Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: Chapters 3 and 4

Welcome to week 2 of our book club series for Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price. This week we read chapters 3 and 4. I’m reading from the online version that you can access here. I chose this as the ‘control’ since everyone can access* it.  Last week I shared my thoughts through chapter 2.

Chapter 3: Isolated and modernized Swiss

“Our quest has been for information relative to the health of the body, the perfection of the teeth, and the normality of development of faces and dental arches, in order that we might through an analysis of the foods learn the secret
of such splendid body building and learn from the people of the valley how the nutrition of all groups of people may be reinforced, so that they, too, may be free from mankind’s most universal disease, tooth decay and its sequelae.”

This chapter does a beautiful job of describing the area in which the people Dr. Price studied lived.  One thing that I really enjoy about this book is how descriptive it is. When I heard of this book, I actually expected the reading to be rather ‘dry’. I was very wrong in that expectation. I can almost imagine the areas and the people he meets. His liberal use of photographs is also a huge help.

In studying the people in the isolated Swiss villages he finds that the main foods are rye bread, toasted rye cereals, liberal use of dairy products and meat about one time per week.  The evidence of dental caries is less than 3% in these villages (3 out of every 100 teeth examined).  He also notes that these people are very ‘sturdy’ in physical condition with very little disease including tuberculosis which was considered a huge problem at that time in Switzerland.

He compares these to the Swiss villages that have access by railroad to more “modern” products and the Swiss plains. These areas consume refined cereal flours, lots of sweets in the forms of pastries, jams and jellies, canned goods, sweetened fruits, chocolate and a reduction in dairy products. The modern areas have dental caries as high as 98%, have non-hereditary facial and dental arch deformities and are more susceptible to disease.

Chapter 4: Isolated and Modernized Gaelics

“STORIES have long been told of the superb health of the people living in the
Islands of the Outer Hebrides. The smoke oozing through the thatched roofs of
their “black houses” has added weirdness to the description of their home life
and strange environment. These stories have included a description of their
wonderfully fine teeth and their stalwart physiques and strong characters.”

So begins Chapter 4.  Again, a wonderful description of the locations the people Dr. Price studied.  He describes it as a very rough sounding area with rocky cliffs and less than pleasant weather. 

“We are concerned primarily with the physical development of the people, and particularly with their freedom from dental caries or tooth decay. One has only to see them carrying their burdens of peat or to observe the ease with which the fisherwomen on the docks carry their tubs of fish back from the cleaning table to the tiers of packing barrels to be convinced that these people have not only been trained to work, but have physiques equal to the task.”

Interestingly, the diet of these isolated Gaelics is not at all like the Swiss in chapter 3. They consume very little dairy products with no mention of rye bread. Their food consists of oat products and fish.  Lot’s of oat and fish from the reading.  Of particular interest is the mention of the thatched roofs on the ‘black houses’. This thatching is replaced each year and the old thatching is used to fertilize the oat crops. I love how this tradition shows such ingenuity to fertilize their crops in a natural manner.  In fact, near the end of the chapter that people are provided new houses but the ‘older’ people still insist on fertilizing their crops with the smoke permeated thatching for fear that their crops will not grow without it. Dr. Price did an experiment with the thatching which proved their suspicions correct. 

Dr. Price found in some of the areas dental carries as low as 1.3 percent per 100 teeth examined. This combined with the excellent physical health on a diet mainly of oat products and fish.

The modern Gaelics with the ability to get modern foods showed very different results.  He reported groups where 25% of the people no longer had their original teeth (!) along with a high incidence of cavities and a different physical appearance. Here is an exerpt that I found particularly interesting.

We found a family on the opposite coast of the island where the two boys… resided. One had excellent teeth and the other had rampant caries. These boys were brothers eating at the same table. The older boy, with excellent teeth, was still enjoying primitive food of oatmeal and oatcake and sea foods with some limited dairy products. The younger boy… had extensive tooth decay. Many teeth were missing including two in the front. He insisted on having white
bread, jam, highly sweetened coffee and also sweet chocolates. His father told me with deep concern how difficult it was for this boy to get up in the morning
and go to work. 

Be sure to check out the pictures in each of these chapters.

Thoughts From These Two Chapters:

I am struck by how amazingly simple both diets in these isolated villages are. While different in content, they each have very limited components. This brings lots of thoughts to mind.

First, do we now make it harder than it needs to be? I know that I like to provide a variety of items for my family in order to avoid boredom.  But is that really necessary? I’ve read about things like ‘food fatigue’ (boredom from eating the same foods over and over to the point of refusing to eat) but after reading this I wonder if that is something experienced historically or if that is a new thing with our seemingly limitless food choices.

Second, Dr. Price mentions the physical sturdiness of both people and also the pleasantness.  Again, very different diets but similar characteristics.

Next week (Wednesday) we’ll continue by reading Chapters 5 and 6

I’d love to know your thoughts on Nutrition and Physical Degeneration  Chapters 3 and 4. What jumped out at you? What observances did you make? Any additional thoughts or insights?

*Be sure to check that the book is public domain in your country as indicated at the top of the online access.

Photos: Cheese aclxyz on Flickr
Fish rexb on Flickr

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