Nourishing Traditions – Healing the Body through Traditional Wisdom
At a glance
Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, co-authors of Nourishing Traditions, give you the one-stop shop for a holistic healthy eating guide that focuses on your physical and emotional health.
- Why having the right kinds of fats is key to your body and beauty.
- What foods provide all the essential protein that you need.
- Why eating raw foods will give you energy and improve your digestion.
- How to maximize nutritional value in foods by preparing them properly.
- What eating habits to avoid.
- The one cooking secret to improving your digestion.
While this book covers a lot of the basics of what to eat, I want to focus on talking about fats. This is a topic that is still rarely discussed yet deserves your attention, if you care about improving your overall body functions, slowing down the aging process, and having great skin.
My perception of fats was completely changed after reading this book. Simply put, consuming the right kinds of fats is crucial for your overall health. Though getting a bad rap these days, consuming some saturated fats is important for improving mineral absorption, strengthening immunity, and protecting the heart and liver functions. The quick takeaway here is to enjoy saturated-fat-rich coconut oil on a regular basis and not to be afraid of introducing a small amount of animal fats into your diet.
Omega-3 and omage-6 fatty acids are called essential fatty acids (EFAs) because your body cannot reproduce them. In other words, you will need to consciously introduce them into your diet daily. You should remember these things when you consume EFAs.
First, due to their unstable chemical structures, you should never heat them up before eating them. Safflower, corn, sunflower, soybean, and cottonseed oils are rich in omega-6 and “should never be consumed after they have been heated, as in cooking, frying or baking”, mentioned in the book.
In addition, eggs from chickens fed with insects and green plants contain the ideal ratio of approximately one-to-one (after knowing this, I shop for eggs from pasture-raised chickens in local organic stores almost all the time).
Third, just because these fats are important and essential, it doesn’t mean you should consume them as much as you want. They are meant to be consumed in a small amount each day only.
It is the way the fats are processed these days that make them questionable. Methods like extraction and hydrogenation introduce heat, light, pressure, and all kinds of additives like artificial preservatives, pesticides, dyes, and emulsifiers in the process. This is likely to cause oils to go rancid and form free radicals. That’s why most of the commercial vegetable oils are problematic. They are probably hidden in different packaged foods you like. It’s important to read food labels: if you identify any hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, I do not recommend you put that package into your shopping cart.
Besides, below are a few things that give you some guidance on improving your diet.
Animal meat provides you with all the essential protein that your body needs. For the vegetarian option, legumes mixed with grains are an ideal source for complete protein (note that the way you prepare legumes and grains matters and you may check “Food Preparation” below to learn why it matters and what to do to maximize your nutritional intake from them).
The enzymes in raw food, particularly raw fermented food, can help with digestion and reduce the body’s need to produce digestive enzymes. A diet composed exclusively of cooked foods will put “a severe strain” on the pancreas, which may lead to a shortened lifespan, illness, and lowered resistance to stress. In other words, consuming raw foods allows you to have good digestion and more energy. Coming from the Chinese culture where foods are almost always prepared in a cooked form, this is an eye-opener for me. In fact, this book is one of my inspirations that led me to my book project on fermented vegetables. You can learn more about the project and how to make it in just five minutes here.
Bone broths are also highly recommended. They are rich in gelatin and contain calcium and other minerals which are “available in ready-to-use ionized form as a true electrolyte solution”.
Warnings of Current Consumption
The book points out some pitfalls that people are likely to fall into in the modern days. If you identify familiar habits, mark them down and start making some changes.
Excessive consumption of omega 6
Most people these days consume too much omega 6-containing vegetable oil. This can lead to increased tendency to form blood clots, inflammation, high blood pressure, irritation in the gut, weakened immunity, and weight gain. You see, the excessive consumption of omega-6 and heating up omega-6-containing vegetable oils (as mentioned above) together make an alarming case which indicates that we should really watch out for our consumption of omega-6. Pay attention to not only what oils you use for cooking, but also the food labels. I find that soybean oil is commonly used in different packaged foods like chips, chocolate, and frozen meat.
Another thing you can do is buy eggs from pasture-raised chickens. These eggs contain the ideal omega-3 and omega-6 ratio of one to one, while commercial eggs can contain omega-6 content as much as 19 times more.
Too much refined carbohydrates in the form of sugar and white flour
Eating too much refined carbs will cause a sudden increase in your blood sugar, disrupt hormonal balance, cause deficiency in vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, and lead to a series of health problems such as allergies, obesity, depression, learning disabilities, behavioral issues, alcoholism, and drug addiction. In addition, sugar molecules are bonded to amino acids, which forms abnormal proteins and can potentially damage the eyes, your nerves system, skin, tendons, and membranes.
Therefore, cut down refined carbohydrates as much as you can. Avoid packaged foods that contain high fructose corn syrup. And opt for natural sweeteners such as raw honey, maple syrup, cane sugar juice, and date sugar.
