Monday, June 11, 2012

Book Nook - Nourishing Traditions / Real Food

Real Food: What to Eat and Why, by Nina Planck:

Here are a handful of items that you will learn about in depth from Real Food: omega-3s, omega-6s, LDL, HDL, trigglycerides, monounsaturated fats, oleic acid, oxidized cholesterol.  Sounds like fun summer reading, yes?

I will admit, a great deal of this book is very technical, diving into the world of fats in great detail.  However, despite being a bit cumbersome, there are many aspects of this book that are enlightening.  The focus here is on fats, which ones are good for you & which ones are bad.  The discussion on fats leads to discussions on eating meat, and eating whole foods.  That's the real takeaway here.

One thing I really loved about this book is Planck's personal stories to go along with her well researched information.  She shares with us the time in her life when she was young, just out of college, & newly vegetarian.  She tells the reader some of her staple meals at that time and, most importantly, how being a vegetarian changed her body and her health (in her case, for the worse).  As I read her tale, I could relate because, after being vegetarian for over two years, I had also experienced some "symptoms" that seemed odd for someone eating what was presumably a very healthy diet.  But, thanks to this book, I now understand how important it is to get animal fats in your diet.  Planck also shares with us details of her life growing up on a farm, and the traditional farm foods that her family ate - like raw milk - that she has to spend a lot of time now to seek out.

Planck's story is one of someone veering from a path to explore different options, only to come back to that original path in the end.  I feel like my vegetarian journey has been very similar to Planck's, and I am grateful for her book for helping to show me the way back.

Next, Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon:

This book is huge - 634 pages of solid information.  I've been so excited to write about it on Book Nook, but I haven't done so because I actually haven't finished it yet!  But, Sally Fallon, you had me at hello.  If you read nothing by the introduction, you will understand the overall message: eat real, whole foods, just like traditional societies, and prepared in traditional ways, and you will have optimum health.

Author Sally Fallon is the founder of the Weston Price Foundation (see website here).  Much of her writing is actually the fundamentals of what Weston Price taught.  Price left his dental practice in Cleveland, Ohio in the 1930s to travel the world with his wife, with one goal in mind: visit and study tradition indigenous societies to compare the health of those on traditional diets with the health of those on Western/modern diets (refined flour, sugar, food additives, etc).

Fallon presents these findings in a straightforward, compelling way.  Meat and cholesterol do not cause heart disease, but vegetable oils and hydrogenated fats do (page 13).  Vegetarianism leads to deficiencies in the diet and poor health - but the caveat is that the meat and dairy products you do consume should be sustainable and organic.  Carbohydrates should be eaten, but only prepared in traditional ways of soaking or fermenting the grains to provide the most nutrients to the body.  Pasteurization is a bad thing, and the dairy we consume should be raw, as it is in traditional societies.  I've simplified the message here, but you get the general idea.  Whole foods, prepared in traditional ways is the best diet for our health.

After the lengthy introduction, the rest of the book contains recipes, in categories such as great beginnings; the main course; a catalog of vegetables; luncheon & supper foods; grains & legumes; snacks & finger foods; desserts & beverages.  What I absolutely love about this book (and the reason it has taken me so long to read) is that in the margins on the recipe pages are quotes and academic studies regarding whatever ingredient or food is being showcased (sometimes it's unrelated).  So, for example, (I tried to find a short quote, many of them are very lengthy, hence 634 pages), in the beef and lamb recipe section, here's a quote in the side margins: "There is no society in the world that is entirely vegetarian.  The Hindus of India come closest.  Dr. H. Leon Abrams reports on India, '...the greater percentage of the population, who subsist almost entirely on vegetable foods, suffer from kwashiorkor, other forms of malnutrition, and have the shortest life span in the world.'" William Campbell Douglass, MD, The Milk Book (page 331).

I wouldn't say that the book has a degree of vegetarian "bashing" but I would say that it offers reason after reason why a person should include animal products in their diet.  And these reasons are so convincing, and make so much sense, that I have decided to cease my vegetarian ways.  Since I first read this book (and Nina Planck's book) I re-introduced salmon into my diet (even though I was vegetarian for over two years, I still prepared meat and fish for my family).  And, if I can find a sustainable source for poultry and meat, perhaps I'll start eating that too.  The biggest takeaway from this book is that animal fats are good for you, despite the fact that authorities have drilled "low fat" into our brains.  It's all the rest of the stuff we eat that can do us harm: refined carbohydrates, sugar, processed food, industrial meat.  It's so simple, really.  Eat the foods that have sustained humans for generations: organic, all-natural, sustainable whole foods.

I do have a couple of minor negatives.  First, I think the cookbook would have been a bit better without the dessert section.  The quotes and research that are presented on sugar are pretty damning, but yet there are loads of recipes that use Rapadura, which is just another form of cane sugar.  I think a section on the simplest of whole foods desserts would have been best: fresh fruit with cream, that sort of thing.  Many experts recommend we avoid all sweets, including honey (although I really learned a lot from this book about the health benefits of raw honey), maple syrup (which, as opposed to what Fallon states, is no longer made with formaldehyde - I know, because I talked to a local syrup-farmer about this issue at a local farmers market recently) - other sweeteners like date sugar and jams - it's all a form of sucrose & probably should be used sparingly and only on rare occasion.

The other thing is a personal preference - Fallon devotes a chapter to organ meats, which I had a tough time getting into!  Her research is well done and the reasons she gives to encourage us to eat organ meats is sound, but I just cannot see many modern families sitting down to a meal of heart kabobs (page 309) or a brain omelet (page 312).

Even though there are literally hundreds of pages of recipes, I feel like the real asset of this book is the information on what we should eat and why.  If you know a vegetarian or vegan, recommend they read this book.  I see so many comments from vegetarians who put-down meat eating, but I suspect they don't have all the facts.  I didn't (although I never was disparaging toward meat-eating.  As I mentioned, I prepared many, many meat dishes for my family during my years as a vegetarian).  This book is a real eye-opener, not only on the vegetarian issue, but also the foods of modern society.  We can learn what we're doing wrong by studying traditional societies that have great levels of health, and learn what they are (and were) doing right.


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