzymes needed for carbohydrate digestion, nerve cell production in the brain and adrenal function. It is the basis of cellular metabolism. Use unrefined sea salt, not commercial salt.
10. Bone broth. Provides nutrients to build and maintain cartilage and amino acids to help with detoxification. It is rich in gelatin which is a great aid in digestion. Studies back in the 1950s supported the health benefits of bone broth and gelatin for the chronically ill. The modern substitute for broth in processed food is MSG, which provides the flavor, but none of the health benefits.
11. Provisions for future generations. In traditional cultures, there were special foods for parents to be, pregnant women, nursing women, and young children.
A lot of people agree with Sally Fallon. Probably just as many think she is a nut. What are your thoughts? Do we need to go back in time to a “traditional diet” to be healthy? Is this possible in our modern world? Is there an easier, less extreme solution?
After years of struggle with my weight and way too much time lost trying to find the “one right answer,” I have come to believe that there is no one right way.
For me food freedom and health have come from finding a happy, healthy balance, free of dietary dogma.
I would love to hear from you…
*PointsPlus® and SmartPoints® calculated by Simple Nourished Living; Not endorsed by Weight Watchers International, Inc. All recipe ingredients except optional items included in determining nutritional estimates. SmartPoints® values calculated WITHOUT Weight Watchers Zero Points fruits and vegetables using the WW Recipe Builder.
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