Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Tokelau Island Migrant Study: Dental Health

I'm always on the lookout for studies that can confirm or deny the information in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Traveling around the world in the 1920s and 1930s, Dr. Weston Price found a number of non-industrial cultures that had excellent dental and overall health, including a high resistance to tooth decay, perfectly straight teeth, and wisdom teeth that erupted without impacting. These same cultures developed extreme dental problems, including severe dental decay and crooked teeth in the younger generation, upon adopting modern European foods. These foods always included white flour and refined sugar, with variable contributions from canned goods and vegetable oils.

I have detailed information on the Tokelauan diet beginning in 1968 and ending in 1982. The traditional diet until the 1960s consisted of coconut, fish, breadfruit, pulaka, fruit, pigs, chickens and wild fowl. These are typical Polynesian foods. From the 1960s through the 1980s, Tokelauans gradually adopted flour and sugar as major carbohydrate sources, partially displacing starchy breadfruit and pulaka intake as well as coconut. They also began eating low-quality canned meats that partially replaced fish in their diet. Total calorie intake fluctuated between 1,500 and 2,000 kilocalories but did not trend in any particular direction over time. Here's a graph of macronutrient changes:

I found a study on the dental health of Tokelauans that I thought would be a fitting way to kick off this series. It's titled "Changed oral conditions, between 1963 and 1999, in the population of the Tokelau atolls of the South Pacific". I was only able to get my hands on the abstract, but that was enough. In 1963, Tokelauans were consuming roughly 15 lb of white flour and 10 lb of sugar per person per year. By 1980, the numbers were 60 lb and 69 lb for flour and sugar, and the trend was showing no sign of slowing down (see the graph in the previous post). I don't have numbers for 1999, but they're likely to be higher than in 1980, given the trend. For comparison, in 2006, the average American ate 117 lb of flour per year.

Let's look at a graph. This represents the DMF score (decayed, missing or filled teeth) of Tokelauans 15-19 and 35-44 years old, in 1963 and 1999. I've connected the two data points with lines to give an idea of the trend.

Dental decay increased eight-fold in adolescents and more than four-fold in adults. I don't know what their dental health was like before 1963, but I can only guess it was better than when this study was conducted, due to the fact that the Tokelauan diet was already partially modernized in 1963. The authors conclude "a serious decline in oral health has occurred over the past 35 years."

Does this sound familiar? It should be, because it's been known at least since the 1930s. Here's a quote from Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, describing the Tongan islanders, another Polynesian group:
The limited importation of foods to the Tongan Islands due to the infrequent call of merchant or trading ships has required the people to remain largely on their native foods. Following the war, however, the price of copra went up from $40.00 per ton to $400.00, which brought trading ships with white flour and sugar to exchange for the copra. The effect of this is shown very clearly in the condition of the teeth. The incidence of dental caries [cavities] among the isolated groups living on native foods was 0.6 per cent, while for those around the port living in part on trade foods, it is 33.4 per cent. The effect of the imported food was clearly to be seen on the teeth of the people who were in the growth stage at that time [i.e., they developed crooked teeth]. Now the trader ships no longer call and this forced isolation is very clearly a blessing in disguise. Dental caries has largely ceased to be active since imported foods became scarce, for the price of copra fell to $4.00 a ton. The temporary rise in tooth decay was apparently directly associated with the calling of trader ships.
0.6 percent is one tooth in every 167. In other words, less than one in five people had even a single cavity. That's without the benefit of tooth brushing, fluoride or any of the tools of modern dentistry. 33.4 percent tooth decay in Tongans living on modern foods means they had 11 cavities per person, a bit less than Tokelauans had in 1999.

