Thursday, May 27, 2010

Nourishing Traditions book review: part 1

As I finally sat down to write the book review for Nourishing Traditions, I got carried off as I had so much to say – and therefore, I'm going to break it into three posts. First off, I must say that it was a very interesting read, and if you are an independent thinker and care about the health of your family, you should try and get your hands on this book.

Essentially, I suppose "Nourishing Traditions" could be labeled as a cookbook, though the recipes are by far not the most important part for me, as many of them aren't kosher and most of them are based on ingredients which I would have significant difficulty to obtain. However, there was much, much more.  

What did I find especially interesting? Things I learned during my studies for clinical nutrition in a very dogmatic, clear-cut way, based on research we analyzed and interpreted from a certain angle – such as the approach to animal fat and cholesterol consumption - were looked at from an entirely different perspective, and I just found myself scratching my head and thinking, "hey, why didn't anyone ever bring up these very valid points in our lecture halls?"

Then there was the discussion of things I could never agree with, even as a goodie-goodie nutrition student, such as the pushing of "health food" in the form of low-fat energy snacks, low-fat sauces and spreads, fake unabsorbed fats, oils and carbohydrates, and the excessive processing and use of food additives and colorings, while claiming that "no studies had been able to give definite proof that such substances are harmful" (that's what we were told every time someone dared to ask a question, and that was what we were supposed to tell our patients). My rule of the thumb always was, if you want healthy food, do as much work as possible yourself and make it from scratch. Reading Nourishing Traditions only confirms my thoughts on that.

Now, I have a question for you. If you needed a medicine, would you like to get a medicine that "wasn't proved to be harmful", or would you like something that was safe beyond a doubt (as much as possible, anyway)? During my first pregnancy, a doctor gave me an antibiotic which he assured me was OK, and which later turned out to be something new and under-researched for pregnant women. I was furious. I'm sure anyone would be. Why, then, are we so quick to embrace food additives, flavorings and natural sweeteners that weren't thoroughly researched? In many cases, a substance that theoretically was supposed to be harmless proves far from it.

I must say that whenever we composed diets for heart and atherosclerosis patients, I was ashamed of how insipid, how dull and colorless those diets were – it was almost as though we were trying to sell some sort of scam - and I always thought to myself, "no normal person can thrive on this for a long period of time." I kept asking myself, is this really the picture of health? A flavorless diet devoid of all the good things like butter, cream, cheese, eggs and many meat products? It doesn't take a genius to figure out that these people would compensate for the lack of taste by over-consumption of sugar, which was turned a blind eye on until diabetes went on a rampage.

Did we know that most of the cholesterol in the body is actually endogenous, meaning that it is produced by the body, and not originating in the diet? Yes, of course. It's a known medical fact. Why, then, were we so violently pressing low-cholesterol diets on people? Somehow, no one questioned the assumptions we were taught. And somehow, no one doubted that zero-fat yoghurt with artificial sweetener and flavorings should be labeled as "health food."

Nourishing Traditions speaks a lot of the decline in human health starting from industrialization and white flour and sugar becoming prevalent in the diet. If I might add, an even more rapid decline could be seen in the past few decades, with the introduction of fast food, pre-packaged commercial frozen foods, an overabundance of sweet and salty snacks, soft drinks, and the nearly complete elimination of the wholesome homemade meal eaten together at a family table. It is no coincidence that ever since women abandoned the "drudgery" of kitchen and set out to the work force, our nutritional habits have become so decadent, our meals so haphazard and so unhealthy. The foods children (and adults) consume throughout the day are unappetizing or outright junk. Things are a bit better in religious Jewish homes where people make a point to eat good meals together at least on Shabbat. In secular homes, many families can't remember the last time they sat down to have dinner together at all.

Next part of the review coming, hopefully, next week. Have a lovely weekend!


Nadja said...

My boyfriend is on the heavy side. One glance at his grandpa and you can see that genes are indeed a big factor for him. But I do believe it's no coincidence that he already lost around 10kg after he met me.(He wasn't actively trying, just a change of diet did it)

I insist on cooking meals everyday and various meals that is. He is vegetarian and he disliked all kinds of vegetables before he met me. I was shocked to be quite honest. It turns out that his mom never really knew how to prepare a good vegetarian meal and so all he had was pre-prepared dishes. And a ton of ready-made sauces (don't even get me started on the amount of mayo his family is willing to eat). ;)

I come from a home where eating one big meal a day was a norm. It was also a norm that vegetables were incorporated in it daily and they were never tasteless or boring. So, hooray for healthy and balanced eating. ;)

Jenny said...

It's such an interesting book isn't it.

Anonymous said...

Just the information I needed! We have just started a "diet " plan in our home and for the first time last week I actually bought a few of those fake premade "foods" for my family . I was looking for a way for the girls to still have a few yummy snacks, I realize quickly that even though we eat very healthy our portions were way out of proportion!! I will not use fake butter etc and this reminded me not to use fake sugars either. I think we cut back on the amount of everything we eat (except veggies) and we already lost 5 lb each the first week without trying much. I just need to teach my girls the proper amount of cake or cookie etc to eat for a snack occasionally. Thank you for the info.

Claudia said...

Hello Anna!

I read this book last year, and I have to say I agree with each and every sentence you have written here! I'm looking forward to hearing more thoughts from you on this book, especially as you have training as a nutritionist. I've always thought lots of modern food advice is a scam. Until about 120 years ago, people ate everything full fat, lots of eggs and butter and cream, and yet the rates of coronary diseases and cancer were much lower than today. Of course, part of this may be due to the fact that they moved much more than modern people do, but it still makes me think!
Your post is inspiring me to pick up the book and read it again!

