The Scientific Approach of Weston Price, Part 5: Conclusions — Wheat and Other Cereal Grains

This is the fifth installment in a series of posts in which I am laying out the most salient points from my 2012 Real Food Summit talk, “Weston Price on Primitive Wisdom.” See these links for part 1, part 2part 3, and part 4.

One of the major sections of my talk was on Price’s theory of primitive wisdom. Since this section was based on my June, 2011 blog post, “Understanding Weston Price on Primitive Wisdom — Ancient Doesn’t Cut It,” it makes little sense to write another post about it in this series. In brief, Price concluded that the groups he studied maintained good health not simply because they were limited to a more primitive environment and lacked industrial foods, but because they had accumulated wisdom about how to select important nutrient-dense foods and possessed the strength of character necessary to procure those foods even when doing so proved difficult. In this post, I’d like to focus on what Price found and concluded regarding wheat and other cereal grains.

I have often seen it said, mostly in comment threads and online forums, that the grain-eaters among the groups Price studied fared worse than other groups, or that none of the healthy groups Price studied consumed wheat. These statements are not quite correct.

While tooth decay rates among the oat-eating Gaelics (1.2%) and the rye-eating Swiss (4%) were considerably higher than many other groups consuming their traditional diets (p. 441), though still dramatically lower than those consuming modernized diets, Price studied a number of grain-eating African tribes with much lower rates of tooth decay.

These include the Chewya at Kisumu, Kenya (p. 141), who subsisted on “large quantities of fish . . . together with cereals and sweet potatoes,” and suffered from tooth decay at a rate of only 0.2 percent. Price found the same rate of tooth decay among the Dinkas in Jebelein, Sudan, who similarly subsisted on fish and cereals (p. 150).

Among the Baitu (p. 150), Price found not a single decayed tooth. Price reported that the Baitu lived “largely on dairy products from cattle and goats, together with sweet potatoes, cereals, and bananas.”

It is also important to note that the tooth decay figure for the Swiss (4 percent) is likely an inflated estimate of what would occur on the traditional Swiss diet, since Price repeatedly encountered young men and women who reported never having a cavity until they traveled to one or another city around the age of eighteen or twenty, spent a year or two there, and developed rampant tooth decay that came to a halt once they returned home (p. 32). Thus, some of the tooth decay Price observed among the Swiss may have resulted from modern diets they consumed while traveling.

Although Price didn’t directly study any healthy groups that ate wheat as their traditional staple, he did study healthy wheat-eaters. Among about 160 modernized Native American students at a training school called the Mohawk Institute (p. 85), 77 percent had suffered from tooth decay with a total of 17 percent of teeth attacked by cavities. All of these cavities, however, had healed. Price found not a single case of active caries. According to Price, “the Institute maintained a fine dairy herd and provided fresh vegetables, whole wheat bread, and limited the sugar and white flour.” This diet appeared not only to sustain good health, but to reverse damage the students had presumably suffered from more refined diets they had consumed prior to enrolling at the institute.

These students represent one of several cases of spontaneously healed teeth that Price encountered in the field. Other examples include women who had developed cavities during pregnancy that healed after giving birth, and the Inuit whose teeth were worn down to the pulp chamber but protected by a new layer of mineralized matrix.

That whole wheat could make up a substantial proportion of such a healing diet was consistent with Price’s clinical results, where he used rolls made from freshly ground whole wheat as part of his tooth decay reversal program, as well as his animal experiments, wherein he showed that refined but not whole wheat produced cavities in rats.

Although Price didn’t study the Pathans of India himself, he had the following to say about them (p. 291):

The most physically perfect people in northern India are probably the Pathans who live on dairy products largely in the form of soured curd, together with wheat and vegetables. The people are very tall and are free of tooth decay.

Although Price never reported traveling to India, he was familiar with the work of Sir Robert McCarrison (see p. 479), who studied several groups in that land that thrived on wheat-inclusive diets.

While none of these observations should have the final word in a debate about the health value of grains, they are important to keep in mind so that when Price’s work is brought up in such a debate, it is presented accurately.

Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.

16 Responses to The Scientific Approach of Weston Price, Part 5: Conclusions — Wheat and Other Cereal Grains

  1. Josefina says:

    Great informative post! I no longer have a copy of Price’s book, but according to Rami Nagel, Price’s nutritional analysis of the rye consumed in the Swiss community showed a mineral content very similar to refined, mass-produced flour.
    Anthony Colpo has written some posts on this subject, claiming the notion of ancestral people consuming whole grain is largely a myth.
    Would be curious to know what you think of this as it looks like you’re of the opposite opinion. Without access to all the scientific journals etc, my research has been a little limited. In general though, I haven’t found any account of groups subsisting on whole grain, except Sudan and perhaps some other places. Even archaeological excavations from Greece show that their bulgur was made with grains that were heavily refined.