Weston Price's anecdote above is remarkably similar to something that happened on Tokelau in 1979. The atolls didn't receive their normal shipments of European foods for a five-month period, during which they resorted to traditional foods. Here's an excerpt from the New Zealand Herald from June 11, 1979:
What will happen the day the country runs out of fuel and the ships stop bringing those "essential" foods like sugar and flour? Tokelauans recently found out what the answer to that question was- they got healthier. One of the victims of cyclone Meli earlier this year was the passenger cargo ship Cenpac Rounder, chartered five times per year by the Tokelau Affairs office in Apia. Left high and dry on a reef South of Fiji it was badly damaged and could not be moved. So ever since January the three Tokelau atolls have not received fresh supplies. Late last month the first ship called in, chartered by the Tokelau Affairs office. The Secretary of the office said that when the ship arrived the atolls had run out of fuel. So the fishermen had returned to the traditional sail, a sight on the lagoon that had almost been forgotten, thanks to the outboard motor. There was no sugar, flour, tobacco and starch foods either- and the atoll hospitals reported a shortage of business during the enforced isolation. It was reported that the Tokelauans had been very healthy during that time and had returned to the pre-European diet of coconuts and fish. Many people lost weight and felt very much better including some of the diabetics.


Matt Stone said...


Great post on what is truly one of the most fascinating of topics.

Without question, we can say that refined carbohydrates are the primary cause of tooth decay and subsequent health problems, but the tooth decay issue is very mysterious and complex to say the least.

Of interest to you, is that Robert McCarrison noted that some of the poeple in India that he examined, who had full-blown nutritional deficiencies from eating a diet consisting of 90% white rice, had no tooth decay. He goes on to mention that only those eating a European diet containing white flour and white sugar suffered from such ills.

Likewise, the least likely people from what we might assume to be free of dental decay would be fruitarians or those on a rice diet, yet many report healing tooth decay, tooth sensitivities, and other illnesses on such regimens. Mysterious indeed, as my own personal experience is congruent with that.

Recently, I started having tooth sensitivity despite going two straight months without any white flour or sugar of any kind - even natural sweets. This was quite a shock, as my diet was perfectly aligned with my own beliefs (that sugar, not starch is the cause of dental decay), primarily because simple sugars have a heightened ability to disrupt body chemistry (Melvin Page).

Personally, I think one important clue into dental health is its relationship to digestion. Whether vegan or carnivore, if done properly, both provide the ultimate in digestive ease as the digestive tract only has to handle one food group. A "mono" diet.

McCarrison, and many others who witnessed degeneration at the onset of refined foods, noted, first and foremost, a significant disturbance in digestive function, followed by respiratory ills. As Price pointed out, people on refined foods were far more susceptible to infectious disease as well.

Anyway, not to come to any grand conclusions here as it is all still a mystery - but as modern science leans increasingly towards an inflammatory, infected, hyperimmune explanation for disease, there may really be something to this (as much of that stems from abnormalities in the digestive tract).

People have even reported to me to have cured tooth decay on a standard "rice diet," the greatest horror to a Weston A. Price devotee.

At the very least, good health appears to be far more complex than just getting lots of fat soluble vitamins and essential minerals - despite the sound logic we can draw from when it comes to Tokelauans and the many groups Price examined.

Anyway, love your blog and have been following along for about a month now. Keep up the good work homey.

And you might like this...

Unknown said...

Matt, Layla's story sounds "very Weston Price" - bones, marrow, organ meats, and fresh fruits. I'm sure whatever grains she had were fresh, sprouted and/or fermented, as most traditional diets do.

Do you have any links to these "rice diets" that help with dental health? Weston Price couldn't find any examples of vegetarian diets that protected against dental decay, and neither have I. I have heard though of certain parts of India that get a lot of calories from rice but still get a decent serving of butter, which would have the fat soluble vitamins you need.

Robert M. said...

Thickness of tooth enamel is primarily determined by how acidic one's diet is. Fluoride works by substituting Fluorine for Oxygen, which results in harder more acid resistant compounds. So while sugar intake matters because the bacteria in your mouth break it down and produce acid as a by-product, eating a lot of vinegary products can also cause problems. It takes several hours after a meal for the pH of your mouth to go back to normal.

It takes a very long time to build-up enamel if it's been progressively stripped away from years of soft drinks.

Stephan Guyenet said...


I do think there's something uniquely damaging about wheat. That being said, I wouldn't recommend a diet of nothing but white rice for dental health! I think Weston Price was on to something very simple but important when he said that for health, you need enough minerals and enough fat-soluble vitamins to make good use of them.

