The Wisdom of Traditional Diets (S3E8)

Westin A. Price was a dentist in the 1930s, who performed, perhaps, one of the most extensive and important nutritional studies ever undertaken in human history.  Although this study’s primary purpose was to determine why dental caries (cavities) occurred, it’s scope ended up being reasons why we thrive or suffer in our health due to diet.  In order to do this study, he travelled around the world to examine primitive aboriginal and first nation peoples on 5 continents and included the Canadian Innuk, New Zealand Maori, Australian Aborigines, North and South American Indians, Isolated Swiss and Scottish villages, Amazon Jungle Indians, African Masai, Pygmies, Polynesian, Micronesian and Melanesians.  No mean feat indeed.

What Price discovered was that almost all of these different people had virtually no contact with western modernized diets which contained refined sugars and flours, canned goods, vegetable fats and polished rice. As a result, they were free from cavities, had excellent health, with no deformities, high immunity to disease and no reproductive difficulties.  Their teeth were also perfectly aligned (with all molars, including wisdom teeth), with normal dental arches.  In fact, they had near immunity to cavities.  However, when they began eating the foods mentioned previously, (what we call “the modern diet”), their health declined, disease immunity was lost, and children born to parents on the modern diet experienced cavities, crowding teeth and poor health and immunity.

The contents of the traditional diets were as follows:

For the Swiss: Local unpasteurized dairy, whole rye bread, meat once per week, vegetables when available (in summer).

For the Scottish: Sea foods, oats, marine plants, vegetables when available (in summer).

For the Innuk: Sea and Land animal tissues with liberal organ meats, vegetables where available.

For Micronesians, Polynesians & Melanesians: sea and land animals, marine and land plants, limited seeds, lilly roots and taro.

For the African Masai and Pygmies: milk, meats and blood from cattle (with liberal organ meats), fresh water fish, insects and a variety of plants.

For Australian Aborigines: large and small animals, wild plants, fresh water and marine sea life.

For the New Zealand Maoris: sea animals, marine plants, birds and their eggs, seeds of plants and trees and wild vegetables.

For the North and South American Indians: wild animal tissues and organ meats, large varieties of wild plants, fresh and salt water animal life.

For the Amazon Indians: fresh water animal life, small land animals & birds, wild plants and seeds.

Most of the above mentioned people also consumed insects liberally.

Out of this study, 2 rules can be distilled which are namely: 1. Obey your climate, and 2. Obey your teeth.  As far as rule 1 goes, climate dictates that you should eat locally and in season. For rule 2, remember that we are omnivores.  This allows us to eat a wide variety of foods to sustain us.  The diet of the primitive peoples was a form of complete nutrition due to the liberal use of organ meats and glands where most of the nutrition resides.  When Price measured these diets for nutrients he reported that all diets were rich in Vitamins A, D, E, C and K, phosphorus, calcium and iodine, and high in fat and protein, while low in carbohydrate. 

Even Traditional Chinese Medicine has a rule stating that “when an organ system is deficient, eat the corresponding organ meat”, which dovetails with the wisdom of the first nations.  

However, today’s grain based, refined, carbohydrate laden foods are reasons why our dental health is poor, our immunity to disease is compromised and our mental health suffers.  Sometimes the answers to the present public health dilemmas exist in the past and we would do well to remember those wise ways.

As far as the intervention goes, the above wide variety of proteins and vegetables in season as well as occasional fruits and scant grain based products would be best.  This means that we should all be in the kitchen more, and on the screens less.

Be Well and Be Zen



Westin A. Price, (1939), Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, 8th Ed. Price-Pottenger Publishing, CA, ISBN: 978-0-916764-20-3.

Brody, T., (1999), Nutritional Biochemistry, 2nd Ed., Academic Press, San Diego, CA, ISBN: 0-12-134836-9.

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