This post covers part of the Introduction of Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. Most information is referenced in the book. “Traditional” as used in this blog refers to the healthy isolated groups of people studied by Weston A Price, who were untouched by modern ways of dealing with food. Opinions are mine unless indicated otherwise.
So, reading the section on carbohydrates was not super exciting for me like the one on fat, or other parts of the introduction of Nourishing Traditions. I think this is because it sounded a little bit like a chemistry lesson, only she doesn’t even go into any detail about how soaking grains (and beans, nuts, and seeds) makes them more digestible. She does talk more about these specific foods in their respective chapters, but I haven’t read them yet.
As I mentioned in my recent post, carbohydrates seem to be a non-essential macronutrient, meaning we don’t need to eat them in order to have the sugar our body needs. Our body can convert fat into glucose. For example, traditional Eskimos eat a diet almost entirely based on animal protein and fat, and they are very healthy, and have no signs of tooth decay (oral health is very suggestive of our overall health). However, many traditional peoples are healthy on diets that do include a fair (but not excessive) amount of carbohydrates, including dairy, fruit and vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. These are always whole–not refined–carbohydrate foods. Sugar, the simplest carbohydrate, is used very sparingly.
All refined carbohydrates are inimical to health. The refining process strips nutrients out of food, including vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. These foods are not just “empty” calories; rather, they are anti-nutritious, meaning they cause the body to use its own reserves of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes to digest them, while providing little to no nutrition of their own.
Consumption of sugar and white flour may be likened to drawing on a savings account. If continued withdrawals are made faster than new funds are put in, the account will eventually become depleted. Some people may go longer than others without overt suffering, but eventually all will feel the effects of this inexorable law.
In case you are wondering, when your “account” (bodily reserves) is depleted, that means you get sick and eventually will die an untimely death–unless you are unusually hardy, in which case:
If you were fortunate enough to be born with an excellent constitution, you may be able to eat unlimited quantities of sugar with relative impunity, but your children’s or your grandchildren’s inheritance will be one of impoverished reserves.
Everyone take note of that! It’s not just your body you are either caring for or neglecting–it’s the body that your offspring come from. If you deplete your body, your children will be born with diminished health. This makes me think of my little boy. I had hoped so dearly that he would have inherited his father’s hardy constitution, but it seems he has a weaker one like mine. And I can now see why–It’s not just about the genes; it’s not random luck. My husband is one who doesn’t notice what sugar does to his body, so he doesn’t worry about it. And I have a weak digestive system, meaning my body is deplete because it can’t absorb all the nutrients I put into it. Put those two factors together, and it would be a miracle if our son had been born with robust health.
Flour fortified with synthetic vitamins and minerals is not only a sad, partial replenishment, but it may actually be dangerous. If you must use refined flour, unfortified would be preferable.
Refined sugar is also not just empty calories. In fact, it is far more inimical to health than refined grains. It is toxic. It wreaks havoc with blood sugar levels in the body causing all kinds of problems, even in healthy individuals. Traditional societies that use natural sweeteners do so in moderation. They eat fruit in season, and limited amounts of natural sweeteners that are high in vitamins and minerals, such as raw honey, real maple syrup (not corn syrup disguised as maple syrup), date sugar, and dehydrated cane juice. These are fine in small amounts. However, white sugar, brown sugar, “raw” sugar, corn syrup, and fructose are all poison. Large amounts of fruit juice is not good for the body, either (when I think of how much fruit juice would be acceptable for good health, I think of manually squeezing out the juice myself–how often would I do that, and how much am I going to get from it?).
Ever since I discovered my body was plagued by an over-growth of yeast four years ago, I’ve been very aware of the sugar in my diet. I’ve definitely allowed stressful times suck me into high-sugar eating. And by high-sugar, I mean eating a third or more of a dark chocolate bar every day, or having hot chocolate or some other sugary dessert every day (in addition to my chocolate chip pancakes, ahem). I don’t even think that would seem very high-sugar for a lot of Americans, but it is. Our bodies weren’t designed to tolerate much sugar, and pretty much no refined sugar, except maybe very small amounts very infrequently. Sadly, the average American now consumes 170 pounds of sugar per year, up from 10 pounds per year in 1821, amounting to about 25% of a person’s caloric intake. This sugar is nearly all refined, and a high portion of it is in the form of dangerous high-fructose corn syrup.
