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What Price Said… About Carbs and Grains

what price said about carbs and grainsNutrition and Physical DegenerationIt goes something like this: “But Weston A. Price said traditional cultures who ate carbohydrates and grains had more health problems than those who didn’t.” Or something to that effect. Because of course we all know that Weston Price came back from his world travels touting the benefits of a low-carb diet and recommending that folks ditch the grains and slash their carbs.

Except he didn’t. At least, I can’t find anything like that in my copy of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Maybe the USDA conspirators went in and took those parts out before the most recent printing? Or maybe not.

Just speculate with me for a moment: maybe Weston Price didn’t come back to the states and stick all his patients on a high-fat, low-carb diet. Maybe he didn’t tell his friends and family that grains were incompatible with health, that carbohydrates cause insidious weight gain, and that everyone who asked for his advice had better learn to fear potatoes because goodness knows no healthy traditional culture ate starchy tubers!

Well, the fact is that Price didn’t do any of those things. In fact, Price gave his patients a therapeutic diet that included wheat muffins and oatmeal sweetened with sugar to taste (gasp!). He even noted remarkable improvement in patients eating these very foods (along with some very important additions, of course).

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Instead I’ll be sharing some quotes directly from Price’s book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.

Dental Caries in Various Populations

As you may know, Weston A. Price was a dentist, so it comes as no surprise that he examined the teeth of the people he studied during his travels. He kept track of how many teeth he examined as well as the percentage he found with dental caries (or tooth decay).

I’ve heard a few folks claim that Price said populations who didn’t eat grains and carbs had fewer dental caries. I’m curious as to where this rumor came from, because I failed to find the evidence of this claim when I read Nutrition and Physical Degeneration for myself. Of course, populations who didn’t eat a lot of grains or carbs (like the Inuit or North American Indians) had excellent teeth, as noted by Price here in chapter 6 of his book:

“In an examination of eighty-seven individuals having 2,464 teeth only four teeth were found that had ever been attacked by dental caries. This is equivalent to 0.16 per cent.”

Well, there you go. That’s proof that low-carb, grain-free diets are ideal… right? Not quite. Here’s another quote from Price about the Baitu tribe in Africa (chapter 9):

“This group lives largely on dairy products from cattle and goats, together with sweet potatoes, cereals and bananas. In a study of 364 teeth of thirteen individuals, not a single tooth was found to have been attacked by dental caries.”

By the way, cereals are (drum roll, please)… grains. And a trip to Kenya produces this quote:

“They live within easy reach of Lake Victoria from which they obtain large quantities of fish which constitutes an important part of their diet, together with cereals and sweet potatoes. A study of 552 teeth of nineteen individuals revealed only one tooth with dental caries, or 0.2 per cent.”

Here are a few more examples of groups in Africa who Price noted ate diets that included cereal grains, starchy tubers and sweet fruits:

  • The mission at Masaka in Uganda: 0.4 percent tooth decay out of 664 teeth
  • The Wanande Tribe in the Belgian Congo: 2.2 percent tooth decay out of 368 teeth
  • The Dinkas in Sudan: 0.2 percent tooth decay out of 592 teeth

There were also some other groups that ate grains, starches and fruit but did not appear to have animal foods like goat milk or fish as a significant portion of their diet. These groups tended to have dental caries at a rate of about 6-7 percent. (This may seem high in comparison to 0.16-2.2 percent, but keep in mind that cultures who ate a modernized diet often experience tooth decay at an incredible rate of 12-83 percent!)

Leaving Africa for a moment, we’ll go to Switzerland where Price commented:

“In a study of 4,280 teeth of the children of these high valleys, only 3.4 per cent were found to have been attacked by tooth decay.”

And populations eating a traditional diet of oats and seafood on the Isle of Lewis off the coast of Scotland were noted to experience a tooth decay rate of 1.3 percent.

Why Do We Misquote Price?

