The Oldways Table Blog

Celebrating health,
happiness, heritage,
and delicious,
nutritious food.

February 3, 2016 | Oldways Table

While it is important to keep abreast of the latest nutrition research, it shouldn't feel like watching a pingpong match. “Fundamentals and current understanding do NOT change every time a new study makes headlines,” according to the Oldways Common Ground scientists. Despite the subtle variations and interpretations of healthy eating, decades of research give us a fairly well-rounded picture of a nutritious diet.

The “gold standard” of nutrition research is the randomized clinical trial, in which participants are randomly assigned to various diets and then followed to see how the diet affects their health. These studies are very expensive, as they require a large enough group of people to be able to see changes, and must be conducted over several weeks, months, years, or even decades, depending on what scientists are trying to track.

Despite the challenges, clinical data proves that diets featuring fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other minimally processed plant foods are healthy. The PREDIMED trial was a groundbreaking randomized clinical trial where adults at risk of heart disease were assigned to various diet groups (Mediterranean diet + nuts, Mediterranean diet + olive oil, or a low fat control group). The Mediterranean diet groups fared so well that the study ended early, as it was deemed unethical to prevent the control group from switching to a Mediterranean diet. Similarly, trials in which people are randomly assigned to either whole grains or refined grains demonstrate that whole grains may help improve cholesterol, inflammation, and insulin action. While large clinical trials are not as common as other types of research (due to big expenses and time committments), they add an additional layer of credibility to the large body of observational research available.

Observational studies, in which people are followed over a long period of time while scientists study their eating habits and health to look for relationships, are easier to carry out and are more common in nutrition research. However, observational studies can only show correlation — that one factor is associated with another — not that one factor caused another. Nonetheless, correlation is a useful scientific principle, and dismissing correlation entirely (by dismissing observational studies) is a misguided understanding of science. For example, the tobacco industry abused this principle to argue that smoking does not cause lung cancer, because correlation is not causation. Yet even though no one will ever do a clinical trial requiring one group to smoke and the other to abstain, we know that quitting smoking is a healthy move, and we know that based on observational studies.

While correlation alone does not prove causation, multiple correlations from well-designed studies that all reach the same conclusion can be sufficient — especially when combined with biological plausibility. (For example, if studies show whole grains are associated with heart health, and lab tests show whole grains make blood vessels more flexible, this offers a solid biological basis for the correlation.) Indeed, biology (adaptation, evolution, plausibility) and heritage (cultural traditions) are relevant sources of real-world information that can enhance our understanding of the long-term feasibility and health effects of diet.

It is very difficult to prove cause-effect relationships in scientific studies, especially in nutrition studies. After all, unlike drug trials (in which you either take the drug or you don’t), humans eat all day, creating endless food choices and lifestyle decisions. Additionally, there are a countless number of nutrition philosophies. Studying the lifetime effects of every fad diet simply isn’t feasible. Nonetheless, the current body of research shows very strong relationships between certain eating patterns (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other wholesome plant foods) and health.

Science, by its very definition, is not supposed to ever be final — but we can act now. As Dr. David Katz (one of our Oldways Common Ground co-chairs) often says, we already know how to prevent 80% of disease, so let’s not waste time arguing. Rather than being paralyzed by not knowing every minute detail about health, pitting one nutrient against another, let’s act on what we do know. And what we do know is a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and other minimally processed foods is a wise (and wonderfully delicious) place to start.

Bonus: For a week's worth of healthy recipes and groceries that make up a balanced diet, try using the Oldways Cart.

Kelly Toups, Whole Grains Council Program Manager & In-House Dietitian

January 28, 2016 | Oldways Table

African American ancestors brought a huge array of food traditions to the Caribbean, South America, and the southern states of the U.S. Many of these traditions were lost with the influences of American eating habits, and health has suffered. Scientific studies show that the diseases affecting many African Americans today — like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity — typically skyrocket as traditional diets are left behind.

But chronic disease was not always part of African heritage. To educate people about the healthful roots of African heritage cuisine, we developed our African Heritage & Health Program. The African Heritage Diet Pyramid guides people to healthy traditions and foods, and our volunteer-driven class series, A Taste of African Heritage, is having huge impacts on participants around the country.

We're celebrating our Fifth Annual African Heritage & Health Week Feb. 1 to 7, which also marks the start of Black History Month. The best way to join the AH&H Week Party is to eat African heritage foods and share your experiences with friends, family, or on social media with the tag #EatAfricanHeritage365. Visit the AH&H Week page for complete details, and check out our recipe database to get cooking. And be sure to check out our Sweet Potato Peanut Stew, or Mafe in West Africa, recipe below.

8 Easy Steps to Add African Heritage to Your Diet and #EatAfricanHeritage365:

1. Go For Greens. Greens like spinach, collards, mustards, and turnip greens are a big part of African heritage cuisine; they help keep your blood, liver, and kidneys in top health. Cook them lightly to retain all of their extraordinary nutrients.

