Discussion of food has become such an integral part of our social fiber. There are all of these buzzwords — local/organic/sustainable/vegan/non-GMO — that serve to categorize and to separate people and their beliefs. Diets have become a fad that drive our dollars and our emotions to astonishingly dangerous heights, that dictate the patterns of our lives, and often that destroy our relationships with others and, most often, with food. Food is political, food is social, food is not as simple as it once was. Bacon is never just bacon — it’s full of nitrates and sulfates, it’s industrially farmed, it’s humanely slaughtered, it’s artisan, it’s on sale…
In the midst of all of this, I have tried to fashion a place for my tastes and my metabolism and my beliefs that shies away from the extremes. I love to eat and I love to cook. Being in the kitchen is a creative exercise, and one that was passed down through many generations of women on both sides of my family. Cooking for others is my love language, and a means of social collection between myself and family and friends.
I’ve tried diets and they’re weird. Low-carb, low-fat, high-protein, dairy-free…what’s with all of the restriction? I do best with fewer grains and carbohydrates, but not without any entirely. My mornings are brightened with a bowl of steel-cut oats or some nutty, sprouted toast. I do best on a low or sugar-free regimen, although I will never be able to eradicate my adoration for good quality chocolate. My high metabolism is kept in check by a good amount of healthy saturated fats, and I favor more vegetables than protein but always plenty of eggs and butter.
So you can see how I would have a hard time fitting into any pre-fab modern diet. Atkin’s, South Beach, Jenny Craig? No way. I prefer a more balanced, natural approach, and I found my best option with Nourishing Traditions, a book about traditional nutrition with plenty of wholesome science and research to back it all up.
Nourishing Traditions practitioners favor soaked, sprouted grains and grain products, made from whole grains like spelt or kamut. The practice of soaking or sprouting grains or flour before mixing it all into breads, pancakes, porridges or salads neutralizes the harmful phytic acid found in whole grains, a substance that makes digesting whole grains difficult. With the phytic acid neutralized, the whole grain not only becomes more palatable, but also more nutritious. So when I want to make oatmeal or waffles, I soak my oats and my freshly ground flour in water and a tablespoon of whey overnight. The oats cook faster, the batter blends softer, and the end result is a delicious and nutritious meal that feels more like a treat. Certainly, carbohydrates don’t make up the majority of my diet, but they are a key component of a balanced diet and provide plenty of long-lasting energy for a relatively inexpensive cost.
In the realm of proteins, Nourishing Traditions practitioners favor grass-fed meats and dairy — not because this is a fashionable label, but because cattle raised on grass have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their body composition, thereby imparting more of those good fats to our bodies. So grass-fed burgers, grass-fed butter, and pastured bacon are all encouraged. Pastured eggs — with chickens who can roam, pecking grass and bugs, getting lots of protein and exercise — are also higher in omega-3s, without any additives like most commercial eggs. Dairy also benefits from a pastured background, and also benefits from culturing, a process by which good bacteria grow to promote healthy digestion and immunity. This includes raw milk, with complete proteins and enzyme, cultured foods like kefir, yogurt, kombucha, cultured butter, and fermented condiments. That means sauerkraut, traditionally fermented pickles and kimchi. Bone broth is another key part of the Nourishing Traditions philosophy. A long-simmered pot of broth, with the beneficial gelatin and vitamins leached from the bones, marrow, and organ meats of a chicken or fish, imparts lots of good nutrients to the human body, nutrients that give glossy hair, strong bones, healthy joints, and a strong immune system.
Whole fruits and veggies are the crux of a healthy diet, no matter what philosophy an eater follows, and so I eat plenty of fresh salads and antioxidant-rich berries and stone fruits. One traditional method of eating greens like kale, collards, spinach, or mustard greens is to cook them in butter (pastured, cultured butter is preferred, of course) — this, much like soaking grains, neutralizes harmful acids and makes the nutritional profile of the greens more easily absorbed. And, additionally, more delicious. I drink plenty of green smoothies made with coconut water and spinach, blended with fruit, and also try my hand at juicing here and there.
I don’t do a ton of baking, but when I do I limit my sweeteners to maple syrup, local honey when I can get it, and Rapadura/Sucanat. This is dehydrated cane juice, and is one of the least processed and most natural forms of sugar available on the market. It looks and tastes much like brown sugar, and adds a rich depth to the flavor of goodies like banana bread or brownies. I also limit my alcohol intake — I’m not as young as I once was! — but I still have plenty of fun.
Whole fats are my favorite: coconut oil, palm oil, cold-pressed olive oil, flaxseed oil, and macadamia nut oil. Whole nuts, raw almond butter, bacon, crispy skin off a roast chicken, and best-quality butter all make it to the top of my favorite foods list, and help me to feel full and energized longer. Plus, saturated fats often help with the absorption of nutrients from other foods, as seen in the example of cooking greens in butter. Fat — the good kind, that is — is my friend!
Following a Nourishing Traditions philosophy of cooking and eating is not easy or instinctive, at least compared to the conventional, modern methods available. Soaking, culturing, souring and sprouting all take plenty of time and planning, but a few mental readjustments were all it took for me to get into a good rhythm. I feel more balanced when I follow a NT pattern of eating, and although I don’t always follow it to a “T” I strive to make the best nutritional choices I can — not just so I can feel better about myself, but because what and how I eat is a lasting investment in my overall health, and I value this immensely.
For more information, check out the Weston A. Price Foundation online — they are the publishers of the Nourishing Traditions book/cookbook, and there is a whole community of bloggers and real-life families who follow this food philosophy. Come back tomorrow to see my round-up of my essential nutrition and cooking books that speak to my foodie philosophy. And in the meantime, happy feasting!
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Photos: most taken with my iPhone of meals and ingredients that I’ve enjoyed most. The top two are of a recent farmer’s market/family garden haul; the brussel sprouts were a part of my man salad recipe; the Lambrucha was a fun Lambic beer-kombucha tea mix that I drank almost entirely on my own; take-out poke from our honeymoon in Hawaii; a rainbow meal of Cobb salad and fresh fruit from last month.