Dr. Price and the Underlying Theme of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration

Thank you everyone for the comments on both this post, as well as all of the helpful comments, suggestions, and stories on my post asking for advice for eczema. So helpful! In fact, I loved having everyone share so much, I have all sorts of topics I would love to put on here for you to offer your thoughts. Stay tuned!

In the past few years, I’ve come to respect the work of Dr. Price and his book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. He is just one man with one man’s limited research, but nevertheless it is remarkable! I don’t agree with all of his viewpoints, and some of his research isn’t spot on. But his underlying theme and conclusion is very helpful and enlightening. I wanted to introduce this remarkable man to you today.

Who is he?

Dr. Weston A Price was a dentist who lived from 1870 to 1948 when industrial foods were just starting to spread like wildfire. Spurred on by the death of his own son from a tooth infection and his own personal experience with tooth decay while eating a typical diet, he became intrigued by the question “Why do teeth decay?”.

That question led him onto a much larger journey where he studied the effect that new industrial foods had on people in comparison to their traditional diets. He literally traveled the world and studied and compared people who were eating the “new foods” such as canned foods, jams, white sugar, white flour, and vegetable oil, to those who ate their traditional fare. His discoveries are very relevant and helpful to us today.

He observed and studied 14 healthy peoples groups varying from the United States, to Switzerland, to Peru to Africa. All of these people groups ate very different diets, but they had more in common then you would think at first glance.

The first observation he had was that those who ate their county’s traditional food were robust and healthy with wide jaws to support good teeth structure, very few to zero cavities, and a resistance to the common plagues of that time such as tuberculosis. Those who ate a lot of the new foods, like refined sugar and flour and the vegetable oils, often had rampant tooth decay and little resistance to disease. He documented the pictures of people’s teeth and facial structure showing how vast of a difference there was between those who ate traditional foods and those who didn’t. The difference was often alarming.

Afterwards, he treated children who were sick and who had severe tooth decay by feeding them a very full and good lunch with excellent results. He arranged for them to be fed mineral rich stews made out of bone broths (including the marrow bones), milk (which would have been raw), vegetables, butter, some fruit, and whole wheat bread made out of freshly ground wheat, as well as cod liver oil. A very large percentage of these children started healing their cavities (something I had no idea was possible until I read his book), despite the fact that this was only their lunch. Being poor, they ate white flour based breakfasts and dinners.

While he documented a limited amount of people groups (and there are so many people groups it would have been fascinating for him to have been able to study), he was able to pick up very distinct patterns in all 14 of the healthy robust people groups he did study. While their diets varied dramatically, certain principles were true across the board. It’s those principles that best serve us.

After reading through his book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, the main theme or principle  I picked up on was the importance of a diet full of nutrient dense foods (which were found in a diversity of diets).

The Definition of “Nutrient Dense” Foods

“Nutrient dense” is a phrase we throw around a lot. But what does that mean? While, to my memory, I don’t think that Dr. Price actually used that phrase, his research uncovered a significant difference in traditional diets. They were full of minerals and vitamins, especially ones such as calcium, vitamin A and D, and K2. They were often in percentages much higher than the typical American diet of his time. (Dr. Price dried food samples from each group he studied and had labs analyize nutrients from the foods). I don’t think that there was a single, healthy people group that didn’t have high amounts of these nutrients in their daily diets. Dr. Price came to the logical conclusion that if we wanted to have the robust health like these people, we should also eat foods that are high in these nutrients.

And, once again, what’s interesting is that everyone ate such diverse diets, but all had such high amounts of certain nutrients! Naturals sources of vitamin A and D are found in cod liver oil, and vitamin K2 is found in butter of cows eating fast growing greens. Dr. Price used those two in conjunction together after his research, along with mineral rich stews, meats, seafood, milk and produce for foods that were familiar to Americans.

The Variability of a “Good” Diet

I feel that those who seek “the ultimate” health food diet are overlooking the fact that not only is there a wide variety of diets that could be quite healthful, but that we very well may do best on different foods. Let’s take a look at a few of the diets, Dr. Price studied.

Switzerland: Dark Rye Bread, Homemade cheese and butter from grass fed cows (with particular value placed on spring butter that was made when the grass was growing rapidly) and generally one meat dish a week as well as soups made out of the leftover meat dish.

British Isles: Oats, Seafood, Produce

Masai Tribe: Milk (often soured), blood from cattle during the dry season of milking, and meat

Maori: Shellfish, kelp, grubs, fern roots and other produce and seafood.

Peruvian: Parched corn and beans, coca leaves (as in, cocaine!), fish, fruits and vegetable (among other food items depending on which group of Isolated Peruvians he was studying).

Everyone’s menu varied some if not dramatically, yet everyone seemed to have similar health. As we consider what it means to “eat well”, it’s important to remember that there isn’t some regimented perfect diet that the whole planet should eat. It can and even should be diverse considering our genetic backgrounds.

Dr. Price was most certainly an extraordinary man who uncovered the riches of traditional diets. For that, I am very thankful.

