Traditional Wellness Wisdom

Dr. Weston A. Price speaks on “the worst foods you can eat”

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Dr. Weston A. Price, author of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, traveled around the world in the 1930s to isolated locations. His goal? To discover through the lens of observing physical human health what were the causes of dental decay and malformations, and physical degeneration he observed in his own dental practice in Cleveland, Ohio.  He learned that individuals with evidence of chronic illness and disease all consumed one or more of these 3 ingredients:

  • Vegetable oils
  • White flour
  • Refined sugar

He referred to these as “the displacing foods of modern commerce”. He found that those who had replaced the traditional foods of their ancestors with these ingredients showed signs of degenerative and chronic disease including bone and joint problems, dental caries and crooked teeth, heart disease, cancer, mental and emotional disorders, and many others.

In his analysis, Dr. Price also learned that traditional foods consumed by isolated primitive peoples provided at least 4 times the amount of calcium and other minerals, and in some cases up to 10 times the amount of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2 from animal foods including butter, shellfish, fish eggs, and the organ meats of animals and birds.

In the modern food supply, vegetable oils, white flour, and refined sugar are pervasive. They can be found in many foods sold in most grocery stores or supermarkets, and also restaurants.

In Dr. Price’s time, he noted that these foods were becoming more common in developed countries, and there was a clear distinction in the health of his patients in the U.S. and that of the traditional cultures he visited in his travels.

Today, the average health condition of someone living in an industrialized country reflects those changes. Those differences in health are even more pronounced than during the time when Dr. Price was living, as Dietary Guidelines from the USDA and other sources advise us to avoid animal foods and embrace a low-fat diet with more fruits, vegetables, and grains.

“The worst foods you can eat…”

I’ve seen lists of the “worst foods you can eat”. Many of these contain products such as doughnuts, hotdogs, chips, soda, frozen meals, and other products high in carbs or sugar.  Most people would agree: these foods are without a doubt, harmful to your health.

However, ingredients are everything.

For instance, a doughnut normally made with white flour, white sugar, and vegetable oil could be converted to a healthier recipe if it were made with organic sprouted or soaked, freshly-ground whole wheat flour, fried in lard from pastured pigs, and sprinkled with coconut palm sugar and cinnamon. A hotdog could also be a healthy choice if the meat were sourced from animals raised on pasture with no hormones, antibiotics, GMOs or pesticides, and with no artificial additives or preservatives other than herbs and salt.

I’m not advocating that we simply trade commercial for homemade doughnuts and eat them with abandon. I just want to point out that when we encounter articles with advice about why we should avoid certain foods, the consideration of ingredients and where our food actually comes from is far too many times completely overlooked.  

Modern, processed foods all have some basics in common. Many contain harmful chemicals, MSG, food dyes and colors, preservatives, emulsifiers, and other additives. Those ingredients have increased exponentially in modern diets, of that there is no mistake.

On a basic ingredient level, however, a majority of processed foods contain one or more of these”displacing foods of modern commerce” Dr. Price so noted in his research. When I come across these lists, the damaging qualities of these all-too common ingredients is in many cases, copiously absent from pertinent discussion about what constitutes “the worst foods you can eat.”

Let’s take a look at why these 3 ingredients highlighted by Dr. Price are such trouble-makers:

Vegetable oils

These products are frequently recommended by conventional health authorities for optimal health.  To avoid heart disease and related problems such as obesity, stroke, and high blood pressure, we are also told to reduce or avoid saturated fats from animal and other foods.

Despite the fact that these recommendations have been provided by health and medical authorities for decades, chronic health problems are on the rise.  The American Heart Association proposes eating the following for better health:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains
  • low-fat dairy products
  • poultry
  • fish and nuts
  • limit red meat and sugary foods and beverages.

And yet, the damage our health has incurred due to consumption of vegetable oils is still largely unrecognized.  Vegetable oils include canola, corn, soybean, sunflower, safflower, and cottonseed.