Excessive consumption of juices from fruits and vegetables
Finally, I want to point this one out because juicing seems to become a fashionable word these days and the benefits of juicing are discussed everywhere. In nature, everything – no matter how nutritious it is – should be consumed in moderation. The same theory is applied to juicing as well. The process of juicing fruits concentrates the sweetness, which will bring in too much sugar into the body, upset the acid-alkaline balance of the body, and lead to mineral deficiencies. Even over consumption of vegetable juices can cause an imbalance, too. The advice from the book is to limit your intake to one to two ounces at a time, diluted with water.
Proper Food Preparation
What to eat is just one piece of the puzzle. How you prepare foods is also very important, as it directly affects how well your body absorbs the nutrients and converts them to energy. Below are some highlights.
Air or sun drying can preserve or even enhance the nutrients in foods. This resonates with me greatly. As I reflect on my own culture, the kinds of dried foods that I have been eating since childhood start popping up in my mind: goji berries, scallops, shrimps, octopus, chrysanthemum flowers, Chines yam, lotus seeds, mushrooms, just to name a few. If a Chinese grocery store or any other Asian supermarket is accessible in your area, I recommend you explore dried foods with a curious and open mind and try to make one dish out of them. If you would need any suggestion on how to cook with a certain form of dried foods, leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to help.
Our choice and use of oils are extremely important. Due to the nature of different kinds of oils, heating healthy oil with an unstable chemical structure can cause more harm than good. Here’s a quick reference on how to use different oils.
You can enjoy olive oil in its raw form or cook it with moderate temperatures. Peanut oil and sesame oil are okay for frying occasionally. As mentioned above, safflower, corn, sunflower, soybean, and cottonseed oils should never be heated. With a highly unstable chemical structure, flax seed oil should always be refrigerated and never be heated. Coconut oil can be used for baking (coconut oil has a smoking point of about 350 °F. I would not recommend you use it if the cooking temperature is above that).
Grains and legumes contain phytic acid, which prevents the body from absorbing minerals. Soaking them in an acid environment (for example, you may add some vinegar or lemon juice into the filtered water) at a very warm temperature (about 90 °F) for 24 hours can help neutralize this anti-nutrient. Alternatively, sprouting is a great way to drastically reduce the amount of phytic acid.
Cooking and Eating with Enjoyment
What I also like about the book is that it inspires us to treat cooking and eating as a joyful experience. Living in the 21st century, we are often asked to hurry and to jump to the next project. Sally Fallon and Mary Enig are asking us to slow down, stay present, and fully activate our senses to savor the moment. In the process, we are learning to cultivate peace in small moments.
Additionally, pretty and enticing food presentations, along with good smells and tastes, can stimulate the digestive juices. Before reading this book, I never thought that cooking can be an art form. Now I’ve got a brand-new perspective, and I’m loving the challenge to think how I can make better color combinations in a dish and how I can garnish kale to make it more appealing. The process of pursuing art and beauty can stimulate joy in our heart. I didn’t know cooking is also about finding little joys in life.
My Biggest Uh-Ah
One thing I love about this book is that it takes into consideration the individuality of the eater. What you should eat also depends on your health state, genes, mood, occupation, and etc. With various schools of nutrition and diet plans being discussed all over the internet, guidelines like how much proteins, fats, and carbs you should eat should be taken as a grain of salt. At the end of the day, you will have to find an ideal balance and what’s best for your body. In other words, you are your best doctor.
According to both authors, diets that respect the traditional ways of eating and preparing foods will be the most beneficial for the human body. This makes a lot of sense to me. Traditional eating and living wisdom is passed down through experiments on real human bodies for centuries. The accumulated advice is precious and should be taken seriously.
- Enjoy saturated-fat-rich coconut oil on a regular basis.
- Introduce a small amount of animal fats into your diet.
- Never heat up omega-6-rich oils like safflower, corn, sunflower, soybean, and cottonseed oils.
- Buy eggs from pasture-raised chickens.
- Consume omega-3 and omega-6 content in small amounts each day only.
- Avoid all hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
- Eat animal meat or legumes combined with grains for all the essential protein.
- Eat raw foods, particularly raw fermented foods.
- Drink bone broths on a regular basis.
- Keep your omega-6 consumption in check by limiting the use of safflower, corn, sunflower, soybean, and cottonseed oils. You should also read food labels while you shop and particularly watch out for soybean oil.
- Limit the use of refined sugar or white flour. Instead, opt for a small amount of natural sweeteners like raw honey, maple syrup, can sugar, and date sugar.
- Limit your fruit or vegetable juices intake to one to two ounces at a time and dilute them with water.
Proper food preparation
- Air or sun dried produce can preserve or even enhance the nutrients in foods. You may find them in an Asian grocery store or supermarket.
- Enjoy olive oil in its raw form or cook it with moderate temperatures.
- Peanut oil and sesame oil are okay for frying occasionally.
- Flax seed oil should always be refrigerated and never be heated.
- Coconut oil can be used for baking (use it only for cooking at no higher than 350 °F).
- To better prepare grains and legumes before cooking them, soak them in an acid environment at a very warm temperature for 24 hours or sprout them.
- Cooking with pleasure and stay present while you eat. Enticing food presentations can help with digestion.
- Use traditional eating wisdom as a guidance to form your own guidelines to eat.
My question to you
What is your biggest uh-ha and what is one action item you give yourself when you leave this post?
Stay well and happy,
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