Have you Heard of Weston A. Price?

If you read my post, Why Members of Remote Tribes Make the Best Food Scientists, you’ll understand why I’m fascinated about the diets of people who still eat their culture’s traditional foods – the foods they have eaten for centuries.
And it’s not easy to find people like this anymore. White flour, white sugar, coca cola, and other modern processed foods have arrived to almost every community on earth. Only people who live in extremely remote locations still eat the diet of their ancestors, prepared according to traditional wisdom. It is precisely these people Weston A. Price visited in the 1930, documenting their diet and health.
Oddly enough, Price wasn’t an archeologist, but a dentist. Price visited many tribes in Africa, the inhabitants of the isolated Loetschental Valley in Switzerland, the Outer Hebrides Islands in Scotland, Aborigines in Australia and many more.
I have to say that his book is difficult to read on a few counts. First, though the information is fascinating, it’s written with all the flair of a telephone directory. Secondly, he was a man of his time. While he has respect for the people he visits, he also refers to them as primitives. I cringed just a little every time he used that expression. He could also have used a good copy editor, but let’s move on.
In brief, these were his findings. The various cultures ate very different diets. There is practically no overlap between the diet of the Loetschental Swiss and the Alaskan Inuit. But wherever he went, he found that in traditional cultures:
  • Cavities were rare.  – one cavity per every three people in Loetschental.
  • The faces of the people were wide and well formed, allowing the teeth to come in straight, including the wisdom teeth. – have a look at the faces on the cover of his book.
  • He found little or no tuberculosis at a time when the disease was rampant - for instance, zero cases in the Loetschental Valley, though tuberculosis “is the most serious disease in Switzerland.” (Pg. 25)
  • The people were hardy – he comments how the Swiss children play barefoot in the ice-cold water of the stream

In case you’re wondering if these people were genetically blessed, no, they weren’t. Weston Price always made a point of comparing these people to genetically similar people no longer eating a traditional diet.
In the case of the Swiss, he visited a valley nearby that had access to white flour, white sugar, jams etc. Tooth decay and tuberculosis was common.  
The scope of study and investigation conducted by Weston Price is far greater than what I’ve described above. He analyzed the foods these people ate in his lab and conducted many fascinating experiments. There is much to be learned from the information he left behind.

Why Members of Remote Tribes Make the Best Food Scientists

We’ve all read (or seen televised) stories from anthropologists who’ve lived extremely remote tribal communities, cut off from modern civilization. When it comes to describing what the tribe members ate, the anthropologist tells a story something like this.

Every morning, the women take the [insert name of root] and make it into their [name of breakfast dish]. When the hunt is successful, they will share a [insert name of meat] or [other meat]. In the evening, they eat [name of food] and [name of food].
What stands out to me isn’t what they ate. That varies widely from community to community. What struck me was this:

1) Their diet is made up of just a few dozen foods, or less.

2) All the members of the community eat the same diet.

How does modern Western society compare?
To compare you could select one random block, in one random North American* street, and record what everyone had for breakfast. You’ll no doubt find that some ate cereal or eggs, some had donuts, pop tarts, fruit, yogurt, bread with jam or a croissant. Some ate nothing and others finished off some cold leftover pizza and a coke. In short, you’re bound to find huge variety.

Let’s narrow it down to cereal eaters: still lots of variety. Think of how many different brands are used by all the people on one city block - even different brands in one home or one bowl. Let’s narrow it down to just the people eating one particular cereal, like Honey Nut Cheerios. It’s made up of 11 ingredients plus added 12 added vitamins and minerals. And then some pour whole milk over it, while other use skim milk, soy milk, raw milk etc... Endless variety.

Why is variety a problem?
The experimental method that science is based upon is the study of cause and effect. To determine which factor causes which effect, you must deliberately manipulate one variable while keeping all the other variables constant. This is basic. We learned this in high school.

In most food-related experiments, one group of subjects is given a food, or an isolated element of that food (think curcumin capsules instead of cooking with turmeric) and experimenters look for specific measurable effects (for instance blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, or joint pain) in the experimental group as compared to the control group, which receives a placebo. The experiment often lasts a few weeks or a few months.

This might indeed give us some insight. However, if you are measuring a specific outcome, such as blood pressure, you may miss a general outcome, such as whether the substance makes you keel over and die from a stroke after 10 years of eating it. The experiment won’t find that out. Most experiments don’t last for many years. What if the food affected something else? Maybe you’d only keel over when the substance in ingested along with some other substance?

