Different Diets for Different Types by Nicholas Gonzalez, M.D.
My view of nutritional diets harkens back to the classic traditional foods textbook Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by the dentist Weston A. Price, first published in 1945. Though within the alternative medical world, this 526 page text is well known and widely read, in the academic medical universe the book is unknown and never read, as if it just never existed.
As his followers well know, for some seven years beginning in the 1930’s, Dr. Price traveled the world studying isolated groups of humans still following at the time a way of life largely untouched by Western industrialization and “modern” agricultural practices. Price’s journey took him from the Arctic of the Eskimos, to the high Andes of the Inca descendents, to the African savannah of the Masai, to high mountain valleys of Swiss Alpine herders, to Polynesia and its fishing culture, and just about everywhere else in between. Though he evaluated many aspects of each indigenous group in the many regions he visited, Price focused his attention on the diet and the health of the people living according to time-honored, centuries old wisdom about food, and eating. Then, he investigated the dietary habits and health of those people in each area who might have migrated to regional towns and adopted a more Westernized lifestyle and eating pattern, consisting primarily of canned, processed, refined, overcooked and highly sweetened foodstuffs shipped from long distances. He then compared the incidence of various diseases, such as dental caries, cancer and tuberculosis among those living a traditional life, to those eating “Western.”
In all his journeying, Dr. Price made certain basic points that should have been the foundation of all contemporary medical and nutritional science, but sadly, which have been near universally ignored. First, he learned that humans in traditional settings eating traditional foods actually thrived on a variety of diets dictated by the available food, and not by one inviolate nutritional law. These diets ranged from the all meat Eskimo-Inuit diet at one extreme, to the largely raw meat and blood diet of the Masai on the Serengeti Plain, to the diet of peoples living in milder climes consisting of considerable amounts of plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains along with animal products.
Not only have past tribes, communities and cultures isolated from western influence followed a variety of diets, again determined by their locale and the available food supply, but no human tribe or community, certainly not the Inuit living off animal protein and fat, nor the Masai living off of cow blood and milk in Africa, nor the Scots living off whole grains and seafood, lived a purely vegetarian lifestyle. All the people he observed used at least some animal foods, be it meat, or fish, eggs, or dairy – as in the case of the Masai, who drank up to a gallon of milk a day, or the high mountain Swiss, who relied on cheese. None of these folks, wherever they lived, lived purely vegetarian, under any circumstance. That finding alone should long ago have put the “vegetarian is always best” argument to rest, forever, though it has not. So, as a second point, though the amounts of plant foods in traditional diets vary enormously, a pure vegetarian diet did not seem to be the way to good health anywhere in the world.
Thirdly, wherever Price traveled he noted that all traditional groups following their time-honored diets relied on food in its most natural form possible, processed minimally if at all, with none of the white sugar, white flour, etc. so popular in industrialized nations. Such processed foods, which require a fairly sophisticated (here in the worst sense) industry, just weren’t available. And all of the food was locally grown, or in the case of animal products, locally obtained – supermarkets, with food shipped in from far away farms in distant time zones did not exist at the time among the isolated people Price studied. The food was by necessity grown, harvested, herded or hunted nearby. This isn’t an inconsequential thought, by modern scientific findings. The storage and shipping of food invariably leads to loss of at least some nutritional value as well as flavor and has led to the “locally grown” movement so popular today.
Fourth, each group, be it the Inuit or the Masai (who thrived on a 70% fat diet emphasizing raw milk and raw blood) or the Peruvians in the high Andes, ate much if not most of their food raw or only lightly cooked. Each of these groups Price studied had its own unique wisdom about the value of uncooked food, which they learned from experience provided nourishment somehow more profoundly life sustaining than cooked versions of the same food. Each culture relied on time honored recipes, employed specific techniques to prepare special foods for eating raw. The unusual case of the Inuit, who buried fish, allowing it to ferment before consumption, or raw milk-cattle blood concoction of the Masai, represent particularly noteworthy examples.
Price was a meticulous observer and a very sophisticated scientist, who in his travels carefully documented the health histories of literally thousands of people and interviewed any western physicians who might be living amongst these traditional peoples he studied. Dr. Price also reviewed any medical or dental records that might be available. What he found, after years of hard labor, should have changed the course of modern dietetics and modern medicine. For as a fifth point, perhaps the most significant message to be gleaned from this seven-year trip around the world, Price found that in whatever locale, in whatever ecological niche he found himself, on whatever continent he roamed, tribes and communities who still followed traditional locally and freshly obtained, whole, unprocessed, unrefined often largely raw whole foods – whatever the exact content of the specific diet – enjoyed superb enduring good health. These peoples seemed remarkably immune not only to infectious disease such as tuberculosis – at the time a common and deadly disease in the West – but also degenerative illnesses already reaching epidemic and near-epidemic proportions in Price’s day – arthritis, cancer, dental disease, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Even those groups following what we might consider extreme eating practices, such as the Eskimos, living on nothing but meat and mostly fat, or the Masai, surviving on raw milk and raw blood, seemed to Price in extraordinary physical condition, not only largely disease free but capable of enormous prolonged exertion, strength, and endurance in often difficult and trying circumstances. The Inuit, for example, lived in one of the harshest, most inhospitable physical environments on earth. Yet Price observed that they appeared to be in fantastic physical condition year in and year out on an all meat, high fat diet – already the bane of western scientific thinking.
