Compared with many cultures in the West and beyond, Turks are quite healthy as evident from the many physical characteristics they exhibit such as their shiny hair, glowing skin, healthy weight and whatnot. However, none of these factors come without sacrifice and the sacred knowledge of health practices that have been passed on from generation to generation here in Turkey. Some of these customs are unique to these precious lands, and some are just good practices especially during this time when maintaining our optimal health is more important than ever.
Thus, let’s take a look at some of the great traditions that have been instilled in Turkish culture to cleanse ourselves of toxins and strengthen our immune systems as we head into the colder season of fall.
Turkish bath time
A prominent feature of the Ottoman Empire and prevalent in Islamic culture worldwide, the Turkish bath, aka "hamam," is a wonderful way to kick-start the detoxification process after a sweltering summer. By sitting in a room heated by steam, we perspire, which is one of the most effective ways of releasing built-up toxins. In addition, as part of the tradition, the exfoliating scrub removes dead skin and the soap massage that follows helps release toxins, both of which are excellent practices to clean and rejuvenate our bodies.
Simple as a bar of soap
In Turkey, the widespread tradition for hundreds, if not thousands, of years has been to use homemade olive oil soaps for cleansing our bodies and even our hair. These days, large rectangular and square soap bars are regularly available in all markets and spice shops, called “aktar” in Turkish, and are offered in a variety of aromas and with added herbs, making for a much-preferred option to artificial fragrance-laded shower gels and shampoos.
Slip on some slippers
Many foreigners perceive as petty the Turkish tradition of taking off shoes before entering the home and donning slippers; however, they are greatly mistaken. There is ancient knowledge in this good practice, which should be adopted by all of us in the modern world. Did you know that one of the main causes of lead and other heavy metals in our homes is the fact that we bring it in on our shoes after pounding the pavement?
Prepping the Turkish pantry
Every year at the end of summer, households throughout Turkey engage in a number of pantry preparation processes to ensure a variety of beloved food items are stored at their optimal time to then be consumed in the winter months. This month and next is when the tomatoes and red peppers are at their ripest and are painstakingly boiled down and conserved as tomato and pepper paste and sauce. Don’t fret if you don’t have the means to do it yourself as many charcuteries and stalls at farmers' markets will also have these handmade and additive-free products for sale to stock your winter pantry. With both tomatoes and red peppers containing high amounts of vitamins C and A, they serve as excellent antioxidants and immunity boosters for the colder months.
Timing is everything
One of the most healthy aspects of Turkish cuisine is the fact that for the most part fresh vegetables and fruits are consumed when ripe and in season when they offer optimal nutrition in the form of vitamins and minerals. While this style of eating is currently a health trend in the Western world, in Turkey it has always been the norm and is just good practice. Not only do we get the most nutritional benefit possible out of what we consume, but we also refrain from contributing to further harming the environment through not having to transport or use chemicals to produce products out of season or locality.
You go yogurt
Yogurt, which any layman to the Turkish culture could see, is widely prevalent in Turkey and adorns nearly every dish of kebabs, meze or vegetables, in addition to it being the main ingredient in the country’s national savory beverage “ayran.” Considering that it is both high in antioxidants and probiotics, yogurt serves as an excellent aid to assist in digestion and having healthy gut flora. Its healthy dose of friendly bacteria not only helps with weight loss but is also key to detoxifying the harmful toxins in the digestive system. In Turkey, it is regular practice for households to prepare their own yogurt, and the yeast used for preparation is regularly available at markets and pharmacies or you can use yogurt itself, providing it has live cultures in the ingredient list. Then, all you need is a pot with a lid and milk, fresh and nonpreserved.
Kefir is even better
Kefir is a fermented milk product that is similar, yet thinner in consistency to yogurt. A fantastic source of nutrients, kefir contains even more friendly microorganisms, aka probiotics, than yogurt and has strong antibacterial properties, serving as a natural antibiotic. Its name is derived from the Turkish word for “joy,” which is “keyif.” As the story goes, it was the Prophet Muhammed who shared its secret with the nomads from the Caucasus. Kefir is made from the fermentation of kefir grains and milk and is consumed as a healthy beverage. The ideal way to take on the kefir tradition is to purchase kefir grains, referred to as “maya,” from organic product sellers online or from spice shops. Once you have the kefir grains, you can continue to grow them by adding milk, letting them sit and then consuming it every day.