What are traditional foods?
Traditional foods are the foods our ancestors ate before modernisation of food. These nourishing foods were raised, grown or hunted by our ancestors before food was mass produced, processed, packaged up and transported around the world. Foods were eaten in their whole state utilising all parts of an animal, vegetable or grain not just the muscle meat, the skim part of milk or the refined flour.
Why traditional foods?
Traditional foods promote robust health.
Studies of the diets of non-industrialised traditional societies have found them to be significantly higher in essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fats and non-essential nutrients such as antioxidants. These people were studied because of their robust health and it was noticed that there was a significant decline in health when a modern diet was adopted even within a short space of time. Traditional societies placed an emphasis on specific nutrient dense foods for males and females in the childbearing years and during pregnancy and for growing, developing children. This ensured robust, fertile offspring.
Researchers have found that although the diets varied between different groups studied, they all contained several factors in common. They ate food in its whole, unrefined state, including seafood, meat, vegetables, grains and legumes, nuts and seeds. They valued animal fats as absolutely essential to good health and ate the whole animal including the nutrient dense fats and organs, not just the muscle meat as is now more common in modern society.
Traditional food preparation techniques enhance the nutrient content of the foods and make them easier to digest. Traditional societies use lacto-fermentation to preserve their foods (yoghurt, sauerkraut etc) which supplies the body with good bacteria/body flora. Having good body flora is now known to be essential to great health.
Traditional foods are grown in their natural environment without the use of chemical aids such as pesticides, fungicides, synthetic fertilizers and growth promotants. Modern organic farming has maintained these traditional methods, giving us access to these nutrient dense foods.
Many of these traditional foods have been demonised for being a major cause of many of our modern diseases including heart disease, cancer and obesity. Saturated fat and cholesterol are the main culprits and yet statistics show that these fats were a significant part of our ancestors diet before the time of heart disease, cancer and obesity. These diseses have increased significantly over the last century and yet saturated fat and cholesterol intake has reduced. The French have always been a puzzle having low incidences of the diseases mentioned while maintaining an extraordinary high intake of saturated fats and cholesterol.
Nutrient rich traditional fats such as the fat accompanying meat and poultry, butter, cream, and eggs have nourished healthy populations for thousands of years. It has been in the last hundred years that diseases such as heart disease and obesity and cancer have risen dramatically. Whereas the consumption of traditional fats has significantly reduced in this time, the consumption of processed foods such as refined sugar and flour, commercialised vegetable oils and low fat or skim dairy products and meats has dramatically increased.
It is important to know that there is a difference between traditional fats produced commercially and traditional fats produced using traditional farming methods. For example there is a difference between commercially raised animals compared to pasture fed animals (which are generally labelled organic or biodynamic). Commercially raised animals are fed on substances such as soy meal, rendered bovine carcasses, bakery waste, citrus peel cake and the swill from ethanol manufacture and barely leave confinement, whereas pasture raised animals are allowed to roam in pastures feeding on their natural diet of green grass supplemented with hay and grain. One clear indicator of the difference is the calcium content of their milk, which has been shown to be less in confined animals.
There are surprising benefits to including traditional fats in the diet. Apart from the fact that most people really enjoy butter and cream and the crispy skin on roast chicken, these fats can help protect against the diseases that they are supposedly meant to be contributing.
The lipid hypothesis for explaining the development of heart disease including heart attacks and angina is based on the theory that cholesterol and saturated fats from our diet increase blood cholesterol. This cholesterol accumulates on the blood vessel walls to form atherosclerosis thereby blocking the arteries that supply blood to the heart.
There are numerous studies directly contradicting the lipid hypothesis including population studies such as the one studying the diet and health of the Masai of Kenya. The diet of the Masai consists almost entirely of full fat unpasturised milk and about 2-5 kg meat per person per day and accompanying fat. The population suffer virtually no heart disease or any markers of it. The Japanese are often used as an example of a nation with low heart disease and a low fat diet however one of their staple traditional foods is fish broth which is one of the richest food sources of cholesterol. Their diet also consists of moderate amounts of seafood, chicken, eggs, beef, pork and organ meats containing cholesterol and saturated fats. The traditional French diet is one of the fattiest diets in the world consisting of generous amounts of butter, eggs, cream, cheese and organ meats such as liver pate. However they also have one of the lowest rates of heart disease than any other western country. This has been termed the French paradox because according to the conventional nutritional theories they should all be dead of heart disease and cancer or horribly obese.
