This one comes recommended by my doctor. Complicated enough to think about that I’ve been putting off this review for weeks. But, finally, here it is.
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Our modern diets, both the typical bad American diet and the USDA food pyramid diet, constitute a major change from the way humans have eaten over thousands of years. According to author Fallon, the change is not for the better. The book draws heavily on the work of 1930s dentist Weston A. Price, who traveled all over the world looking at native peoples and their diets and finding correlations between the diets of those peoples who were strong, healthy and didn’t get cavities or other dental problems. (You can visit http://www.westonaprice.org for more information on him.) This book includes both his observations and lots and lots of more modern studies, leading to some startling conclusions.
It’s structured as thoughts on various food types, such as dairy, fats, grains, and beverages, and followed by recipes. The recipes all have sidebars of quotes from different books and studies supporting the foods in question. Her thoughts on foods are a little strident in her constant railing against the “diet dictocrats.” And a personal peeve is her referring to men with the masculine pronoun when she means people in general, but to cooks and household managers in the feminine. However, the thoughts themselves were convincing enough that I went out and bought the book, in spite of the crowded state of our cookbook shelves. The recipes themselves look good. The main dishes look classic, while she also includes recipes for more unusual things like crème freche, naturally fermented sauerkraut and ginger beer, and, suprisingly, baby formula.
Where Fallon the “diet dictocrats” agree: Transfats, white flour, and sugar are bad. Whole grains (with some reservations from Fallon) are good. Olive and flax oils are good.
Things we’ve been told are bad that Fallon says are good for us: Cholesterol, especially including raw dairy and fat from organ meats. Along the same line, coconut oil and other tropical fats. Living or unpasteurized food, including raw milk and cheeses and raw honey. Perhaps also in this category, she places high importance on fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kim chi, which are high in beneficial bacteria and enzymes and aid digestion.
Things we’ve been told are good or unimportant that Fallon says are bad: CAFO-raised or conventionally grown meats and vegetables. Whole grains that haven’t been processed by soaking or fermenting to neutralize phytic acid content. Omega-3 plant oils, include corn and canola oils, and especially oils that have been heat-extracted. Low-fat diets. Unfermented soy products, including tofu and soy milk. And, on the almost bizarre, even if she’s right, how do I avoid them: flouridated and chlorinated water; microwave ovens; and aluminum, including aluminum cookware, baking powder and antacids.
Almost all of these claims, notably excluding microwaves and aluminum, are backed up with a lot of research. I did additional research on some of these things. I found that chlorine and flouride can indeed cause health problems (and flouride in the diet, as opposed to on the teeth, doesn’t stop tooth decay), even though my doctor agrees that finding a good alternative for tap water is difficult as bottled water isn’t necessarily anything but more expensive and typical filters take out chlorine but not flouride. The verdict is mixed on soy, with a few studies showing decreased testosterone levels with soy consumption and most not. She is probably still right about the phytic acid in soy, which makes being a vegetarian pretty tough. Aluminum looks like it is a neurotoxin, but not in the amounts you’d get from cookware. It’s probably best to avoid antacids, which have high levels of aluminum as well as increasing stomach acid in the long run (papaya enzyme is supposed to be better.) Microwave ovens – I couldn’t find any evidence against them, but she claims that everyone has just assumed that they’re safe and not done long-term safety studies. My doctor says that she hasn’t researched them, but it’s probably best to limit use. Um, great? So those are what seemed to me like the sticky issues, the ones that catch your eye right away and make her whole premise seem both screwy and undoable. We will ignore these and move on with the rest of her premise.
That leaves us (or at least me) with trying to process whole grains better, looking for raw milk, and experimenting with fermented veggies. Also, with her thoughts that vegetarianism is an ascetic practice best left to those out of the child-bearing (and perhaps rearing) years. The sauerkraut was tasty, though we need to eat it more often. And – well. It is radical, but I have known too many people, including myself, playing by the official rules and still having problems, with weight that won’t go away, diabetes, thyroid problems, depression, asthma, and anemia – all problems she says can be caused by the modern diet. And since a diet change doesn’t need to be permanent – I say it’s definitely worth trying.