I also find it interesting that the vegetable-heavy diet recommended by modern nutrition authorities is not in line with most traditional diets.

Robert Andrew Brown said...

Great post Stephan.

Interesting observation on hospital occupancy and it raises some thought provoking questions as to how the commercial imperative impacts on the important simpler dietary messages like vit D mineral iodine and Omegas which may answer health issues and improve the prognosis for human survival but in an often monetary based value society have no commercial value.

Your observations on minerals and soluble vitamins is I think a good one, and we are back to shoreline dwellers and nutrients from fish and shoreline foods.

Does he make that specific point or are you looking at the general thrust of the book.

Robert Brown

Author Omega Six The Devils Fat

Stan Bleszynski said...

The effect of a low wheat diet on dental health is probably the most astounding among all the positive results you have discussed, so far. I can vouch for it, my broken tooth has sealed off (five years ago) instead of decaying as expected. I never needed a dental service since 1999 when I went low carb (high animal fat).

Matt Stone said...

Let me clear up any confusion by saying that I don't recommend a rice diet as a healthy way to eat or even to prevent tooth decay, but to cure it extremely fast.

Just like Doug Graham noticed by eating nothing but fruit, his teeth got much better and "the dentist told him to keep doing what he was doing." I'm not saying this is healthy, or that Doug Graham isn't a D.B., but trying to add to the conversation which I know to be a far more complex matter than just getting minerals and fat soluble vitamins in your diet. I had plenty of both as a kid, and my teeth all dissolved before I got my second set, which dissolved within 2 years of coming in. My mouth is full of metal.

All I am suggesting is that it is not simply a matter of getting lots of nutrients. For a year I ate what could have perhaps been the most fat-soluble laden diet in America, but it still didn't help my teeth as much as "cleansing" did. I was eating 4,000 wheat and sugar-free (other than milk) calories per day for over a year consisting of butter, eggs, fish eggs, organ meats, up to 3 quarts of fresh, grassfed raw milk per day, bone broths, and farmer's market produce. I did not even purchase food from grocery stores I was so concerned about nutrients.

Developing health issues and tooth pain on such a regimen was a big surprise to me, and the dairy farmer I purchased from (59) had a heart attack - LDL over 200 and HDL was like 25 (he also ate no refined sugar). Raw milk comprised nearly 50% of his caloric intake.

It's interesting that you mention wheat, as someone with damaged digestion is pathologically injured by such a substance despite the fact that some of the healthiest and longest-living humans in history ate it at every single meal (Hunzas, Sihks, Loetchenthal swiss, etc.) My whole point is that poor digestion is associated with tooth decay, not vitamin and mineral consumption.

And no I'm not a proponent of some kind of vegetarian regimen either. In fact, I spent the entire month of December without eating a single morsel from the plant kingdom -- which also had a profoundly positive impact on my teeth and overall health.

Just pointing out that following Weston A. Price dogma isn't a surefire approach to "happily ever after." Melvin Page, whose work on dental health that was just as important, didn't put much emphasis on vitamin and mineral content of the diet either. He didn't, because he didn't need to. Tooth decay heals up when health is improved, and there are dozens of dietary strategies that can deliver that.

As we know, diet and lifestyle are the most powerful forms of medicine.

Stephan Guyenet said...


Weston Price did say that, back in the 30s.


Interesting. I suppose it's not a panacea. The other thing traditional groups got a lot of was vitamin D- mostly from sunlight. I think that fits in pretty well with the fat-soluble vitamin story, although it doesn't seem like Price recognized the critical contribution of sunlight to D status.

By the way, I'm not aware of any well-documented healthy traditional society that ate wheat as a staple. The Swiss villagers in the Loestschental valley were eating rye- sourdough fermented, which further reduces gluten and anti-nutrients. The Hunza did eat wheat, but it was one of many grains they ate, it was seasonal, and they sprouted it.

Besides, were they really so healthy? I've heard speculations about their longevity but no reliable accounts.