    • Hi Josefina,

      Thanks! This series is about Price’s findings and views, and Price was an emphatic advocate of whole grains. I doubt that the Swiss or ancient Greeks were refining their flour to the degree achieved in the twentieth century because that required advances in technology. Certainly refining took place, but it was quite crude as far as I know. And not all grains were refined by any means. I would be surprised if the Swiss were turning their rye into a white flour and Price missed this. Could you direct me to the specific references you’re referring to?

      Thanks,
      Chris

  2. Rory JackieMoon Coyne says:

    Might this seem to suggest that the presence of integral factors (high quality dairy as one example) was more important than the presence of confounding factors?

    • Hi Rory,

      I don’t really understand your question the way you’ve phrased it. In particular I don’t understand what you mean by “integral factors” and “confounding factors” in this case. Are you saying maybe it matters more whether you eat certain foods than whether you don’t eat others?

      Chris

  3. Rachael says:

    I would be interested your take on Inositol. I read somewhere that the dread phytate is essentially inositol, which I have found very helpful in managing mood symptoms.

  4. Bryan says:

    Chris,

    Great post!

    I’d like to add the Hunza (in India) who were also wheat eaters known for their exceptional health and physical strength.

    In 1927, a researcher did an experiment to determine how an approximate version of a traditional northwestern Indian diet (which included the Hunza diet) affected rat health and development. This diet included “chapattis, or flat bread, made of wholemeal wheat flour, lightly smeared with fresh butter, sprouted pulse, fresh raw carrots and fresh raw cabbage ad libitum, unboiled whole milk, a small ration of meat with bones once a week, and an abundance of water, both for drinking and washing.” This is what was observed:

    “During the past two and a quarter years there has been no case of illness in this ‘universe’ of albino rats, no death from natural causes in the adult stock, and, but for a few accidental deaths, no infantile mortality. Both clinically and at post-mortem examination this stock has been shown to be remarkably free from disease. It may be that some of them have cryptic disease of one kind or another, but, if so, I have failed to find either clinical or macroscopical evidence of it.” (Source: http://www.wellbeyond100.com/WheelOfHealth.pdf, chapter 3)

    When this observation is combined with Dr. Prices’ I can’t help but ask… Has wheat always been a dangerous grain, or is the real dangerous grain modern high-protein wheat? Consider some of the differences between the wheat we eat today and the wheat eaten more than 150 years ago:

    - Modern wheat is not the same as the wheat eaten just 150 years ago. It has been bred and manipulated to produce more protein. Most of this extra protein is gluten (which is what produces tall, spongy, and chewy bread), as well as wheat germ agglutinin (WGA). For many people, eating gluten and/or WGA can negatively affect their health. Traditional varieties of wheat (e.g., einkorn) have very little gluten and WGA, which seems to make them easier to tolerate when eaten (it also makes for flatter bread).

    - Traditionally, to prevent spoilage, grains were ground just before they were used. Today, flours (both white and whole grain) are typically refined well before they are consumed. This ground flour is then processed to exhibit specific baking qualities and prevent it from spoiling while it is in storage or sitting on a store shelf. This processing can affect the nutrient content of flour as well as add man-made chemicals that may have harmful health effects of their own.

    - We grow wheat differently today, using chemical fertilizers to maintain high production. This depletes the nutrients available in the soil. Fewer nutrients in soil will reduce the nutrient content of anything grown in that soil. This leads to modern wheat that is not as nutritious as traditionally-grown wheat.

    All of this modern “progress” seems to turn a relatively healthy and nutritious food into a disease-causing agent.

  5. olga says:

    What happened to whole grains contain phytates that bind minerals making them unavailable? I can’t keep up.

  6. Maria says:

    Hi Chris,

    What about phytic acid? Are the mineral chelating properties of phytic acid mitigated if you consume dairy?

    • Phytate can be at least partially neutralized through preparing grains by sprouting, soaking, fermenting, etc, but yes, consuming dairy would provide enormous mitigation since dairy is abundant in minerals that bind phytate.

      Chris

  7. I’ve recently read the book “Wheat Belly,” by Dr. William Davis, a preventative cardiologist. In it he states that wheat, even whole grain wheat has a higher glycemic index than table sugar (sucrose). He also explains that in the last half of the last century, due to world hunger fears, wheat was hybridized so much to produce more wheat per acre that it is all but a GMO food now.

    At one point he said he got some emmer or eikorn (ancient wheat types) made bread and ate it without the problems that modern wheat produces in him and many other people. The people that ate wheat the Weston A. Price studies would have been eating the pre-hybridized wheat and some of them would have been eating emmer or eikorn.

    Dr. Davis claims that people who come to him (referred to him because of their diabetic or pre-diabetic condition) and follow his no wheat diet advice can quite often reverse the diabetes and lose weight too.

    He also claims the modern wheat is indicated in heart disease, cancer, and auto-immune diseases partly due to its high glycemic index and partly due to the “new” proteins created by the hybridizing process.

    Have you read his book? If so, what do you think about it?

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