I’ll be the first to admit that anyone who claims Price said grains and carbohydrate foods cause health issues isn’t making it up out of thin air. I understand the misconception, because there is a grain of truth contained therein (no pun intended).

Price did note in chapter 9 of his book (Isolated and Modernized African Tribes) that irregularities of dental arches and facial structure were noted more often in tribes who relied heavily on plant foods (3.4 percent irregularities in the Masai versus 18.2 and 18.9 percent irregularities in the Kikuyu and Wakamba, for example). But he made it clear that a far more dramatic difference existed in populations eating a modernized diet.

And also, in a letter about nutrition, Price does say:

“Cut down on starches and sugars.”

There, he did say it. But don’t gloat about it yet. Price immediately follows this statement with recommendations that include eating cooked cereal made from fresh cracked wheat or oats (sweetened to taste with a limited amount of sugar), whole wheat muffins topped with high vitamin butter, and cooked applesauce with butter (not too highly sweetened, of course).

Doesn’t sound like Atkins to me.

What Was Price Really Saying?

In reading through Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, I was wholly impressed by the level and depth of information Price recorded during his studies. I was also quite surprised that his work is used to promote restrictive diets that limit food groups and macronutrients, when his own recommendations are fairly simple and straightforward:

“In my clinical practice, in which I am endeavoring to put into practice the lessons I am learning from the primitive people, I do not require that the foods of the primitive races be adopted but that our modern foods be reinforced in body-building materials to make them equivalent in mineral and activator content to the efficient foods of the primitive people.”

Price never claimed that one needed to eliminate grains, starches and fruit to be healthy. He simply advised not to emphasize them to the extent that highly nutritious foods were excluded from the diet. Basically, make room for the good stuff! As Price says:

“A properly balanced diet is good for the entire body.”

Weston Price, I couldn’t agree more.

This post is part of Fight Back Friday.

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42 Responses to What Price Said… About Carbs and Grains

  1. Great summary! I get a bit miffed when cutting out entire food groups is recommended, unless there is a specific medical reason. God created all food for us to eat, so we shouldn’t be afraid to eat it.

  2. This is an excellent summary with a balanced look at grains and food in general. I have yet to fully read through Nutrition & Physical Degeneration myself, but have always shared the same perspective of Dr. Price’s work that you gave here.

  3. Have you read Dr. Atkin’s book(s)?
    A couple of notes that may possibly encourage you not to criticize too severely. One: His recommendations are for those who need to lose weight, not for overall health or to address every health issue. Once the weight is lost, then other health benefits can be seen. Two: Also, as with most other diets that I know of, there are phases to the plan. The last phase is one that includes all food groups in moderation where needed and that one can maintain for a lifetime. It’s not all about eating lard and bacon and nothing else. Vegetables, which last I checked, contain carbohydrates, are a major part of his plan…

    And, by the way, when a person cuts out products made from refined grains… modern foods, and then experiences improved overall health, and then if they continue eating those refined modern foods made with refined, modern grain and their health problems resurface.. I would say that there is some connection.

    • Thanks for the comment, Laura. Yes, I’ve read a couple of Dr. Atkin’s books.

      Sorry if this post came off as a critique of the Atkin’s diet. My aim was to discuss Weston A. Price’s specific statements about carbs, starches and grains.

      In general, I always recommend that folks listen to their bodies and do what works best for them as a lifestyle.

    • @Laura – You are quite right, some people have gluten intolerance. Luckily, their solution is fairly straightforward. Others have orthorexia. And that’s a lot more complicated to deal with.

      Personally, I avoided a great many different foods for quite a long time (even was on Atkins for a year). All the dieting did was cause me to lose too much weight, and crack my teeth. But when I started to eat pancakes and biscuits and bread (all made with refined grains), ice cream, and basically anything I wanted, I started to recover.

      http://www.beyondveg.com/bratman-s/hfj/hf-junkie-1a.shtml

      I encourage you to read Health Food Junkie (link above), which is the best article I have ever read on the subject of Nutrition. This whole thing is a lot more complicated than Atkins vs. The World, or even Refined Foods vs. The World.

