Today, I am happy to present you an introduction to Traditional Foods. Mothering mom Sarah from Food & Stuff, has been kind enough to write a great piece about TF. Here’s what Sarah has to say…..

Here are two basic premises behind Traditional Foods. First is the idea that you want the most nutritional bang-for-buck out of your food – that is, a very high nutrient density. We’re not talking caloric density but rather the most vitamins, minerals, antioxidants etc. Much of the TF movement references the work of dentist Weston Price, who in the early part of the 20th century went on several epic journeys around the globe looking at various ethnic groups in order to figure out how people managed to survive before modern dentistry, since his brain kept boggling at the sheer numbers of people in his practice who had all their teeth falling out – it was the norm back then. Price figured the human race wouldn’t have survived very long with no teeth, so he went checking on the folks who were eating what they’d eaten since the dawn of time – what we now refer to as “traditional cultures”. Sure enough, they had all their teeth, and were darned healthy besides. So Price, being the little science-dude he was, took samples of their foods back to his lab and analyzed them and found waaaaaay higher levels of all vitamins and minerals than are/were found in the typical foods of his patients. He concluded that the food products of industrialized nations lacked the necessary vitamins and minerals for human health. Price also found that all the groups he studied ate as much animal protein as was available to them, and especially prized animal fats. He found that many groups utilized fermenting processes to unlock more vitamins within plant material (and some animal materials too) and to make vegetables more digestible; likewise, he found that of the few groups who ate grains, most sprouted, soaked or fermented them in some form – again, increasing the bioavailability of the nutrients.

Traditional Foods advocates stress that eating animal protein is important for human health. The rationale behind eating all the animal products, particularly fatty meat and organs, is that meat is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. (Seafood too) It’s got loads of minerals AND (this is key) they are in highly absorbable forms. Many of the key vitamins (A, E and D) are fat-soluble – and animal meat is not only a good source of these, but essential for adequate uptake. Moreover, the cardiopulmonary issues the medical community frequently associates with moderate to heavy meat intake are a relic of Ancel Key’s lipid hypothesis, which has been pretty soundly disproven by epidemiological and experimental data (see Gary Taubes). Also, for children especially, saturated fat is extremely important for brain development and maintenance of neuron health. It’s also important for the immune system and digestion. BUT it’s critical to understand that all meat is not created equal, and a lot of the health problems people have today started rising right along with factory farming. Fat can carry a lot of good stuff, but it can also carry a lot of bad stuff too – hormones, antibiotic residue, pesticides, etc. So most TF proponents stress that meat must be organic and pasture-raised, since pasture provides the optimal diet for the animals themselves, and increases the nutrient density of their meat while decreasing the amount of bad stuff. (The same goes for plant foods – organic is best because of the reduced pesticide load AND the fact that they contain more nutrients.)

The second main idea behind Traditional Foods is the logical premise that if people have been eating these foods (as prepared traditionally – a loaf of bread is not necessarily a loaf of bread) for thousands if not millions of years without any problems (and, as Price found, with better results than a modern diet), they’re probably not going to do you any harm. Meat and veg for sure are exactly what human bodies evolved to run on, so they are definitely healthy foods for everyone. Dairy and grains are newer additions, but most people do just fine with them provided that they’re prepared in the ways our ancestors figured out were the safest and most nutritious. (In the case of dairy, this means no pasteurization – it kills the beneficial enzymes that help you digest dairy and get the benefit of the calcium and other minerals.)

The other argument for Traditional Foods is ecological. Traditional Foods are, by their nature, sustainable. Have a look at Polyface Farm as a model of how food should be produced – it’s a highly productive farm, more so than most monocrop operations, yet its impact on the environment is actually beneficial. Rotational grazing, which is how meat SHOULD be produced, actually results in a net sequestration of carbon rather than an increase. True diversified organic agriculture that incorporates animals such as chickens enhances the soil and prevents toxic run-off. Moreover, a traditional diet dovetails beautifully with the notion of local eating, further reducing the ecological footprint of your diet.

Are traditional foods more expensive? Sometimes, yes. It depends on where you live, how accessible non-industrial foods are, and what your food budget looked like beforehand. However, because eating a Traditional Foods diet means preparing a lot more from scratch, careful planning, often buying in bulk, and the need to eat less (because the food is more satisfying and more nourishing), the cost difference is not as significant as you might think.

If this strikes you as a sensible way to eat, but you’re unsure of what it looks like as far as day-to-day eating goes, here is a quick list of do’s and don’ts to get you started:

– eat grassfed beef, pastured chicken, naturally raised pork – local if you can get it
– eat organic vegetables, the fresher, the better!
– learn how to make your own lactofermented vegetables (the book “Wild Fermentation” is a fantastic resource)
– make your own sourdough bread and pancakes
– find a good source for pastured eggs
– eat seasonally
– enjoy all the fat that comes on your meat
– find a good raw milk source
– eat seafood when you can it get wild-caught and sustainably harvested

– eat anything out of a package
– buy industrially produced meat products
– eat refined starches or sugars
– eat artificial sweeteners, flavours, colours or additives
– rely on synthetic vitamins to keep you healthy
– eat even natural sweeteners frequently

If you’re still unsure, there’s one more argument for Traditional Foods: they taste better! Once you’ve had fresh milk from a grass-fed, healthy cow, you will never want pasteurized industrial milk from a carton again. Likewise, a softboiled fresh real egg with a bright orange yolk, served with a slice of toasted whole-grain sourdough bread, is a breakfast that makes an Egg McMuffin crawl under a dumpster in shame. Moreover, reducing your sugar intake makes mildly sweet things taste sweeter, which means vegetables and fruits taste better than they did before you gave up the Jolly Ranchers.

Traditional Foods connect you to your food, the people who produce it, and the earth that provides it. They keep you healthy, happy, and satisfied. What more could you ask from your food?