What Makes a Healthy Diet?

By , May 16, 2010

Ahh, the hotly debated question! There’s such an overabundance of conflicting information that it’s hard to know what to believe. Nowadays when I think about what a healthy diet is, these things come to mind: traditional foods, whole foods, unadulterated foods; foods that haven’t been canned or bottled or packaged or pasteurized. And oh my goodness, what a mighty feat it is to eat a diet that fits all that criteria, especially in an urban city environment! My diet definitely isn’t perfect, but I feel that I’m moving in the right direction because I’m focused on eating much more of a traditional, whole-foods diet than ever before.

It wasn’t always that way, though!

For 10 years, I was a vegetarian (and I still love meatless dishes!). I absorbed what the mainstream media said about fat, cholesterol, and saturated fat. They said fat was bad, so I drank 1% milk, ate reduced-fat cheese, and used butter very sparingly. They told us to eat lots of soy, so I ate tofu and drank soymilk. Instead of meat, I ate processed “meat-replacement” products. Looking back, I’m sort of appalled that I was so easily led! But now I feel like I’m on a much better track with what I eat, and I wanted to share a little bit about that.

I started reading about Weston Price, a dentist who traveled the world in the 1920s and studied indigenous cultures and their traditional diets. He also observed, first hand, the increase in disease in those who began incorporating modern, western foods (white flour, white sugar, refined vegetable oils, canned & processed foods, etc.) into their diet.

It was fascinating stuff, and I really resonated with the advice to eat traditional foods in their unadulterated forms.

Admittedly, though, the first time I picked up a copy of Nourishing Traditions (a cookbook by Sally Fallon which is based on the findings of Dr. Price) from the library, I returned it right back to the library in disgust! The advice goes squarely against mostly all of the mainstream information about what’s good for our health, and it’s quite an adjustment for one’s brain to make at first, after a lifetime of hearing and believing the exact opposite.

But then I read two books that completely changed my perspective on what health food is: Real Food by Nina Planck, and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. (I highly recommend these books!)

After that, I went back to the library to get Nourishing Traditions again, this time reading it nearly cover to cover!

Based on the findings of Weston Price, the following are the characteristics of traditional diets that Sally Fallon has compiled. I use this list as a guide for what to include in my own diet. (Of course everyone will differ in their perspective on diet, but I really resonate with the list below.)

  1. The diets of healthy, nonindustrialized peoples contain no refined or denatured foods such as refined sugar or corn syrup; white flour; canned foods; pasteurized, homogenized, skim or lowfat milk; refined or hydrogenated vegetable oils; protein powders; artificial vitamins; or toxic additives or colorings.
  2. All traditional cultures consume some sort of animal food, such as fish and other seafood; land and water fowl; land and sea mammals; eggs; milk and milk products; reptiles; and insects. The whole animal is consumed — muscle meat, organs, bones, and fat.
  3. The diets of healthy, nonindustrialized peoples contain at least four times the minerals and water-soluble vitamins, and TEN times the fat-soluble vitamins found in animal fat (Vitamin A, Vitamin D, and Activator X (Vitamin K2)) as the average American diet.
  4. All traditional cultures cooked some of their food, but all consumed a portion of their animal foods raw.
  5. Primitive and traditional diets have a high food enzyme content from raw dairy products, raw meat and fish; raw honey; tropical fruits; cold-pressed oils; wine and unpasteurized beer; and naturally preserved, lacto-fermented vegetables, fruits, beverages, dairy products, meats, and condiments.
  6. Seeds, grains, and nuts are soaked, sprouted, fermented, or naturally leavened to neutralize naturally occurring anti-nutrients such as enzyme inhibitors, tannins, and phytic acid.
  7. Total fat content of traditional diets varies from 30% to 80% of calories but only about 4% of calories come from polyunsaturated oils naturally occurring in grains, legumes, nuts, fish, animal fats, and vegetables. The balance of fat calories is in the form of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.
  8. Traditional diets contain nearly equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids.
  9. All traditional diets contain some salt.
  10. All traditional cultures make use of animal bones, usually in the form of gelatin-rich bone broths.
  11. Traditional cultures make provisions for the health of future generations by providing special nutrient-rich animal foods for parents-to-be, pregnant women, and growing children; by proper spacing of children; and by teaching the principles of right diet to the young.

For more information about the findings of Dr. Weston Price, read his fascinating book, Nutrition & Physical Degeneration. The pictures alone are convincing enough. Since the book was written in 1939, it’s now in the public domain in many countries and can be read online for free at this website:

http://www.journeytoforever.org/farm_library/price/pricetoc.html

For further fascinating information and lots of good articles and resources, visit the Weston A. Price foundation website.

Again, the following books are an excellent place to start:

Real Food, by Nina Planck

In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan

I do also recommend Sally Fallon’s cookbook, mentioned earlier, called Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. In addition to lots of recipes, it contains a wealth of nutrition information.

And for nutritional advice on nurturing your reproductive health and the overall health of your little ones, I highly recommend these books:

The Garden of Fertility, by Katie Singer

Real Food for Mother and Baby, by Nina Planck

I now strive to eat a diet of whole & unprocessed foods, using the unique food preparation methods of our ancestors in order to maximize nutrient availability. Stay tuned for more on the topic of traditional food preparation methods!

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