November 28, 2012

Dr. Weston Price and the greatest nutrition study ever conducted

Dr. Weston Price was a brilliant dentist whose groundbreaking nutrition study during the 1930's filled an enormous gap in modern society's knowledge of nutrition. I tried countless "healthy diets" to try and relieve my chronic stomach pain, bloating and fatigue before stumbling upon his work - vegan, vegetarian, raw, paleo, grain-free, alkaline, Ayurveda, food combining, etc. - and I remember being extremely frustrated at the amount of conflict between the nutritional studies backing each of these "healthy diets". Furthermore, my stomach pain persisted, and every diet I tried took an enormous amount of self-discipline - I had a constant feeling of deprivation, like my body was opposed to my efforts to be healthy and wouldn't stop begging me for the "bad foods".

The moment I read about Dr. Weston Price, I knew my search was over. Finally, here was someone with the good sense to simply find the healthiest people in the world and ask them what they were eating!

Dr. Price travelled to many remote corners of the Earth in search of isolated "primitive" people who were still providing for themselves and living off the knowledge of their ancestors, and who hadn't yet been touched by the "modern foods" of the industrial revolution. His theory was that these people would be much healthier than the people living in modern cities, and he was absolutely right.

What he found was astounding. The isolated people he studied were free of degenerative disease, mental disorders and behavioral problems. Almost none of them had cavities or tooth decay, despite the fact that they didn't practice dental hygiene, and their teeth were perfectly straight. They were strong and energetic and healthy, even in old age, and able to thrive in even the most extreme temperatures and harsh environments.

Dr. Price had samples of their native foods sent to him in Cleveland and studied them in his laboratory. He found that their diets contained at least four times the minerals and water-soluble vitamins (vitamin C and the B vitamins) as the American diet of his day, and at least ten times the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K2. He would surely find an even greater difference these days due to industrial farming and concentrated animal feeding operations.

Furthermore, he found that as soon as modern foods were introduced into these remote areas, the health of the natives would immediately begin to deteriorate. Degenerative and infectious diseases began to set in, teeth started decaying, and children would be born with crowded and crooked teeth, narrowed faces, deformities of bone structure and reduced immunity to disease.

The diets Dr. Price studied were vastly different from each other: for example, there were the Swiss living off rich raw dairy products and rye bread, Eskimos living off fish, marine animals and seal blubber, Gaelic fishermen eating mostly fish and oats, and African cattle-keeping tribes eating mostly meat, blood and milk. Some of the healthiest people he studied ate hardly any plant foods! His research proved that nourishing your body isn't about the types of foods you eat - it's about quality and proper preparation!!

The 11 Principles

Despite the wide variety of diets Dr. Price studied, his findings can be summarized into 11 principles that they all had in common. Of all the "healthy diets" I've tried, no other has given me so much relief or made me feel as nourished and satisfied as following these 11 principles. I will probably be following these principles until the day I die! :)

  1. No refined or denatured foods, including refined grains, refined sugar, corn syrup, agave nectar, pasteurized dairy, skim/low fat dairy, refined or hydrogenated fats/oils, protein powders, table salt, preservatives, additives, artificial sweeteners, and canned foods.

  2. Every diet contained animal products - meat, eggs, fish, seafood, fish eggs, insects, and/or dairy. There are a number of essential nutrients found in plant foods that are much more abundant and much more easily assimilated by the human body when obtained from animal foods instead. These include calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and vitamin B6. Even more importantly, there are a number of essential nutrients found only in animal products: vitamins A, D, and K2 (also known as the "fat-soluble activators"), vitamin B12, cholesterol, and very long chain, superunsaturated fatty acids. [Note: despite what many think, the "vitamin A" in plant foods isn't truly vitamin A; it's beta-carotene, and although some adults can convert it to vitamin A, they do so very poorly.]

