Traditional: (adj) existing in or as part of a tradition; long established. Produced, done or used in accordance with tradition; Habitually done, used or found (Wikipedia)
The Holiday Season is upon us. Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner. It can be challenging for you if you are just starting a new healthy lifestyle that might conflict with what is served for a family gathering.
The other day a colleague of mine said that what I ask patient’s to do from a nutrition standpoint is anti-traditional foods. The main culprit here is of course gluten related food items. One that specifically comes to mind is a traditional Italian dish of pasta. However, it could be related to legumes, or grains or dairy depending on your ethnic heritage.
The main Paleo recommendations are to eat whole nutrient rich, low glycemic fruits, plentiful vegetables and sustainable protein sources. It is recommended to avoid legumes, dairy, and grains. There are many reasons for each recommendation, but the common one is that we over consume these items in a heavily refined, poorly sourced and even ill prepared which renders them potentially inflammatory. Consumption of nutrient rich foods is healing.
If you explore further, the other protocols like Autoimmune Protocol (limits eggs, nightshades and nuts) or Wahls Protocol, restrict food items further. If you read the fine print, this isn’t forever. All of these recommendations are forms of an Elimination Diet, which is the gold standard over blood tests in order to determine your inflammatory response and allow your body the nutrients needed for health and healing.
You can’t determine your response to a food item unless you remove it first for a period of time and then re-introduce it.
I don’t want to spend time here on the specifics of the recommendations; there are many good resources out there to explore the what, why and how. The point of these eating strategies is to find your "Personal Paleo Code" as Chris Kresser LAc describes.
Nowhere are these eating or lifestyle strategies designed to be “anti-tradition”. In fact, if you look closely, these plans actually attempt to restore you to “traditional” eating habits by means of paying attention and exploring the preparation of foods that allow proper consumption and optimal delivery of nutrients.
Sophie Egan wrote in her book Devoured; How what we eat defines who we are about how we have Americanized our eating of traditional cuisines for the sake of bland flavors and economical ingredients. Take a moment and think about this as it relates to Italian cuisine:
Dominos Pizza. The Spaghetti Factory. Little Ceasars. Round Table Pizza. Olive Garden. Just to name a few.
How do you really think these restaurants compare to traditional Italian fare in say…Italy?
Italian cuisine is noted for its regional diversity (of which American Italian has none) and abundance of different tastes (of which American Italian does not). Traditional Italian has simple ingredients (ok, American Italian has simple ingredients). It is said that traditional Italian cooks rely chiefly on the QUALITY of ingredients…including the tomato, the cheese, the olive oil and of course the wine. Traditional Italian also relies on meat (including game) as well as seafood like anchovies, sardines and tuna.
When was the last time you had anchovies with your Italian dish here in America?
We can discuss how or why gluten in America may be different than the gluten in Italy. We can discuss whether or not you are reactive to gluten grains. Either way, our American consumerism of pasta or pizza is nothing like what occurs in authentic Italy. These items were only smaller portions of an overall more balanced fare. Yet,iIf you are trying to recover from an injury or surgery or illness, it is important to try removing potential inflammatory items, especially gluten, even if they are traditional to your culture or background.
Yet, as a lifestyle, if you are Italian and now discover you are reactive to gluten, how does your life change?
Our lives are centered around food. Our connections to our family and friends are centered around food. And avoiding a food like pasta, can be a challenge especially if you are Italian.
My husband is NOT Italian nor does he have Italian relatives. He is mostly Irish. Yet, his family “traditional” food was….pasta and meat sauce. Just because his mom made it for him growing up, does that alone make it "traditional"? Is that “long established”? It certainly was “habitually done”.
My sister makes homemade pizza. Yet, in the same way, is that traditional cuisine because it was “habitually done”? We too are not Italian, but have German in our bloodline.
Is the fact that we don’t eat gluten “anti-tradition”?
Despite the fact that we believed our traditional diet likely should include corned beef and cabbage and root vegetables, our extended family believed our new healthy lifestyle was in fact “anti-tradition”.