      • I had a similar result as yours when I was on a low-carb paleo-ish diet; but also had severe plaque, cavities, hair loss, low thyroid hormones, etc. etc. I am now trying to recover from orthorexia-driven disordered eating by following the recommendations at Your Eatopia. Thanks for the link!

  4. I have been on every “diet” out there for over 20 years. argh. I believe if I had never started that yoyo, I would just be fine. This madness of taking food groups out is crazy, but I did it for the longest time. I believe eating WHOLE, REAL food is the key. I grind my grains, will be growing my own veggies and some fruits this summer, and just got a cow and goat. Fresh, raw, milk is going to be great when my cow has her baby. Good post and comments.

  5. This is awesome, Elizabeth! Came to the same conclusions, when I actually took the time to read Price’s book a few years ago. (That was when I was at my wit’s end after an unpleasant year of low-carbing, following the many other failed diets I’d desperately attempted.) More people should read Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, especially those who’ve taken to the WAPF’s extreme recommendations, ’cause it’s free online and everything:

    http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200251h.html <— This is it.

    I remember you from back when you were commenting over at 180 a lot, and while I haven't visited it much, I am really pleased to see how much your blog has grown. :)

    • Glad to see you at The Nourished Life, Kait! :)

      “After an unpleasant year of low-carbing.”

      I have definitely been there! I am a much better (read: saner) person on carbs.

      I love the online version of Price’s book–it’s so easy to search with ctrl+F. (It made researching this post a wee bit easier!) But then I love “real” books too and keep a hard copy on my book shelf to flip through from time to time.

  6. Good advice except you left out one important detail: The grains of today are NOTHING like the ones of our ancestors (or today’s primitives). They may not be damaging our teeth, but they are certainly damaging our intestines. Hardly health food.

    • I totally agree that grains aren’t the best food if you have poor gut health. The stronger your gut health (and metabolic health in general), the better your body can handle a wide variety of foods (even less than ideal foods).

    • I agree, Vicky. The ultra-hybridized wheat and grains of today are nothing like the originals. You also failed to note that most of the grains of these peoples were in some way fermented or prepared in a way that made them easier to digest. Grains need proper prep to be properly digested.

  7. I do get tired of seeing grains and carbs lumped in the same category. I exclude all grains, yet eat a very carb-rich diet. I am not alone. I just prefer to consume carbs that have more nutrient pop per calorie.

    • That’s true, they do tend to get lumped together and they aren’t the same. There are times when I eat low grain and times when I eat more grains, but in either case my diet stays relatively the same in carbohydrates because I still each potatoes, fruit, etc. even when I don’t eat a lot of grains.

  8. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration is the one book on nutrition that I always go back to. One of the amazing things about his research is that Price illustrated beautifully that there is no such thing as the “right” way to eat (as long as we are eating whole, real foods). For some people the Inuit-type diet is better and for others the Peruvian diet is more appropriate.

    There is too much dietary dogma these days. We are not all the same! Some people do better with grains and others without them. Let’s enjoy our diversity instead of trying to push everyone into a mold.

    • I completely agree! I believe it’s all about finding the right balance of food for your individual body, lifestyle, and personality. Make the plan fit you, instead of trying to make you fit into a plan!

  9. This is awesome! Love this article. I really need to read the book, but I am amazed at how many people who follow “real food” completely reject grains. Personally, our family is currently doing GAPS, but do not think grains are unhealthy. One of the reasons we are doing it is because I have trouble with wheat, rye, oats, rice, millet, and dairy. Foods I REALLY think are healthy and want to eat as part of a balanced diet.

    • I agree, ideally the goal is to improve your digestive and metabolic health to the point where your body can handle a variety of foods. Foods that used to be a problem for me are definitely not a problem anymore now that I am healthier.