    The importance of vitamins A, D, and K2 was one of Weston Price's greatest discoveries. He actually discovered vitamin K2; at the time he called it "Activator X". He called these vitamins the "fat-soluble activators" because he found that they are absolutely essential for the body to be able to make use of protein and minerals in the diet: "It is possible to starve for minerals that are abundant in the foods eaten because they cannot be utilized without an adequate quantity of the fat-soluble activators!" (A quote from Dr. Price's book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration).

    If you are vegan or planning on trying veganism, please listen very closely to your body and honor any cravings you may have for animal products. Many peoples' bodies simply can't thrive on vegan or even vegetarian diets. :) If you're doing it for the animals, know that it is absolutely possible to find raw milk and eggs from healthy, happy, free-ranging animals. You just have to ask around and make some contacts with local farmers!

    If you want to read more, this page on the Weston Price Foundation website contains a number of articles related to the Foundation's stance on vegan and vegetarian diets.

  3. Every diet contained some raw animal products, such as raw meat, raw eggs, raw fish or seafood, raw fish eggs, raw insects, and my favorite, raw dairy.

  4. Extreme nutrient density! The foods these people ate were incredibly nutrient-rich. In particular, the animal products they ate were absolutely loaded with the fat-soluble activators, since the animals they came from spent their lives in the sunlight eating their natural diets! Furthermore, organs and fats were preferred over muscle meat since they contain a much denser supply of nutrients. When the hunting was good, muscle meats were often thrown away or fed to the dogs. Liver in particular is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can possibly eat, and the Weston Price Foundation recommends eating it regularly for optimal health!

    When it comes to plant foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, etc.), eat plants grown from healthy soil rather than sprayed with fertilizers - these are a band-aid solution to the problem of depleted soils caused by industrial agriculture and poor crop rotation. In other words, buy organic plant foods. Even better, grow your own plant foods or find a farmer who grows plant foods from "heirloom" seeds! Although organic plants are far superior to conventional plants, they're becoming less nutritious due to cross-breeding to maximize efficiency and feed the growing demand. "Heirloom" is a name for plants that are "still maintained by gardeners and farmers, particularly in isolated or ethnic communities; they may have been commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but are not used in modern large-scale agriculture".

    Finally, buy fresh, locally grown produce since vegetables and fruits lose more nutrients the longer they sit after being picked. Produce shipped from far away also needs to be picked before it ripens so that it doesn't go bad by the time it reaches the store. If fruits and vegetables are allowed to ripen while still attached to the plant, they will contain loads more nutrients, particularly vitamin C. Another great reason to grow your own or start visiting farmer's markets!

  5. High levels of enzymes and beneficial bacteria. The best sources for these by far are fermented foods, such as lacto-fermented vegetables, kombucha, kvass, kefir, yogurt, etc. Other great sources include raw animal products (listed above), raw honey, raw coconut, dates and other tropical fruits, and truly cold-pressed (raw) oils. When food contains plenty of enzymes, the body is spared from making them which means less energy spent on digestion and more energy for everything else! Try to eat the above foods raw whenever possible. If you get stomachaches or have weak digestion, including something fermented with every meal will be extremely beneficial for you!

  6. All seeds were soaked or sprouted. This includes grains, beans, and nuts too. This one seems to surprise people a lot, but it's a vital piece of traditional knowledge that desperately needs to be revived. See this post for everything you need to know about soaking and sprouting, including why it's so incredibly important!

  7. 30-80% of calories obtained from fat, with only ~4% from polyunsaturated fats (fats that are liquid even when chilled). Every village Weston Price studied ate high fat diets with plenty of saturated fat! It's time to dispel the myths that low-fat diets are healthy for us and saturated fats and cholesterol are bad for us once and for all. They are completely wrong and based on very faulty evidence. This has been proven time and time again, yet our society continues to cling to low-fat, vegetable-based diets hoping these will keep us healhy. Rather than cutting out fat, focus on eating fats from healthy, happy animals eating their natural diets and living in the sunlight and fresh air. Eat fresh, unrefined vegetable oils pressed from organic seeds/nuts/olives/coconuts and avoid hydrogenated fats such as margarine and shortening at all costs. Finally, eat as much fat as you feel like eating!!! Your body knows exactly how much fat it needs, so never restrict yourself! FAT DOESN'T MAKE YOU FAT. Low-fat diets and poor-quality fats make you fat, since they don't provide your body with the nutrients it needs, so it puts on weight to protect itself from starving! See this post for more on fats and oils.

