Our modern society is swarming with 24-hour convenience stores, fast food drive-throughs or delivery, vending machines and packaged foods. But our ancestors’ diets were built around seasonal, whole foods that took time to procure and to prepare.
Although culturally diverse in their recipes, ﬂavors, and ingredients, nearly all traditional diets are centered on a foundation of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses (beans and lentils), nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, and other plant foods. Meat, seafood, and traditionally produced dairy products (like yogurt and cheese) were often used as a condiment, while cooking fats, such as olive oil, were a luxury and used to add flavor to vegetables and other nutritious ingredients. Reﬁned sweets, like cakes and pastries, were non-existent or reserved for special occasions, not everyday indulgences.
Traditional diets are a delicious guide to healthy eating.
While many modern advances have saved lives and saved time, our disconnect from how our food is grown and cooked has come at a cost. Excess salt, sugar, fats and chemicals added to foods by food manufacturers who want to sell to us have been linked with rising public health problems. Steadily increasing portion sizes and the changing social norms of snacking have distanced us from our bodies’ natural hunger and fullness cues.
Most of us have a pretty good idea that fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are good for us. But ﬁguring out what to do with these foods or how to eat them is where a lot of us get stuck. By embracing traditional diets we can rediscover the joy in eating, without feeling deprived or guilty as we do with “dieting”.
When we see the word “diet” we usually think of unpleasant rules that force us to give up all our favorite foods for a limited time, usually for weight loss. However, traditional diets aren’t diets in that sense. Traditional diets are a delicious way of enjoying healthy food for the rest of our lives.
Studies repeatedly demonstrate the health beneﬁts of traditional diets, and looking at nutrition from a more holistic perspective. The Mediterranean diet is perhaps the most well-known traditional eating pattern, but emerging research aﬃrms that many of the most well-cherished traditional diets have something to teach us about health and nutrition.
While media headlines constantly debate the merits of one nutrition or eating pattern versus another, nutrition research and recommendations are edging towards a more plant-based, whole food-based approach to healthy eating, with many recommendations rooted in tradition. In a 2015 article in the Annual Review of Nutrition, the researchers concluded that “overall dietary patterns emphasizing vegetables, ﬁsh, nuts, and whole versus processed grains form the basis of heart-healthy eating, and should supersede a focus on macronutrient composition.” In fact, even the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a Mediterranean style diet as one of three healthy eating patterns.
At ﬁrst glance, a Mediterranean diet might seem vastly diﬀerent than traditional Asian or African cooking, but in reality, these rich cuisines are much more alike than they are diﬀerent. It is the current Western diet, with seemingly endless fast food, sodas, and highly processed snacks that is the black sheep!
While Mediterranean regions favor fava beans and chickpeas, Southeast Asian nations use lentils, and Latin American cooking has a preference for black beans and pinto beans, we don’t debate over which is best for health. Rather, we learn from the fact that pulses (and other plant foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) are a staple of these nutritious diets, and should be a staple in our diets as well.
With a few swaps in spices and ingredients, your vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and pulses can take on a whole new life, easily transforming from Mediterranean to African to Asian, and beyond.
Traditional diets also diﬀer from the Western style of eating in that they emphasize the cultural aspects of eating, such as cooking meals at home, and enjoying food in the company of friends and family. Rather than mindless eating, microwave meal plans, or munching in front of the television, embracing the community aspect of traditional diets can help cultivate a healthy, happy life.
And so with this blog, I’d like to play with traditional cuisines and all their variety and help us create together some wholesome, new traditions of having fun in the kitchen and being more of our healthy, sexy selves! I hope you will join me on this journey. Let’s play!