Another large portion of total calories comes from white flour and refined vegetable oils. This means that less than half the diet must provide all the nutrients to a body that is under constant stress from its intake of sugar, white flour and rancid and hydrogenated vegetable oils. Herein lies the root cause of the vast increase in degenerative diseases that plague modern America.
What diseases are caused by too much sugar consumption? Far more than just diabetes: hypoglycemia, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, hyperactivity, behavior problems, lack of concentration, violent tendencies, Candida (system yeast overgrowth that wreaks havoc in the body), cancer (tumors feed off of sugar), and dental decay (which is actually indicative of overall health). Fructose is more harmful than glucose; sadly, high fructose corn syrup is used in every type of processed food imaginable, especially foods marketed to children.
WHOLE GRAINS & LEGUMES
Whole grains provide vitamin E, B vitamins in abundance, and many important minerals, all of which are essential to life.
There is a caveat to eating grains. They contain a substance called phytic acid which blocks certain nutrients from being absorbed, as well as enzyme inhibitors that interfere with digestion. Traditionally, grains have been soaked/fermented or sprouted before eating, which neutralizes the phytates and enzyme inhibitors. I know that the anti-nutrients in grains lead some to believe that humans were not meant to eat them. I, on the other hand, think it’s pretty awesome that, whether by accident or inspiration, people have found out that nature does provide a way to safely eat these foods. Beans, nuts and seeds also contain phytic acid–also recommended to be soaked–and even some vegetables and fruits to a lesser extent. Fallon says that many people who are allergic to grains will tolerate them well when they are properly prepared.
Organic grains and legumes are recommended because many commercial brands are sprayed with chemicals. Also, genetically modified grains contain foreign proteins that may cause irritation in the digestive tract. Grains should be eaten as part of a meal containing fat and protein, which helps slow digestion and maintain normal blood sugar levels.
Whole grains that have been processed by high heat and pressure to produce puffed wheat, oats and rice are actually quite toxic and have caused rapid death in test animals.
It’s scary to think that back in my college days, I subsisted on probably one of the worst “foods” imaginable–Fruity Pebbles cereal. I actually bought big bags of the generic brand most of the time, and ate it nearly every day for breakfast. Like three or four bowls of it. Refined, highly processed, non-organic, artificially dyed and flavored, saturated with refined sugar, and completely unrecognizable as an actual food. In essence, poison. It’s no wonder my health is where it is today–I probably depleted what little reserves I had in college. But it wasn’t because I didn’t care–I’ve always cared about my health. I mean, I snacked on carrots while I fell asleep at my textbooks. I knew the cereal wasn’t the best, but with what little I knew about nutrition, I trusted the FDA and their nutrition labels. And what did the nutrition label tell me? That my rainbow colored cereal was packed with vitamins and minerals! And I thought it was pretty yummy, too. Nevermind that it spiked my blood sugar levels and left me hungry again within a couple hours.
Now if you think organic, whole grain, low sugar varieties of cereal, rice cakes and crackers are okay, think again:
Most, if not all, nutrients are destroyed during processing, and they are very difficult to digest. Studies show that these extruded whole grain preparations can have even more adverse effects on the blood sugar than refined sugar and white flour!
It’s easy to see how people develop problems with grains when the vast majority of grains available to us are refined, sprayed with chemicals, processed, and/or genetically modified, and not properly prepared. My theory is that people develop allergies to grains because the grains they are eating are totally messed up. Some sensitive individuals may even react to organic whole grains because they have not been properly prepared by soaking or sprouting. Apparently many people do much better with grains when they are prepared the traditional way.