What Are Traditional Foods?

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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.
  • 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, sustainably-produced dairy including milk, cheese, cream, butter, kefir, and yogurt
  • 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

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

Cooking Traditional Foods

Slow Food USA

What’s in your kitchen? Here’s what’s in mine:

My Kitchen Staples – How I Keep My Family Healthy

More reasons to eat traditional and sustainable foods:

Food Recalls: Why They Could Mean The End of Real Food As We Know It
How Well Do You Know Your Food? Find Out!

 

16 Comments

  • Heather H.
    October 29, 2010 - 6:43 AM | Permalink

    Awesome article. You perfectly summarized my whole food philosophy. Thank you and Go Butter, its gonna make a comback yet…:)

  • October 29, 2010 - 8:26 AM | Permalink

    Love this! Tweet and retweet!

  • October 29, 2010 - 7:31 PM | Permalink

    GREAT article. PREACH it!

  • October 30, 2010 - 1:02 PM | Permalink

    This IS great Raine! I love that WAP looks at *all* of traditional foods, and doesn’t just cherry pick (like some do) what works with their particular theory.

    • November 4, 2010 - 9:03 AM | Permalink

      Hi Cara – thanks for your comment, I like that about WAP too, and I think that’s why we are all such staunch supporters of this foundation. The logic just makes good sense! :)

  • November 4, 2010 - 8:22 AM | Permalink

    “Traditional foods” is such a vague term that it is meaningless and useless.

    A more useful concept is “evolutionary foods,” referring to those foods that our ancestors (and therefore our bodies) evolved to eat over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution.

    That would especially include fresh whole natural foods like vegetables and non-sweet fruits that can be eaten raw. Just fix yourself a nice fresh salad and enjoy.

  • November 4, 2010 - 8:33 AM | Permalink

    The 100 Best Health Sites – I am sorry to hear you find the term “traditional foods” meaningless and useless. I believe it describes our dietary history very well – especially when you compare it to the industrialized, processed foods that are so ubiquitous to our culture and society now. I know we have not “evolved” to eat those types of foods, as they really cannot be considered food at all – but really more rearranged versions of real food filled with chemicals and toxins. The comeback of traditional foods is strong and will prevail.

    While I don’t have a problem with vegetables and fruits, I don’t regard them as powerhouses of nutrients. As traditional societies have taught us, those foods at the top of the nutrient-dense category would be foods from animal fats. Here’s a comparison of those foods:

    http://nourishedkitchen.com/best-sources-vitamins-minerals/

    In order to absorb and gain nutritional benefit from fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and legumes, those foods should be prepared properly (soaked, sprouted, fermented, leavened, or lacto-fermented) or accompanied by foods with fat-soluble vitamins – such as foods from animals and birds who have been raised humanely without chemicals, antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides, and on pasture.

  • November 4, 2010 - 10:42 AM | Permalink

    Traditional foods is the best way to describe the foods that people have eaten throughout history. These foods have become part of the traditions of hundreds and thousands of cultures, and the knowledge of these foods, and how to prepare them was passed on from parent to child over thousands of years. People who followed the traditions of their ancestors in eating these foods enjoyed robust good health and were free of disease.

    The traditions of which foods to eat and how to prepare them are based on thousands of years of precious human experience, a wisdom that we would do well to follow. And the most valued traditional foods of all contained animal fat.

  • November 6, 2010 - 1:03 PM | Permalink

    So is it unhealthy for me to eat rice since I live in the northwestern US where rice cannot be grown? But I love rice and its a great healthy substitute to many processed junkfoods and I don’t much care for meat. Really I enjoyed the article and its great that your raising awareness on these topics, however, sometimes you simply cannot grow or find all the healthy foods at a farmers market.

    • November 6, 2010 - 2:46 PM | Permalink

      Kelli – it’s true that you cannot find or expect to get all foods locally, but the model of traditional foods is such that you eat what’s available in your local area, and in season. With the modern, industrial agriculture model, people have any kind of food available to them anytime of the year, and they have learned to import products from all over the world. This is not sustainable, however. It takes fossil fuels to move these foods and grow them, especially the way conventional agriculture is run. Even if you don’t care for meat, you should still be eating traditional fats like butter, coconut oil, and olive oil to keep your body healthy.

      Have you ever tried natural meats/poultry raised on pasture? I always ask this because many people who are vegan/vegetarian/avoid meat have not been afforded the opportunity to eat real meats and poultry raised naturally without hormones, antibiotics, and chemicals. There simply is no comparison, and unless you have tried them you can’t really make a judgment about them. They are also raised in accordance with nature and harmony with the land. These are traditional foods people have eaten for thousands of years. Animal fats are some of the most nutrient dense foods available, and have been a source of nutrition and energy for people all over the world all throughout history.

