Nutrition and Physical Degeneration

Weston Price’s masterpiece, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects (1939), is online here. The chapters I like are the ones where he visits eleven groups of people around the world and compares those eating traditional diets with those eating modern ones. Those eating traditional diets had very few cavities, even though they didn’t brush their teeth. They also had very little “dental malocculsion” — crooked teeth caused by a too-small jaw. This was presumably because they got enough of certain growth factors in childhood. (The NIH health encyclopedia says dental malocclusion “is most often hereditary”–a mistake that speaks volumes.) The main thing I learned from this book was the importance of fat (to supply fat-soluble micronutrients) including animal fat. (There’s an evolutionary reason we like the taste of fat.) Swiss in isolated areas had to grow almost all of their food in spite of living in the mountains. They ate lots of dairy products, especially butter; apparently they were in good health because their dairy animals ate lots of fresh green grass, high in all sorts of necessary micronutrients including ones that may not yet have been identified. The isolated Swiss also ate lots of whole grain bread. To walk around any supermarket and see all these labels saying “low-fat” as if it were a good thing makes me think of the Middle Ages when people had all sorts of strange ideas about what caused disease — such as too much excitement.

This book seems to be emerging from obscurity due to mentions by Michael Pollan in In Defense of Food (2008) and Gary Taubes in Good Calories, Bad Calories (2007).

11 Responses to “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration

  1. John Says:

    Where in Good Calories, Bad Calories does Taubes mention Weston A. Price? I couldn’t find it and don’t remember it being in there. It certainly fits the theme of the book. I’m glad to see you mentioning it regardless.

  2. Charles Says:

    Based on Taubes’s recommendation, I picked up the book from Amazon, and read it cover-to-cover. It’s worth doing so to get the full message, and Price’s support for his arguments.

    While there seems to be some disagreement as to the influence of nutrition on facial structure, it’s awfully hard to argue with the pictures of generations and see the changes over time as their nutrition changes from a traditional diet to a westernized (Processed carbohydrates-based) diet.

    In particular the repeated pattern of no tooth decay on traditional diets vs. increasing tooth decay on western diets was a revelation. We have accepted tooth decay as normal and natural, but it appears it isn’t at all.

    Disgusting as it may sound, I almost never brushed my teeth growing up. Maybe 2-3 times a year. But I never had bad breath, and I never had a cavity until I was in my 20s. Not one. And I ate lots of sugar and was overweight. The rest of the family had plenty of cavities. The only difference is that in my early 20s, I stopped drinking milk. Up until that time I was drinking upwards of a half gallon a day. When I stopped, I started to get cavities. Not many, but it went from zero to a few within a few years. Price would have understood this immediately.

    This kind of study is probably impossible at this point in history. When Price and his wife were traveling in the early 30s, transportation and the degree of modernization was such that there were still genetically-identical populations that could be separated by only a short distance, and where one of the group might be eating a traditional diet and the other a westernized diet, so you could reasonably and easily compare the two. that isn’t the case anymore I don’t think.

  3. David Brown Says:

    Charles,

    The Kitava Study is an interesting example of recent research similar to Dr. Price’s. You can Google “Kitava Study” or paste http://paleodiet.com/lindeberg/ into your browser.

    David Brown
    Nutrition Education Project

  4. Charles Says:

    I think Price was mentioned in Seth’s interview with him. At least that’s where I remember seeing it.

  5. Stephen M (Ethesis) Says:

    Thanks for that link, a good reminder.

  6. Varangy Says:

    To walk around any supermarket and see all these labels saying “low-fat” as if it were a good thing makes me think of the Middle Ages when people had all sorts of strange ideas about what caused disease — such as too much excitement.

    One day, low-fat diets will be seen for what they are — the contemporary version of bloodletting.

  7. seth Says:

    John, Taubes mentions Price in the acknowledgements section of Good Calories, Bad Calories. Page 575. He says Nutrition and Physical Degeneration is the book that most affected his thinking but wasn’t mentioned.

  8. Seth’s blog » Blog Archive » Errors in The Queen of Fats Says:

    [...] Nutrition and Physical Degeneration [...]

  9. John Says:

    Aha! Thanks!

  10. Stephan Says:

    Just wanted to mention, in case some of you haven’t heard, Price’s “X-factor” has been identified as the menaquinone-4 form of vitamin K2. Chris Masterjohn wrote an article about it for the WAP foundation; I highly recommend it. Get this… K2 levels during development affect facial structure. Price truly was a genius.

  11. Lauren Says:

    re dental malocclusion: straight teeth in less industrial society probably results from lengthy breastfeeding as a child. I had an orthodontist who insisted that prolonged sucking on the roof of the mouth pulls the structure down a bit (with the nose as well) and that the lowering of this arched structure would push the sides of the arch outwards. So the jaws would become wider. He also contended that over time the arch narrows, the roof of the mouth moves up, the nose protrudes more, nasal cavity space is decreased and tmj problems may result. Certainly I have noticed that protruding noses and narrow faces go together. Perhaps sucking hard on marrow bones (or other difficult to extract foods ) would counter this effect of aging and/or the industrial world diet. I would love to know what you think!

    best,
    Lauren