  10. I like your article & the comments, but am frustrated with the grains issue! I love grains, but they are problematic to me. Three days ago I went off all grains & the fogginess is gone, I am not so tired, I have energy, & can think clearly.
    I know I don’t eat enough carbs most of the time & yet I am gaining weight. My son told me to eat more proteins & carbs from vegetables, that I wasn’t eating enough calories to burn. (I was complaining of being cold & tired.) I am trying the Paleo diet, but keeping my cheese.
    Does anyone have any suggestions for me?

    • Being cold and tired is definitely a sign of a low metabolism/thyroid function. Getting enough calories (and carbs) is important for boosting metabolic health. It might help for you to keep track of your basal temperature to gauge how your metabolism is functioning (a temperature of 97.8-98.6 F in the morning before rising is considered normal).

  11. I read Nutrition and Physical Degeneration years ago, yes some do say its low carb, but clearly Price did not advocate that. I think there is so much more to his work and to the Weston A Price movement. It’s really about more traditional foods. My husband suffers from Chrohn’s and he does so much better when he doesn’t consume grains or dairy that is not fermented. It all depends on the individual I think.

    I think eating undenatured foods such as pastured meats, organic vegetables and raw dairy and lots of good fats, is what the Weston A Price movement is all about. It has truely helped to change the way farming is done in my area, I can obtain grassfed raw milk and other milk products within 10 minutes from 3 different farms. These farms also sell pastured beef, pork, chicken and eggs. I think that the Weston A Price movement, educating the public and the farmers has made this possible. The ones who say its a low carb diet/lifestyle missed something somewhere in Prices writing. But truthfully I am suprised at all of the people who follow this lifestyle and even blog about it that have never even read the book.

  12. I totally agree! This misquoting drives me nuts, as well. I think the only recommendations you can, for sure, pull out of Price’s work are: 1) limit or eliminate processed modern stuff, and 2) don’t completely eliminate animal foods. (It is the case that he never found a completely vegan culture among indigenous peoples.)

    • I agree, I think applying the general principles of Price’s work is more helpful and practical for most folks instead of getting overly concerned with following every detail perfectly.

  13. Hi! This is my first time to your blog and I’m finding it quite a good read and very level headed. I had only one other comment, and that is, for all of the people quoting Price, I was shocked to follow your Amazon link and find only a whopping total of 69 reviews. Now I know, there are many other booksellers to make purchases from, but Amazon is among the biggest. Could this….WOULD this suggest all the folks quoting him and mis-interpreting his word, have not, in fact, bothered to read his book at all?? ;0)

  14. Thank you! This drives me nuts! Honestly, I think people read Nourishing Traditions and make assumptions, which they then perpetuate to others.

    I hear that Weston Price suggested cutting grains OR that according to his research, traditional cultures all ate them soaked/sprouted. I’ve found no evidence for either in his work.

    In fact, as much as I appreciate Nourishing Traditions overall, and as much as it is HIGHLY annotated when it comes to things like raw milk, full fat, and natural cholesterol, the entire book has exactly ONE reference (unless I managed to overlook one somewhere) for the whole theory about soaking/sprouting grains. ONE. An entire subculture is based on this, and the whole teaching is built on a single reference. Which reference, as far as I can tell, does not teach necessarily that every culture only consumed grains soaked/sprouted but, rather, that as far as we can tell, every culture had soaked/sprouted/cultured foods.

    So maybe we should be concentrating less on what we’re “not supposed” to eat, and be focusing instead on the things that are missing from most of our modern diets.

    • “So maybe we should be concentrating less on what we’re “not supposed” to eat, and be focusing instead on the things that are missing from most of our modern diets.”

      Love this! I agree with this so much.

  15. Thank you so much for this great blog!

    After years of being brainwashed into eating no carbs and never able to sustain it, I recently came to a similar conclusion. I started to eat some starch and fruit a few months ago. So much more enjoyable.

    No matter what diet I have been on over the years (vegan, low carb, paleo, etc.) it has not changed the situation in my mouth – I haven’t been to a dentist in 21 years. I take care of any dental problems naturally.

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