Reasons to avoid vegetable oils:

  1. Vegetable oils are comprised of polyunsaturated fats, which are extremely fragile. These oils cannot be produced by natural separation like coconut oil, butter, olive oil, and other traditional fats. These undergo harsh chemical extraction and are subjected to deodorization and high heat processed, and modified from their original state. By the time they make it to your kitchen shelf, they are rancid from processing and sitting for weeks or months in distribution centers and at the store.
  2. Most vegetable oils come from foods or crops that are genetically-modified such as soy, corn, canola, and cotton. They are also heavily sprayed with pesticides and herbicides during the growing process. Food manufacturers use petroleum solvents and high heat chemical processes to extract the oil. A second process of heat and the use of acid is employed to eliminate wax solids found in the plant from the first process.
  3. Vegetable oils are one of the most abundant sources of Omega 6 essential fatty acids. The Standard American Diet is generally too abundant in Omega 6s as compared to Omega 3s, and our ratios of Omega 6s to Omega 3s are off balance (sometimes as much as 200:1). When too many Omega 6s are consumed, it creates inflammation in the body.

Even if you  avoid processed foods and embrace a plant-based diet, there is serious danger of not getting the right balance of Omega 3 essential fatty acids. Many of these come from pasture-raised meats and poultry, eggs, and seafood. So if you avoid animal foods you may be deficient in Omega 3s. Read more from Chris Kresser about the imbalance of Omega 6 to Omega 3s in the Standard American Diet.

Vegetable oils a culprit in heart disease

Chris Kresser also explains why consumption of polyunsaturated fats are a contributor to heart disease. “In addition to promoting oxidation of LDL particles, polyunsaturated fats contribute directly to atherosclerosis and heart attacks. 75% of arterial plaque is made up of unsaturated fat, of which 50% is polyunsaturated (only 25% is saturated). The greater the concentration of polyunsaturated fat in the plaque, the more likely it is to rupture. Such ruptures, and the ensuing blood clots that form, are a primary cause of heart attacks.”

Read more about the dangers of vegetable oils from the Weston A. Price Foundation in The Oiling of America.

Saturated fats for optimal health

Finally, saturated fat and cholesterol are starting to receive clearance of malign after so many decades of misinformation from the medical and health industries. Saturated fats and cholesterol are vital to health, for many reasons. Saturated fats are not only shelf-stable and versatile for cooking and use in recipes, but these critical nutritional elements support our brains and nervous systems, hormone production, cell integrity, digestion, blood pressure and cardiovascular function, immunity and reproduction.  Read The importance of dietary fats and Saturated fat phobia lacks scientific basis from The Weston A. Price Foundation.

Recommended reading from Amazon: The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz

White flour

The Standard American Diet consists of an abundance of foods containing grains or flour. Refined white flour is one of the most nutritionally-deficient grain products available. During his travels, Dr. Price found that in all instances where populations had introduced convenience foods such as white flour into their regular diets, there was clear evidence of inflammation and disease.

White flour is a refined food that has had the nutrients removed. Whole grains contain various nutrients such as magnesium, B vitamins, iron, and others. During processing, nutrients are stripped out or destroyed, so many grain and flour products are enriched or fortified with synthetic minerals and vitamins. But our bodies are unable to recognize synthetic nutrients, and cannot recognize nor properly use them.

Consumption of white flour can lead to nutritional deficiencies and chronic health issues. Read more from The Weston A. Price Foundation, Be kind to your grains … and your grains will be kind to you.

In those with compromised immune and digestive tracts, grains and refined grains in particular can contribute to yeast and pathogenic bacterial overgrowth in the digestive tract, which spreads freely throughout the body. Yeast overgrowth can cause a variety of symptoms from hyperactivity, mood, and behavior issues to eczema and allergic reactions (both topical, food-related, and systemic), to frequent infections (sinus, bronchial, ear), and asthma, to bone loss, weight gain, fatigue, metabolic syndrome (heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke). Read more from The Weston A. Price Foundation, Why we crave.

Since grains are vastly different from the historical past due to hybridization, genetic-modification, and the rise of gluten content in wheat to produce a more elastic dough for baking and other preparations, grains can now pose problems for some people. Those with digestive issues are particularly vulnerable to damage from consuming modern grains as well as other foods including pasteurized dairy, nuts, soy, and corn. Using a healing protocol such as GAPS, SCD, or other can heal damage caused by consumption of these products and other lifestyle factors.

After these protocols are completed, the addition of traditionally prepared foods such as soaked, sprouted, and/or fermented can be attempted.  Some may find that after healing, however, that they are unable to tolerate grains.  This could occur for a variety of reasons: incomplete healing, the difference in modern grains from grains in the historical past, or sensitivities may be present that simply cannot be resolved.

