In researching my upcoming book on traditional cooking, I was fascinated to see how many cultures ate particular food combinations. Certain foods and spices would always be eaten together. I saw this in the traditional cuisines of Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, Latin America, almost everywhere. Why were these foods always combined in a particular cuisine?
I did a bit of research and was delighted to find that science has verified the health benefits of some of these traditional food combinations.
Our ancestors were remarkably well informed about the foods they ate, even without science and research. They had their traditions, which represented the collected knowledge of their ancestors, passed down from father to son, from mother to daughter, over the centuries. Not all of these traditions have been verified, but some of them have been.
Some Verified Benefits of Traditional Food Combinations
Throughout traditional Europe, bread was always eaten with butter. In areas were butter was hard to get, bread was always eaten with some other fat. In many areas it was pork lard or pork fat, often spread on the bread while still raw. Bread was also fried in bacon grease. Olive oil was sometimes used, especially in Southern Italy. But some kind of fat, usually a lot of fat, was always spread on the bread.
Potatoes were also always eaten with fat, including butter, cheese, cream, lard, bacon, chicken fat, duck fat, beef tallow, lamb tallow, and other animal fats.
Bread and potatoes are very high in carbohydrates, and can cause glycemic effects that can harm the body.
Science has verified that fat slows the absorption of the sugar from carbohydrates. This can slow down and often prevent the harmful “sugar rush” effect of eating carbs and sugars. Thus the traditions of always eating these carb-heavy foods with fat had a definite health benefit.
Another example is the Chinese seasoning combination of garlic, ginger, and green onions, which is used in a huge number of traditional Chinese dishes. All of these vegetables have proven antibacterial and blood purifying effects, and ginger is known to help digestion. There was an old Chinese belief that ginger drove “the devils” out of the food. The numerous health benefits of garlic have been proven by science, as have the antibacterial effects of green onions. The combination of all three has not been tested, but I suspect that they are even more effective in combination.
Turmeric has proven antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities, and recent research has shown that it may help the natural processes of the body avoid Alzheimer’s disease. Even more recent research has shown that the helpful effect of turmeric is substantially increased when it is consumed with black pepper, which has a substance that works to increase the beneficial effects of curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric).
Turmeric is a very common spice in India, being a component of almost every curry spice combination. Turmeric is nearly always combined with black pepper in these dishes.
India may have the lowest rate of Alzheimer’s disease in the developed world.
These are just a few of the traditional food combinations whose beneficial qualities have been verified by science. There are many others. There are other food combinations that have not been tested, but I suspect that they are very beneficial as well.
Hippocrates, the greatest of ancient physicians, said it best, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Words of wisdom.
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