The cookbook the challenges politically correct nutrition and the diet dictocrats
By Sally Fallon, with Mary Enig, Ph.D.
I’ve been putting this off for a couple months now. How do you review a book like this? This all started with a post I did for this blog back in April. A comment on another blog led me to the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) website, which I found to be very confusing.
A week or so later my friend Tracey loaned me her copy of Nourishing Traditions, which I quickly bought, and honestly it’s been laying around my kitchen ever since. I pick it up nearly every day, either to read more of it or to find a recipe.
I think the subtitle does it a bit of a disservice. It sounds kooky. The accolades from Robert Atkins inside the front cover make it seem even kookier. And when I first started reading it, I was skeptical. But now that I’ve gone deeper down the rabbit hole of food and nutrition reading, I keep getting more and more confirmation of pretty much everything Fallon says.
Among the more shocking things:
1. Saturated fat is not nearly as bad as we’ve all been led to believe — in fact it might even be essential to brain and reproductive health. Fallon points to convincing research that shows sugars, hydrogenated fats, and refined carbohydrates as being much more dangerous for your heart.
2. Soy is not as healthy as you think. This one is the hardest one for me to come to terms with, since I was a vegetarian for so long (1999-2007 or so). But she points out that traditional Asian cultures only ate soy products that had been fermented or cultured (such as tempeh, fermented soy sauce, or miso), because soy is hard to digest and can end up costing your body more minerals to digest it than it offers in return. The WAPF is probably most famous for its anti-soy stance, and I think that it is taken too far sometimes. Fallon herself is just fine with certain soy foods, as long as they’ve been prepared in traditional ways.
3. Milk, as we drink it today, is not nearly the health food that it once was. Cow’s milk is full of beneficial enzymes and vitamins that are killed during the pasteurization process, and then it is homogenized, which denatures it even further. Fallon recommends finding a source for raw milk from cows who are fed all or mostly a grass-based diet. Good luck with that one, folks! It’s actually illegal for stores to sell raw milk in the US, so you have to buy it right from the farm. Raw milk won’t be passing my lips anytime soon, alas.
Well, this whole “shocking truths” thing just goes on and on, depressingly at times. In the end there are very few of our most beloved foods that are allowed, and few ways in which we are allowed to prepare them. Grilling and microwaving are out. Coffee, chocolate, alcohol, sugar, most breads (even whole grain), boxed cereals, and white flour are out.
Happily, other wonderful things are encouraged. Bloody red meat. Butter. Whole milk. Eggs. Preferably all from organic/local sources. There is quite a bit of information on the difference, nutritionally speaking, between meat/dairy/eggs from conventionally raised animals vs. meat from animals that are allowed to roam around eating grass.
I have decided to take the pick and choose approach to dealing with this book, because I frankly don’t have it in me to try and accomplish all these very lofty goals. I still have to work! However, we have implemented a number of things that Fallon recommends. Among them:
1. Make bone broths from chicken carcasses. Freeze the broth in ice cube trays and add it to various foods while cooking.
2. Eat fermented and cultured foods, at least once per day, but preferably have something fermented, cultured, or even just raw at every meal. This was a much easier goal to reach during the summer.
3. Soak most grains and beans overnight before using them. This neutralizes phytic acid, something Fallon describes as an “anti-nutrient” and also makes the grains easier to digest, and much tastier. (An easy way to do this is to start making steel-cut oatmeal or pancakes for breakfast on a regular basis, with eggs on the side of course.)
4. Cut back on sugar. Oh my, is this hard.
5. Take a teaspoon of cod liver oil in lieu of vitamins.
In the semi-near future I’d like to start implementing a lot of the other things from the book, but it’s going to take time.
And now a word of caution. This is to myself as well as you all. WAPF/Nourishing Traditions sometimes starts to venture into “theory of everything” territory, where the western diet is to blame for cancer, obesity, ADHD, depression, infertility, diabetes, ugliness, cavities, mosquito bites, and pretty much every problem known to modern humans. When they get on the anti-soy warpath, they actually start to sound downright cultish.
So I’m trying to temper my panic with a reminder that a person can only do so much, and I’m doing the best that I can right now. I’m healthier now than I was a year ago or even 6 months ago. I’ve lost about 10 lbs since I started reading this book. I lose 5-7 lbs. every summer due to all the biking/gardening, so I’m not ready to declare Nourishing Traditions to be a diet book yet. Stay tuned.
Which brings me back to that endorsement from Dr. Atkins. I can totally see, after reading this, that Dr. Atkins was reading some of the same research when he wrote his diet books. There’s a grain of truth to the low carb diet plan, although anything that says no to fruits and vegetables is a little suspect. Fallon puts almost no restrictions on whole foods.
And although she encourages saturated fats, it’s not like she thinks you should go eat a stick of butter tonight. Everything in moderation. You’re going to put a small amount of some sort of fatty spread on your bread, right? Well butter is one of your best choices because it contains crazy amounts of vitamin A and the fat that best helps your body to absorb it.
I could go on and on, but I think I’ll stop there for tonight. Tomorrow night Sometime soon I’ll review a couple of the recipes from the book. (Updated 11/5/09)