The Vital Importance of Good Nutrition

nutritional choicesOne of the most important keys to maintaining good health is good nutrition. In fact, it’s quite possible that the majority of the disease we face are simply caused by poor nutrition. So, before we start trying to get well by taking herbs or nutritional supplements, we should look at resolving two primary problems. We should improve our diet and we should reduce our stress.  There are several articles about both of these topics on this website, but in this one I want to focus on what I consider to be the most reliable approach to good nutrition.

About twenty years ago, I became familiar with the work done by two doctors, Francis Pottenger and Weston Price, through the Price-Pottenger Foundation.  There research suggests that disease would be rare if we paid better attention to nutrition.  We’ll start by examining the work of Dr. Price.

Weston A. Price

Weston A. PriceDr. Weston Price received his dental degree in 1893 and subsequently began his practice.  He became one of the top dentists in his field.  His articles brought acclaim and recognition and his textbooks became standards in the dental health field.

During his career, Dr. Price noted that the general dental health of his patients was declining.  He noted changes in the dental arch, which caused teeth to become crowded and crooked.  He also noted an increase in dental decay over what the parents of his younger patients had experienced.  He began to note that the condition of the teeth was a fairly good indicator of overall health.
After some consideration he determined that the problem could be related to some deficiency in modern diets. 

To test his hypothesis, Dr. Price spent about ten years traveling around the world studying the general and dental health of people living on a “primitive” diet versus people living on a “civilized” diet.  Dr. Price took photographs, measurements, and samples of foods which he analyzed for nutritional content and other statistical data.  His travels took him to the high alpine valleys in Switzerland, the islands of the Outer Hebrides, Alaska, remote areas of Canada and the United States, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Peru and islands of the South Pacific.

Nutrition and Physical Degeneration

Nutrition and Physical DegenerationDr. Price published the results of his life’s work in a book called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.  Everywhere Dr. Price went, he found that indigenous peoples were healthy and robust when they ate the natural foods found in their environment.  In every case, however, where these people were introduced to white flour, refined sugar, processed oils and other “civilized” food products, they began to experience the health problems common to western man.  Following are a few of Dr. Price’s specific findings.  

In the Loetschental Valley in an isolated part of the Swiss Alps, Dr. Price found about 2,000 people living primarily on whole rye bread and raw cow and goat milk from grazing animals.  Cheese and butter were made from the summer milk to last the whole year.  They also raised salad greens.  The people drank water coming off the glaciers.  They ate meat about once per week, usually on Sunday.  The bones and scraps were used to make soups for the remainder of the week.  These people had no physician, dentist, or policeman.  They produced nearly everything they needed.

In examining the teeth of these people, Dr. Price found them virtually free from dental decay.  On the average there was only one cavity per three children examined.  Those young people who did have problems with tooth decay were those who had lived away from the valley in the city.

In addition to their healthy teeth, the people were also resistant to other diseases.  Tuberculosis, a common killer disease of that day, was essentially unknown.

The health and strength of these people were particularly impressive when compared with the health of people living in the lower valleys and plains in Switzerland.  Only about ten miles away there was another community which had a paved road which was accessible year round.  The people in this community had access to the foods of civilization: pastries, jams, canned goods, etc. 

Here, Dr. Price found an average of six cavities in each mouth.  He found that the jaws were narrower, causing misshapen dental arches, crowding of the teeth and impacted wisdom teeth.  He also found these people were more susceptible to disease in general.

“Civilized” versus “Primative” Diets

In other areas of the world, Dr. Price found similar contrasts.  In the Isle of Lewis and the Isle of Harris off the northwest coast of Scotland, Dr. Price found healthy people living off seafood, oat grain, fish organs and eggs, and vegetables.  Children living on this diet showed less than one tooth out of a hundred with any decay.  Tuberculosis, cancer, arthritis and other degenerative diseases were unknown.

In contrast, children in port towns with access to white breads, jams, canned vegetables, vegetable oils, sugar, chocolate and coffee had an average of between 16 and 50 decayed teeth per hundred.  Tuberculosis was a great problem, with some populations having been decimated by this disease.

In Alaska, Dr. Price interviewed a Dr. Josef Romig, a surgeon who has served among the “primitive” and “civilized” Eskimos and Native Americans for thirty-six years.  Dr. Romig stated that cancer was unknown among the truly primitive natives (he had never seen a single case) but developed when they began eating refined foods.  Other acute problems common to modernized Native Americans were rare among their ‘primitive’ brethren.  When modernized Native Americans developed tuberculosis, Dr. Romig sent them back to their primitive conditions and diet, where the majority of them recovered.  When given the choice, most of those that preferred the “civilized” diet simply died.

