What do you think of the Weston A. Price Foundation’s dietary recommendations?

Meat

Dear Sarah,

I am still undecided on which diet or principles to believe or settle with between the raw diet or the Weston A. Price Foundation’s (WAPF’s) principles of diet, of which I’m sure you are aware.

They believe in lots of raw whole foods too. Whatever happens I will always eat at least 60% raw. My dilemma is how to fill the rest, so I wondered what your thoughts were on the WAPF’s findings, and whether to eat animal products.

The Weston Price Foundation recommends not just animal products but they mean raw milk and butter and organic meat from pasture-fed humanely raised animals.

Look forward to your reply.

Regards,

Tony

 

Dear Tony,

Thank you for getting in touch. I’d have to write an entire book to answer your thoughtful questions in as much depth as I’d like to. Maybe one day I will write that book but for now I’ll focus on outlining what I consider the most important points.

Many of the dietary and health recommendations in the Weston A. Price Foundation’s online brochure are hard to argue with. For example, they stress the importance of eating whole foods and fermented foods, and avoiding all processed foods. However, they also promote organic, pasture-fed animals as our most ideal food source.

It’s a way of eating that is really gaining in popularity among the health conscious – but how healthy is it?

For the benefit of readers who aren’t familiar with Weston A. Price’s work, he was an Ohio dentist who spent much of the 1930s travelling the world to observe the diet and dental health of different populations. In 1939 he wrote a book based on these travels, which has since become a classic in the field – Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.

Price’s travels occurred at a pivotal point in history. In rich nations, processed foods had already displaced natural foods, but there were still a number of locations where people were eating the traditional diet of local, whole foods their ancestors had eaten for thousands of years. These were the places Weston Price visited.

He reported that all of the peoples he studied who were eating natural foods were in excellent, robust health. Here are several examples of the populations Price visited and found to be thriving:

  • The Swiss mountain villagers who ate mainly full-fat cheese, butter and rye bread.
  • The Gaelic fisherpeople of the Outer Hebrides who based their diet around seafood and oats.
  • The Inuit, who ate almost 100% animal foods, including fish, walrus, seal meat and seal blubber.
  • The Dinkas of Sudan who consumed fermented whole grains, fish, and smaller amounts of red meat, vegetables and fruit.
  • African cattle-keeping tribes like the Masai who consumed no plant foods, just beef, raw milk, organ meats and blood.
  • The Maori of New Zealand who consumed seafood of every sort along with fatty pork, fruit and coconut.

In several of these places, the locals were eating no or next to fruits and vegetables and a diet consisting almost entirely of animal foods. Price found they had good teeth and facial bone structure – much better than their neighbours who’d started eating white bread and other convenience foods.

In fact, Price consistently found that where a portion of the population had shunned the traditional diet of local whole foods in favour of processed foods, children raised on this fare showed skeletal deformations and high levels of tooth decay. In his recognition of the profound damage processed foods do to health, Price was way ahead of his time.

Unfortunately, Price never studied a culture consuming a vegan or near-vegan whole foods diet, so that point of comparison is not available. However, such cultures do exist – the Hunzas of Pakistan, the Abkhasians of Georgia and the Vilcabambans of Ecuador.

These three groups all eat whole foods diets which are largely (though not exclusively) plant based, and they are widely recognised as being among the world’s healthiest and longest-lived cultures.

Those who are basing their decision to eat large amounts of animal protein and fat on Price’s work are overlooking several important facts.

First, Price was not a medical doctor, and nor did he carry out any detailed research into the health nor longevity of the populations he wrote about. He was a dentist, and he based his conclusions on a brief visit to each of these places to assess the teeth and facial bone structure of the locals.

Second, several of the populations Price studied had very short life expectancies. For example, today the Greenland Inuit have the lowest life expectancy in all of North America, living on average 10 years less than the rest of the population of Canada. They also have higher rates of cancer – just what you’d expect on a diet so high in animal fat and protein. The Masai of Africa rarely live past the age of 60 – ditto.

On top of that, those of us living today are much less likely to get away with a high-meat diet than were the people Price studied as so much has changed in the 80 years since then.

For a start, all the meat these remote peoples were consuming was either wild or organic – even though in those days “organic food” was simply called “food” as the ill-advised alternative to it had not yet been invented.

And even the best-quality organic or wild meat or fish of today (and organic eggs and dairy) are far more toxic than the wild or “organic” animal foods of 80 years ago, as we live on a much more polluted planet now, and pollution concentrates up the food chain, meaning that animal foods contain much higher levels of environmental toxins than plant foods.

For these reasons Price’s work is, in my opinion, not the evidence it is often touted to be that we need to consume large quantities of animal fat and protein in order to be healthy.

As you alluded to in your letter, the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) strongly opposes the position of both John Robbins and T. Colin Campbell (author of the book The China Study), that animal protein consumption increases the risk of all the “diseases of civilisation”.

The position of the WAPF is that animal foods are being unfairly maligned, while the real dietary villains are processed foods, including trans fats, refined vegetable oils, white sugar, white flour, soya products and factory-farmed meat.

And they are absolutely right that processed foods have played a massive role in the heart disease, cancer and diabetes epidemics.

But here’s what Joel Fuhrman, M.D. had to say about the book Nourishing Traditions, written by WAPF founders Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, in his article ‘Fanciful Folklore is no Match for Modern Science’: “Nourishing Traditions is full of bad science and illogical reasoning […] Today, we have a comprehensive body of knowledge with over 15,000 articles written since the 1950s documenting the link between a diet high in saturated fat and low in fresh fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and beans and the increased risk of cancer and heart disease.

“While Nourishing Traditions has over 200 references, many are antiquated, with poor observations. For the most part, the authors reference their own articles and those of other Weston A. Price Foundation authors. Only fourteen of the references are from peer-reviewed journals published in the last ten years, and for most of those fourteen, the authors misrepresented what was stated in the articles. By contrast, my book Eat to Live contains over 1,000 medical references to peer-reviewed medical journals.”

However, in another article Fuhrman makes an important distinction – one with which I fully agree:

“Keep in mind, I am not arguing that a vegan diet is healthier or will lead to a longer life compared to someone who eats a small amount of animal products, such as a little fish or eggs in their diet. But I am arguing that as the amount of animal products increases in a diet-style, forcing natural plant foods off the plate to become a smaller percentage of total caloric intake, the modern diseases that kill over 80 percent of Americans (heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes) will occur in greater and greater likelihood in every genetic type. My review of over 60,000 articles in the scientific literature supports the conclusion that animal products, if consumed, should be held to a maximum of ten percent of total caloric intake.”

So…while the Weston A. Price Foundation offers some very wise advice about many aspects of nutrition, I wouldn’t personally advise anyone to follow its recommendations regarding the consumption of animal fat and protein.

To my mind, the traditional raw vegan philosophy and the Weston Price Foundation philosophy are both partial truths.

Animal foods contain a small list of nutrients that are either hard or impossible to get from plant foods. So we can either supplement these nutrients, or include some animal foods. If we choose to go the second route, less is definitely more, since there are definite downsides to consuming large quantities of flesh foods, eggs and dairy products.

I hope that helps!

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