In contrast, in whatever continent he journeyed, in those peoples who had migrated from their traditional communities to take up residence in Westernized towns, Price recorded a drastic change in diet – and ultimately a catastrophic deterioration in their health. Living among the “civilized.” these people consumed not the wholesome fruits and foods from the land but the fruits and foods of modern industry, chemicalized, processed, refined, cooked, canned – with large amounts of the “whites,” white flour and white sugar. Those who might have only recently abandoned the traditions of their ancestors, perhaps raised as children on locally obtained, whole traditional foods, still enjoyed fairly good health, though not as vibrant or disease free as their cohorts who as adults still lived and ate as did their ancestors. But among the offspring of the citified migrants, living from infancy on the industrialized foods favored by their parents, Price documented an extraordinary surge in various illness, an avalanche of arthritis, cancer, dental disease, heart disease, infectious disease such as tuberculosis, often vaguer but debilitating chronic problems, described as persistent fatigue, malaise, even depression and mental illness, the latter rarely seen among the more traditional groups.
Price believed only the industrialized diet could explain this profound and rapid fall from good health, this remarkable rise in disease and disability among the children descended from healthy traditional peoples, now eating “modern.” I remember distinctly how in several instances, to illustrate his case, Price compared the health of families he had encountered in which some of the siblings still ate by tradition, while others had adopted a largely Westernized diet. Those eating whole unprocessed unrefined locally obtained foods and their offspring thrived, enjoying excellent good health throughout their lives, while the children of their brothers and sisters who had moved into town and succumbed to Western eating habits suffered chronic ill health along with a plethora of serious illness.
In Price’s model, Nature is hardly the enemy, but a powerful friend and guide. And we’re not vulnerable victims to be pitied, but frankly idiots, arrogantly indifferent to cultural traditions, ignorant of the nutritional wisdom of our forefathers who understood the lessons of Nature, enamored of technology and industrialized agriculture.
Though Price’s book is notable for many reasons, I find the scores of photographs in the text of the peoples he studied around the world remarkable. As a dentist, he focused his attention on dental health, and took literally thousands of pictures of the teeth and dental arches of those living by tradition, and those – and their children – who had adopted the eating styles of the “modern” world. The photos tell a remarkable story, of perfect teeth, decay free, beautifully spaced with perfect arches, all without the aid of dentists or orthodonture in those consuming a whole-foods, time-honored lifestyle, and born of parents doing the same. Tragically, the photos of those who consumed, and whose parents had consumed more Westernized foods show decayed, crowded, missing, misformed and misaligned teeth, despite the aid of dentists and their tools.
Over the years, other academic scientists have occasionally visited far off places where small groups of people still followed traditional eating practices. McGill University sent a team to study the Canadian Inuit in the 1930’s, and discovered, as had Price, that those living on a largely raw, all meat, high fat diet enjoyed terrific health – and incidentally, very low cholesterol levels, even in older age. During the 1960’s, Dr. George Mann of Vanderbilt studied the Masai still living their raw milk, raw blood lifestyle, and reported near total absence of heart disease despite the reliance on high fat dairy products, excellent overall health and none of the other terrible debilitating diseases we take for granted.
As the years have passed, such studies have become more difficult, in fact nearly impossible to pursue, and Price’s odyssey would not be feasible today. Even in the isolated valleys of Switzerland, even in the high Andes, western foods have made insidious inroads, and few people anywhere follow what Price what have considered a “traditional” way of living and eating. Even in Africa and on Polynesian Islands, cell phones and white sugar rule the day.
But the points are valid, nonetheless humans have survived and thrived on very different diets, determined by locale and the available food source. No human group has lived traditionally on a vegetarian diet, whole foods whatever the specific diet are always best, local is better than that shipped from distant places, raw is often better than cooked, and good nutrition can make a difference for everyone, in all of our lives. Good health can be our birthright, good health can be a way of life, good, optimal nutrition can potentially free us from many if not most of the diseases we fear.
Critics of Price, most of whom in my experience have never read his book, in their bias belittle him as some type of dangerous latter day druid, with some perverse aversion to the wonders of modern life. Quite the contrary, he was a most careful scientist, whose facts cannot be objectively, rationally countered, only emotionally and irrationally denied.
My own medicine model follows closely that of Dr. Price. Though in practice what my protocol does is complex, simply put, I precisely use diet and nutrients, that is, natural substances, to restore the metabolic efficiency of our biochemical and physiologically ravaged patients without resorting to toxic interventions. Yes, for those diagnosed with cancer, I do prescribe large doses my specially formulated and processed pancreatic enzymes that I believe has a direct anti-cancer effect, but even this supplement is a natural product, not a synthetic creation.
To those believing Nature to be a vicious horrific enemy that must always be outsmarted, my use of the enemy’s tools, lowly food and nutrients, must seem preposterous at best, most likely indicating a perverse, even an evil character. How could I, with the gifts of an Ivy League education, possibly think of the enemy as a friend? But as Price showed and as I demonstrate with my healthy patients, Nature is indeed our friend and a great teacher, providing solutions our ancestors knew so well.
By Nicholas Gonzalez, M.D.