“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