How does it work in remote communities?
Compare this to an entire community eating virtually the same diet every day, year after year, except for the odd troublemaker. The constancy allows the tribe to learn the effects of a particular food over a lifetime – especially when some wiseguy tries something that’s not on the community’s menu. Let’s say, for example, tht parents have taught their kids not to eat the purple berries. Presumably, every once in a while, someone eats them anyway and gets sick. I bet everyone laughs at him too. After all, everyone knows not to touch the purple berries!

When the purple berry eater develops a disease otherwise unknown in the community after eating purple berries for ten years, it’s easy to understand what caused the disease, and to pass that information (don’t eat the purple berries!) down to future generations.

Don't eat the purple berries!
 Back to Western societyWhat if someone gets sick after ten years of exposure to the tripotassium phosphate* in Honey Nut Cheerios? Could the Cheerios eater ever know the cause? Could his tribe ever know? Could scientists devise an experiment to pinpoint the cause? No, because only the isolated tribe is truly controlling all the variables (though their experimental group is, admittedly, small). I promise you that no scientist anywhere has a ten-year study going in which the experimental group is eating a diet containing tripotassium phosphate, and a control group is eating an identical diet without tripotassium phosphate, while the scientists monitor the general effect. The variables are hopelessly uncontrollable. You can’t control every food item a subject in an experiment eats, and even if you tried to, how would you know if he or she complied?

In the final analysis, you have to eat something. While the scientists argue among themselves which additive is benign and which is harmful, while the food technologists develop ways to make low-fat ice cream out of wood, I’ll put my money on the foods that have been eaten by people safely for hundreds of years, and try to prepare them in the traditional ways.

* Or take a European street, a Middle Eastern street, an Asian street, etc. You’ll get lots a similar result.

* Tripotassium phosphate is simply used here as a random example.

The Story of Cosmetics

There are few people who can make a point as clearly as Annie Leonard. Watch her short video on the cosmetics and hair care products we use every day.   

What's for Lunch?

More often than not, I don’t cook from a recipe. Instead, I see what’s in the fridge, throw something together – often it turns into a one-pot meal. It struck me that I made a very nutritious, almost-Paleo lunch today.
So what was in it?
1. Organic Virgin Coconut oil:
Great for cooking. Doesn’t go rancid at high temperatures like vegetable oils do. It’s anti-viral, anti-fungal, has medium chain fatty acids… people have written whole books on the health benefits. More on the wonders of coconut oil here and here.
2. Garlic, leek, and gingerI’ve already blogged about some of the wonderful qualities of garlic. Ginger is good stuff too, and even if it weren’t, wow, cutting into fresh ginger and smelling it is one of the joys of life.
3. Beef mixed with beef liver
Beef liver has more nutrients per gram than just about any other food. 100 gm. of beef liver has more than 100% of the recommended daily requirement of vitamin A, B2, and almost 1000% of the recommended daily requirement of B12 (which many people are lacking), along with high levels of many other vitamins and minerals. This is all very good and fine, but not very helpful if you don’t like the taste. I made one failed attempt to cook beef liver. I didn’t hate it, but definitely didn’t enjoy it.
This time I had my butcher grind 2 kilos of ground beef along with ½ a kilo of liver. I mixed them, and froze them divided into four quantities, one of which I used for lunch today. I hope my daughter doesn’t read this post and discover that there was liver in her lunch. She would not be amused. However, her pronouncement on lunch was, “yummy”.
4. Spices
Turmeric, cumin seeds, curry, cayenne pepper, garam masala, and sea salt. Many spices have some nutritional benefits, but none so much as turmeric. It has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine. You can buy curcumin, the principal component of turmeric, as a supplement for lots of money. Or you can have some turmeric for lunch.
5. Organic veggies
Lots of tomatoes, a red pepper, and some beet greens that wouldn’t get eaten by my daughter if they were served on their own, but weren’t noticed here. Veggies are good stuff.
6. White rice
This is where it becomes “almost-Paleo”. Paleo purists won’t eat rice, but we tolerate it well. It’s still part of my diet, just in smaller quantities.
And here’s the finished product:

Tastes better than it looks.