2. Savor the Staples. Enjoy vegetables, fruits, mostly whole grains and cereals, beans, herbs and spices, peanuts and nuts, and healthy tubers like sweet potatoes. These are the core African Heritage foods to shop for, prepare, and eat most often.

3. Favor Fish. For a source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, enjoy tuna, mackerel, and salmon. Sardines and other small, bony fish are rich sources of calcium and vitamin D. Enjoy them grilled, broiled, or lightly pan cooked in water and a tiny bit of oil.

4. Use Healthy Oils. Use small amounts of healthy oils, like sesame or olive oil for dressings, and canola, red palm oil, or extra virgin coconut oil for cooking.

5. Lessen Animal Protein. Eat eggs, poultry, and other meats moderately, in small portions, or use as garnishes for other dishes.

6. Downplay Dairy. Consume dairy in small portions, and if you are lactose intolerant, enjoy other calcium-rich foods like greens , beans , and almonds.

7. Slow the Sweets. at the top of the pyramid, are foods to eat less often , limiting them to once a week or at special meals.

8. Hydration is Key. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. If you drink alcohol, limit it to one glass per day for women, two for men.

Sweet Potato Peanut Stew, or Mafe

Mafe, or Groundnut Stew, is common throughout West and Central Africa. This traditional stew can feature meat, vegetables, or seafood, and it is always based on a savory sauce made from peanut butter and tomatoes. This Mafe recipe is featured recipes in our A Taste of African Heritage cooking program and it centers around a much loved African heritage food — the sweet potato.


2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil 
1 medium-size yellow onion, diced 
2 garlic cloves, minced 
1 large sweet potato, chopped into medium-size cubes 
2 large carrots, cut into thin rounds 
2 green zucchini, cut into thin half-rounds 
1 small can (15oz) of diced tomatoes, no salt added 
2 cups water
1 teaspoon or small cube of vegetable bullion powder 
1 tablespoon Berbere spice 
1/4 cup natural peanut butter 
3 sprigs of fresh thyme, minced, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme 
Sea salt to taste 


1. Heat the oil in one of the soup pots on medium heat and sauté the onion and garlic until translucent (3-4 minutes). 

2. While the onions and garlic cook, chop up the sweet potato, carrots, and zucchini. 

3. Add sweet potato and vegetables to the pot; saute for 3-4 minutes. 

4. Add the diced tomatoes, water, bullion, and Berbere spice, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. 

5. After 10 minutes, add the peanut butter and the thyme to the stew. Let it cook, covered, for another 3-5 minutes. 

6. Salt to taste, serve and enjoy.

Nutritional Analysis: Calories: 127, Fat: 5g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Sodium: 168mg, Carbohydrate: 20g, Fiber: 4g, Sugars: 8g, Protein: 4g


January 26, 2016 | Oldways Table

Point 3 of Oldways' Common Ground Consensus on Healthy Eating states:

The Scientists of Oldways Common Ground lend strong, collective support to the overall process, as well as the overall product, of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). We express confidence in their approach to the weight of evidence. We support a transparent process where the evidence-based report of the scientists is translated directly into policy without political manipulation.

But this isn't what happened.

This statement, written two months prior to the release of the official Dietary Guidelines, gives support to the scientists who worked for a year and a half to review the body of scientific and medical evidence in nutrition. At the end of this review they prepared a report for the Secretaries of Health and Human Services and Agriculture, which, according to, "provides an evidence base for HHS and USDA as the Departments update the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for the 2015 edition."

The government's website also goes on to say "the advisory report helps to inform the federal government of the body of scientific evidence on topics related to diet, nutrition, and health."

As part of the review of the body of scientific and medical evidence in nutrition, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee met for 18 months, and held seven public meetings over the course of its work, beginning in June 2013. The final Committee meeting took place on December 15, 2014. 

In their January 28, 2015 letter to HHS Secretary Burwell and USDA Secretary Vilsack, Chair Barbara E. Millen, DrPH, RD, FADA, wrote, "The Committee wishes to emphasize that the current evidence base has never been stronger and provides a sound basis to guide the development of public policies and effective nutrition and physical activity interventions to promote health and prevent disease at individual and population levels. We look forward to the translation of this report into future recommendations in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”  

Despite this belief that the current evidence base has never been stronger, and that this strength provides a sound basis to guide the development of public policies, some of the recommendations were ignored for reasons that can only be surmised as political.

There has been much written in the press and on blogs and websites by respected nutrition scientists, NGOs, and others who work to promote good health and nutrition. Many of the scientists who signed Oldways Common Ground Consensus Statement (including two members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee) are among those who most passionately protest the resulting Dietary Guidelines, but none more vocal and forthright than David Katz, MD, of Yale's Prevention Research Center and founder of the Truth Health Initiative.

These three points (below) are the most revealing about how politics influenced these Guidelines, and how the report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, with a strong evidence base, was ignored.

