Monday, February 1, 2010

Michael Pollan & Weston Price: Benefits of Traditional Diets

During his appearance on “The Oprah Show” last week, food writer Michael Pollan talked about the merits of traditional diets, no matter the foods that comprise them.

For example, the Inuit in Greenland subsist mostly on seal blubber (fat is 75 percent of their diet), yet they have no type 2 diabetes or heart disease.

“People eating a great variety of traditional diets do not suffer high rates of chroni
c disease,” Pollan said. “These come from the Western diet.”

This discussion reminded me of Weston Price, a dentist who studied this topic 75 years ago. I wrote about Price in July 2008; here's that post:

Weston Price: "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration"
July 15, 2008
I am in the midst of reading a fascinating book, “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration,” by Weston Price. The book details the ravages of the modern diet on “primitive” and “native” peoples throughout the world.

Price, a dentist from Cleveland, studied over a dozen distinct populations and described how “white flour, sugar and canned goods” affected the general overall health and the specific dental well-being of peoples ranging from mountain-dwelling Swiss to ocean centric Melanesians to land-locked African tribes.

In his chapter on the Canadian Eskimos, Price writes, “Like the Indian, the Eskimo thrived as long as he was not blighted by the touch of modern civilization, but with it, like all primitives, he withers and dies.”

One of the most shocking aspects of the book is that it was written in 1939, based on Price’s travels and research of the previous decade. Price was far ahead of his time in realizing the deleterious results of eating modern processed foods.

To think that his studies predated the introduction of more advanced(!) junk food—Gatorade, Doritos, Big Macs, etc.—by several decades is amazing. And to realize that the “natives” hadn’t yet encountered the real poisons of modern civilization—hormones, antibiotics and pesticides—is truly mind-blowing.

Price’s premise is simple: when relying on traditional foods, the indigenous peoples’ health remained consistently excellent. However, when modern foods began to be consumed, all hell broke loose. Price took extensive before and after photographs (which are in the book) that show marked changes in the dental and facial structures within the same groups.

Having conducted his research all over the globe in varying climes and environments, Price encountered traditional diets that varied tremendously, but were akin in their 100% local, seasonal and organic nature. (The natives probably had no idea how hip and cool they were.) However, once railroads, shipping ports and trading posts were established, the incidence of tooth decay skyrocketed in those natives that had started eating modern foodstuffs.

Discussing the inhabitants of the Cook Islands (within the South Sea Islands in the Pacific Ocean), Price writes:
"A large number were found in Rarotonga living almost entirely on native foods, and only 0.3 per cent of the teeth of these individuals have been attacked by dental caries. In the vicinity of Avarua, the principal port, however, the natives were largely living on trade foods, and among these 29.5 per cent of the teeth were found to have been attacked by dental caries."
Thankfully, there are still no McDonald’s and Taco Bells on Rarotonga, but I’m sure the numbers have gotten worse.

Click here for the Weston A. Price Foundation.


Anonymous said...

This makes so much sense. Thanks for the tip... I'll be investing in this book!

Kimberly Hartke said...

Thanks Rob for suggesting this post to me, I just tweeted it to our twitter followers. Now I will send it to our facebook fans.

wAPF Publicist

PS--would love to add you to my press list please send me a contact email.

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