The following is a list of points about traditional fats in relation to the cardiovascular system.
Cholesterol is needed for repair and protection of the blood vessel walls which are damaged by oxidants/free radicals such as those found in cigarette smoke and various viruses which damage the blood vessel walls. Blaming cholesterol for causing heart disease is comparable to blaming the firemen at the scene of a fire for lighting the fire
Saturated fat is the preferred energy source of the heart
Saturated fats lower a substance called Lp(a) which is a marker in the blood which indicates susceptibility to heart disease more accurately than cholesterol levels
Co enzyme Q10 is important for optimum heart function plus it is a powerful fat soluable antioxidant and deficiency of this nutrient is detrimental to the functioning of the heart. Animal products are one of the best dietary sources particularly as aging reduces the body's own production. Reducing dietary animal products reduces dietary supply of CoQ10
Cholesterol is involved in the production of a cardiotonic hormone produced by the adrenal gland which maintains the health of the heart
When the diet is low in saturated fats and cholesterol it is generally higher in refined carbohydrates including sugar, trans fatty acids and oxidised or rancid vegetable oils which are associated with increased weight and reduced exercise. This increases the risk of cardiovascular disease
Homocysteine is a major marker for stiffening of the arteries which predicts susceptibility to cardiovascular disease. Vitamin B6, B9 and B12 lower homocysteine and therefore are seen to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. However although B9 is found abundantly in vegetable sources, B6 is mostly found in animal products and B12 is only found in animal products. and as they work together to lower homocysteine a vegan diet will limit this mechanism
Weston A Price
Weston A Price was a prominent health researcher of the 20th century. He travelled around the world in search of the secret to health. Instead of looking at people who were diseased, he chose to focus on healthy individuals and cultures renowned for their robust health. He observed excellent health in those people who ate their indigenous foods and found when these people were introduced to modernized foods, signs of degeneration and disease became evident very quickly. Dr Price found a similar trend throughout many different parts of the world, with many different races of people.
Dr Price and similar researchers have helped greatly in our understanding of nutrition by observing real living humans in excellent health and then asking 'why are they healthy?'. He was able to put together some core principles about health that could be used universally within many different diets. These principles have been proven over generations by people who have lived in robust health and well-being and consistently produced healthy offspring.
From Dr Price's research the core principles of traditional diets are:
Traditional people consumed what they could catch, collect and grow. They had, no processed, refined or denatured foods or ingredients, such as refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup; white flour; canned foods; pasteurized, homogenized, skim or low-fat milk; refined or hydrogenated vegetable oils; protein powders; artificial vitamins; or chemical additives and colorings
The different cultures all regularly consumed some sort of animal food, such as fish and shellfish; land and water fowl; land and sea mammals; eggs; milk and milk products; reptiles; and insects
The whole animal was consumed including the muscle meat, organs, bones and fat, with the organ meats and fats highly prized
All traditional cultures cooked some of their food but all consumed a portion of their animal foods raw
They consumed a high content of food enzymes and beneficial bacteria from lacto-fermented vegetables, fruits, beverages, dairy products, meats and condiments
Seeds, grains and nuts were often soaked, sprouted, fermented or naturally leavened to neutralize naturally occurring anti-nutrients such as enzyme inhibitors, tannins and phytic acid
Traditional diets had a much higher traditional fat content than modern diets varying between 30 to 80 percent of calories but only about 4 percent of calories come from polyunsaturated oils naturally occurring in grains, legumes, nuts, fish, animal fats and vegetables
All traditional diets contain some salt in its unrefined state (grey Celtic sea salt)
All traditional cultures make use of animal bones, usually in the form of bone broths
Traditional cultures provide special nutrient-rich animal foods for parents-to-be, pregnant women and growing children