If Food is the Medicine, The Meal is the Cure: 6 Elements of Nutrient Dense Foods
(Guest post from my friend and awesome assistant, Jill, who went to the WAPF Conference with me in November.)
At the tail end of my first ever Wise Traditions Conference, I attended my first ever cooking class: Weston A. Price Foundation style cooking, where I learned about applying the elements of ancestral diets for nutrient dense foods.
Before getting into all the great tips, wisdom, and recipes from the class (some of which will be continued later in Part 2), I've got to share how inspiring and contagious the instructor, Annie Dru's, attitude towards cooking is:
Cooking for your loved ones is a PRIVILEGE, not a chore!
The opportunity to provide nourishment, contentment, and the very occasion that draws people together in an age-old daily ritual of communion with each other is truly an honor. Annie told us, “Food is the placeholder. The meal is the love.” When we prepare nourishing, irresistible meals, our family is compelled to the table. It's one of the most important ways to love your family and friends.
Would you hire out someone to comfort your child or make love to your husband?
Annie's jolting challenge, “Would you hire out someone to comfort your child or make love to your husband?” was met with gasps and then a wild scribbling of pens to copy it down. Her point was that the food industry has successfully convinced Americans that cooking is a burdensome chore that should be handed over to THEM, because they care so much, right? The result being that for the first time in history, the bulk of a society's meals have been prefabricated by a profit-driven industrial machine, and we've lost touch with not only the sources of our food, but also the dietary wisdom of our ancestors in preparing nutrient dense foods.
That wisdom is surprisingly consistent among pre-industrial, isolated people groups the globe over, as revealed in the pioneering research of Dr. Weston A. Price, recorded in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, and applied to modern cooking in Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions cookbook.
How is that wisdom different from modern food values?
Annie has distilled those elements into 6 categories, which she brings together in her classes to help attendees re-learn the “lost art of the meal” and how to prepare nutrient dense foods:
1. Grease. Yep, good ol' traditional, nutrient-dense fat, mostly from animal origin: butter, lard, tallow, and poultry fat from pastured animals (click those links for where to find those superfoods), as well as coconut and palm oils in some cultures. These traditional fats provide vital saturated fat, cholesterol, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K2, immune-enhancing fatty acids, flavor and satiety. Without fats accompanying our vegetables we cannot absorb the fat soluble vitamins or convert beta carotene into vitamin A. Animal fats help fight infections and degenerative disease. Indigenous cultures who prioritized butter as a sacred food in their diets avoided both dental caries and calcification in the wrong places (arteries and joints). The traditional diets Dr. Price studied derived between 30-80% of their calories from fat, mostly saturated and monounsaturated from animal origin. You can read a summary of traditional diets here. Or if you're still not convinced, read more about these healthy fats here.
2. Guts. Organs and Offal. Offal literally means to “fall off”. It encompasses the connective tissue that holds all the parts together–organs are a subset category of offal. Our ancestors ate from “nose to tail” and those very parts we Americans have lost our taste for were actually revered as sacred. Now we know that those parts provide many times the nutrients contained in muscle meats!
3. Bones. Traditional cooking means buying meat on the bone, and then using those bones to make nourishing, healing broth. There is a reason broth and “jello” are traditionally the first foods fed to recovering surgical patients. The marrow is also an extremely nutrient-dense sacred food. French cuisine is built on the stock pot, which also makes the best gift for newlyweds! Nourishing Broth, already considered “The Broth Bible”, goes into great detail on the science and history of broth and includes a ton of recipes for using it.
4. Grass. Raw animal food has attributes that are lacking in cooked animal foods such as enzymes and fragile water soluble vitamins, but raw animal foods (eggs, dairy, and even meat, with the exception of pork) are only safe to consume if sourced from animals raised on grass. (If you don't have a local source for pastured meats, find safe, healthy meat online here.) This principle applies to seafood as well. Wild caught fish from clean waters is equivalent to pasture-raised animals. Never eat farmed fish raw. On that note, Omega 3s are not only found in seafood. Pastured animal foods are quite high in Omega 3s, with the right ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 which protects against inflammation.