For the record, I find your theory of a link between digestion and tooth decay highly plausible. A number of celiac researchers believe that inflammatory messengers released from the gut due to gluten damage is part of the reason why celiac patients have bone and tooth problems (osteopenia, osteoporosis, thin enamel, cavities etc).

Stan Bleszynski said...

Re: My whole point is that poor digestion is associated with tooth decay, not vitamin and mineral consumption.

I doubt it. I suspect that Chris Masterjohn's theory is more plausible, that is identifying vitamin K2 as the most critical factor. Matt, your observation that a diet consisting of raw milk is not a panacea does not contradict that view. If they cows weren't grass fed they would be lacking K2 and since milk may have 50% of calories as sugar would make such a diet within Dr.Kwasniewski's "forbidden zone". A diet with a comparable proportions by calories of fat and carbohydrate (say F:C=40%:40%) is highly atherosclerotic according to him, even if you consume all natural unprocessed produce. Even if you consumed 50% fat and 30% carbs I would still be worried. The safe region on a high fat diet is below 1g carbs a day per 1kg of ideal body weight. On a 2000kcal/day diet that would be 15% of carbs max (in calories). Anything above that would be dicey for middle aged or older adults.

If you are on a high fat diet (above 50% calories), make an experiment and try eating above 150g of carbs (pure glucose equivalent) a day for a few days and you will see what I mean.

Scott W said...

Stephan, one question on minerals since it has come up in these comments. Price talks a lot about the need for phosphorus, but no one mentions it today. Thoughts?

Scott W

TedHutchinson said...

You say "it doesn't seem like Price recognized the critical contribution of sunlight to D status."

But it was as late as 1923 when Goldblatt and Soames discovered that when 7-dehydrocholesterol < precursor of vitamin D in the skin> was irradiated with sunlight or ultraviolet light, a substance equivalent to the fat-soluble vitamin was produced.

It took much longer for information to spread when Price was working.

AngloAmerikan said...

They also began eating low-quality canned meats that partially replaced fish in their diet.

This fact is often mentioned when discussing the modern Polynesian diet yet it seems at odds with the theories presented here. What is low quality meat? In the West low quality meat is regarded as meat that contains less lean meat and a lot of fat, sinew and organ material yet we here might regard that as better quality than very lean meat. Is it possible that the canned meats have had very little adverse impact on their health compared to flour and sugar?

Also it stuck in my mind when I was young and told that preindustrial Maori of New Zealand had dental problems. I found this after a quick search:

Evidence from human skeletal remains shows that life was short and hard, despite the strong build of the people and the absence of infectious diseases. As in other preindustrial societies, the average age at death was around 30, with an estimated life expectancy of 45-50. Arthritis and spinal degeneration were common after age 25 and the small number who actually got beyond 40 to claim their allotted span had usually lost their teeth. From the small samples examined, tooth decay seems to have been more common in the early period when meat from seals and large birds was readily available. In the later period, tooth decay seems to have been replaced by tooth wear as vegetable fibre, primarily fern root, replaced meat in the diet (Houghton, 1980, 1996; Davidson, 1984). Link

I wonder if this a relic of colonialist propaganda or if there is some truth to it. One theory was that NZ was missing some trace elements in the soil that were required for healthy teeth.

Robert Andrew Brown said...



On 4000 cals a day were you putting on weight or was it used for energy?

Any vegetable oils in the diet?

Did conditions relate to inflammation. Any gum issues?

What was different with the December no plant material diet that was beneficial.

Just interested if you feel you can answer.


Jad said...

could it be the Maori were losing their teeth and damaging their bones through other means? They were a race of warriors and engaged in many battles with other chiefdoms, and would also practice figthing regularly. Perhaps it was wear and tear from punches and fighting that did it?
Also I do know NZ soil is very low in selenium (as is Australia's from where I am from) perhaps that had something to do with it?

Robert Andrew Brown said...

What does Weston Price have to say on the Maori.

I gave my copy away to a dentist - I must get another.

Unknown said...

Price found the Maori in excellent health. I was a bit surprised to hear the description related by AA. But Price also related that the Maori made heavy use of fish and shellfish.