Dr. Price also interviewed the physician directing a hospital at a large Native American reservation in Ontario.  This doctor had had contact with three generations of Native American mothers.  He said that while the grandmothers had given birth without difficulty in wilderness homes, current mothers were often in labor for days and surgical interference was frequently necessary.

In Africa, Dr. Price discovered six entire tribes without a single cavity or malformed dental arch.  In thirteen tribes, no irregular teeth were found.  Again, when these people moved to the cities and adopted modern foods, tooth decay and crowding of the teeth became rampant.  It was only after the  introduction of refined foods that the people first became susceptible to infectious diseases such as malaria, dysentery and sleeping sickness.  Primitives, on the other hand, not only had immunity to these infectious diseases, they also avoided problems with chronic diseases.  

A doctor in charge of a government hospital in Kenya told Dr. Price that in his several years of service among primitive people he had seen no cases of appendicitis, gall bladder problems, cystitis, or duodenal ulcer.  In more recent years, it has also come to light that these African people (who consume large quantities of fiber rich foods) are virtually free from all colon problems, such as constipation, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids and even cancer of the colon.  This fact has led the National Cancer Institute to publicize that a high fiber diet appears to protect the body against certain forms of cancer.

Pottenger’s Cats

catsAt the same time Dr. Price was touring the world learning that refined foods contributed not only to dental problems, but low immune response and chronic diseases as well, another doctor, Francis M. Pottenger, was conducting a ten-year study on the effects of cooked versus raw food. He wrote about this in a book called Pottenger's Cats: A Study in Nutrition.

Dr. Pottenger’s experiments involved cats kept in pens, which were fed strictly controlled diets.  The control group was fed a diet consisting of two-thirds raw meat scraps, one-third raw milk.  Another group was fed raw milk, but the meat scraps were cooked.  Three groups were fed raw meat scraps, but cooked milk of some type rather than raw; one group received pasteurized milk, another evaporated milk and a third sweetened condensed milk.

The cats fed raw meat and milk thrived generation after generation, and were strikingly uniform in size and skeletal development for each sex.  A broad face with wide dental arches and no crowding of teeth was the rule.  There was little shedding of fur, and the fur was uniform with a good sheen.  The animals were friendly, even-tempered and well-coordinated.  Miscarriages were rare.  They were resistant to infection, fleas and parasites.

In contrast, all the groups fed cooked food of one sort or another failed to thrive.  The most severe deterioration was found in the cats fed sweetened condensed milk (evaporated milk with sugar).  These cats became extremely irritable and nervous and developed heavy fat deposits and marked skeletal deformities.  Cats fed pasteurized milk or cooked meat showed less severe signs of degeneration, but the degeneration was still serious.  The problems also became worse with each generation.  Common disorders included vision problems, infections of internal organs and bones, arthritis, heart problems, underactivity of the thyroid gland, inflammation of the joints and the nervous system, skin lesions, allergies, intestinal parasites and vermin, loss of coordination, pneumonia and diarrhea.

The personality of the cats also changed.  Females fed cooked meat often became irritable and aggressive, while their male counterparts often became docile and unassertive.  

Reproductive problems developed among those cats fed cooked foods.  Miscarriage rates were high: twenty-five percent for the first generation on the cooked food diet, seventy percent for the second generation.  Many cats had difficult deliveries and many died in labor.  Many of the kittens were born dead or too frail to nurse.  Third generation cats died before reaching six months of age.   What was most alarming is that no offspring were ever born to the third generation of cats fed the cooked foods.  

Our Modern Health Problems

Of course, cats have a different metabolism than human beings, so we can’t make too many direct comparisons.  However, it is interesting (and important) to note that Dr. Pottenger found the same health problems developing in his cooked-food cats that Dr. Price found in people eating refined foods.  These included narrowing of the dental arches with attendant crowding of teeth, underbites, overbites and protruding and crooked teeth.  Dr. Price also noted that primitive peoples abandoning their traditional diet developed disease patterns, reproductive problems and behavioral problems, just like the cats in Dr. Pottenger’s study.

