The last column discussed Dr. Weston Price, the dentist who became disillusioned with traditional dentistry, and turned to studying the link between nutrition and dental health, looking for what would be the ideal human diet. His first discovery was that humans eating “traditional” diets were largely free of dental cavities, as well as most of the chronic diseases that are a part of normal life for people who eat “foods of commerce,” specifically white flour and sugar.
That idea is not really too earth shattering, or even controversial, however, his biggest contribution was to document just how high a price we pay when we turn to eating “modern foods.” For example, The Maori of New Zealand were a typical tribe that was examined by Price. He found that among most whites, living on processed foods, about 30 to 50 percent of their teeth were attacked by cavities. There were schools set up by the Europeans for the children of the tribes; the Europeans fed these children their “foods of commerce,” and the percentage of these children’s teeth with cavities was 22 percent. However, when he examined the teeth of the Maori who still ate their traditional foods (primarily seafood, especially clams and fish, with seaweed) the percent of affected teeth was only 2 percent. He noted other differences in their overall health as well, including resistance to infection and the ability to stay active in advanced age.
His next observation is a little more controversial.
He discovered that the healthiest groups were the ones that had diets rich in foods considered to be unhealthy by modern science. These included foods high in saturated fats, from animal products. He makes the statement that none of the vegetarian groups he studied were as healthy as the meat eating ones (although they were still healthier than “civilized people” eating the foods of commerce.) As the most nutrient dense foods, animal products, especially organ meats, were often used medicinally. Price felt the fat-soluble vitamins, especially vitamins A and D, were a key factor in the improved health status of traditional cultures, including their strong teeth; and he noted that most native diets had 10 times more fat-soluble vitamins than modern diets.
Price decried the state of nutrition training at his time; he states that a 1939 survey of medical schools showed that of the 76 schools, only 20 had a nutrition class, and of the 39 dental schools only 15 offered any nutrition training. Unfortunately, nutrition continues to take a backseat in current medical training; a 2006 article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that only 40 percent of medical schools provide what is considered a minimum of 25 hours of nutrition training, and some schools effectively provide none. (The school I graduated from-Cleveland Chiropractic College — currently requires 60 hours.)
The reason Price called white flour, sugar and canned foods the “foods of commerce” was because they were better designed for the business of transporting and selling than for nutrition. The biggest advantage the foods of commerce have over traditional foods is shelf life. They last a long time compared to fresh, whole foods, so they can be carried on ships or on horseback, and can even be traded like money. Also, they have a more consistent quality (consistently low quality, but at least consistent) that can be relied on. And our culture certainly prefers them to the more nutrient dense foods; most kids, given the choice between a sugary cereal and a vegetable omelet for breakfast, will choose the cereal. Sugary foods have been shown to be literally addictive- really, the ultimate food of commerce! We have come to the point where every day in America, one third of our children between the ages of 4 and 19 will eat at a fast food restaurant.
Price does not recommend that we all go back to living in huts, hunting and gathering our own foods; with a little effort, we can eat very healthy meals with what is available to us. The healthiest humans he found lived in accordance with Nature’s laws; his motto was, “Life in all its fullness is Mother Nature obeyed”. In contrast, modern science seems bent on “improving” on natural foods. From recommending hydrogenated fats (which are now known to be toxic) to the creation of artificial sweeteners for weight loss (which have been shown to actually lead to weight gain) to the idea that highly refined vitamins make up for the nutrition lost with processing foods (they don’t), we have again and again been given terrible advice by modern science trying to do Mother Nature one better.
Maybe that grass hut looks pretty good after all… as long as it has Internet access.
Dr. Michael Noonan practices chiropractic, acupuncture and other wellness therapies in Old Town. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.