I wouldn't be surprised if the poor dental health was from a period when the Maori were new to NZ or otherwise in a period of flux before they found local sources of proper nutrition.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Scott W,

I've noticed that too, but I haven't looked into it. I'll keep my eyes peeled.


Low quality meat in my book is CAFO chicken and turkey that's rich in omega-6. Lots of fatty parts and not much protein. Normally that wouldn't be a problem, but when a CAFO chicken's body fat has the same composition as industrial vegetable oil... That being said, I mentioned the canned meats for completeness; I'm not suggesting they had anything to do with it.

About the Maori, I don't know how to explain that. Price found the traditionally living Maori in excellent health, and has pictures to prove their good dental health. I'm not going to dispute the archaeological findings you mentioned, there are always exceptions to a rule. Maybe it was the result of some particular combination of factors in that time period. Maybe they had a taboo on organs or something, HG society tends to be big on taboos. I feel comfortable saying that the large majority of prehistoric HG groups had excellent dental health.


Giving your copy of NPD to a dentist is a worthy cause!

Isabella said...

From Weston Price, "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration," (18th edition, pages 452-453):

"Among the skulls of the Maoris of New Zealand, of individuals who lived before the coming of the white man, only one tooth per thousand teeth had been attacked by decay.  This is in striking contrast with the condition of the teeth of this same people today since it has become largely modernized by contact with the white population.  In my studies of modernized Maori groups, I found from 300 to 600 per thousand teeth attacked by dental caries...The whites of New Zealand, according to their own dentists have the poorest teeth in the world today."   

AngloAmerikan said...

I think Weston Price’s observations about Maori teeth are the more reliable. I recall the archaeological evidence of bad teeth was due to the high number of holes in the bone near the teeth indicating abscessing and Jad may well be onto something with the violence theory. A blow to the mouth can damage the roots of teeth – something I can personally attest to. Violence was far more prevalent in HG societies then it is today with something like 40% of men eventually being killed fighting. Maori society was probably even worse with their predilection for cannibalism.

It is possible that scientists looked for evidence of bad teeth in Maori to sell their theory that NZ was low in natural fluoride in order to convince everyone that fluoridating the water supply was a good idea. Tooth health did improve after that however they may have treated a symptom rather than the cause.

Matt Stone said...

I suspect too that the Maori dentition was precisely as Price described. Of course he mentions hearing rumors of their fantastic teeth and physical health before he even set out to see for himself.

On the topic of wheat, Robert McCarrison noted that of all the regions he studied in the Himalayan region, the Sikhs were the most physically robust. He made similar discoveries there as Price did in his travels elsewhere. The Sikhs ate fresh-ground, whole-wheat chappatis with every meal. They did not sprout or ferment their grains and cooked it for only a few minutes.

I did not get fat eating 4,000 calories a day. Calories have little to do with weight gain. In fact, 4,000 is an underestimate. I got much leaner eating 300 grams of fat per day from the diet I mentioned than I ever got eating a 'regular diet' or even a low-calorie, predominantly raw vegan diet.

Working as a wilderness ranger and then moving to Hawaii for the winter really diminishes the chances that I was vitamin D deficient from lack of sunlight.

Stan, your commentary about a diet being too high in carbs and fat simultaneously has some merit. Since then I dropped milk and cut my carbs back to approximate Kwasniewski proportions (although I didn't study up on Kwaz until very recently).

Still, the tooth pain remained and actually seemed to worsen a little (even with carbs at 50grams per day and no sugar in my diet in any form).

My teeth have been much better since I went on an all-meat, zero carb diet. It was probably the least nutritious diet I've eaten, from a micronutrient standpoint, in my entire life. I ate mostly supermarket rare feedlot beef and commercial eggs.

All I am proposing, because I've had such contradictory experiences to what this post indicates, is that teeth are overrun with bacteria because of a suppressed immune system. What suppresses the immune system? Cortisol (which also triggers insulin resistance and hypothyroidism -- also linked to impaired immunity).

Why do people secrete too much cortisol? Because their bodies are in a hyperimmune state caused by elevated triglycerides (from excess fructose consumption), too many omega 6's, malabsorption from poor digestion (fructose, lactose, and maldigested starches in particular), which in turn fuel bacterial overgrowth in the digestive tract, increase inflammatory cytokine production and cortisol even more, and the vicious cycle continues.

Tooth decay is caused by bacteria taking over. Bacteria take over the digestive tract first and are much harder to combat (can't brush the small intestine too well). Our immune system function and disease resistance all stems from the innerworkings of the digestive tract.

Eating a nutritious diet full of fat soluble vitamins and minerals is the best way to prevent this process from beginning. There is no question that native diets, regardless of their composition, are the healthiest human diets.

But is a mixed diet like this, regardless of the superiority of its nutritional content, or organic-ness, appropriate for someone with impaired digestion, damaged intestinal villi, malabsorption, and a thrashed brush border? Perhaps not. Perhaps nutrients and food quality are secondary to eating in a way that better treats these impairments. Perhaps this is why practices such as removing a food group from the diet, food-combining, cleansing and fasting, and eating as few calories as possible are more closely linked to health, health recovery/healing, and longevity. Perhaps this is why Furhman has vastly superior health to Cowan (he's got a hyperinsulinemia/cortisolemia potbelly), why many near-vegans look and feel better than the people that attend the WAPF annual conference, and why I feel a heck of a lot better focusing on eating a low-fiber, no-sugar, easy-to-digest diet than trying to gobble up as many vitamin and mineral-rich foods as I can get my hands on.

All I'm saying is that it's a possibility, and it's best not to get blindsided in the typical nutritionist mode of focusing on nutrient-density and whether or not our ancestors ate x food.

"I study why healthy foods kill people."
-Konstantin Monastyrsky; author, Fiber Menace

Robert Andrew Brown said...

Thanks Matt

My interest is in what is happening to the additional calories and how that may impact on oxidation, antioxidant need etc.

Teeth need minerals. Speculation - Maybe meat is a better source of minerals than previous elements of your diet.

Half Navajo said...

I agree...Fiber menace was a great book. I cut out the fiber along time ago and it makes a huge difference. I don't eat wheat or very many grains., and i cut down on my veggie and nut consumption, and eat pretty much just eggs, raw cream, meat, cheese, and seafood....it feels good. I do try to get the best quality products i can, but if i can't or am eating out with friends i don't mind eating some conventional stuff...i just avoid the wheat, grains, and fiber and i feel great. I haven't had a cavity or teeth issues since i have been eating like this.

I think alot of our guts got damaged growing up eating wheat, soy oil, corn oil, sugar, and to many grains the FDA food pyramid recommended. If we had been on traditional diets, i think alot of us could digest vegetable, nuts, seeds, and some grains alot better. I just feel alot better sticking to fat and protein for now though.

Scott W said...

Matt, regarding your comments on wheat:

I'm reading Weston Price right now and he used freshly ground whole wheat for the bread he fed children in one of his successful intervention studies on dental caries. He did not say he soaked it or sprouted it. The only point he made was that it needed to be freshly ground to avoid having the fats in the germ oxidize and lose nutrients.

So I think that wheat (whole, unrefined) can be used successfully by healthy populations, even if they don't soak or ferment it.

But...if some of those kids had been celiacs, they would not have done so well. And some studies (that I can't quote) find some level of gluten and wheat lectin intolerance in many populations. So I think that while wheat may not be causing huge problems for some cultures, given their over all food choices, they may do better with a different grain choice (if they could choose).

Now vegetable oil...I don't think any cultures thrive on that.

Scott W

Unknown said...


Sikhs living in the Punjab region of Northern India being mostly an agricultural society traditionally use a lot of butter and Ghee (clarified butter) in their diet. I think this explains their relative robustness compared to other cultures in the subcontinent.
However, for the past 20 years or so, due to rapid urbanisation, the Punjabis are eating a far more westernized diet, especially the use of vegetable oils in the cooking. This change alone has caused the incidence of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes to skyrocket there.

Robert Andrew Brown said...


There is an interesting paper done many years ago comparing the health of railway workers in northern and southern India and finding high heart disease in the South where vegetable oil consumption was higher, although there could be confounding factors like the use of curcumin.

There is another Indian paper showing an increase linear relationship between omega 6 consumption and diabetes, as people moved from a rural to urban diet.

If you have refers for any Indian papers on the subject I would be really interested.

Matt Stone said...

There is definitely something too the freshness of ground grain. Also, today's grinders turn wheat into a fine powder. Fine powders tend to act like drugs more than food, whether the fiber is there or not.

I think wheat is a great case in point of the rules changing. Grain has been a staple of numerous cultures, but the digestive impairment that so many of us have dealt with make grains a much less tolerable form of food. For some, any kind of fiber can now be an irritant. Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with wheat or any other natural human staple over the last several thousands of years - a point I could argue to the level of irrefutability. But Autistic kids for example, or anyone with similar root disorders, do not produce the enzyme necessary to split proteins like gluten and casein from dairy. Then these foods become quite pathological. But it's not the food's fault, but the person who is eating it.

I guess my point is simply that eating a bunch of healthy foods from a list, or trying to follow some native diet that provided perfect health to our ancestors - although a massive leap in the right direction, isn't a panacea or cure all.

What I find interesting is that deer in Grand Canyon National Park began eating junk food from the tourist visitors, became aggressive, started losing hair and falling ill, and had to be put down because they could no longer return to their diet of grass. They couldn't digest it - the most natural and nutritious, and perfectly suitable food for a deer.

I think the same pertains to humans and many of the foods we ingest that would otherwise be quite suitable, particularly wheat and milk (something dentist Melvin Page excluded from the diet to cure tooth decay).

Sam said...

Matt Stone, the fine powders generated by today's high speed rolling mills are dangerous because they provide much larger reactive surface areas for the mass ingested.

This naturally leads to a much steeper insulin spike and other biological activity compared to the same mass more coarsely ground.

As for there being nothing inherently wrong with eating wheat and you being able to prove that "...to the level of irrefutability" - you have to be kidding. You've heard of gluten, I take it?

Lisa said...

So if high quality WAPF and Kwaz/Groves diets don't heal, what is a person with a system broken by years of Western eating habits to do? I really wouldn't want to go all animal product for an extended length of time.

Matt Stone said...


Those diets do heal. They are fantastic diets - some of the best out there for an ailing world. But I think it's important to be open to all kinds of dietary strategies. I didn't stay all-meat or all-rice or all-whatever for long, but I was able to heal on those and return to more nutritious diets with better results.


Unfortunately many people suffer from delusions about certain foods being unhealthy because their bodies cannot handle them properly. There is absolutely nothing wrong with gluten, just as there is nothing wrong with lactose, or casein, or any natural component of any natural food that humans have subsisted on for centuries. Robert McCarrison even noted that his animal subjects had perfect health and resistance to virulent diseases with lots of fresh, stone-ground glutinous wheat in their diet - including dogs, monkeys, and pigeons.

The problem is impaired adenosine metabolism. Adenosine is broken down by the adenosine deaminase enzyme, an enzyme that is bound to a molecule called DPP-IV, the enzyme that breaks down casein and gluten. DPP-IV also has immunomodulatory action and can lead to hyperallergenicity and autoimmunity. Of course, undigested casein and gluten have very strong psychoactive properties as well, disrupt neurotransmitter balance, cause addiction, etc.

So yes, under certain circumstances, gluten-containing foods may be the most pathological substances in a person's diet. Immediate removal is mandatory and life-changing.

They are perfectly suitable for a healthy person though, if freshly-prepared and not ground into an overly fine powder.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Matt, Scott and Tavinder,

The thing you mentioned about Sikhs has peaked my interest. Are you absolutely sure they didn't ferment it? Fermentation is a food preparation method that is often overlooked. Diet records of African cultures often don't even mention the fact that grains are almost always fermented. Also, how much wheat did they eat? Was it a dominant part of their caloric intake year-round as it is in Europe and the US? And what did he mean by "robust"? Did he measure anything quantitative like tooth decay?