Crunchy Granola for Hippies (and Others)

Whole grains are problematic for our digestive systems. They contain gluten, which causes trouble for many. They also contain anti-nutrients which prevent your body from being able to absorb all their vitamins and minerals.
There are two schools of thought about how to deal with this problem.
  1. Prepare the grains properly by employing traditional soaking, sprouting, and sourdough fermentation methods to reduce the gluten and anti-nutrients.
  2. Don’t eat grains. Preparation is too much trouble, and we don’t need them anyway.
I’m somewhere in the middle. I keep grains to a minimum, and make sure they are pretty well prepared.
And then I have to factor in that my daughter just LOVES granola.
Granola is one of those foods that has the aura of a health food, but isn’t as healthy as one would think. Besides the issue of the grains, commercial brands generally have lots of sugar, and are made with inflammation-inducing industrial oils, such as soybean oil.
That’s why I make my own with real food ingredients.
4 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking)
1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
2/3 cup yogurt
8 tsp. cinnamon
2/3 cup (150 gm.) coconut oil OR melted butter OR olive oil
2/3 cup honey OR maple syrup (I used a combo of cane sugar and honey this time because I ran out of honey)
Include some or all of the following:
Unsalted nuts (I prefer slivered almonds and pecans)
Seeds (pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds etc.)
Dried fruit (I like dried apple rings and raisins without added sugar)
Dried coconut pieces

Let’s cook!
The night before
1.    In a large bowl, mix together 4 cups of rolled oats with 1  1/3 cups of whole wheat flour.

Granola and Wheat

2.    Add 2/3 cup of yogurt and mix. It’s not going to look pretty.


3.    Let the oat mixture “soak" overnight.

The Next Morning
4.    Break up any clumps then add: nuts, seeds, cinnamon, salt and mix.
5.    Create a well in the center of the mixture.
6.    Pour the oil/butter you chose and the honey/maple syrup into the well.

Coconut oil and a combo of honey and cane sugar (ran out of honey)

7. Mix thoroughly.
8.    Place on a cookie sheet (I line mine first with baking paper) and bake at 120 Celsius (250 Fahrenheit) for about 75 minutes, stirring every so often.

Granola Going into the Oven

    It is done when the granola is dry and crunchy, not moist. Problem is that as long as it’s hot, it won’t be crunchy. To test, I take a bit out of the oven and let it cool. Then I check the cooled granola for doneness.
9.    When it is cooled, add dried fruit and coconut.
Store in an airtight container. It doesn’t need refrigeration.

Granola - ready to eat

P.S. The reason I add whole wheat to the oats is that soaking oats alone won’t reduce the phytic acid – one of the anti-nutrients. You need the phytase enzyme to break it down.

granola, oats, breakfast, cereal

Sugar and Sweeteners: White Sugar

This is part of a series on sugars and sweeteners of all kinds – the good, the bad, and the toxic.
When people talk about empty calories, white sugar is the #1 example. It literally has no nutrients. (Click table to enlarge).

Nutrients (not) in Sugar

The nutritional info is from the Nutrition Data website. 
White sugar along with white flour seem to be humanity’s first collective step in the wrong nutritional direction. According to Weston A. Price’s findings, remote cultures thrived on their traditional foods until Western civilization arrived on their doorsteps bringing those two forms of empty calories.
As you can see from this table posted on Whole Health Source, sugar consumption today is significantly higher than it was a century ago.

Even if you don’t particularly have a sweet tooth, many processed savory foods, such as crackers and tomato paste, have sugar in them, so you might be consuming more than you realize.
And consuming sugar doesn’t do us any good. We get sugar highs and then crash. Sugar promotes fat storage. Cancerous tumors seem to like sugar as much as we do, and that’s not a good thing. Sugar also tends to be addictive. The more sugar you eat, the more you want.
We don’t need to eat sugar. We might want it, but there is no dietary requirement. So what do you do when you have the desire for something sweet? Step one: Learn to satisfy that need with fruit or a treat made from a more natural form of sugar, like honey, cane sugar, molasses, or real maple syrup. Step two: try to reduce your overall sweet consumption.
Also in this series:

Shared with the Gluten Free Homemaker.

Headline: British Penises Disappearing

When the subject of eating real food comes up, you’ll often hear people say that they don’t bother with the health food thing. Life is short and they want to enjoy it. Fair enough. I’m a big fan of fun and enjoyment.

On the other hand, it was reported in September 2010 by LighterLife “that one in ten British men are unable to see their penis because of their protruding bellies.”

So how do you enjoy life?
I’m not a man, so this is pure speculation, but I think a man who can’t see his penis may not enjoy life as much as one who can look down now and again and check that his willy is still there. Just a hypothesis.  

This post was shared with the Healthy Home Economist and Butter Believer.

