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by Sally Fallon Morell
The Weston A. Price Foundation has played a major role in dispelling the many dietary myths that have influenced modern eating habits, myths about fats, oils, cholesterol, meat, eggs, raw milk and fermented foods. However, some myths about the Weston A. Price Foundation have been circulating recently, and they need to be addressed.
MYTH: WAPF ADVOCATES A HIGH-PROTEIN DIET
Many have characterized WAPF as advocating a high-protein diet, much like the Atkins diet. While we stress the need for adequate, high-quality animal protein, we have also pointed out the dangers of a diet too high in protein, which can rapidly deplete vitamin A. Traditional diets varied from 10 to 20 percent of calories as protein (See "Adventures in Macro-Nutrientland" at westonaprice.org). Twenty percent of calories as protein is the maximum, appropriate for athletes and growing teenage boys; most of us do well on a diet that has 10-15 percent of calories as protein.
The recommendation to increase protein intake using egg whites, lots of lean meat, skinless chicken breasts, skim milk or protein powders is not only dangerous, but unnecessaryâ€”getting enough protein is not an issue in the Western diet. What we tend to lack is good-quality animal fats, which help stabilize blood sugar, support numerous processes in the human body, and serve as a key source of the all-important fat-soluble activators.
The WAPF diet is not about having a great big steak every night (although if you do eat a steak, be sure to eat it with plenty of fat). Rather, we recommend consuming a small or moderate amount of high-quality animal protein with every mealâ€”red meat (always with the fat), organ meats, poultry with the skin and fat, eggs, shellfish, fish with the skin, fish eggs, fish liver oils, and raw, whole dairy products. Gelatin-rich bone broth in a sauce, gravy, soup or stew, can be very helpful to those who have trouble digesting meat.
MYTH: WAPF ADVOCATES A LOW-CARB DIET
A corollary to the first myth is the low-carb diet, one devoid of all starchy vegetables, grain, fruits and natural sweeteners. Many have the mistaken impression that WAPF advocates a diet very low in carbohydrates.
WAPF has indeed warned about the dangers of a diet high in refined carbohydrates; however, that does not mean that we need to drastically cut
back on natural carbohydrate foods. Many of the cultures Dr. Price studied consumed fairly high levels of carbohydrate-rich foodsâ€”from the Swiss with their sourdough rye bread, to the South Sea Islanders who consumed tubers like cassava or yams, to the Amazonian Indians who always ate bananas with their meat.
Some people restrict carbs because they find that carbs contribute to weight gain; others can eat lots of carbs without gaining an ounce.
Advocates of very low-carb diets insist that we have no biological need for dietary glucose, but intriguing new evidence indicates that carbohydrates support thyroid function, protect the digestive tract, and even help with blood sugar regulation. This may explain why people develop cravings for carbs after following a carb-restricted diet for some time.
In any event, except for the brief initial stages of weight loss diets, the traditional diet should include carbohydrate-rich foods, at least in moderation. And remember that animal fats provide the perfect synergy for carb-rich foods like potatoes, grains, fruit and natural sweeteners.
MYTH: THE WAPF DIET IS LIKE THE PALEO DIET
Launched by Loren Cordain with his book The Paleo Diet, the paleo diet has many adherents and a strong internet presence. Predicated on the theory that we should eliminate cereal grains and milk products, two foods considered new to human evolution and therefore harmful, the paleo diet is sometimes cited as "like the WAPF diet" but more often serves as a platform for criticism. According to Cordain's website, www.thepaleodiet.com, the diet includes grass-produced meats, fish and seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts and seeds, and "healthful" oils (olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, coconut). The diet excludes all cereal grains, legumes (including peanuts), dairy, refined sugar, potatoes, processed foods, salt, and refined vegetable oils. Cordain recommends up to 35 percent of calories as protein. (In contrast to these specific recommendations, the paleo-oriented Ancestral Health Society answers their own rhetorical question, "What does it mean to live an Ancestral Lifestyle?"with an unobliging "We don't know.")
In The Paleo Diet, Cordain warned against saturated fats, but in later books he has relaxed his stance. Nevertheless, his recipes call for olive oil, not lard, tallow, or butter (excluded because it is a dairy fat) and specify that meat should be lean.
Today there are many authors, commentators and bloggers calling themselves "paleodieters," who take issue with some of Cordain's dietary rules. Many of them recommend including more fat in the diet, put more emphasis on organ meats, and wisely urge their followers to use salt. Nevertheless, at the recent PaleoFX conference, attendees were served Spartan meals of lean meat and salads, along with some lacto-fermented condiments.
So, first and foremost, WAPF takes issue with the lack of fat in the paleo diet as it is usually practiced and portrayed. And paleo dieters put little or no emphasis on the fat-soluble activators, Dr. Price's key finding. The descriptions we have of so-called primitive or paleolithic peoples indicate that they highly valued the fat and organ meats of the animals they killed, often throwing the lean muscle meat away. Vilhjalmur Stephansson, author of The Friendly Arctic and other books on Eskimo and Native American customs, noted that the Eskimo and North American Indian never ate lean meatâ€”they considered it dangerousâ€”yet lean meat forms the basis of the paleo diet.
The premise that we should avoid cereal grains and tubers like potatoes likewise does not jibe with the science. Archaeologists have found evidence of extensive reliance on cereal grains and starchy roots in the diets of early humans more than one hundred thousand years ago (Science, Dec 18, 2009). The diet of California Indians, considered the most "primitive" of all the Native Americans, contained large amounts of wild grains, which were gathered using special baskets, winnowed, ground, and made into porridge or cakes (Tending the Wild, by Kat Anderson). Granted, many people do poorly on grains (and some can't even digest disaccharides found in potatoes), but constructing a diet that excludes grains because some people can't tolerate them makes as much sense as formulating a diet that excludes beef because some people are allergic to beef.