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

Comments

  1. Karey says

    Wait a second – cocoa leaves are cocaine? Like the plant the grows the cocoa bean? Because that could explain a lot about my addiction to chocolate. 🙂

    Sorry, that just stood out to my naive little mind.

    But in all seriousness, Thank you for your post of Weston A. Price. The more I learn about him, the more fascinating his life and theories become. I should really buy his book!

    • says

      Think that should be coca leaves. Yep, two different plants.

      Great post! I think one of the most interesting aspects of Price’s research is how varied the diets he studied were. Some WAP fans have a tendency to demonize grains or carbs the same way mainstream nutrition has demonized traditional fats, which to me seems counterproductive.

    • says

      Think that should be coca leaves – yep, two different plants!

      Great post. I think part of what’s so interesting about Price’s research the large variety of the diets he studied. Some WAP fans have a tendency to demonize grains or carbs the way mainstream nutritionists have demonized traditional fats, which to me seems counterproductive.

      • says

        Dr. Price spelled it cocoa. I believe that the more common spelling is coca, but it seems to be used as cocoa in other places as well. Like on this link: http://www.bermuda.org.uk/cocaine.htm. They say ” Cocoa leaves (the raw ingredient for cocaine) have been chewed by Andean Indians for over five thousand years.”

        But no, not related to chocolate. 🙂

  2. says

    Great post! It’s nice to be reminded that WAP isn’t solely about grass-fed meat & dairy and organ meats. Although a key component, they are a piece to a bigger puzzle. It’s so easy to come to the defense of healthy fats (that have been unfairly demonized) that we sometimes unintentionally downplay or neglect the importance of other whole foods.
    Very nicely written and well rounded! 🙂

  3. Karey says

    Wait a second – cocoa leaves are cocaine? Like the plant the grows the cocoa bean? Because that could explain a lot about my addiction to chocolate. 🙂

    Sorry, that just stood out to my naive little mind.

    But in all seriousness, Thank you for your post on Weston A. Price. The more I learn about him, the more fascinating his life and theories become. I should really buy his book!

    • says

      I said this above, but here’s my answer again. 🙂

      Dr. Price spelled it cocoa. I believe that the more common spelling is coca, but it seems to be used as cocoa in other places as well. Like on this link: http://www.bermuda.org.uk/cocaine.htm. They say ” Cocoa leaves (the raw ingredient for cocaine) have been chewed by Andean Indians for over five thousand years.”

  4. says

    The key is the variety of nutrient-dense foods available all around the world; No one perfect, super food. Our bodies are amazing creations which take so much abuse in today’s world, but if we feed them well, they will hold their own. If we feed them well, strengthen them with sunshine and a bit of exercise, they will stay illness-free and serve us well.

  5. Andrea says

    Lovely post! Just curious, Kimi, what do you not agree with that Dr. Price advocates? I’m always interested to hear other opinions!

    • says

      One example would be an overemphasis on the role that nutrition plays in criminals. Now, I am not saying that it doesn’t. I am sure that many maniacs were unbalanced because of a severe problem in their body’s chemistry. But I also think that many well nourished people committed terrible injustices. It’s a problem of the heart. That would be one difference of opinion. 🙂

      • Tim says

        I agree with you, Kimi. I, too, had a problem with some things I read in Dr. Price’s book. I’ve read elsewhere–it may have been the WAPF website–that Dr. Price taught Sunday School for many years. Yet, there are many things in his book that lead me to believe that he was not a Christian.

        • Chloe says

          It is interesting to note that some schools (and I’m sure some parents as well) have seen dramatic changes in behavior when the diet for school lunches is changed to something closer to a real food one. I don’t completely agree with Dr. Price’s conclusions, but there are some marked behavioral differences in children who have good diets versus those who are fed solely sodas or white bread. Maybe he was just extrapolating his studies with young children to adult choices.

      • Kim says

        Thank you for posting this, and for the discussion. I have read that Dr. Price disagreed strongly with root canals and thought they introduced bacteria into the rest of the body, and the alternative was to get the tooth pulled in a special way so as to shave into the bone to a certain degree. Do you agree with this part of his teachings? I struggled with a bad tooth for years and really was unsure what to do when I read that. I did end up getting the root canal, and then stuggled with being able to fully embrace his teachings without feeling somewhat like a hypocrite. Did you have trouble reconciling your disbelief in some of his ideas with your belief in others?

  6. says

    Great post. I know what you mean about unintentionally downplaying the importance of all whole foods. There can be a tendency to demonize an entire category of foods when this is not realistic nor deserved. Just as vegans somtimes demonize all meat by only talking about the meat from factory farms, so do we meat eaters sometimes demonize foods like soy by talking about GMO soy or highly processed soy. The key words here are “whole foods” and “varied diet” . I also strongly believe that your attitude towards the food you eat has an important influence on your health. I know people who claim to “eat perfectly” and they never deviate from their healthy diets – not once. Yet, they aren’t healthy or really very happy. Another thing these indigenous cultures have in common is the fact that they spend time chewing and eating. This has a tremendous effect on the ability to digest food well. I am old enough to remeber hour long school lunches. My children had 20 minutes when theyw ere in high school. This is a travesty!