It’s easy to see that the health problems developed by Dr. Pottenger’s cats are rampant in modern civilization.  Of course, Dr. Pottenger didn’t use antibiotics, vaccines, surgeries, etc. to try to keep his cats alive.  But then, again, Dr. Price’s work suggests that the only reason we need these modern medical “miracles” is because we have abandoned the diet which kept the so-called primitive man in good health.

brushing teethMost of us, for example, accept tooth decay as a natural and inevitable process, which can only be halted by regularly brushing, flossing and cleaning the teeth.  We also routinely submit to orthodontial work and wisdom teeth extraction.  However, the “primitive” people Dr. Price studied never brushed their teeth and yet they hardly had any cavities!  Also, their wisdom teeth never impacted and they had perfect bites without braces.  Dr. Price felt that all these dental problems were acquired diseases due to poor nutrition.  

Tooth decay is, nonetheless, just the tip of the iceberg.  Dr. Price regarded dental problems as one of the first signs of physical deterioration due to malnutrition.  The work of Price and Pottenger also suggests that lack of resistance to infectious diseases, parasites, arthritis, allergies, heart disease, cancer and many other degenerative diseases results from poor diet.  Furthermore, their work suggests that nutritional deficiency also contributes to moral decay, criminal behavior, irritability, aggressiveness and other mental and emotional problems.  It also indicates that the ability to have children naturally, without medical intervention, declines with malnutrition and that infertility, miscarriage and still birth become more and more commonplace the longer a population is kept on a deficient diet.

Nutrition & Emotional Problems

There is additional evidence that many of the mental and emotional problems of our day are linked to poor nutrition.  In her book, Why Suffer?, Ann Wigmore relates the experience of a pet shop owner which demonstrates this problem.

This man sold pet white mice.  He raised them by the thousands and sold them all over the world.  Health inspectors told him that his were the most sanitary cages they had ever seen.  He fed them seeds, grass and various grains, until a friend who ran a boarding house, convinced him that the table scraps from her kitchen would be good food for his mice.  Since the scraps were free, he decided to make the change and increase his profits.  

The mice loved the food and he thought he had a great thing going until the mice began to show signs of illness.  They became sick and sluggish.  A few died.  Their personalities also changed.  They became quarrelsome and fights became commonplace.  Some mornings he would remove as many as ten half-eaten bodies.  The baby mice became victims of cannibalistic adults.

Of course, he realized his mistake and started feeding the mice their old diet of whole grains, and so forth.  But he pointed out to Ann Wigmore that these problems weren’t due to drugs, ill-treatment or starvation.  They all stemmed from “eating the food human beings ordinarily consume...”

Children’s Behavior and Nutrition

As further evidence of the link between behavioral problems and nutrition, consider the work of  Barbara Reed, a parole officer working with juvenile delinquents.  In her book, Food, Teens and Behavior she relates that she discovered a huge proportion of the young people who were getting into trouble were “junk-food junkies.”  Many also had alcoholic problems and were living on booze and sugary foods.  The connection seemed obvious to her.  

She thought, “If these men and women were living on processed foods and snacks, how could they get any nourishment?  If they were undernourished, how could their central nervous systems be functioning properly?  Finally, if their brains and nerves were malfunctioning, how could one expect them to behave sanely in society?”

In her book, Ms. Reed discusses how hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), malnutrition (deficiencies of vitamins, minerals and amino acids), food allergies, heavy metal poisoning and other toxins can contribute to delinquent and criminal behavior.  She has had incredible success in rehabilitating young criminals by getting them to adhere to a good nutritional program.  Youth who avoided sugar, white flour, sodas and other processed snacks in favor of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains never had any further trouble with the law. Studies have even suggested that feeding criminals better food in prison results in improved behavior among inmates.

giving candy to a babyDr. Lendon Smith has found that many behavioral problems in children (hyperactivity, shyness, etc.) are related to food allergies, nutritional deficiencies and hypoglycemia.  His wonderful book, Feed Your Kids Right , shows how good nutrition is vital for physical and emotional health in children.  Of course, it doesn’t take a doctor to figure out that nutrition has an impact on the emotional health of children.  I used to say, "ask any school teacher how long it takes to bring kids 'off the walls' after consuming all that candy at Halloween," but most kids are so wired on sugar now that there probably isn't much difference.

Many times a “bad” child is not one whose spirit is unwilling, but rather one whose “flesh is weak” due to the poor nourishment they have received from the parents. Perhaps some of our teenager’s problems are simply due to the junk food they are eating.  You would be surprised at how much better behaved children are who are fed good food. When I see parents giving candy to a baby or pouring coca cola into a baby bottle for a child, I cringe. I want to slap them, but I have to forgive them. They don't know what they are doing.

