1999 Sally Fallon.
First published in the Journal of Family Life (518) 432-1578
The fact that primitives often exhibited a high degree of physical perfection and beautiful straight white teeth was not unknown to other investigators of the era. The accepted explanation was that these people were racially pure and that unfortunate changes in facial structure were due to race mixing. Price found this theory unacceptable. Very often the groups he studied lived close to racially similar groups that had come in contact with traders or missionaries, and had abandoned their traditional diet for foodstuffs available in the newly established storessugar, refined grains, canned foods, pasteurized milk and devitalized fats and oils--what Price called the displacing foods of modern commerce. In these peoples, he found rampant tooth decay, infectious illness and degenerative conditions. Children born to parents who had adopted the so-called civilized diet had crowded and crooked teeth, narrowed faces, deformities of bone structure and reduced immunity to disease. Price concluded that race had nothing to do with these changes. He noted that physical degeneration occurred in children of native parents who had adopted the white mans diet; while mixed race children whose parents had consumed traditional foods were born with wide handsome faces and straight teeth.
Well-muscled hunter-gatherers in Canada, the Everglades, the Amazon, Australia and Africa consumed game animals, particularly the parts that civilized folk tend to avoid--organ meats, glands, blood, marrow and particularly the adrenal glands--and a variety of grains, tubers, vegetables and fruits that were available. African cattle-keeping tribes like the Masai consumed no plant foods at all--just meat, blood and milk. Southsea islanders and the Maori of New Zealand ate seafood of every sort--fish, shark, octopus, shellfish, sea worms--along with pork meat and fat, and a variety of plant foods including coconut, manioc and fruit. Whenever these isolated peoples could obtain sea foods they did so--even Indian tribes living high in the Andes. These groups put a high value on fish roe which was available in dried form in the most remote Andean villages. Insects were another common food, in all regions except the Arctic. The foods that allow people of every race and every climate to be healthy are whole natural foods--meat with its fat, organ meats, whole milk products, fish, insects, whole grains, tubers, vegetables and fruit--not newfangled concoctions made with white sugar, refined flour and rancid and chemically altered vegetable oils.
The scientific literature tells us that vitamin D is needed not only for healthy bones, and optimal growth and development, but also to prevent colon cancer, MS and reproductive problems.
Cod liver oil is an excellent source of vitamin D. Cod liver oil also contains special fats called EPA and DHA The body uses EPA to make substances that help prevent blood clots, and that regulate a myriad of biochemical processes. Recent research shows that DHA is essential to the development of the brain and nervous system. Adequate DHA in the mothers diet is necessary for the proper development of the retina in the infant she carries. DHA in mothers milk helps prevent learning disabilities. Cod liver oil and foods like liver and egg yolk supply this essential nutrient to the developing fetus, to nursing infants and to growing children.
Butter contains both vitamin A and D, as well as other beneficial substances. Conjugated linoleic acid in butterfat is a powerful protection against cancer. Certain fats called glycospingolipids aid digestion. Butter is rich in trace minerals.
Saturated fats from animal sources--portrayed as the enemy--form an important part of the cell membrane; they protect the immune system and enhance the utilization of essential fatty acids. They are needed for the proper development of the brain and nervous system. Certain types of saturated fats provide quick energy and protect against pathogenic microorganisms in the intestinal tract; other types provide energy to the heart.
Cholesterol is essential to the development of the brain and nervous system of the infant, so much so that mothers milk is not only extremely rich in the substance, but also contains special enzymes that aid in the absorption of cholesterol from the intestinal tract. Cholesterol is the bodys repair substance; when the arteries are damaged because of weakness or irritation, cholesterol steps in to patch things up and prevent aneurysms. Cholesterol is a powerful antioxidant, protecting the body from cancer; it is the precursor to the bile salts, needed for fat digestion; from it the adrenal hormones are formed, those that help us deal with stress and those that regulate sexual function.
The scientific literature is equally clear about the dangers of polyunsaturated vegetable oils--the kind that are supposed to be good for us. Because polyunsaturates are highly subject to rancidity, they increase the bodys need for vitamin E and other antioxidants. (Canola oil, in particular, can create severe vitamin E deficiency.) Excess consumption of vegetable oils is especially damaging to the reproductive organs and the lungs--both of which are sites for huge increases in cancer in the US. In test animals, diets high in polyunsaturates from vegetable oils inhibit the ability to learn, especially under conditions of stress; they are toxic to the liver; they compromise the integrity of the immune system; they depress the mental and physical growth of infants; they increase levels of uric acid in the blood; they cause abnormal fatty acid profiles in the adipose tissues; they have been linked to mental decline and chromosomal damage; they accelerate aging. Excess consumption of polyunsaturates is associated with increasing rates of cancer, heart disease and weight gain; excess use of commercial vegetable oils interferes with the production of prostaglandins--localized tissue hormones-- leading to an array of complaints such as autoimmune diseases, sterility and PMS. Vegetable oils are more toxic when heated. One study reported that polyunsaturates turn to varnish in the intestines. A study by a plastic surgeon found that women who consumed mostly vegetable oils had far more wrinkles than those who consumed traditional animal fats.