  8. Nearly equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Once again we come back to the difference between animal products from free-roaming animals eating natural diets vs. confined animals eating man-made feed. Consumption of commercial eggs, dairy, fish, etc. has led to a massive imbalance in the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in modern civilization, not to mention a wide-spread deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids. Example: an egg from a pastured chicken contains the ideal balance of these fatty acids and a significant amount of omega-3's, while an egg from a battery chicken lacks omega-3's and has an omega-6:omega-3 ratio of approximately 20:1! Results are similar when comparing wild vs. farmed fish.

  9. All diets contained some salt. Salt is essential for brain development, good adrenal function, and digesting protein and carbs! Use unrefined sea salt or rock salt to follow the first principle.

  10. All traditional cultures made use of bones, usually by making them into bone broth.

  11. Provisions were made for future generations. Special nutrient-dense foods, such as fish eggs and shark liver oil, were given to parents-to-be (yes this includes the father - healthy sperm makes healthy babies!), pregnant and nursing women, and growing children. Often these foods were considered sacred, and people would go to great lengths to obtain them.

The 12th Principle?

There's one more principle that should be added to this list which is extremely important. If you've been eating a "modern diet" you may be used to craving refined grains and sugar and other "junk foods" all the time. As you start following these principles, your cravings for refined foods will disappear, and you will notice that they are replaced by cravings for a wide variety of very specific things. For example, at different times I've found myself with intense cravings for cayenne pepper, yams, oatmeal, eggs, ginger, leafy greens, tahini, matcha, dates and coconut, kitchari, beef, bacon, nut butters, cilantro, even alkalized water... and of course I never stop craving raw milk!

In addition to following Weston Price's 11 principles, honoring these cravings is one of the best things you can possibly do for your body! It doesn't matter how ridiculous the craving seems to you; your body is telling you exactly what it needs, so trust its innate knowledge above all else! I believe that our bodies are infinitely more intelligent than any of the latest nutritional science. Don't be tempted into any diets that restrict the types of foods you can eat, and never force yourself to eat something you don't feel like eating. Principle number 12 is:

  1. Listen to your body and give it exactly what it asks for!!! :)

In Summary...

  • No refined or denatured foods
  • Soak all seeds
  • DO NOT restrict your fat intake!
  • Eat animal products, bone broth, and plenty of fermented and high-enzyme foods
  • Eat some animal products raw
  • Meat and other animal products must come from wild or pastured animals that spend their lives outdoors, in the sunlight eating their natural diets! (Organic is a bonus but not the most important thing here)
  • If you eat meat, don't leave out the organ meats and fat
  • Eat organic and organic heirloom plant foods whenever possible
  • Eat local produce or even better, grow your own
  • Listen to your body!

Additional Resources

  • Check out the Weston Price Foundation website! It contains a ton of fantastic nutrition information.
  • The Foundation website also has a list of volunteer chapter leaders who can help you track down foods in your area which follow these principles. The list is sorted by country/province/state. There's a good chance there's a chapter leader pretty close to you!
  • If you want an amazing read, Dr. Price's book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration is available online here or on Amazon here. It's a fascinating firsthand account of his travels and adventures while studying primitive people all over the world!
  • Check out Sally Fallon's cookbook, Nourishing Traditions - it's full of recipes, stories and information based on Dr. Price's work. Sally Fallon is the current president of the Weston Price Foundation.
  • The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care is another book by Sally Fallon that provides recipes and nutrition advice for babies and growing children based on Weston Price's work, as well as childcare advice and natural treatments for a number of childhood illnesses.
  • Here's a fascinating video of Sally Fallon speaking at the 2012 Wise Traditions Conference in London about Weston Price's travels, the 11 principles and what makes a healthy diet.

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