What Price Said... About Carbs and Grains

Nutrition 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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