“Heritage (cultural traditions) is an additional, relevant source of real-world information on long-term feasibility and health effects of diet.”

So says the second half of point 6 in Oldways’ Common Ground Scientific Consensus Statement on Healthy Eating. But what does this really mean? 

One driving motivation for holding Oldways’ Finding Common Ground Conference in November was to fight the proliferation of unscientific, un-fact checked, hyperbolic information about nutrition, eating and health. These “sources of information” range from blogs like The Food Babe to books with a pejorative position such as Grain Brain or Wheat Belly, or websites that purport to have the secret to lifelong good health (Buy my product!). 

There have always been snake oil salespeople, but with the Internet, anyone can be an expert and have a large audience. The potential for confusion, foolery, and conflict has grown exponentially, with disastrous implications for public health.

How do you know who’s right? 

On February 3, Kelly Toups, Oldways’ in-house dietitian wrote a blog about this very topic (the first half of point 6 in the Common Ground Scientific Consensus) — “What’s Healthy and How We Prove It” In it, she details the different kinds of nutrition science research – from the “gold standard” randomized clinical trials to observational studies.   

The world-renowned scientists who wrote the Oldways Common Ground Scientific Consensus Statement answered the question “What’s Healthy and how do we prove it?” not only with nutrition science research, but also with an acknowledgement that real world, relevant sources shed a lot of light on successful healthy outcomes.

When internet snake oil salespeople cite “real world experience,” all too often they’re referring to five people who wrote testimonials on their website or their personal experience losing weight, but as the saying goes, “the plural of anecdote is not data.”

Instead, the relevant, real-world source of information cited by the Common Ground scientists is heritage or cultural food traditions that have long been enjoyed by civilizations around the world.  At Oldways we call them the Heritage Diets — such as the Mediterranean Diet, the African Heritage Diet, the Latin American Diet, and the Asian Diet — plant-based diets that developed organically because they featured the foods grown in different regions, or the foods brought by traders, explorers, slaves and immigrants as they moved around the globe. These were the foods that successfully sustained populations for thousands of years — not foods that have artificial colors or preservatives and stay fresh on the shelf for a year. Heritage and culture reflect the foods and eating patterns that represent good health and long-life.

One of the first studies to look at the traditional Mediterranean Diet was after World War II.  The Rockefeller Brothers Foundation funded a study by Leland Allbaugh that described the disease-free, long life of the residents of Crete, who followed a diet high in olive oil, whole grain foods, fish, fruit and vegetables.  This version of the Mediterranean Diet became the focus of Ancel Keys’ research, further documenting what we know call The Mediterranean Diet.  Following on the shoulders of Allbaugh and Keys, hundreds of subsequent studies have solid established the science underpinning the Med Diet and other similar heritage diets.

One of the best things about heritage diets or cultural models for healthy eating, like the Mediterranean Diet is that they are exceptionally delicious, in addition to being extraordinarily healthy. Plus, they’re accessible. You don’t need to get on a plane to bring heritage and culture into your kitchen.  As writer Corby Kummer wrote in Cooking Light magazine, “You have friends in the business. Oldways.” 

All you need is some inspiration and the interest to make use of “relevant sources of real world information” in your very own kitchen.  The Oldways Cart, inspired by the Common Ground Scientific Consensus Statement, with its one-week menu, recipes and grocery list, is your boarding pass to real world, relevant sources of good health and great taste.

Make the trip, with us as your tour guide.  We promise, you won’t be disappointed. 

Sara Baer-Sinnott, Oldways President

Add a Comment