I think “anti-tradition” is more synonymous with a rejection of connection or rejection of love. Resolving the feelings of rejection was where the healing really began for us and continues today. My point is, our gluten-free lifestyle had nothing to do with rejecting tradition as much as it had to do with discovering what was an authentic traditional cuisine for us. Even more important was re-establishing our connections to family and friends around food by means of tradition.
Here are my 5 tips to RESTORE tradition:
1.Find a new CONNECTION with loved ones.
Find a connection over a new food item that is safe for you. Turns out that my new safe food connection with my father when we left gluten behind was offal. Read more here about offal and other edible organ meats here and here. It could be over a new way to make fresh blackberry cobbler (gluten free of course) instead of pie. Better yet, find a connection over an entirely new activity that is mutually enjoyed by both parties…hiking, movies, books, or hobbies like gardening or raising chickens.
2. Bring an alternative option to SHARE.
If you are gluten sensitive or allergic, then source an approved alternative and bring enough for everyone to try. There are some wonderful organic rice based pastas (two ingredients sticking with simple Italian cuisine) and even better is the almond flour based pastas from Cappello’s which is very authentic (seriously, this pasta is no joke). Even spiralizing your zucchini or sweet potato and flash boil for a noodle is wonderful. This will require some effort on your part and should be focused on the thing you may miss the most or the thing that you believe would be the least offensive.
3. Make a TRULY traditional dish with QUALITY ingredients.
Make a Caesar salad with anchovies. Make corned beef and cabbage. Make Sauerkraut. Roast a whole pig. Make Yuca con Carne. If you have grandparents still alive, ask them what they ate growing up. Better yet, ask them what their parents ate. Traditional food is going back generations. These are the traditions we need to pass on before they are lost.
4. Express GRATITUDE.
Whenever a friend or family member makes you something in attempts to satisfy your needs, be overtly gracious. If you are trying to avoid conflict at a party, but you really need to refuse, a gracious, “No Thank You” is often enough. You can also accept and either eat it or simply leave it on your plate. You get to decide how to proceed as it serves you emotionally or physically.
5. FOCUS on the meaning of the event.
Many holidays are upon us of which have become glutinous and commercialized which distracts from the actual meaning of the holiday or celebration. Thanksgiving was originally celebrated as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. (Wikipedia) It was not necessarily for over indulgence as it has become. So, although you should be grateful for the bountiful food, maybe focus a bit more on quality food as well as gratitude of the relationships with those around you. If it is a birthday party, rather than celebrate on the gluttony of cake, sweets, and gifts maybe a strong hug and a word of gratitude that this person was born so that he/she could be a part of your life. Make a direct connection with the people being celebrated. It takes some courage for this sincere moment since most are used to gluttony and consumerism, but I promise you they will remember the hug and kind words well beyond the cake and ice cream.
Sophie Egan also discusses how the American subculture is more individual. Making a lifestyle choice to eat a specific way to support your health could be seen as individualized or independent. The fact is, that we are all interdependent meaning that we are made whole in relationship with others and their actions. The above 5 steps can bring you full circle back into interdependency with those you choose to surround yourself with. There will be struggle and challenge. Always remember that your health is worth it and rediscovering your connections in different ways will only make the bonds stronger with those you love....isn't that what tradition is really based on?
Eating nutrient rich foods (including gluten-free) is not “anti-tradition”. Although others may perceive it as such, it is actually helping you to get back to the tradition of connecting with the important people in your life over and around food while restoring tradition before it is lost all together.
Remove. Replace. Restore.
Remove mindless gluttony and consumerism.
Replace with true traditional cuisine and celebration.
Restore authentic traditions and connections in your life.
Eat Well. Move Well. Sleep Well. Soar On….during traditional celebrations.
Dr Carolyn Dolan DPT, Cert MDT, MSHN
Where physical therapy, nutrition and lifestyle meet, because how you live your life determines whether or not you soar. Inspiring action with information so you can reduce pain, optimize healing and improve function naturally during recovery from injury, surgery or painful condition. This is a website for the open-minded; obstinate need not apply.