Easy Transitions: Soft Drinks

Maybe you aren’t ready yet to revamp your diet completely, but there are some easy steps you can take towards ridding yourself of processed foods. 
Transitioning to a real food diet is a great idea, but everyone has a few items they just aren’t yet ready to forgo. For some it’s soft drinks a.k.a. pop, fizzy drinks, soda.

 Regular soft drinks are generally sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. If you don’t know why that’s a problem, read about it here. Diet drinks are sweetened with artificial sweeteners that are just as bad if not worse. More on that here
So what can you do if you’re a total addict?  
Try finding a soft drink made with sugar. There are a few soft drinks made with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, such as:
Sierra Mist Natural
Some companies make alternate versions of their regular drink with sugar instead of HFCS:
Pepsi Throwback
Mountain Dew Throwback
Another way to get soft drinks made with sugar is to stock up on kosher-for-Passover versions of your favorite soft drink when Passover rolls around in late March or early April.
While not soft drinks, note that some types of Gatorade and Snapple are now made with sugar.
You have to read labels! Schweppes Tonic Water and Ginger Ale are sold in Canada with sugar, but the American version has HFCS. Check the labels on the products in your own country.
Now just in case you are thinking happy, happy thoughts, let me remind you that none of these drinks is even remotely healthy. A much better idea is to reduce your consumption or cut it out entirely. But if you’re not ready to do that yet, try to find and non-HCFS version.

It’s Not Genetics, Folks

"Alzheimer's is growing at an alarming rate in the United States and around the world," said William Thies, PhD, Alzheimer's Association Chief Medical and Scientific Officer.
Open any newspaper and you’re likely to find an article that starts with a sentence similar to the one above. But in place of the word “Alzheimer’s”, you might see type II diabetes, cancer, chronic kidney disease… take your pick. Yet, more often than not, when you read about the cause of these diseases, you’re told that new research shows it’s partially genetic. For example, WebMD starts it’s overview on Alzheimer’s this way:

Am I the only one who finds this illogical? Genes stay relatively constant over generations. Mutations are uncommon. How then, could the genes I inherited carry most of the risk? Didn’t my ancestors give me these genes? Why were they much less likely to get Alzheimer’s than I am?
“Will you ever get Alzheimer's disease? Genetics may have the answer. The genes you've inherited carry most of the risk, an identical-twin study shows.”
To clarify, I don’t mean to say that what researchers have uncovered about genetic causes of disease is inaccurate. I’m just not sure it’s where research should be focused. Some people are genetically more vulnerable than others to develop Alzheimer’s when exposed to conditions that cause Alzheimer’s. That’s what researchers are now coming to understand. But the huge increase in disease rates we keep hearing about must logically be caused by changes to the conditions we’re exposed to, not to changes in genes.
Why isn’t research focused on finding which recent changes to our environment are making us sick?
This much I know: I may or may not have good Alzheimer’s genes. I have no control over that. I do, however, have control over what I put in and on my body. Maybe if I’m kind to my body, I’ll still remember my kids’ names a few decades from now.
Shared with Food Renegade and Food Trip Friday.

Cooking for Beginners: Leeks

Transitioning to real food means learning to buy and prepare new ingredients. Each post in this series will introduce you to a food with which you may never have cooked. Let’s get to know fresh, new ingredients.

Leeks look like overgrown green onions, and indeed, they belong in the onion and garlic family. They are a gentler cousin of the onion, with their own, distinct taste.
Organic Leeks

Leek isn’t a tricky vegetable to buy. If it looks good (firm and unblemished), then it’s fresh. If it looks like it’s seen better days, then it has. They are sometimes sold with the dark green ends cut off.

Storing Leeks
Store your leeks in the fridge. They keep for a relatively long time.

Cleaning Leeks
Because of the way leeks grow, dirt gets lodged in between the leaves of the plant. So it isn’t enough to just wash the outside of a leek to clean clean. Wash it in the following way:

1. Cut the root end off.

2. Cut all but about 2-3 centimeters (an inch) of the dark green top.

3. If necessary, pull off the outer layer (or part of it).

4. Slit the top of the leek down its length.

5. Wash it, using your fingers to get rid of the dirt.

Cooking with LeeksBefore chopping a leek, I usually slit it and then slice into small half moons, which I then separate. Some people use them in salads, but they are really much better cooked in soups or stews. If you want a mild oniony taste in a salad, use a green onion.

To get acquainted with the taste of leeks, a good start would be to use it in an omelet. Leek pairs fantastically well with butter. Any recipe that combines leeks and butter couldn’t be bad.

