March 5, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Weston Price Organization

What do you know about the Weston Price Foundation?

-- Dennise O'Grady

Bay Head, NJ


Let's start with the positive -- they advocate for small farmers, and particularly strengthening farmer-to-consumer relationships.

Other than that, I view them as an extremist group that tends to border on silliness. That's their logo, by the way, which, they explain, illustrates Western societies' narrow-mindedness towards food.

An odd choice, since the "narrow vision" includes everything from Houston to Peruvian highlands to the Caribbean. Meanwhile, a lot of the nations in the "wide" circles have just as many problems with obesity, diabetes, and junk food consumption as the United States. I don't get it.

Their core belief? Full-fat raw dairy, butter, red meat, and soaked grains are the answer to a healthy life, while plant-based diets are the root of all health problems.

I'll let their writing speak for itself.

Exhibit A:

"According to an article in the Washington Post ("Don't have a cow, Mom," October 31, 2006) vegetarianism among teenagers is increasing. Vegetarian families eat a more varied diet, we are told, which includes such yummies as rutabaga and tofu. Not to worry, Mom, says the American Dietetic Association, ". . . a well-planned all-veggie diet for children and adolescents can be nutritionally sound. . . " as long as teens consume soy beverages and cereals fortified with vitamin D and B12. The dietitians claim teens can get adequate calcium, iron, zinc and protein from vegetables, grains, fruit, and, of course, soy foods. No mention is made of vitamin A, so necessary for reproductive health, nor of the downside of all those soy foods. So, don't have a cow, Mom. Just don't expect to have any grandchildren."

Gee,I must have missed all the headlines about vegetarian women being physically incapable of having children!

I have so many problems with that paragraph I don't even know where to begin.

First of all, vegetarianism does not necessarily translate into a high consumption of soy foods.

Additionally, the term "soy foods" is too broad. Adding nutrient-packed soy foods like tempeh or tofu to a dish is very different from eating two bags of processed soy chips every day.

As for vitamin A: we know that 12 micrograms of beta-carotene equal 1 microgram of Vitamin A. We also know that women need 700 micrograms of vitamin A a day.

Let's do some math. A half cup of cooked sweet potato provides approximately 7,000 micrograms of beta carotene, which translates into roughly 580 micrograms of vitamin A (more than three quarters of a day's worth!)

If this women were to then eat some carrots, an orange, an egg, some vitamin A-fortified milk, or a grapefruit that same day, they would easily meet their vitamin A requirement. So, what is the problem?

Exhibit B:

"George Rene Francis of Sacramento, who turned 110 this year, enjoys "tons of milk, tons of eggs, lard on bread and salt pork sandwiches." He avoids visits to the doctor but smokes cigars. He credits his virility to a combination of fresh camel's milk, daily walks and plenty of meat—rabbit, lamb, chicken and wild animals, which he still hunts himself (www.telegraph.co.uk, August 24, 2007)."

This is what you call bad science. No, make that horrendous science. Using an anomaly as proof of something is ludicruous. It's akin to a tobacco company using this news item to show that, hey, smoking is harmless!

Exhibit C:

"Today's dietary gurus tell us that we must eat vegetables and fruit to obtain vitamins and minerals. Per Magnuson, an astute member from Sweden, points out that fruits and vegetables cannot compare in nutrient levels with animal foods, especially nutrient-dense animal foods like liver. Here's what we came up with as a way of assessing the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables versus meat and liver. Note that every nutrient in red meat except for vitamin C surpasses those in apples and carrots, and every nutrient-including vitamin C-in beef liver occurs in exceedingly higher levels in beef liver compared to apple and carrots."

What a riot! How can someone in the nutrition field expect to be taken seriously when they don't take into account phytonutrients (which, by mere definition, are only available in plant foods)?

Good luck getting fiber from liver, too.

I also can't comprehend how so-called "experts" don't mention that one of the causes of hypervitaminosis A (vitamin A toxicity) is frequent consumption of liver!

Exhibit D:

"According to government and media health pundits, the top best 14 foods are:
  1. Beans
  2. Blueberries
  3. Broccoli
  4. Oats
  5. Oranges
  6. Pumpkin
  7. Salmon
  8. Soy
  9. Spinach
  10. Tea (green or black)
  11. Tomatoes
  12. Turkey
  13. Walnuts
  14. Yogurt

This uninspiring list reflects the current establishment angels (anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acids) and demons (saturated fats and animal foods).

Our list of the 14 best top foods, foods that supply vital nutrients including the fat-soluble vitamins, looks like this:

  1. Butter from grass-fed cows (preferably raw)
  2. Oysters
  3. Liver from grass-fed animals
  4. Eggs from grass-fed hens
  5. Cod liver oil
  6. Fish eggs
  7. Whole raw milk from grass-fed cows
  8. Bone broth
  9. Shrimp
  10. Wild salmon
  11. Whole yogurt or kefir
  12. Beef from grass-fed steers
  13. Sauerkraut
  14. Organic Beets

A diet containing only these foods will confer lifelong good health; a diet containing only the foods in the first list is the fast track to nutritional deficiencies."

Except that no one is saying people should limit themselves to the first fourteen items; rather, the recommendation is to include as many of them in your diet as you can. Making an argument based on erroneous pretenses is futile.

And what is up with the feeble "uninspiring list" diss? If anything, the first list has more variety and color than Weston A Price's!

Besides, does anyone really believe that a diet rich in tea, fruits, and vegetables causes nutritional deficiencies?