When polyunsaturated oils are hardened to make margarine and shortening by a process called hydrogenation, they deliver a double whammy of increased cancer, reproductive problems, learning disabilities and growth problems in children.
The vital research of Weston Price remains largely forgotten because the importance of his findings, if recognized by the general populace, would bring down Americas largest industry--food processing and its three supporting pillars--refined sweeteners, white flour and vegetable oils. Representatives of this industry have worked behind the scenes to erect the huge edifice of the lipid hypothesis--the untenable theory that saturated fats and cholesterol cause heart disease and cancer. All one has to do is look at the statistics to know that it isnt true. Butter consumption at the turn of the century was eighteen pounds per person per year, and the use of vegetable oils almost nonexistent, yet cancer and heart disease were rare. Today butter consumption hovers just above four pounds per person per year while vegetable oil consumption has soared--and cancer and heart disease are endemic.
What the research really shows is that both refined carbohydrates and vegetable oils cause imbalances in the blood and at the cellular level that lead to an increased tendency to form blood clots, leading to myocardial infarction. This kind of heart disease was virtually unknown in America in 1900. Today it has reached epidemic levels. Atherosclerosis, or the buildup of hardened plague in the artery walls, cannot be blamed on saturated fats or cholesterol. Very little of the material in this plaque is cholesterol, and a 1994 study appearing in the Lancet showed that almost three quarters of the fat in artery clogs is unsaturated. The artery clogging fats are not animal fats but vegetable oils.
The education of the young in these tribal groups included instruction in dietary wisdom as a way of ensuring the health of future generations and the continuance of the tribe in the face of the constant challenge of finding food, and defending the group against waring neighbors.
Modern parents, living in times of peace and abundance, face an altogether different challenge, one of discrimination and cunning. For they must learn to discriminate between hyperbole and truth when it comes to choosing foods for themselves and their family; and to practice cunning in protecting their children from those displacing products of modern commerce that prevent the optimal expression of their genetic heritage--foodstuffs made of sugar, white flour, vegetable oils and products that imitate the nourishing foods of our ancestors--margarine, shortening, egg replacements, meat extenders, fake broths, ersatz cream, processed cheese, factory farmed meats, industrially farmed plantfoods, protein powders, and packets of stuff that never spoils.
For a future of healthy children--for any future at all--we must turn our backs on the dietary advice of sophisticated medical orthodoxy and return to the food wisdom of our so-called primitive ancestors, choosing traditional whole foods that are organically grown, humanely raised, minimally processed and above all not shorn of their vital lipid component.
Bantu tribes such as the Kikuyu and Wakamba were agriculturists. Their diet consisted of sweet potatoes, corn, beans, bananas, millet and kaffir corn or sorghum. They were less robust than their meat-eating neighbors, and tended to be dominated by them. Price found that largely vegetarian groups had some tooth decayusually around 5% or 6% of all teeth, still small numbers compared to Whites living off store-bought foods. Even among largely vegetarian tribes, dental occlusions were rare, as were degenerative diseases. It is a mistake, however, to think that these groups consumed no animal products at all, as is often claimed. Some Bantu tribes kept a few cattle and goats which supplied both milk and meat; they ate small animals such as frogs; and they put a high value on insect food. The natives of Africa know that certain insects are very rich in special food values at certain seasons, also that their eggs are valuable foods. A fly that hatches in enormous quantities in Lake Victoria is gathered and used fresh and dried for storage. They also use ant eggs and ants. Other insects, such as bees, wasps, beetles, butterflies, moths, grubs, cricket, dragon flies and termites are sought out and consumed with relish by tribes throughout Africa.6 It is significant that groups who consumed mostly plant foods practiced the feeding of special animal foods during gestation and lactation. Apparently carnivorous groups found no need to supplement the diet, as it was already rich in the factors needed for reproduction and optimum growth.