What WAPF has done is explain just why so many people today are intolerant of grainsâ€”because their guts have not been properly formed due to a diet low in cholesterol and vital fat-soluble vitamins during the formative years, and because we are not growing and preparing our grains correctly. The truth is that many healthy cultures throughout the globe include grains and tubers in their diets, and modern man can also enjoy grains with proper attention and care.
As for dairy products, these do not show up until Neolithic times, but that does not mean they should be avoided. Many healthy cultures throughout the world consume raw and fermented milk productsâ€”some of them described by Dr. Price.
Dairy products are especially important for growing children in the Western world because they supply calcium in amounts needed for optimal growth and healthy bones. Much as paleodieters (and advocates for a plant-based diet) may insist otherwise, vegetables are not a good source of calcium. You need to consume three cups of raw kale, for example, to obtain the same amount of calcium found in one cup of raw milk, and much of that calcium will be blocked by oxalic acid (even when the kale is cooked), whereas raw milk contains numerous components that facilitate the absorption of calcium. (To get the same amount of calcium in one cup of milk from carrots, you would need to consume eight cups!)
Primitive cultures that did not have access to dairy products made great use of bones, either by preparing bone broth, by grinding the bones of small birds and animals and adding them to their food, or by consuming softened bones in fermented whole fish (as the Eskimos did). Some cultures also consumed insects with their calcium-rich exoskeletens. Modern parents are not likely to give these foods to their growing children. (Bone broth contains much less calcium than milk, but does contribute to healthy bones by supporting the formation of collagen and cartilage.)
And this brings me to my biggest concern about paleoâ€”the application of this restrictive diet to growing children. Do we really want to bring up children in our grain-centered and dairycentered culture by denying them these delicious foods, foods that can be nourishing and wholesome if raised, handled and prepared properly? Many advocates of the paleo diet are childless and may not have thought this through. What does it do to the psychology of a growing child to always say â€śnoâ€ť to foods that are prevalent in our culture, to deny them ice cream (homemade, of course), whole milk, sourdough bread with butter, baked beans, and potatoes with sour cream? While we certainly should be careful about our children's diets, they need to grow up on a diet that says, "Yes, you may," not "No, you can't."
The WAPF diet is not a diet based on exclusionsâ€”we do not say no to grains, beans (the most nutrient-dense plant food), starchy vegetables or dairy foods, nor to fats, salt or even sweet foodsâ€”all of which were consumed and enjoyed by healthy traditional peoples. Rather, we teach people how they can say yes to all these foods, and how to raise, handle and prepare these foods so that they can be included in the diet. And that is good news for people who want a diet that is not only healthy, but also enjoyable.
MYTH: WAPF IS AGAINST BREASTFEEDING
Recently a flurry of emails and blog postings has drawn attention to the information on breastfeeding and our homemade formula posted at westonaprice.org. The result has been several angry letters accusing WAPF of being "against breastfeeding."
Of course WAPF is in favor of breastfeeding! But our insistence that diet can influence the quality and quantity of mother's milk is interpreted as discouraging to new mothers, and likely to give them a reason to stop breastfeeding. Those who have followed our maternity diet throughout pregnancy have no trouble continuing the diet during lactation; but we recognize the fact that those who discover our advice after their babies are born are likely to be confused or dismayed. Still, we have an obligation to provide the information on the pregnancy and lactation dietâ€”this is, after all, the crux of Dr. Price's teaching, the need for extra nutrition during baby's formative period to ensure optimal development and it is never too late to adopt our diet, as many parents have discovered.
In addition, our homemade formula based on raw milk is cited as giving mothers an excuse not to breastfeed. But the formula is time-consuming and tricky to makeâ€”no mother is going to make homemade formula if the breastfeeding is going well. If the breastfeeding is not going wellâ€”if baby is sickly and is not gaining weightâ€”then supplementation with our formula is the obvious choice. We recommend using the formula with the Lact-Aid breastfeeding aid, which allows mom to nurse and give the formula at the same timeâ€”and yet we are accused of discouraging breastfeeding!
The official stance of the American Academy of Pediatrics and several breastfeeding advocacy groups is that diet has nothing to do with the quality of breast milk. This stance is sometimes carried to the extreme, with the insistence that vegan mothers can and should breastfeed. Yet a quick perusal of the scientific literature reveals numerous reports of severe vitamin deficiencies in the exclusively breastfed babies of vegan mothers, especially deficiencies of B12 (causing neurological impairment, metabolic complications, developmental delay, anemia, and even susceptibility to heart disease) and vitamin D (resulting in tetany and rickets). In some of these reports, the mother was supplementing with B12, yet the baby exhibitied severe B12 deficiency. In a recent case, an eleven-month-old baby exclusively breastfed by a vegan mother died of deficiencies of vitamins B12 and A. The parents were charged with neglect and sentenced to five years in prison.
At a time when mothers are most open to dietary advice, it is highly irresponsible to assure a vegan mother that her breastmilk can adequately nourish her baby. Breastfeeding advocacy groups have an obligation to warn these mothers that the complete absence of animal foods in the diet puts both them and their babies in danger.
As I have stated before, the goal of breastfeeding is healthy babies, not breastfeeding for breastfeeding's sake. This is accomplished by following our dietary principles as much as possible. We want breastfeeding to be a joyful and successful experience, and we also want those who cannot breastfeed for whatever reason (adoption, illness, low supply, employment not conducive to breastfeeding, baby not gaining weight) to have the healthy alternative of our homemade formula.