Omelet with LeeksIngredients½ Cup sliced leek

1 Tbsp. of butter

2 Tbsp milk or water

2 eggs


freshly ground pepper


Break 2 eggs into a bowl and beat them until they turn a pale yellow color.

Add the milk or water, salt and pepper, then beat the mixture well.

Sauté the leek in good quality butter over low heat until it starts to brown.

Pour the eggs over the leek mixture. Don’t stir. Let the bottom set.

Flip and cook till it is done to your liking.

Presenting the Giant Toilet

Gizmodo reported on a toilet strong enough to support 1,000 pounds. Oh my.

That's one big toilet!

Sugars and Sweeteners: High Fructose Corn Syrup

This is part of a series on sugars and sweeteners of all kinds – the good, the bad, and the toxic.
I’m sorely tempted to make this a one-sentence post, and this is the sentence: Don’t ingest high fructose corn syrup. Period.
But I guess it would be more responsible to explain why it’s not so good, so here goes.
First some history. Corn has been subsidized in the U.S. for over 80 years. Corn is cheap. It pays to make foods out of it. That’s why practically all processed foods on your supermarket shelves are full of ingredients derived from corn and that other heavily subsidized crop - soybeans. And that’s why manufacturers found a way to sweeten food not with sugar derived from beets (expensive) or sugar cane (more expensive), but from cheap, available corn. The process for making high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was developed in the 1970s and skyrocketed in popularity.  
Why you should avoid it
Dr. Robert Lustig puts forth a compelling argument that HFCS is a poison. Not just empty calories, like white sugar, but an actual poison. I suggest you watch the video for the complete story, but here are a few of the points he makes about HFCS:
* It does not suppress the hunger hormone. In other words, after you eat it, your body still thinks it’s hungry.
* It is processed in the liver like alcohol.
* Chronic HFCS use alone causes metabolic syndrome (which is a combo of coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes).
* Consuming it generates much more fat than a similar amount of sucrose would.
That’s not all. Over 80% of the corn manufactured in the United States is genetically modified. While it is possible that there is nothing wrong with genetically modified corn, there certainly isn’t any concrete proof that it’s safe. No long-term tests have ever been carried out. Since I prefer not to be a human guinea pig, I make it my policy to avoid GMO foods, including high fructose corn syrup.
Not only is the corn genetically modified, but two of the enzymes used in the processing of high fructose corn syrup, alpha-amylase and glucose-isomerase, are also genetically modified.
Where is it lurking?
Most people know that HFCS can be found in soft drinks. But did you know it is often found in
tomato paste
processed meats
salad dressings
It’s even hiding in cough syrup. The above is a partial list. If you real the labels of processed foods, you’ll find that it is everywhere!
It can be labeled: High fructose corn syrup, HCFS, or corn sugar.

 Shared on Hartke is Online and Whole New Mom.

Should You Eat Bread? – Part 1

This fascinating video featuring Dr. Joseph Murray of the Mayo Clinic should help you decide.

Dr. Murray and the rest of the team took blood samples drawn between 1948 and 1954 and checked them for signs of celiac using modern tests. They then compared the results to blood samples they recently tested from a similar group of people. The results were published in 2009 in Gastroenterology.

Two very important fact were discovered:

1. Celiac is five times more common today than it was 60 years ago.

2. Undiagnosed celiac was associated with a nearly four-fold increase in death of all causes.

Why the increase in celiac?
In the video, Dr. Murray seems puzzled about how to account for the increase in celiac. Let’s see if we can make an intelligent guess as to what’s behind the increase.

Clue #1: As Dr. Murray states, “obviously, human genes haven’t changed, but something has changed in our environment to make this disease more common.”

Clue #2: According to the Mayo Clinic Website, “Celiac (SEE-lee-ak) disease is a digestive condition triggered by consumption of the protein gluten, which is primarily found in bread, pasta, cookies, pizza crust and many other foods containing wheat, barley or rye. [1]” (emphasis mine)

Clue #3: The way bread products are prepared has changed a great deal in the years since the original samples were taken.

Most bread today is produced in in factories and purchased in supermarkets, not local bakeries. It contains a wide variety of preservatives and additives. More importantly, today’s bread rises quickly, for only five or so hours. Traditional sourdough bread is left to rise for about 12-48 hours, during which time the gluten and anti-nutrients decrease significantly.

Might the 5-fold increase in the incidence of celiac be due to changes in the way modern bread is prepared?

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