Nourishing Traditions - book review

by Liz Beavis

Have you heard of Nourishing Traditions?  I use this book all the time and I keep referring to it here on the blog.  I thought I should go into more detail.  The full name of the book is Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and Diet Dictocrats (affiliate link).

I found out about this book when we did our cheese making course, the instructor talked about it throughout the day (I'd also seen it mentioned on a few blogs) and I thought it sounded really interesting.  I'm so glad that I bought it because I've already used many of the recipes and I think its really changed the way I think about food.

See more posts on Eight Acres about Nourishing Traditions here.

Nourishing Traditions  is a cook book, with the tagline "The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats".  It is written by the co-founders of the Weston A Price Foundation (WAPF), Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig (PhD). Already you can see that its going to be about more than just recipes!  From what I can find out, Sally is a food writer and has compiled most of the book, however Mary has a PhD in nutrition, specialising in fats and oils, so that gives the book more credibility from a nutritional point of view.  

The book is based on the 1930s work of Dr Weston Price, a dentist who documented the diets of several isolated societies that were still living and eating as they had for hundreds of years, without the influence of modern refined and processed food.  He found that these people invariably had very good health, strong bones and teeth, with virtually no cases of cancer, obesity or heart disease.  The only sick people were those who had started eating a modern diet.

Dr Weston Price - looks like a nice sensible man :) 

This book documents the type of foods eaten by those traditional societies, explaining in detail the benefits of the food and who it should be prepared.  The book is split into sections:
  • Introduction - all about the nutrients in foods and the lessons of Dr Price compared to modern medical advice.
  • Mastering the Basics - including cultured dairy, fermented dairy, sprouts, stocks, sauces and salad dressings
  • Great Beginnings - dips, salads, soups, raw meat (!), and appetizers
  • The Main Course - fish, poultry, organ meats, game, beef and lamb, ground meat
  • Vegetables
  • Luncheon and Super Foods - meat salads, south of the border, eggs, sandwiches
  • Grains and Legumes - whole grains, breads and flour, baking and legumes
  • Snacks and Finger Food
  • Desserts - natural sweeteners, sweets, pies and cakes, gourmet desserts
  • Beverages
  • Feeding Babies - untested by me!
  • Tonics and Superfoods
Each section of the book begins with a summary of the benefits of eating the food in the section, followed by the recipes.  On the sides of each recipe page are excerpts from various relevant books and research papers explaining further the importance of each food.  For the most part the references are peer-reviewed journal articles, with some books and newspaper articles.  The book is nearly 700 pages long, and the first time I read it I only looked at the sections and flicked through the recipes, it seemed like I'd never finish it.  The second time I made myself read every word, and I can tell you there is an awful lot of very useful information, so even if it seems like an expensive book, it has been worth it for me.  I'm going to do a series of posts about each section of the book and the recipes and techniques that have found useful.

I've read a bit of the criticism of this book on amazon and most of the comments seem to come down to the following points:
  • the work is "unscientific", the references are old and it doesn't agree with conventional diet advice
  • the recipes are too hard to follow, the ingredients are too hard to source, it required too much preparation and is not practicle
  • vegetarians don't agree with the idea that we should eat meat and shouldn't eat soy products
My response to the first point is that all the explanations of how we digest food made logical sense (as well as being referenced to peer reviewed papers) and were in agreement with other books that I have read on nutrition and digestion (including those on animal health).  I think that conventional diet advice and research is mostly all sponsored by big agriculture, so I don't believe a word of it anyway.  As for the recipes, they do take a little planning, but for me that's part of the fun.  I don't tend to follow recipes step by step anyway, rather as a guide to how things should be done with whatever ingredients I have, that's why I thought I should write about how I've used the book.  Vegetarians just need to read the book, and at the very least, make sure they are getting all the nutrients they are missing out on by not eating meat, vegans even more so.
The introduction sections covers the basics of the "diet dictocrats' guidelines" vs the traditional diet recommended by NT.  The over-arching theme is that processed foods are not good for us and we should be eating fresh food made from scratch.  The subjects covered in this chapter include, in very brief summary:
  • Fats - highly processed vegetable oils (eg canola, sunflower, soybean) are bad, including margarine, traditional fats like lard, tallow, butter, olive oil and coconut oil are good, eat lots of them to get enough fat soluble vitamin A and D in your diet.  We now only eat butter, would like to make tallow next time we have a steer killed, and use olive oil for all cooking (will buy coconut when I can).  (see also my review of Toxic Oil)
  • Carbohydrates - refined carbohydrates are bad, white sugar is terrible, puffed grains are also bad, whole grains should be soaked or fermented to deactivate phytate which blocks mineral adsorption (more on this in later sections).  
  • Proteins - proteins are composed of 22 amino acids, and we need those amino acids to build our own muscles.  The most complete source of all amino acids is meat, particularly raw meat and organ meat. Grain and legumes contain some amino acids and must be eaten in the right combinations to get all the amino acids we need.  
  • Milk and milk products - fermented milk products are easier to digest, raw milk is best, pasteurised homogenised milk is not good
  • Vitamins - all vitamins are important, and best in their natural form (rather than in supplement tablets) as they are accompanied by "cofactors" that aid adsorption, meat products (even in small amounts) are an important source of some vitamins
  • Minerals - aid in production of enzymes and hormones and in adsorption of vitamins, sourced from meat and vegetables
  • Enzymes - produced by the body and found in raw foods, essential for digestion
  • Salt, spices and additives - salt is essential, but raw sea salt is better than refined salt, spices stimulate enzymes, artificial additives are bad
  • Beverages - soft drink is bad, fermented beverages and herbal teas are good
  • Food allergies - can be exacerbated by processed food, artificial additives etc, sometimes a whole food diet prepared as described in NT will help ease allergies, but everyone is different and it depends how much damage has already been done.
It seems that I read this book at a time when I was ready to accept that the ideas were worth trying, and when I happened to also have a dairy cow providing fresh milk, a garden full of organic veges and tanks of rainwater to work with.  If I had read this book even a couple of years ago, I probably would not have tried as many recipes as I have now and certainly 5 years ago I would not have had the resources or the knowledge to try any of it.  

Have you read Nourishing Traditions?  Do you use the recipes?

For more book recommendations see by book review page.

Here's the rest of the series:

Nourishing Traditions - start to finish
Nourishing Traditions - grains and legumes
Nourishing Traditions - main meals and more
Nourishing Traditions - mastering the basics
Nourishing Traditions - snacks, deserts and superfoods

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