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 2, part 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.