It’s interesting to me that when my children were younger, every babysitter we hired said we had the best behavied kids they had every seen. It would be flattering to think that this was due to our terrific parenting, but the fact is, it was primarily due to the fact that our children received almost no refined carbohydrates, processed vegetable oils or other “junk” foods.  I think that if most parents understood how much easier it is to take care of kids if you feed them correctly, they’d probably make a greater effort to do so. (Except they’d have to correct their own diets first.)

Mental Illness and Nutrition

Even serious mental disorders may have nutritional roots.  In a testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs in 1977, Dr. Michael Lesser, a California psychiatrist stated:

“Over the past six years, I have treated over five hundred cases of schizophrenia, gradually becoming more sophisticated in my biochemical workup and therapy... Today I can state, without reservation, that orthomolecular [nutritional] psychiatry is definitely helpful in the treatment of schizophrenics.  While I am not claiming a complete cure, in about 85 percent of my patients I found it significantly improved their condition.”

Dr. Lesser goes on to state that he found “that fully 67 percent of my psychiatric practice is suffering from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).  Indeed, a recent study of blood sugar on 5,000 allegedly healthy young men being inducted into the military found that nearly 25 percent had blood sugars consistent with the diagnosis of low blood sugar.  It is apparent that low blood sugar is a very common and generally undiagnosed condition, which is impairing significantly the health of a large percentage of the American population.”

Common Sense Rules for Changing Our Diet

Clearly, nutrition is critical to maintaining our health, both physically and emotionally.  However, keep in mind that nutrition is the second principle of healing, not the first.  We don’t want to make ourselves stressed and miserable trying to follow some absurdly strict diet.  So, how do we change the way we eat maintaining a positive attitude and not creating more stress in our life?  Here are some basic suggestions.

First, Our body is the best nutritionist we can listen to.  Learn to pay attention to how different foods make your body feel.  It’s easy to give-up foods that aren’t good for you when you make the mental connection that a particular food is making you feel sick.

eat an apple firstSecond, always focus on the positive.  Focus on eating healthy food, not on avoiding junk food.  Treat yourself to some fresh fruit everyday, some vegetables and a good salad.  Eat what you know you should eat first.  Your body needs to become acquainted with a wide variety of healthful foods so it can learn which foods contain the chemical elements you need.  As your body becomes more and more accustomed to healthful food you will gradually lose the desire for the junk food. 

So, don’t worry about what you are eating.  If you decide to eat something, eat it and enjoy it.  You are better off eating a hamburger, milk shake and French fries with a pleasant, happy attitude than the most wholesome of foods with a sour, ungrateful disposition.  Guilt is not an effective approach to health.  Reinforcing negative feelings and behaviors does not bring about lasting results.

Third, substitute a healthier version.  For example, don’t give up sweets, eat healthier versions.  Use raw, unfiltered honey; blackstrap molasses, pure maple syrup, date sugar, freeze-dried sugar cane juice (Sucanat™), and other more natural sweeteners, instead of refined sugar.   Replace refined flours with whole grains.  Replace margarine, shortening and hydrogenated oils with butter, olive oil, flax seed oil and other high quality fats.  Don’t think, “I can’t have this.”  Instead think, I’ll eat this instead.

Fourth, buy quality food, even if it appears to cost more. For instance, although whole grain bread costs more, you eat far less and feel more satisfied.  Organic meat and produce actually taste better, and because they are more nutritionally dense, you’ll actually eat less.  Furthermore, you won’t have to pay a higher price later in the form of sickness and doctor bills.  In the long run, eating healthy is actually easier on the family budget.

Finally, remember that it isn’t what you do once in a while that counts.  It’s what you do every day.  If you’ve been eating well for a while and you suddenly get a strong craving for a particular type of food, don’t ignore it, even if you think it is junk food.  Your body may require some chemical element from that food and it doesn’t know anywhere else to get it.  If you get an irresistible craving for chocolate cake and you decide to eat a piece, eat it and enjoy it.  As long as you are eating your healthful foods every day, you’ll eventually discover that some foods are robbing you of energy and you’ll start to avoid them.  You’ll get used to feeling good.

Oh, and one more note to those readers with children.  Don't try to control everything your children eat.  That tends to engender rebellion.  A little “treat” now and then shouldn't hurt them if their general diet is good.  Instead, teach them in a positive manner the benefits of eating wholesome foods.  They need to learn to control themselves.  You can't watch them constantly.  When one of my children got a piece of candy he got from a friend, I let the child eat it and enjoy it.  I just didn't buy it myself.  I’ve wanted my children (and others) to learn by my example, not my preaching.