Looking for a book to get you started on some whole food, nourishing recipes? Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions is an excellent starting point and contains both nutritional guidance and recipes. Read my review if you need further convincing.
In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon seeks to undo the indoctrination of the “politically correct” nutrition in the minds of people all over the world who have been influenced by American dietary guidelines. Nourishing Traditions is both a guide to good nutrition and a cookbook, which combines these two important elements for adopting a nourishing diet: the theory of good nutrition; and the techniques and recipes to support it.
Fallon sets the context for Nourishing Traditions by encouraging the reader to consider that “even though many Americans have been conscientious about following orthodox dietary advice,” why is population health getting so much worse? Her answer is that the “politically correct nutrition” which underpins dietary guidelines in American and around the world is based on myths. Perpetuation of these myths furthers the interests of “the powerful and highly profitable grain cartels, vegetable oil producers and the food processing industry.”
Fallon explains that messages such as animal products are dangerous, fat makes us fat and vegetable oils are healthy, are not based in science. Such messages fall into the category of “politically correct nutrition” and are disseminated by the “Diet Dictocrats” – the doctors, researchers and spokesmen for various government and quasi-government agencies – many of whom have ties to industry and benefit from the defence of these views. Fallon challenges the concept that everyone should eat the same thing to achieve health and concludes in her prologue that America’s dietary guidelines, based on replacing animal fats with vegetable oils and increasing consumption of refined carbohydrates “is not only useless but also harmful.”
In the chapters preceding recipes and food preparation guidelines, Fallon provides an excellent summary of important nutrition topics including various nutrients and dairy products. She seeks to debunk common myths pertaining to issues like fat consumption, hydration and mineral balance in order to give the reader context for the particular recipes and meal preparation tips that she advocates. The content in these preceding chapters is incredibly valuable and the reader stands to learn a great deal about the flaws in politically correct nutrition over the course of about seventy pages.
Fallon’s first and most comprehensive chapter is on Fats as she seeks to bust the myth that saturated animal fats and healthy and highlight the health risks posed by increased consumption of vegetable oils. She unpacks a number of studies including the Framingham Heart Study to illustrate that the so-called lipid hypothesis never had any scientific foundation and was perpetuated by studies that produced “politically correct conclusions.” She goes on to discuss the different types of fats, how fatty acid chains vary and serve different needs in our bodies and why saturated fat in particular, which forms 50% of the cell membrane and protects the liver, is so critical to good health. Fallon covers the different processes used to extract and manufacture polyunsaturated vegetable oils illustrating why the presence of double bonds in their chemical structure makes them highly reactive and toxic to our bodies. Alarmingly she points out that trans-fatty acids are incorporated into the cell membranes in their new trans-formation and then wreak havoc with cell metabolism. Finally, an extensive list of different fats should highlight to the reader why saturated, animal fats are an excellent source of nutrition due to their chemical structure, processing methods and their vitamin and mineral content. As Fallon aptly summaries, “our choice of fats and oils is one of extreme importance” and the “fats we eat must be chosen with care.”
Carbs and protein
The chapters on carbohydrates and proteins also challenge “politically correct nutrition.” Fallon uses an excellent bank account analogy to highlight why refined carbohydrates offer our bodies very little nutrition and have a taxing effect on our vitamin and mineral reserves. She looks at the huge increase in sugar consumption in America, which is correlated with a host of illnesses from heart disease to anorexia nervosa. Fallon highlights the difference between naturally occurring micronutrients and fortified nutrients, the presence of which can lead to B vitamin imbalances and more. In Proteins, we learn that all proteins are combinations of amino acids, eight of which are “essential” and that these play a critical role in functions from hormone regulation to regulation of blood pH. Fallon uses this chapter to drive home the message that animal foods are far superior sources of nutrition to plants, particularly when it comes to protein. Studies that have linked animal products with cancer do not stand up to scrutiny and data actually combines saturated animal fats with hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are highly inflammatory. While Fallon does touch on the ethical issues surrounding meat consumption she does acknowledge that not everyone is suited to a meat-heavy diet. This is an important caveat to be explored so as not to perturb readers who do not eat meat for various reasons. However, Fallon is clear in reaffirming that animal sources of protein are the most complete and nutritious.
Milk & milk products is an important chapter as individual tolerance for diary varies widely and “politically correct nutrition” has for so long advocated widespread consumption of low-fat dairy products for bone health. Fallon explains the problematic components of dairy, casein and lactose, illustrating how different preparation methods can reduce the concentration of these substances. She then moves on to discuss some of the issues we face due to modern farming practices such as pasteurisation, which is a process intended to protect populations against disease outbreaks, but destroys much of the beneficial bacteria in dairy products. Pasteurisation alters amino acid contents, destroys vitamins and minerals and removes many of the enzymes we need to digest diary thereby putting strain on our pancreas. Fallon recommends those who tolerate dairy limit their consumption to raw cultured milk, yoghurt, butter, cream and cheeses.
Vitamins, minerals and enzymes
Vitamins, minerals and enzymes are all covered in detail and Fallon suggests that official guidelines on many micronutrients are deficient. Modern day agriculture and cooking methods mean that the micronutrient content of food is significantly reduced and deficiencies are common. Importantly, Fallon explains that the two forms of Vitamin A, retinol from animals and carotene from plants are not equal and that many people struggle to convert carotene to its useable form. B Vitamins should come from whole food, because synthetic forms can actually deplete our reserves leading to low-stomach acid, adrenal dysfunction, infertility and more. Again, this highlights the importance of consuming nutrient dense animal foods such as organ meats – a message reiterated throughout Nourishing Traditions.
In her discussion of mineral balance and the need for plenty of the macrominerals, Fallon highlights the importance of co-factors and gut health for absorption. Minerals are consumed either as salts – negatively charged molecules, or in food – where the minerals are held/chelated by a larger molecule. They are usually absorbed in iconic form or are ionized in the gut as they dissolve into chelates or their two components. In her detailed coverage of the many minerals we need Fallon repeats that bone broth is a mineral rich option.
Fallon covers the three types of enzymes: metabolic, digestive and food enzymes. Food enzymes include proteases, lipases and amylases for breaking down protein, fat and carbohydrate respectively. Adequate reserves of micronutrients, particularly magnesium are essential for proper enzyme activity and according to the Enzyme Nutrition Axiom: “The length of life is inversely proportional to the rate of exhaustion of the enzyme potential of an organism.” Fallon illustrates that most nourishing traditional diets all include an abundance of enzymes from raw and cultured food. Grains, nuts and legumes however, contain enzyme inhibitors, which is why soaking or sprouting these foods first is important for good health.
In her parting words Fallon summarises that the greatest defence against the “Diet Dictocrats” is our knowledge and ability to make choices that are steeped in nourishing food traditions. We must find a diet that fits our specific genetic make up and seek pleasure in flavours created by nature, not machines. Fallon’s states, ‘if we can create a diet that tastes good, is easily digestible and is eaten in peace with good grace then we are well on the way to achieving health.’
Readers will undoubtedly learn a great deal from Nourishing Traditions, arming themselves to take on the misinformation perpetuated by the “Diet Dictocrats.” This newfound knowledge is supplemented by the body of recipes and techniques outlined in the remainder of the book.
For those of you looking to learn about real food and the importance of nutrient dense diets this is a fantastic introduction. I feel very comfortable recommending this book and am confident you will love the recipes and knowledge Fallon shares. There are a number of versions of the book including one for kids and extended recipes.
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