Take care, Claudia

Margaret said...

My grandad taught me (and follows) one rule when it comes to food:

Everything in moderation.

He is 96 and, obviously he is quite frail, but he has never been seriously ill in his life, so he must have done something right!

I love this post - I think I will look for this book in the library...

messy bessy said...

Thanks for reviewing this book. After reading this first part of your review, I'm putting this book on my used-book wish list!

This is esp. timely for me, as my husband is also fairly overweight, having been brought up by a very young single mother who herself had a difficult childhood. Food was chosen on the basis of cheapness, as well as being very easy to prepare.

I on the other hand was brought up with a mother who believed in cooking from scratch, and who firmly pursued whole food cooking as much as possible. For this reason, my tastes were formed early to prefer non-processed foods. I actually prefer homemade in every case (pizza, soup, pasta sauce, cakes, breads, etc) and so this gives me hope that my own kids will also find out how much better the whole-food, homemade variety of eating can be.

That said, of course I don't use whole grains as much as I should (we're trying to use up all the white pasta so that we can switch to whole wheat) and I have a weakness for chips of any kind. We don't live a perfectly healthy home, but it's our aim, anyway.

Looking forward to your next post on this book.

Tracy said...

Great review! I love the book.

Megan said...

I've always felt that any diet that involves eating a lot of one kind of food or highly restricting consumption of something should just be tossed out the window. Real food in moderation is surely healthier than the latest fad. And then I started reading articles by Geneen Roth, and I learned how incredibly important our attitude towards food is! I highly recommend reading "Women, Food and God." Or at least a google search for some of her articles :).

~~Deby said...

my husband got this book last weekend..there sure is much information in it....
I am in a time of transition after going to a Naturopath....having the ELISA/ACT test done...diagnosis....Candida...Leaky gut...adrenal problems...maybe all this time I don't have FIBRO...hmmmmm????...
I was poisoned by the antiobiotic "Levaquin" last year...Tendon surgery thus far...I am tired of western meds that just want to medicate is all about drug $$$$ I am taking baby steps..and even sometimes leaps..but progressing and thankful.

Thursday's Child said...

When we move back to the States next month, this is one of the books I'll be checking out from the library. Sounds like the kind of food DH would be thrilled to have me cook.

Anonymous said...

Interesting points. What kind of diet, then, would the book suggest for people like me who do have high cholesterol?

Coffee Catholic said...

I love this book. It's just hard as anything to find most of the ingredients.

Analytical Adam said...

Mrs. Anna wrote:>Did we know that most of the cholesterol in the body is actually endogenous, meaning that it is produced by the body, and not originating in the diet?<

Agree 100% with you Mrs. Anna. Here in the United States low cholesterol is like a religion. Anyone who has high cholesterol they want to put on one of these cholesterol lowering drugs that lead to muscle weakness as they supress cholesterol I would think. Also not all high cholesterol is bad as it depends on how dense it is. I listen to a health talk show that mentions this. Also old people who have high cholesterol to put on these drugs is absurd according to him as at 85 of course your body isn't as healthy as when younger but a drug will overcompensate for this one issue at the expense of other factors related to being healthy.

In the US the drug companies sadly are out of control and the FDA which is suppose to protect us actually protects the drug companies and creates a situation where only the very wealthy can create drugs in the first place since they have to pay all these fee's and testing which in the end it seems if the FDA makes enough money from it they turn a blind eye to the complications of a drug.

In fact I am going for a check up next week and I guess I will find out what my cholesterol is. Haven't gone in about 5 years.

Analytical Adam said...

Mrs. Anna wrote:>Things are a bit better in religious Jewish homes where people make a point to eat good meals together at least on Shabbat. In secular homes, many families can't remember the last time they sat down to have dinner together at all. I had a fairly unhealthy diet growing up for various reasons and my mother stayed home till I was older yet I didn't have a good diet. I have many, many cavities and a few large ones, am on the small side, and have a fairly high myopia (bad eyesight) I think because of my poor diet as a kid and a teenager.

From my own experience and when I go to synogague I don't know if I agree here. Most religious people especially the boys look unhealthy to me in many ways and certainlly the fathers do. Some of the women do as well as my mother was very skinny when I was around teenage years and my parents considered my sister chubby even though she really wasn't growing up as she is a girl. Which of course if men and women are in unhealthy atmosphere's they won't eat healthy even if they spend Shabbos together.

And for me for the most part all Shabbos was for me growing up was my parents picking on me and blaming me for everything. There wasn't much healthy communication.

Third of all in Israel many don't work on Shabbos. Isn't that true or I am wrong here. If they do maybe they have limited money. Let us not attack the poor for having limited money and therefore have little time to spend with their family.

Alysa said...

Thanks for posting this!! I really want to read this book, but I'm not sure if I can get it in Australia. Where did you get your copy from?

Looking forward to the rest of your posts!

Mrs. Anna T said...

Anon, to sum it up, the suggestion wouldn't be a low-cholesterol diet and drugs as is conventional today, but to eat real wholesome food and switch entirely off junk. I suggest you read it.

Adam, of course, as I've never been to the United States I cannot attest for what is going on there, but here in most religious homes people do lots and lots of cooking for Shabbat. Not all of it is healthy, but it still amounts to the fact that religious people probably cook more at home.