You may hear the term traditional foods and wonder, “what exactly does that mean?”
When you think about traditional foods, do you think about hunter-gatherers of long ago? They did everything by hand and from scratch. Or do you think about the pioneers living out on the prairie or edge of the forest who began to cultivate and produce their own food after finding a homestead and settling in one place? These are indeed some examples of the ways traditional foods were produced, harvested, prepared and eaten.
By contrast, the way we eat today is vastly different.
We have grown so accustomed to food being produced the way it is, we often don’t think beyond the package or the can. Since the advent of mechanization and processing techniques developed during the time around the Industrial Revolution, our food has become increasingly removed and modified from its natural state.
The effect these processes have had on our health has been profound. To the average person, the notion of eating healthy or nutritious food has been been translated into something which powerful companies are now able to employ effective marketing strategies by which to sell products. Notice how you will rarely see an ad on television or in a magazine for a whole, organic food.
Ads are persuasive and successful tools that sell products – but they rarely sell health. The good news is, you do have a choice. With a little information, you can become empowered to take charge of your own health instead of letting an advertisement tell you what’s healthy. One of the best ways to take control of your own health is to eliminate processed foods from your diet and start eating traditional foods.
For some, the idea of changing ways of eating is very challenging. Maybe you buy a lot of convenience foods and feel as though you simply don’t have time or desire to cook, or maybe you don’t have the energy to plan ahead and think about meals in advance. Changing eating habits may not be easy, but perhaps you have some health issues motivating you to do something about – problems you’d like to eliminate but haven’t had success in treating with conventional medicine.
What are traditional foods?
Traditional foods are those eaten by people over the longer course of civilization and which have supported health – cultivated, produced, and harvested from the earth and out of nature – foods which are wholly unaltered and organic, and contain the highest levels of nutrition or are nutrient-dense.
These foods have been eaten for millennia by people around the world. They are not processed or packaged and sent all over the planet, so in many cases traditional foods are also those found in your local community.
Some examples include using real fats for cooking such as butter or lard instead of vegetable oil – which is a modern, industrialized fat, or meat and poultry from humanely-raised animals or birds living out in the open on green pasture. We have been taught to believe many of foods we eat are from natural healthy sources, but the reality is that most of what is bought and sold on the market is as unnatural as can possibly be.
Traditional foods, as described on The Weston A. Price Foundation web site:
“It is these real, whole, nourishing foods enjoyed for generation upon generation that provide the cells of our bodies with the necessary fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients needed for vibrant health. This state of well-being is characterized by a quiet and strong digestive system, superior brain function, blissful sleep, sturdy bones, calm mind and an immune function that prevents infection.”
Some of the most penetrating research into the effects of a traditional diet on health was conducted by Dr. Weston A. Price, a dentist in America during the early part of the 20th century. “Back in the 1930s, Dr. Price noticed a troubling pattern developing among his patients: those with the worst teeth typically had the worst health problems elsewhere in the body. To satisfy his curiosity as to the cause of this unhealthy trend, Price traveled the globe for ten years to study the effects of modern foods on dental health and physical development. His research is detailed in his book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, first published in 1939. Dr. Price’s findings were remarkable indeed. The correlation between diet and physical health and development was incontestable. Among the many indigenous cultures he visited, the differences between those who had remained with their ancestral diet from birth and those who had succumbed to the temptations of the western cultures—namely sugar, white flour, and soft drinks—were undeniable!
Price found that the native groups eating their traditional wholesome diet had less than one percent of their permanent teeth decayed. You may be thinking, ‘They must have brushed their teeth day and night!’ In fact, these cultures never used a toothbrush. The good doctor concluded that the state of one’s teeth was an excellent reflection of the state of one’s overall physical and mental health. Moreover, those consuming nutrient-dense foods produced offspring with beautifully round faces, and jaws wide enough to accommodate all their teeth with proper spacing, few or no cavities, and broad heads to allow for proper brain development. No one needed braces in societies consuming traditional foods!”
Why eat traditional foods?
- The most critical reason is for health, as traditional foods by their very nature contain the highest levels of nutrition available because they are grown with sustainable methods which increase nutrient content and without chemicals and other dangerous substances which have been found to diminish nutritional value. To achieve wellness, the body needs nutrients from real food. Eating traditional foods helps to avoid many health issues including allergies, asthma, digestive and cardiovascular health issues, obesity, and auto-immune disorders like lupus, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and even Diabetes.