Why grains may be problematic

Rami Nagel explains in his book Cure Tooth Decay why consuming whole grains that are traditionally prepared can be problematic.

It was not common practice of traditional societies to use the entire grain.   The practice of removing the bran occurs traditionally in Africa with corn and wheat, in the French Alps with rye, and in Tibet with barley. This was done because the bran contains toxins known as lectins which are not easily removed during soaking, sprouting, sour leavening, or cooking.  Nagle suggests removing the bran form wheat, rye, kamut, spelt, corn, barley, millet , and oats through sifting or sieving. The only exceptions to this are buckwheat, quinoa, and amaranth.

Nagel also discusses why whole grains must also be soured first to reduce and neutralize phytic acid found in grains.   Phytic acid causes dental caries by blocking mineral absorption in the small intestines during digestion. The presence of phytic acid causes severe rickets when given to dogs as discovered and studied by researcher Edward Mellanby.

In his research, Nagel discovered that neither sprouting grains nor soaking sprouted or whole grains in cultured dairy foods like yogurt, kefir, or even clabbered milk does not cause a significant reduction in the presence of phytic acid. The best way to reduce phytic acid content in grains is to use plain, filtered water and liquid whey. You can use apple cider vinegar or fresh-lemon juice for this task.

White sugar

One of the largest sources of calories in the Standard American Diet is sugar. Its presence is responsible for almost every major health issue imaginable. In the U.S., the average consumption of sugar in the late 1800s and early 1900s was 5 pounds per person annually. In modern times, the average individual consumption of sugar on an annual basis has shot up to 135 pounds.

No doubt, the amount of convenience foods containing sugar has been a hefty contributor to this problem.

Glucose is a basic element the body needs. Consumption of sugar raises insulin levels in the body, and that causes the release of growth hormones. When this occurs, immune function becomes depressed. Considering how often the average person eats sugar, this could put the immune system in an almost constant state of compromise. As a result, the body experiences a marked reduction in defense against both infections and viruses.

Insulin production increases the body’s storing of fat. When you eat something with high sugar content, it causes an insulin spike and can lead to rapid weight gain and raised levels of triglycerides in the blood. Both of these have been strongly linked to heart disease.  It is preferable to consume complex carbohydrates such as fruits and vegetables which are absorbed more slowly, and with traditional fats which maintain more stable and long-term blood-sugar levels.  By contrast, fat consumption does not increase insulin levels. In fact, it slows them down considerably and keeps blood sugar and energy levels even.

Sugar is also a mineral-depriving substance as it interferes with the body’s ability to absorb these nutrients – in particular, calcium and magnesium.

In children, sugar consumption can cause hyperactivity, difficulty in concentration or focus, mood swings, and behavioral issues. In adults, sugar consumption can lead to weight gain, irritability, fatigue, depression and anxiety, and metabolic disease. Studies showing how sugar affects our propensity to develop heart disease include this one from April of 2014 and this article from Harvard Health Publications. Dr. Mercola explains the dangers of sugar in this article.

Refined sugars can be replaced in moderation with unrefined sweeteners including raw honey, Sucanat, coconut sugar, and real maple syrup. Read more from The Weston A. Price Foundation, Replacing refined sugars with natural sugars one step at a time and from Nourishing Our Children, Sweet tooth.

Recommended are the following natural sweeteners from Amazon:

Y.S. Eco Bee Farms Raw Honey

Coombs Family Farms Organic Maple Syrup

Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Coconut Sugar

Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Sucanat

What Dr. Price’s research teaches us

One of the miracles Dr. Price discovered was that in populations where children had been chronically ill or had tooth decay, after putting them on a diet consisting of soups and stews made with bone broths (including marrow), cod liver oil, raw milk, fruits and vegetables, bread made of freshly ground wheat, and butter, many of these children began to show great signs of overall wellness and healing, and cavities that were filling in.

Although varied diets were observed depending on the part of the world Dr. Price visited, whether it was seafood and vegetables, whole grain breads with plenty of butter and produce, or soured milk, blood, and meat, all of these traditional societies had something profound in common: robust health and vitality, and the absence of chronic and degenerative disease.

What has been your experience in removing the “foods of modern commerce” from your diet? 


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