    • says

      20 minutes! How terrible! No wonder so many teens turn to quick fixes like candy!

      But yes, I think that a healthy diet can be quite varied. But the one constant is the vitamin and mineral rich foods. 🙂

  7. Veronica says

    Great post. Thank you. One correction: (I’m from Peru) It’s not cocoa, that’s incorrect. It’s coca leaves.

    • KimiHarris says

      Hi Veronica,

      Perhaps, spelling it “cocoa” is just a common misspelling then, as both Dr. Price and other articles have spelled it like that. Regardless, I felt like I needed to change it, as it was causing unnecessary confusion. 🙂

  8. Beth says

    Nice post! How lucky we are to have the legacy of his work, and that he had the vision and wherewithal to do what he did at a rather unique time when you could compare modern “civilized” groups side by side with isolated “primitive” groups before civilization reached their doorstep.

    Here’s an article people might find interesting for some further reading:
    http://westonaprice.org/abcs-of-nutrition/960-the-right-price

  9. Sarah says

    I’ve read it Price’s work too.
    He emphasized that all had in common a small amount of fatty protein, and whole unrefined foods.
    His other point was, that refined foods, white flour and sugar, when substituted for the whole food diet, caused physical degeneration in offspring. The refined diet weakened and show increase in sickness TB (a serious wasting disease at the time) and dental decay and crooked teeth in those communities.

    The degeneration could be reversed in future generations by resuming the healthy diet.
    It wasn’t a genetic shift, only the results of malnutrition.

    • says

      Hi Sarah,

      To clarify, do you mean that they all had in common eating at least some animal protein and fat? Some of the people he studied ate pretty large amounts of animal protein (others small).

      And yes, he also talked about the offspring’s health being nutritionally based, rather than genetic, as well as the dental issues and TB as mentioned in my post. 🙂

  10. Rachel says

    Great article. Once we began learning about Dr. Weston Price and after reading Nourishing Traditions we started to get away from supplements and put a focus on eating a more natural, healthy varied diet. We no longer take costly vitamins but instead sought out (and finally found!) raw milk, grass fed beef and other naturally raised animals for meat, we try to eat a large variety of fruits and vegetables – both cooked and raw. Grains, we’re still working on improving that, like soaking/sourdoughs etc. We use butter, coconut oil and other healthy animal fats. We also cut out excess sugar from our diets as well.
    It’s amazing to me after reading NT and so many blogs that there’s still so much to learn!! It’s very encouraging as well, when you see the results in your own health and also in your kids. My kids will still catch the odd cold or if a particularily nasty strain of stomach flu is going around, but overall they are very healthy and when they do get sick they’re better in 1-2 days – not dragged out for a week or more. I credit the raw milk with the most positive health changes. Our eldest son, now 8 was an extremely picky eater, only gained 2-3 lbs between ages 5-7 (dr. said, oh it’s fine, no problem), after 4 months on raw milk put on 6lbs!!!! That sealed the deal for me! Plus, prior to that he had already had 3 cavities (he’s the only 1 of our 4 kids to have cavities). Since then, nothing. He had one they were watching 3 years ago and it’s still fine or might even be gone now! Sorry, this got so long. I guess what I’m saying is Yay to Dr. Price!!!!!!!

  11. Kristina says

    I would love to hear your thoughts in a future post about food and ethnicity, which foods we may do better on based on our ancestry. I’ve heard a little about this but I’d love to know more.

    Your post was very well put, by the way 🙂

  12. Jenny Odegard says

    Eating whole foods, natural foods, including meats, fats, whole grains, yogurt, butter, foods grown close to home…it just makes so much sense. I have tried various diets over the years, and eating this way, – just feels good, like home. I feel happy and healthy, and I can eat as much as i want to, fats and all – along with exercise, my body seems to like it. It is great to have permission to eat fats! I have found my food “home” and it feels good!

    I’d love to hear more about the idea that teeth can heal too…

    thanks for your wonderful blog, Kimi.

  13. Stan Hoover says

    I read all 600+ pages cover to cover some years ago, devouring every word. Yet your review was very helpful.

    I’d encourage all your readers to get a copy. I have one on my Kindle…just for quick reference. Pretty cheap too, if I recall.

    Good work, Kim. And you manage a great website!

    Stan

  14. Katie says

    This book changed my life. I don’t look at nutrition in the same way anymore… from the way we eat, look, think and act…it’s all related. I’m so glad I found it before I had children, to try to improve their nutrition and my own. I’ve since included raw milk, kefir, bone broth, grassfed beef and plenty of pastured chicken eggs into my diet. I’ve gotten rid of allergies and haven’t been sick through a tough New England winter.

    Thank you for writing this blog post and shedding light on such an important work.

    Katie

  15. says

    Well said! Great summary of the work of Dr. Price in a succinct blog post. I studied his work when I was in College (on my own) and you have inspired me to get my hands on the original book again.

    The varied diets with the common denominator of good health reminds me that we need to find what works for us, and there are so many different ways to nourish ourselves according to genes, tradition, likes and location, etc. There’s not just one road to health, but many possibilities when the laws of nature are respected and our intuition is trusted.

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