5. Shoots. Grains that are properly prepared through soaking, sprouting, and/or fermenting are much easier to digest and more nutritious. Sourdough helps to break down gluten through a slow lacto-fermented, acidic rise, but packaged yeast doesn't affect gluten at all. Annie believes one reason so many people are gluten intolerant nowadays is that we are asking our guts to digest the indigestible: non-fermented gluten. Gluten is essentially “glue” that can be used to make wallpaper paste! Also, whole grain seed foods (grains, nuts, seeds) contain anti-nutrients that exist in the plant kingdom as a deterrent to animals, and the animals that DO eat them have specific mechanisms which humans lack for breaking them down. Soaking, sprouting, and fermenting breaks down the anti-nutrients, rendering the grains, nuts, and seeds digestible for humans. (Learn how to make the healthiest bread here: Best Sourdough Bread Recipe. Then try these: Sourdough Galore – English Muffins, Crackers, Pizza Crust, Pancakes, and Waffles.)
6. Pickles. Fermenting and culturing are traditional ways of preserving plant and animal foods, maximizing the vitamins and enzymes they contain and making the nutrition more bioavailable. Both cooking and fermenting break down cellulose and release the nutrients contained within plant foods. Consider this: for every mouthful of food, cows chew and regurgitate 200 times to thoroughly break down and ferment their diet of 100% raw vegetables. Ruminant animals have several stomach chambers that are specially equipped with enzymes and bacteria to break down cellulose and release the nutrients contained in raw plants. Since humans have only one stomach chamber and we don't chew cud, fermenting is an important method of rendering raw plant foods more digestible and the nutrients bioavailable. Of course, fermented foods are an important source of beneficial bacteria as well. This said, Annie does not discourage eating raw plant foods, but pointed out that in nature such foods are only available seasonally–think tender spring greens–suggesting that there is a time and place for everything. In general, plant foods are cleansers and animal foods are feeders. We need both.
So how do you bring together these nutrient dense foods containing grease, guts, bones, grass, shoots, and pickles into a meal that your family will love?
How does this menu sound?
- Braised Beef Shank (including the marrow = offal and bone)
- Roasted Cauliflower and Parmesan Puree/Bake* (grease, pickles)
- Butternut Squash, Pear, and Ginger Soup (grease, bones, pickles)
- Lacto-Fermented “Coleslaw” (pickles, grass)
- Egg Nog Ice Cream (grass: raw dairy and egg yolk)
Click here for all the recipes and an entertaining account of their nutty weekend at the conference!
Since the recipes linked to above for Lacto-Fermented “Coleslaw” and Egg Nog Ice Cream were adapted from Nourishing Traditions recipes, for the benefit of those who do not yet own the cookbook, below are Kelly's posts with these recipes that you'll need in order to apply Annie's adaptations (do yourself a favor, though, and get the Nourishing Traditions cookbook!):
You might notice there are no menu items representing “shoots”, but Annie planned the class around the dietary needs of those on grain-free diets (many attendees of the conference were grain-free or on the GAPS diet for healing).
*An additional note on the Roasted Cauliflower and Parmesan Puree/Bake: The optional addition of a couple eggs will enrich and add body to the texture of this dish. You could also separate the whites from the yolks, mixing the yolks in with the puree and then folding in whipped egg whites just before pouring into your baking dish for a soufflé effect. I have made this dish three times now, once with full-fat yogurt when I was out of sour cream, and always with added garlic, and each time it was incredible (and devoured completely)!
Unfortunately, I had to leave the class about a hour early to catch my plane so I didn't get to taste the entire menu, but I did try the eggnog ice cream and I can tell you with certainty that it was the most dreamy, rich and creamy ice cream I have ever tasted, and that the wonderful smells of everything else cooking haunted me for the rest of the day!
Stay tuned for Part 2, with more great nutritional information and cooking tips, including how to make a reduction sauce that takes everyday meals to a five-star level.
First, I have to say that loving your family and friends through food is a precious gift that I learned from my Mom. She was the master at this and constantly had people over to feed them or took meals around town. Also, while it's important to cook real nutrient dense foods for those we love, and not processed, boxed, factory, or fast foods, that doesn't mean that we can't have a little help with it! These days we're so blessed to have services like Real Plans Meal Plans that make it easier on us real foodies — so we can cook traditionally while utilizing modern technology! It's very affordable, interactive, and convenient, to make kitchen time easier and faster. It also includes and app so you know what you need at the grocery store and can see your meal plan laid out for you. Click here to learn more.