New Concepts in Diet: The Old Traditions

NGI Founder Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D. discusses the importance of using the food traditions of our ancestors in our diets today.

In honor of NGI's final days at 48 W. 21st Street, we’ve dug into our archives to find some of our favorite articles written by Natural Gourmet Institute founder, Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D. This series celebrates her teachings on food, science and nutrition, which are now more prominent than ever in the better food movement. Dr. Colbin was a true visionary: inquisitive, intuitive, relentless, progressive and thoughtful. In the late 1970s, she recovered important facts about food that humanity seemed to have misplaced – namely, that what we eat directly impacts our well-being, our communities and our planet.

The article below was written by Dr. Colbin for Free Spirit Magazine in the April-May 1998 issue. 

For more than 30 years I have been teaching that we should eat according to the wise traditions of our ancestors. Much of my work is based on a book I read in 1967 called "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration," by Dr. Weston Price. Dr. Price, a dentist, traveled the world during the 1930s, studying the diets of eleven different population groups, and observing the condition of each group’s teeth. In all cases, he found that the populations who lived on their native diets had fine teeth, well-developed dental arches, and easy childbirth. Those who had adopted the refined food of Western civilization (sugar, white flour, canned vegetables, jams and pastries) had a steep rise in dental problems, crowded teeth, malformed jaws and difficulty with childbirth. Dr. Price’s findings have been continuously kept in print by his Price-Pottenger Foundation. The work of Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, PhD., is firmly based on Dr. Price’s material.

I first encountered Fallon and Enig’s studies in an article in Health Freedom News in September 1995, called “Soy Products for Dairy Products? Not so fast…” This article sent shock wave through our school and we spent a lot of time discussing it. In essence, what Fallon and Enwig say is that soybeans, along with other grains and beans, are high in enzyme inhibitors which “block the action of trypsin and other enzymes needed for protein digestion. These inhibitors can produce gastric distress, reduced protein digestion, and chronic deficiencies in amino acid uptake. The soybean also contains hemagglutinin, a clot-promoting substance that causes red blood cells to clump together. Trypsin inhibitors and hemagglutinin have been rightly labeled growth depressant substances.” Second-generation Japanese in America grow taller than their native ancestors and that may be, Fallon and Enig contend, because of the reduced phyttate content of the American diet. “Asian children,” they write, “who do not get enough meat and fish to counteract the effects of high phytate diet frequently suffer rickets, stunting, and other growth problems.” These two researchers go on to state that “soybeans are high in phytic acid or phytate.” This organic acid, present in all seeds and grains, blocks the uptake of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and especially zinc. The trypsin inhibitors and the phytates are deactivated with soaking and fermentation, but not as much with cooking or precipitating. For both reasons, then tofu and soy milk are not such good food choices, as they both are high in trypsin inhibitors and phytates. The best soy foods, therefore, are naturally fermented soy sauce or shoyu, miso, tempeh and natto.

Fallon and Enig point out that traditionally, the Japanese consume tofu with a mineral-rich fish broth (or miso soup, from my experience), which helps counter their negative effects, since animal proteins reduce the mineral-blocking effects of the phytates. While many people are allergic to milk, allergies to soy products are nearly as common. Turning to imitation dairy products made from soy (soy milk, soy cheese, soy yogurt) may therefore not be such a good idea, both because of phytates and because of their allergenic potential. Fallon and Enig are co-authors, with Patricia Connolly, of a book that should be next to Price’s in any well-stocked health library: "Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politcally-Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats."

In a nutshell, there are some basic concepts in this book. Nourishing traditional foods include those that our ancestors ate: fresh organically raised meats, fowl, eggs; organ meats such as liver and kidneys from healthy animals; seafood from deep sea waters; fish eggs; fermented soy and milk products; raw, cultured butter and cream from healthy cows; extra virgin olive oil, small amounts of flax, coconut, and other unrefined tropical oils. Fats from healthy, organically raised animals are prized for their essential fatty acid and fat-soluble vitamin content; many studies show that in traditional natural food diets, animal fats are associated with a lower rate of heart disease. To inactivate the phytates, whole grain products and beans should be soaked for eight hours in acidulated water before cooking. They recommend adding two tablespoons of whey to each cup of soaking water, but I found that one tablespoon raw balsamic vinegar or umeboshi vinegar also works. Nuts should be soaked the same way or dried in a very low oven rather than consumed raw or toasted. Naturally fermented vegetables such as pickles and sauerkraut are recommended as regular side dishes to aid in the digestion of grains, beans and protein.

I believe there are a lot of valuable ideas in Fallon and Enig’s work. Even if you are vegan, the practice of soaking, fermenting grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and vegetables, and cooking with vegetable stocks, can only increase digestibility and nutritional content of your meals. I found that adding a piece of kombu to the stock or a tablespoon of agar to the soup, adds valuable minerals without the need for animal products. Try some of these techniques, and see for yourself. Soaked and dried walnuts are an unexpected treat!

This post was originally published by the Natural Gourmet Institute. Learn more about today's Natural Gourmet Center.

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