Another myth about primitive diets, and one that is harder to dispel, is that they were low in fat, particularly saturated animal fat. Loren Cordain, PhD, probably the most well known proponent of a return to Paleolithic food habits, recommends a diet consisting of lean meat, occasional organ meats and wild fruits and vegetables. While this prescription may be politically correct, it does not jibe with descriptions of Paleolithic eating habits, either in cold or hot climates.
Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who spent many years living with the Eskimos and Indians of Northern Canada, reports that wild male ruminants like elk and caribou carry a large slab of back fat, weighing as much as 40 to 50 pounds. The Indians and Eskimo hunted older male animals preferentially because they wanted this backslab fat, as well as the highly saturated fat found around the kidneys. Other groups used blubber from sea mammals like seal and walrus.
The groups that depend on the blubber animals are the most fortunate in the hunting way of life, wrote Stefansson, for they never suffer from fat-hunger. This trouble is worst, so far as North America is concerned, among those forest Indians who depend at times on rabbits, the leanest animal in the North, and who develop the extreme fat-hunger known as rabbit-starvation. Rabbit eaters, if they have no fat from another sourcebeaver, moose, fishwill develop diarrhoea in about a week, with headache, lassitude, a vague discomfort. If there are enough rabbits, the people eat till their stomachs are distended; but no matter how much they eat they feel unsatisfied. Some think a man will die sooner if he eats continually of fat-free meat than if he eats nothing, but this is a belief on which sufficient evidence for a decision has not been gathered in the north. Deaths from rabbit-starvation, or from the eating of other skinny meat, are rare; for everyone understands the principle, and any possible preventive steps are naturally taken.7
Normally, according to Stefansson, the diet consisted of dried or cured meat eaten with fat, namely the highly saturated cavity and back slab fat that could be easily separated from the animal. Another Arctic explorer, Hugh Brody, reports that Eskimos ate raw liver mixed with small pieces of fat and that strips of dried or smoked meat were spread with fat or lard.8 Pemmican, a highly concentrated travel food, was a mixture of lean dried buffalo meat and highly saturated buffalo fat. (Buffalo fat, by the way, is more saturated than beef fat.) Less than two pounds of pemmican per day could sustain a man doing hard physical labor. The ratio of fat to protein in pemmican was 80%-20%. As lean meat from game animals was often given to the dogs, there is no reason to suppose that everyday fare did not have the same proportions: 80% fat (mostly highly saturated fat) to 20% proteinin a population in which heart disease and cancer were nonexistent.
Obtaining adequate fat in the diet was a greater challenge for the Australian Aborigine, living in a very different climate.9 They were close observers of nature and knew just when certain animals were at their fattest. For example, kangaroos were fat when the fern leaf wattle was in flower; possums when the apple tree was in bloom. Other signs indicated when the carpet snake, kangaroo rat, mussels, oysters, turtles and eels were fat and at their best. Except in times of drought or famine, the Aborigine rejected kangaroos that were too lean they were not worth carrying back to camp. During periods of abundance animals were slaughtered ruthlessly, and only the best and fattest parts of the killed game were eaten. Favorite foods were fat from the intestines of marsupials and from emus. Highly saturated kidney fat from the possum was often eaten raw. The dugong, a large seagoing mammal, was another source of fat available to natives on the coasts.
Other sources of fat included eggs from both birds and reptiles and a great variety of insects. Chief among them was the witchety grub, or moth larva, found in rotting trunks of trees. These succulent treats often over six inches long were eaten both raw and cooked. Fat content of the dried grub is as high as 67%. The green tree ant was another source of valuable fat, with a fat-to-protein ration of about 12 to one. Another important seasonal food in some parts of the country was the begong moth. The moths were knocked off rock walls on which they gathered in large numbers, or smoked out of caves or crevices. They were roasted on the spot or ground up for future use. Moth abdomens are the size of a small peanut and are rich in fat.
Modern investigators find it hard to accept the fact that groups exhibiting superb physical development and perfect health ate liberally of the very dietary component that modern nutritionists have demonized: Saturated animal fat. Yet, even a cursory look at disease trends exonerates traditional fats like butter, lard and tallow. As these fats have been replaced by commercial vegetable oils in the western diet, cancer and heart disease have soared. Dietary saturated fats actually play many important roles in the human biochemistry: Saturated fatty acids constitute at least 50% of the cell membranes, giving them necessary stiffness and integrity; they play a vital role in the health of our bones;10 they lower Lp(a), a substance in the blood that indicates proneness to heart disease;11 they protect the liver from alcohol ingestion;12 they enhance the immune system;13 they are needed for the proper utilization of essential fatty acids;14 they are the preferred food for the heart;15 and they have important antimicrobial properties, protecting us against harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract.16