- Traditional, real food possesses taste that is vastly different from conventional and processed foods. Traditional foods are full of flavor, texture, and aroma.
- Eating traditional foods supports smaller, family farms and food-producing operations. When you eat traditional foods, you are also helping the environment by using your dollars to support sustainable methods of food production.
What are the results of consuming a diet with a lot of processed foods?
In Dr. Price’s travels, he noticed the appearance of various diseases and conditions in cultures who had began to eat processed foods. He observed that when populations consumed fell prey to modern processing and began consuming vegetable oils, white flour and white sugar they began to experience widespread physical degeneration: tooth decay and disease developed over the period of just one generation. Dental crowding and cavities were common to those consuming white flour and sugar, as well as problems in the digestion, skin, circulation, reproduction, nervous system, musculoskeletal/joint, and all areas of health.
Intake of excessive white flour and sugar has been connected to most major health issues including (but definitely not limited to): osteoporosis, cancer, hypoglycemia, cardiovascular disease, adrenal exhaustion, metabolic, endocrine, and reproductive disorders, parasitic and yeast infections. The immune system also lowers in function within minutes of consumption of sugar. A compromised immune system naturally leads to more flus, colds, sore throats, allergic reactions, depression, and irritability. In addition, the more sugar you consume, the faster you accelerate the aging process.
What types of foods are considered traditional?
Here’s a list of some traditional foods:
- Sustainably-raised, grass-fed animal meats and poultry or game birds such as beef, lamb, venison, rabbit, pork, elk, chicken, turkey, pheasant, and other fowl. Cattle are ruminants and should eat grass, not grain, soy, corn, or any other feed. Other animals/birds should be given organic and/or non-genetically-modified feed in their diet.
- Sustainably-raised, organic eggs from hens on pasture, allowed to roam and eat worms, grubs, and insects as well as plants.
- Safe choice seafood – fish, oysters, clams, mussels, crab, shrimp, octopus, squid, and fermented cod liver oil
- Organ meats produced from healthy, grass-fed animals and birds
- Organic or sustainably-produced whole fruits and vegetables
- Organic, whole, sprouted, soaked, or fermented grains to neutralize nutrient-inhibtors (phytic acid) contained within the food
- Raw nuts from sustainable sources that have been soaked and sprouted, again to neutralize phytic acid and make more digestible
- Healthy, flavorful broths made from the bones and other parts of animal and birds
- Healthy fats from traditional sources like butter from cows on pasture, lard and tallow from healthy, humanely raised animals and birds on pasture, extra virgin olive oil, extra virgin coconut oil, and palm oils from sustainable sources.
- Real, unrefined sea salt with naturally-occurring trace minerals and nutrients
- Naturally cultured and fermented foods containing important probiotics and amino acids like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, raw vinegars, and lacto-fermented vegetables
Eating traditionally does require some effort. But taking the time and effort to deliberately choose healthier foods to eat and avoiding processed, packaged foods will contribute positively to your health.
You can buy foods from others or hunt or raise and produce your own. With perseverance, research, and concern for health and the environment, you can change your eating habits from unhealthy to healthy by purchasing, growing, and eating traditional foods.
A good place to start
Your health food store or your farmer’s market are two excellent places to start on your traditional food quest. If you have never bought local meat or produce from a farmer or from your neighborhood health food store, today is the day to give it a try. Farmer’s markets are now available in most cities, and many local health food stores sell local meat and produce as well.
There is something very satisfying about developing a relationship with a person who produces the food you eat. It’s an experience you won’t find in Wal-Mart other chains, or even your city grocery store where everything is often quite impersonal, and knowing where your food comes from is invariably much more difficult. When you take the time to find out how your food is produced and get to know the farmers who raise and it, you will come to understand the satisfying results of eating real, traditional food for both improved health and environmental stewardship.
For more information on traditional and slow foods, visit The Weston A. Price Foundation site.
Recommended reading: Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Morell
What’s in your kitchen? Here’s what’s in mine:
More reasons to eat traditional and sustainable foods: