More than 60 years ago, a Cleveland dentist named Weston A. Price decided to embark on a series of unique investigations. For 10 years, he traveled to various isolated parts of the earth where the inhabitants had no contact with "civilization" to study their health and physical development. He studied Swiss villagers, Irish fisherfolk, traditional Eskimos, Indian tribes in Canada and the Florida Everglades, South Sea islanders, Aborigines in Australia, Maoris in New Zealand, Peruvian and Amazonian Indians, and tribesmen in Africa. The photographs Price took, the descriptions of what he found, and his startling conclusions are preserved in a book considered a masterpiece by many nutrition researchers who followed in Price's footsteps: Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration is the kind of book that changes the way people view the world. No one can look at the handsome photographs of so-called "primitive people" - faces that are broad, well formed, and noble - without realizing that there is something very wrong with the development of modern children. In every isolated region he visited, Price found tribes or villages where virtually every individual exhibited genuine physical perfection. In such groups, tooth decay was rare and dental crowding and occlusions - the kind of problems that keep American orthodontists in yachts and vacation homes - nonexistent. Price took photograph after photograph of beautiful smiles, and noted that the natives were invariably cheerful and optimistic. Such people were characterized by "splendid physical development" and an almost complete absence of disease, even those living in physical environments that were extremely harsh.
The diets of the healthy "primitives" Price studied were all very different: In the Swiss village where Price began his investigations, the inhabitants lived on rich dairy products - unpasteurized milk, butter, cream and cheese, dense rye bread, meat occasionally, bone-broth soups, and the few vegetables they could cultivate during the short summer months. The children never brushed their teeth - in fact, their teeth were covered in green slime - but Price found that only about one percent of the teeth had any decay at all. The children went barefoot in frigid streams during weather that forced Dr. Price and his wife to wear heavy wool coats. Nevertheless, childhood illnesses were virtually nonexistent, and there had never been a single case of tuberculosis in the village.
On the other hand, hearty Gallic fishermen living off the coast of Scotland consumed no dairy products. Fish formed the mainstay of the diet, along with oats made into porridge and oatcakes. Fish heads stuffed with oats and chopped fish liver was a traditional dish, and one considered very important for children. The Eskimo diet, composed largely of fish, fish roe, and marine animals, including seal oil and blubber, allowed Eskimo mothers to produce one sturdy baby after another without suffering any health problems or tooth decay. 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. South Sea 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.
Price took samples of native foods home with him to Cleveland and studied them in his laboratory. He found that these diets contained at least four times the minerals and water soluble vitamins - vitamin C and B complex - as the American diet of his day. Price would undoubtedly find a greater discrepancy in the 21st century due to continual depletion of our soils through industrial farming practices. What's more, among traditional populations, grains and tubers were prepared in ways that increased vitamin content and made minerals more available - soaking, fermenting, sprouting, and sour leavening.