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Return to Traditional Foods

by Ingrid Weihmann
In the nature of things

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Ingrid Weihmann is a nutritionist and co-owner, with Cliff Jefferson, of Only Natural, Timaru's organic shop. 

It is natural to want to nurture our earthly form, and those of our loved ones and guests to our home, by eating well. Yet it is so confusing to be constantly exposed to new and amazing best-selling ‘diets’ that tell us what is good for us, but can be very different in their recommendations. There is plenty to choose from - low fat, low carbohydrate, vegetarian, raw food, high fibre, blood group, metabolic type, gluten-free, low glycaemic index…

I find it a concern because my experience has shown me that dietary changes are really powerful (much, much more powerful than supplements), so if optimum health is your desire it is important to be on the right track. Especially as you may not notice any adverse effects straight away.

Tribal knowledge
In the past, this heavy responsibility was taken from us by tribal knowledge. Way back, our

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ancestors determined by observation over centuries what foods were good for healthy reproduction and society, that could be sustained generation after generation. We have all but lost this wisdom.

You have probably noticed that people in New Zealand are getting sicker, younger. How many children now do you know of with autism, eczema, allergies, asthma, behavioural problems? In my school days there were few if any. And of course we are told that obesity and diabetes are the new epidemics. Not to mention increased incidence of heart disease, cancer and those chronic problems like fatigue, depression and digestive difficulties.

Inappropriate diet
There is a lot of information that implicates inappropriate diet as a major factor in chronic disease. During the first half of the 20th century, there were many reports from colonial and missionary doctors that the native populations had no cancer, appendicitis, asthma, obesity, peptic ulcers, gallstones, haemorrhoids, diverticulitis, varicose veins.

After exposure to ‘western’ foods such as white flour, sugar and canned foods this picture changed dramatically. Perhaps the most valuable insights were provided by American dentist Weston Price who rigorously documented dental development in many indigenous cultures around the world, including Maori.

Traditional foods - better dental health
He was intrigued by the increasing incidence of cavities and dental deformities amongst his American patients, and found that cultures eating their traditional foods had no cavities and wide, well-formed jaw bones, with no crowding of the teeth. Price recorded the kind of foods eaten and how they were prepared, and analysed samples in his own laboratory.

High vitamin content in traditional diet
He found that the fat-soluble vitamin content was 10 times greater than the diet of his contemporary Americans (1930/40s). Studies have since also shown that the vitamin and mineral content of our food has dropped even further since the 1950s.

Many people try their best to follow the recommendations of our government and other ‘official’ bodies in this country and the USA – basically removing saturated fats, increasing carbohydrate foods, especially whole grains, and increasing fruit and vegetables, and exercising. So why is the population not enjoying improved health for all their hard work? Could the ‘official’ advice be misleading?

Fat-soluble vitamins in aniaml fats
The main area where ‘official’ advice falls down is that they are busy telling us to reduce animal foods due to their fat content whereas this is precisely where fat-soluble vitamins A, D and K are found. The fat-soluble vitamins act as catalysts to mineral absorption and protein utilisation.

The basis for the advice to reduce animal fats is the hypothesis that saturated fat causes heart disease. A hypothesis is a theory, not fact, and this particular theory has by no means been scientifically proven. Its acceptance was largely due to the charisma and force of will of one man, Ancel Keys, who chose to ignore all the data that contradicted his idea.

High-fat/ low heart disease for Inuit and Masai
Weston Price visited peoples such as the Inuit of Alaska and the Masai in Africa whose diets contained only high-fat animal foods and who were vigorously healthy and did not have heart disease.

Price discovered some interesting commonalities between the traditional diets he documented, even though the foods themselves were very diverse: 

Common thread in traditional diets
- they contained no refined foods or ingredients eg refined sugar, white flour, canned foods, pasteurised, homogenised or skim milk, refined vegetable oils
- they all contained some sort of animal food whether fish, shellfish, poultry, mammals, eggs, milk or insects. Where animals were eaten, the whole animal was consumed – meat, organs, fat and bones (often as broths).
- they all cooked some of their foods but ate a portion of their animal foods raw
- they had a high content of food enzymes and beneficial bacteria from fermented foods
- seeds, grains and nuts were soaked, sprouted or fermented to make them more digestible
- total fat varied from 30-80% of calories, over 90% of which was saturated and monounsaturated
- the small amount of polyunsaturated fat eaten was made up of omega-6 and omega-3 fats in equal amounts
- some salt was eaten

Although most of us have become disconnected from our own traditional foods, many are again looking to the old ways of doing things and the information is still there if we look for it.

Increased stamina and physical strength
Since eating in this way I have experienced increased stamina and physical strength, more energy, clearer thinking, supple skin, no more cracked heels or cracked fingers in winter, stronger nails, silkier hair, improved monthly cycle, better blood sugar control, better mood and emotional balance and improved digestion.

This is how I have translated the traditional dietary principles into ‘real life’:
- a breakfast of oat porridge (soaked overnight, cooked with unpasteurised, unhomogenised milk, served with cream) or free-range, nitrate-free bacon and free-range eggs (fried in lard, butter or coconut oil). Plus a dose of high-vitamin cod liver oil.
- lunch at work of heated up meat/vegetable stew, mince in Bolognese sauce or soup with home-made bone stock – all made in the crock pot on the weekend
- dinner of roast meat, fresh fish, free-range chicken or free-range egg omelette, with vegetables. The importance of free-range animal products is that they are able to convert the carotenes in grass to vitamin A. I do not cut the fat/skin off my meat!
- fermented foods eaten every day – home-made sauerkraut, yoghurt or kefir
- bread is not eaten often and then only sourdough bread. Butter used, not margarine.
- desserts and snacks – fruit, natural cultured yoghurt, nuts (soaked overnight and dehydrated), chocolate on occasion.
- as much as possible organic
- no packet mixes at all
- sea salt, spices, herbs, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice are variously used for seasoning

The average weekly food cost for two of us is $170, which is pretty good for top quality ingredients.

This is what works for us; you may need to find what foods work best for you within the general principles. I have spoken to many people for whom this way of eating has been a liberation, a kind of home-coming, that has led to the resolution of long-standing health issues.

Putting back saturated fats
The first step is, I feel, to put back the saturated fats. If the digestion is very compromised, then bone broths soothe and nourish. Making everything from scratch means more time spent in your kitchen - an honourable role indeed to nourish one’s loved ones! A crockpot is a boon to save power and for a tender and delicious result.

For more information, see – check out local contacts (chapters) for help sourcing foods. Read ‘Nutrition and Physical Degeneration’ by Weston Price for a full account of his findings – the photographs say it all. For superb recipes and background on nutrition, see ‘Nourishing Traditions’ by Sally Fallon.



Nourishing Traditions can be purchased from the author of this article, Ingrid Weihmann through her organic shop, Only Natural in Timaru. Phone O3 686 6613, or via Fishpond or Amazon - see the picture of the Nourishing Traditions at the top of this article.

The following advertisements are not placed by Organic Pathways and are not necessarily organic