Thursday, November 8, 2012

Per-week butter consumption in my family = several pounds

So, why the butter and cream diet? Well, this is phase one of a new restrictive diet we are rolling out in our house. We also have reduced added sugars to almost none and switched our dairy to raw and non-homogenized. I’m putting off rolling out the next phase: no refined grains, since I'm not ready to say goodbye to pie crust. That, and all the extra work I anticipate.

Why this new diet? Primarily for the kids’ health, but also for ours. The reasoning behind this new dietary experiment follows.

Years ago, after taking a workshop on inflammation, Aaron and I switched to an anti-inflammation diet. Both of our cholesterol numbers flipped for the better: the LDL number became the HDL number and vice versa. A major part of the change we made was to focus on eating healthier fats. In particular, we sought out animal products from well-raised, well-fed sources. Dairy and beef from pastured cows, eggs from free-range chickens, and so on.
While we continue to do this, we are ready to guinea-pig-it-up again.  This is due to an inordinate number of health problems in our family: both kids have asthma; Forest has such bad seasonal allergies and asthma, he has been on singular and Flovent (steroid inhaler) since last spring; Aaron’s thyroid is kaput; and I have had unrelenting GI issues for almost two years straight, in addition to four cavities.

Back in 2008, I read Michael Pollan’s paradigm-busting book In Defense of Food, which grew out of this article.  In both, Pollan points out that the Emperor of Nutritionism (EoN) has no clothes. (I would argue that the EoN has some clothes, but they are tattered and do not provide full coverage.) All of which is to say that the science of nutrition is problematic at best. You’ve likely heard Pollan’s conclusion: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

The part that has interested me most is eating food. By which Pollan means food your great-great grandparents would recognize as food, not “foods” which include ingredients such as soy lecithin. He also advocates for eating within a food culture. For instance, if you are going to eat like the French, don't binge on croissants and foie gras, but rather cook as they do, in addition to keeping portions small as they do and never snacking. Food cultures incorporate the pleasures of communally eating good food with wisdom about which foods to eat together, how frequently to eat certain foods, and so on.
So having had the message of that book percolating through my system for almost four years, I was primed to embrace Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. It is an awkward embrace, to say the least. Nourishing Traditions is one dogmatic, ideological book. The “scientific facts” are cherry-picked, the conclusions drawn are inconsistent, and lots of reviewers on Amazon complain that the recipes suck. Despite all this, I’m still hugging. How could a former homesteader like myself not be drawn like a moth to a flame. (We can only hope there is enough merit in this book that a better analogy wouldn’t be “drawn like a fly to shit.”)

The dietary guidelines are based on the findings of Weston Price, a dentist who studied teeth and nutrition in “primitive” societies around the world in the 1930s. Some believe that he discovered the key to glorious good health via certain dietary principles practiced by these disparate peoples the world over. Others criticize his work as ideologically motivated, calling into question the veracity of his observations and conclusions.

(Of course, when I tried googling “does malnutrition prevent cavities” I got a lot of results saying that malnutrition causes cavities. It’s a jungle out there in the interwebs.)

Despite this big ole heap of skepticism I harbor, we are going to follow many of the principles laid out in Nourishing Traditions: no refined grains or sugar, no pasteurized dairy, lacto-fermented food with most meal, lots of bone broths, and animal fats rather than polyunsaturated vegetable oils.
Feeding a family of four on this diet sounds like a part time job—imagine the food I’ll have to send with the kids to school—, but I can be rather stubborn about these sorts of challenges. Happily I have a much easier fall back plan if it proves too much. When I told my father about the diet we were contemplating and why (first and foremost getting Forest of Singular and steroids) he said that he got rid of his lifelong allergies and asthma in his late 20s by eating no refined grains. It’s a bit scary when your fall back, easy-peasey plan is eating no refined grains. Plenty would argue that alone is too arduous. We’ll see how it all goes, and I’ll keep you posted.

But why on earth do I want to try this pseudo-science-based, pain-in-the-ass, part-time-job of a diet? It is mostly due to my experiences with raw milk. More on that soon.


  1. Can't wait to hear your progress on your diet. I think it is a great idea. I read Nourishing Traditions and it made so much sense to me on an instinctive if not scientific level. I just don't have the dedication to follow it completely. All the soaking of grains in particular gets me. Re: crusts, that's hard for me, too, but I make a pumpkin custard that is a pretty good substitute for pumpkin pie and a crustless quiche. I'm also a big fan of Sandor Katz. I think I told you we've been doing a lot of bone broths and fermenting in our house. I like to think it helps with Hannah's allergies and exczema, but who knows?

    And I can't believe how much eliminating wheat has helped with my seasonal allergies. Oh I can go on and on--I should tell you what my acupuncturist says about chinese medicine and being able to interact freely with our environment but this comment is super long already. Good luck!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Laura. I'm so glad you've been able to improve your seasonal allergies. Those are not fun.

      Yeah, I'm feeling pretty daunted by all the work involved in changing out diet, but of all the strategies for addressing allergies and asthma, this is the one people report to be most helpful. I just got Katz's first book, but haven't had a chance to sit down with it, yet.

      Hope all is well in Brooklyn.

  2. Hmmm... Do they do tests for mold house syndrom in US? Many of your symtpoms sounds like they might have something to do with your previous house.

  3. Yikes. Are tests for mold house syndrome people tests or house tests? And if mold exposure is an issue, shouldn't moving have cleared up our symptoms? If not, what should we be doing to recover from mold exposure? I'm not finding much when I google it.

    1. You could check Tiina Reponen (at University of Cincinnati) and Aino Nevalainen (at Finnish National Health Institute). They are amongst the leading researchers of this subject. An example of research carried out in Finland (there is also studies specifically on syptoms, just couldn't find it).
      The symptoms disappear or get better when person is not in touch with mold anymore, but the mold toxics are quite nasty and therefore, you might have symtoms or diseases caused by (long) exposure for rest of your lives.
      We had mold in our first appartment together and after half a year having no energy, bleeding nose, breathing problems (symptoms came in this order), I finally realised the cause. Took a while even I had worked with indoor air problems.
      If you find that more info is needed, you could call Tiina and ask what to do in US, if you suspect your symptoms are caused by mold.