Question: For a few years now I have been trying to transition to a more traditional diet based on the Weston Price principles, but I keep backing off because of two reasons: Foods such as raw milk, butter and grass-fed beef all tend to produce a lot of mucus; and eating this way often makes me feel heavy with sluggish digestion. This occurs even with modest serving sizes. Although I went through a vegan/vegetarian phase a decade ago, I can’t believe my body has “forgotten” how to handle more traditional foods. I’m 36, 165 pounds and an athlete with no significant health issues—but I do get tired of spitting up clots of mucus after consuming milk, beef and other animal foods, despite the fact I’m eating the best quality available. Any suggestions?
Answer: Your problem with digestion and toleration of reintroduced traditional foods is one that comes up frequently. Milk, even though it is raw, often causes problems as does meat, especially beef, and often also grains. What I would like to do is to provide some ways of thinking about diet that may help you make food choices that work for you.
When I teach people about diet I explain that my approach is to think about three food groups. All the foods in each group are essentially interchangeable.
The first group is animal foods. This includes all the dairy products, eggs, beef, poultry, pork, fish, organ meats, etc. In all of the groups, it is important that you choose the best quality foods, but especially in the animal groups. Thus, milk should be raw whole milk from grass-fed cows, meats and eggs should come from pastured animals, and the fish should be wild.
The Weston A. Price diet puts a lot of emphasis on the fat-soluble vitamins A and D, and the minerals calcium and phosphorus. Raw milk from pasture-fed cows is an excellent source of all of these; hence our suggestion to include raw dairy products if you can. If you cannot tolerate plain milk, try milk in a form that is “pre-digested,” that is, fermented, such as kefir or cheese. Likewise if you cannot tolerate sweet butter, try cultured butter, and if this also causes a problem, then try ghee, which contains no milk solids.
If you cannot tolerate any milk products, because of congestion or gastrointestinal issues, then we can use our food-group thinking and just omit dairy products but use other animal foods.
Beef often presents a problem, which is really unfortunate as beef is the best dietary source of zinc, so often lacking in vegetarian diets. Two things can help here: one is to be sure to eat the meat with its fat. All too often, grass-fed meat is too lean and lean meat is very hard to digest. Secondly, be sure to eat the meat with a gelatin-rich broth. In fact, if you have not eaten meat in a long time, you should reintroduce meat in small amounts chopped up in a gelatin-rich soup broth. The broth is also a good source of calcium, which you will need if you are not consuming dairy products.
These same rules hold with chicken, turkey, pork, etc. Eat them with their fat and accompanied with a gelatin-rich broth as in soup, a sauce or gravy. Many people avoid pork as the “heaviest” kind of meat, but I have had patients who don’t do well on beef, but are fine with pork. Likewise, some do well on pork or poultry fat, but not on butter or ghee.
Another choice, of course, is eggs, but again, some people do poorly on eggs, especially egg whites.
In this journal and the WAPF literature, we have stressed the importance of the fat-soluble vitamins A and D over and over again. Yet many people starting out on our diet miss the importance of these nutrients—they eat lean meat, but not the sources of A and D, such as fat, organ meats, sea food and especially cod liver oil. It is not surprising that they have trouble digesting high-protein foods because these foods will deplete the fat-soluble vitamins—especially vitamin A—very quickly. So I cannot stress too strongly the importance of including these in the diet.
Digestive aids that can be helpful include a supplement of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes to help with protein digestion and ox bile to help with fat digestion, taken with meals. These will replace hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes and bile that your body may have “forgotten” how to produce—yes, indeed, the body’s production of these substances so important for digestion can shut down through lack of use.
I recommend Standard Process Zypan, two with each meal, to increase pancreatic enzymes and hydrochloric acid. For fat digestion, Cholacol by Standard Process provides purified bile salts for increasing bile flow and helping with fat digestion. The dose is 1-2, three times per day before meals.
Swedish Bitters can also help stimulate overall digestive ability. The dose is 1 teaspoon mixed with a little water three times per day with meals.
The final aid for helping with the digestion of animal products is enzyme-rich fermented vegetables or drinks with each time you eat meat or other animal foods. This can include sauerkraut, kimchi, beet kvass or other lacto-fermented drinks.
With these aids and principles, it has been rare that a person can’t find a type of animal food that they tolerate.
The next food group I call the seed food group. This includes grains, seeds, nuts, beans and other starchy vegetables such as potatoes and sweet potatoes. Again, remember that within a food group all the foods are essentially interchangeable.
The key with this group is in the preparation. Grains are much better tolerated after a long soaking, even 3-4 days in some cases. I often advise people to soak such grains such as rice and millet in a large bowl or jar for 2-4 days before cooking, just to enhance their digestibility. Then if you use bone broth instead of water in the cooking your body will be better able to tolerate them.
With seeds and nuts the trick is to soak them in salt water and dehydrate them as described in Nourishing Traditions.
Sprouted grain flour, which is now commercially available over the internet, can be used to make flour products easier to digest, although those having trouble with grains may want to also soak the flour. Alternative types of flour such as coconut flour can also be used.
If none of these tricks allows you to tolerate grain and seed foods, then I suggest getting your complex carbohydrates from such starchy vegetables as cooked sweet potatoes, white potatoes, parsnips, carrots and beets, always served with liberal amounts of butter or other fat.
The third and final group is the vegetable group. In this group the key is to understand the relative amounts of cellulose or fiber in the various vegetables. With low fiber vegetables such as lettuce, or vegetables that are really fruits such as tomatoes or cucumbers, no cooking is required for most people. Strange as it may seem, however, some people need to avoid raw vegetables entirely and only eat them cooked.
High fiber vegetables such as spinach, chard, asparagus, etc., require steaming, blanching or some other quick cooking technique to soften the fiber and make the vegetable easier to digest. Some vegetables really require a long cooking, such as kale, collards, mustard greens or turnip greens, as is the wise custom among people who eat these foods. (These “greens” are also traditionally cooked with pork fat.)
Lacto-fermentation also softens and digests fiber in foods, making them more digestible. Here I am thinking primarily of cabbage, which is best eaten as lacto-fermented sauerkraut. The consumption of sauerkraut with each meal also aids the digestion of the other food groups.
With this approach, practically everyone can find a traditional diet that works for them.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2007.