I do acknowledge that Price had success in curing tooth decay using freshly-ground wheat. But he also fed these children very large amounts of fat-soluble vitamins at the same time. If wheat does its damage by impairing fat-soluble vitamin status (a theory I've touched on in the past), then that would explain why high levels of fat-soluble vitamins can override it. The same could be true of the sikhs, who use a lot of pastured butter traditionally. But then again, Price didn't follow them 10 years down the road. Maybe they ended up developing autoimmune thyroiditis, gluten ataxia or one of the other zillion things that result from gluten sensitivity.

Grains have never really been an ideal food as a staple. If you look in the archaeological record, cultures that adopted grains immediately saw a decrease in stature, decrease in skeletal and dental robustness, an increase in tooth decay, anemia etc. They may have been overconsuming it or something, but those are symptoms you typically don't see in non grain-eating cultures, no matter what their diets were. I think the only way to make grains healthy as a staple is to choose the right one(s) (non-gluten), and prepare them to maximize digestibility (by soaking, sprouting, grinding and particularly fermentating).

Unknown said...

I was just about to jump in and point out what Stephan said in his last paragraph. While I certainly agree that foods using fresh, coarse ground whole wheat berries are going to be better white flour versions, grain eating cultures still suffer problems that non-grain eating cultures simply don't have to worry about. Even the Swiss that Price studied, while healthier than their lowland brethren, were the least healthy of the groups he studied.

And importantly, we only know that because of the very precise measurements taken by Price. Most other ethnologists I've read are not nearly as rigorous.

Thresshold said...

Stephan, I think it's great that you search out supportive evidence for Price's work. I've been reading NAPD lately and am disturbed by the lack of any healthy non-industrialized peoples that had a rice-based diet. Or even used rice. The question arises, was that because he couldn't find any that were healthy? Or why?

He seems to have left a lot of info out of this book. I haven't gotten far enough to find out if the detailed info on diets is included elsewhere. I was very shocked that a boy made a fabulous recovery on nothing but whole milk and freshly-ground wheat (unfermented apparently), with HV butter oil. This really has me rethinking food and its relation to health.

I am a cavity-every-six-months person, who arrested decay for 3 years by going on a Protein Power-like diet. No limit on non-starchy veggies, lots of meat-- turkey, beef --lots of nuts, olive oil, egg a day. No grains. Very little fruit, no sugar. Plenty of supplemented vitamin A and D, E, C, Bs, some dolomite.

I am a celiac. I can produce a disease state that causes tooth decay and other destruction literally with one wrong snack. I can become seriously B12 deficient in a matter of minutes. I'm on a pro-nutrient, WAPF-friendly diet now, but that cannot protect against occurrences of "one wrong snack." The only "cure" for the tooth and other system damage is absolute abstinence, which unless the "supply ship doesn't come in" is impossible for me now.

Stephan Guyenet said...


In my opinion, it's just a coincidence that he didn't study any rice eating cultures. He didn't travel to Asia except perhaps to India to look for healthy vegans (he didn't find any).

I believe that rice can be healthy and in fact, in my opinion it's among the healthiest grains. Japan is arguably the healthiest affluent nation and white rice is a staple. They can get away with the low nutrient content of polished rice because their diet is otherwise rich in vitamins and minerals from eggs, seafood, meat and a modest quantity of vegetables.

Traditional cultures that eat brown rice often grind and ferment it, because that's the best way to break down the phytic acid and make the minerals absorbable. Unsoaked, unfermented cooked brown rice is probably worse than white rice as far as minerals are concerned. It's richer in vitamins of course, but it's probably not a great staple food unless fermented. Simply soaking brown rice doesn't break down enough of the phytic acid.

Unknown said...

Stephan, have you seen anything on mixing brown rice with a high-phytase grain during soaking and/or fermentation? I found this paper but do not have access to it - do you?

Stephan Guyenet said...


I took a look at that paper, it makes soaking look pretty dismal for breaking down phytic acid. I did find another paper that used complementary flours to break down phytic acid. The gluten grains have a lot of phytase, as does buckwheat. So mixing buckwheat flour with other flours is one option. But if you sourdough ferment, you'll get phytase activity in any flour.