      I think it’s a mistake to say that you can’t live off foods from your farmer’s market and have to go elsewhere. In every region, people have all the foods they need to be healthy – even though they may differ somewhat. What did people do before the advent of technological advances and industrial mechanisms and processes that moved food from this city to another 1500 miles away? It’s not that we cannot do without these foods, it’s that we’ve grown accustomed to not have to do without them. In this way, we’ve learned to eat very unnaturally, out of season, and with chemicals that make consumption of those foods possible. If it weren’t for those mechanisms, we’d still all be eating foods locally grown everywhere. If you can’t get rice, surely there are other foods you can eat – potatoes and other vegetables and other foods that are acceptable to you. Depending on one main kind of food for nutrition is not a good idea, especially with a grain such as rice (although lower in phytic acid than many other grains, nuts and legumes – which cause nutrient depletion in the body unless properly prepared), as its consumption alone with little else could easily leave a person malnourished. There must be some form of healthy fat to feed the nervous system, brain, cardiovascular, muscular, reproductive, and digestion with important nutrients. As compared to animal fats, vegetables, grains, and legumes contain a great deal less nutrients, and must be properly prepared by soaking, sprouting, fermenting, or accompanied by a healthy fat containing fat-soluble vitamins for proper absorption of nutrients.

      • Kelli
        November 24, 2010 - 5:07 PM | Permalink

        Sorry, that its taken so long for me to reply.
        Well, I do shop at local farmer markets sometimes, but see I only recently switched over to a healthier diet and I’m still trying to get used to eating fruits and vegetables. I’ve always loved potatoes and salad. On average I consume 2 small bowls of romaine lettuce a day along with my favorite vinegar dressing. I also fix lentil beans along with my rice which is absolutely delicious. And now I incorporating tuna into my diet at least twice a week.

        Maybe I will try grass-fed meat. I’ve never had it before. I just remember being a young kid and looking down at a McDonald hamburger (or worst the hamburgers at school; what do they make those out of?!) and feeling horribly ill. It tasted horrible. Bad childhood experiences really can stay with a person. Though in the last few months I’ve discovered fish and its not too bad.

        I also am concerned about sustainability as I’ve always enjoyed organic gardening with herbs. I use to dig up potatoes and pick beans out of my grandma’s garden as a kid. But I loved the herbs best because you can make tea out of them. And I’ve always regarded herbal tea as one of the ultimate superfoods.

  • September 21, 2011 - 9:27 AM | Permalink

    It’s really pretty simple to understand, not so simple these days to accomplish. Things are changing though. And for me, the interesting aspect of this trend back to traditional foods is that the market for such foods was given rise to by the complete failure of the conventional/industrialized food providers themselves. They’ve so completely adulterated and corrupted the foods they produce that people have had to take matters into their own hands and are now both providing truly traditional foods for people to buy, and/or are seeking traditional foods outside the mainstream supermarkets and convenient stores.

    More “people power” please and thanks for this great article!

    - Bill @ Leftcoast Grassfed where we’re taking matters into our own hands.

  • loveth
    September 26, 2011 - 5:27 AM | Permalink

    this article is perfect. but i really need to know what you mean by virgin coconut oil extract as i thought that coconut oil has a high cholesterol content

    • September 27, 2011 - 9:09 AM | Permalink

      Loveth – cholesterol is not bad for us, that’s a myth. We need saturated fat and cholesterol to maintain our brains, nervous systems, cardiovascular systems, endocrine, reproductive, immune and digestion. Here’s a link and a quote from the same link:

      http://www.thaifoodandtravel.com/features/cocgood.html

      “Nearly 50% of the fatty acid in natural coconut oil is lauric acid, which converts to the fatty acid monolaurin in the body. Monolaurin has adverse effects on a variety of microorganisms including bacteria, yeast, fungi, and enveloped viruses. It [monolaurin] destroys the lipid membrane of such enveloped viruses as HIV, measles, Herpes simplex virus (HSV-1), influenza and cytomegalovirus (CMV). The usefulness lauric acid/monolaurin in treating AIDS is currently under investigation. Lauric acid is a main component of human breast milk and helps protect children from illness during infancy.
      Capric acid, which comprises another 7% of coconut oil fat content, also stimulates anti-microbial activity.
      In other words: not only does coconut oil not cause heart problems, it is good for you. To quote Dr. Mary Enig: “The research over four decades concerning coconut oil in the diet and heart disease is quite clear: coconut oil has been shown to be beneficial.”(See endnote 4.)
      Coconut oil is a “functional food,” defined as a food that “provides a health benefit over and beyond the basic nutrients.”(See endnote 5.) It is an immune-system enhancer.
      For further reading: Mary G. Enig, Coconut: In Support of Good Health in the 21st Century (offsite). Also the Center for Research on Lauric Oils, Inc (offsite).”

  • loveth
    September 28, 2011 - 5:05 AM | Permalink

    thank you Raine, this is very helpful and educative. Ever since i learnt that cholesterol causes heart problems, i try as much as possible to avoid any food that contains it and i stoped cooking coconut rice but now i have this piece of information i will begin cooking it for my family.
    I also want to know if avocado pear is healthy for consumption. thank you once more.

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