  • Backtracking on clear recommendations to eat less meat and more plants.
  • Hypocrisy of including physical exercise, but not sustainability — “because sustainability is not a dietary recommendation and therefore beyond the mandate of the Dietary Advisory Committee.”
  • A strange disconnect between stating specific foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, etc.) to increase, then switching to nutrient-speak when talking about areas where the Guidelines advise a reduction (saturated fat, sugar, salt), without mentioning specific foods.

It’s the beef!

All three of these points relate to meat. Although the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended less meat and more plants, the resulting recommendation is steeped in politics and conflict — especially considering that the USDA is largely responsible for the Guidelines and for promoting American meat production. It seems reasonable to assume that the recommendations (1) to eat less meat and more plants, and (2) include sustainability ended up on the cutting floor for the very same reason. Meat production is big business, and the concept of agricultural sustainability is at odds with the way meat is produced in this country. A political football!

In addition, Oldways also believes the Dietary Guidelines could go further by:

  • Encouraging Americans to make more than half of their grains whole.
  • Emphasizing the quality of dairy products over their quantity.
  • Promoting a true Mediterranean Diet. The DG’s depiction of the Mediterranean Diet was “Med Lite” — not the real Med Diet, which Oldways has been promoting for 25 years (we created the original Mediterranean Diet Pyramid).

As writing and complaining only do so much, both Oldways and David Katz, with his True Health Initiative, have put forth ways to deal with these weak and highly politicized Dietary Guidelines that ignore “the current evidence base that has never been stronger.”

Oldways’ focus is on practicality. We believe the best dietary advice should be practical, emphasizing quality over quantity. To translate dietary guidelines into easy action, Oldways developed the Oldways Cart, which shows a week’s worth of groceries for two adults. An accompanying shopping list and meal plan detail how this sample cartful of foods can be mixed and matched to make up a healthy diet, in line with recommendations in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report.  Download the free Oldways Cart Shopping List and Meal Plan here.

Katz goes in a different direction. Believing that the Dietary Guidelines are not what they purport to be, Katz has created a petition to rename the guidelines. "The so-called Dietary Guidelines for America are not dietary guidelines as much as they guidelines on how the government tries to balance public health recommendations and corporate interests. Sign this petition to ask the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to stop false advertising and change the name of the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" to "Food Policy Guidelines for America."

Our advice: Sign the petition AND download the Oldways Cart!

Sara Baer-Sinnott, Oldways President

January 21, 2016 | Oldways Table

The heart has become an iconic symbol the world over, representing the core of our being, our passion, and the love we feel for others. So it’s fitting that Heart Health Month in February is shared with Valentine’s Day, the day we fete our loved ones with the equally iconic red roses and chocolate. While flowers and candy universally say "I love you," Heart Health Month is a perfect reminder that the best gift to our loved ones is a healthy heart and body.

That's why this month's ONE Toolkit is an affair of the heart. Whether you're a health professional or health-conscious individual, our Heart Healthy Toolkit is full of research on heart-healthy foods, cooking tips and recipes, a heart-healthy quiz, and additional resources that will help you show some love to your heart, and to your loved ones hearts too. See the complete Heart Healthy Toolkit here.

Here are our top three heart-healthy tips from the Toolkit:

1. Eat garlic to lower your blood pressure, and lower your salt intake to decrease your risk of hypertension and heart disease.

2. Healthy doesn't mean bland. Try searing, roasting, or pan-frying to build your flavor foundation. And don't be shy with herbs and spices.

3. Eat breakfast to start your day off right and to reduce your risk of coronary disease.

Want more? Check out the complete Heart Healthy Toolkit, available for free download here.

And here are more ways for you and your loved ones to celebrate a heart-healthy February:

4. Buy pedometers for you and your partner, or download a fitness app, and don your walking shoes. Setting (and keeping) a weekly outing to walk and talk together is a wonderful opportunity to stay connected while adding physical activity to your routine, both which are good for you.

5. Enjoy laughing together. Humor is good for your heart and can help relieve stress. Enjoy a comedic film at home or attend a funny play or comedy club show. Life itself offers us enough reasons to chuckle throughout the day, so take a deep breath and enjoy it.

6. Take turns cooking for each other and your family. The Mediterranean Diet offers plenty of heart-healthy, family-pleasing meals. Our Med Diet shopping and cooking resources are a great place to start.

7. Set a monthly date for an intimate, candlelit meal with your significant other, either at home or at a restaurant. If the babysitter cancels, this is one of those moments that you can laugh about — after all, the kids may enjoy eating by candlelight too.

8. Be a role model and supporter for each other. If you have children, show them by example how to develop healthy eating and lifestyle habits that will serve them well throughout their lifetime.

9. Make a date with your doctor for an annual checkup — for both you and your partner. After your appointments, take time to thank each other for caring for yourselves and for each other, and then celebrate in that special way that only you and your partner know how.

Cheers to a Happy Valentine’s Day and your happy heart!


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