And where did the list attributed to "government and media pundits" come from? That list is not nutrition dogma by any means; any dietitian will tell you that you can be perfectly healthy without ever eating a tomato or a pumpkin as long as your overall diet patterns are healthy.

Again, illogical conclusions based on bad science.

I rest my case.

UPDATE: Since this post went up, I have received many comments on other (non-related) postings from "anonymous" sources who, ever-so-coincidentally, suggest I take a look at the Weston Price Organization's website for the "truth."

12 comments:

Marianne said...

Wow...that was entertaining for it's sheer silliness, and yet sad. Just based on the style of writing, it does make them sound boardering on extremism.

Anonymous said...

The gist of most of those quotes seems to be that eating animals and animal products provides an excellent source of essential nutrients.

This seems like a reasonable statement.

Do you think that it's possible that sometimes the most ethical choice is not the most healthy choice?

A vegetarian that avoids eggs and mild must take some supplements - B12 for example.

Sometimes ethical choices involve sacrifice - of health and wealth. That's why they're ethical choices, not health choices.

Of course vegetarians should follow their ethical choices, but they should also be careful when they claim that their ethical choices are also the healthiest for other people.

Unless you feel that your duty to reduce animal consumption is more important than your duty to provide people with accurate information about their health.

Andy Bellatti said...

Anonymous (of course),

The "gist" of those quotes is not that animals and animal products provide an excellent source of essential nutrients.

They are not advocating a balanced diet that INCLUDES meat, they are downright saying meat pretty much takes care of most of your dietary needs, which is nonsense.

Perhaps it makes sense to someone who naively thinks nutrition is simply about vitamins and minerals (and forgets about phytonutrients and antioxidants).

How is it reasonable to say vegetarian women are putting their reproductive health at risk? Where is that evidence?

How is it reasonable to recommend people eat liver as opposed to fruits and vegetables?

As far as B12 goes -- it can be found in nutritional yeast and some sea vegetables. Remember, too, that many vegan and vegetarian foods are fortified with B12.

True, some vegetarians have to supplement it in pill form. So what? Someone on a diet made up mostly of meat, butter, and full-fat dairy would need to get fiber from a supplement.

A vegetarian that avoids eggs and mild must take some supplements - B12 for example.

I don't understand why you are viewing this as a "carnivore versus vegetarian" issue. This is more of "carnivore versus common sense" issue.

I'm not even vegetarian, so I'm afraid your suspicions of a vegetarian "agenda" are far off.

No one concerned with providing accurate science-based advice can seriously believe that foods like tomatoes, spinach, oats, broccoli, and blueberries cause nutritional deficiencies.

Anonymous said...

The 14 foods listed seem like a reasonable mix of meat, seafood, dairy, and vegatable.

I am not viewing this as a carnivore vs. vegetarian issue - but as a omnivore vs. vegetarian issue from a health standpoint. Omnivores eating a diet similar to that recommended by Price do not need supplements to thrive.

I don't see anywhere in your post that Weston Price people state that eating blueberries etc. results in nutritional deficiencies.

However, does 3 ounces of blueberries provide more critical nutrition than 3 ounces of grass-fed beef? If not, why call blueberries a 'superfood' and beef 'marginally unhealthy' or whatever your stance is?

Phytonutrients are interesting - Aspirin and Taxol, for example, are phytonutrients. But there's absolutely no scientific evidence that any specific phytonutrient is required to thrive. In fact, some 'phyto' products are poisonous.

And there's no scientific evidence that mega-dosing on anti-oxidants beyond what you get with a meat/seafood/dairy/vegetable diet is in any way beneficial.

"Where is the evidence that a vegetarian diet puts reproductive health at risk?"

Preconception Conditions Increasing Nutritional Risk In Pregnancy - Vegan or macrobiotic eating style
http://www.epi.umn.edu/let/pubs/img/adol_ch15.pdf

"Vegetarian and vegan diets may present with unique nutrient deficiencies that can be addressed during prenatal nutritional counseling."
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6W6R-4RFK1DT-D&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=59bce2d29b3553fce133dafc67f6db65
A maternal vegetarian diet in pregnancy is associated with hypospadias
http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/121386991/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0

Andy Bellatti said...

"The 14 foods listed seem like a reasonable mix of meat, seafood, dairy, and vegatable."

Ironic that you misspell vegetable!

Weston Price's list of 14 foods is not reasonable. 12 of the 14 items are animal meats or animal-derived. And where are the fruits, nuts, and seeds? And why, of all things, are beets considered the only vegetable worth "making it"?

"I am not viewing this as a carnivore vs. vegetarian issue - but as a omnivore vs. vegetarian issue from a health standpoint. Omnivores eating a diet similar to that recommended by Price do not need supplements to thrive."

The Weston Price Foundation isn't your best example of "omnivore" then. They do not advocate for a mix of meat and plant foods, they appear to advise a diet LARGELY made up of meats. I categorize it as more carnivorous than omnivorous.

Assuming we are talking about individuals living in regions where Vitamin D is not produced for certain months of the year, even those on Weston Price's "diet" would need to supplement (eating copious amounts of liver is not a smart or healthy way to get your Vitamin D fix).

"I don't see anywhere in your post that Weston Price people state that eating blueberries etc. results in nutritional deficiencies."

Please re-read "Exhibit D", in which the WP Organization claims that the first list of foods -- which includes tomatoes, spinach, blueberries, and oatmeal -- leads to nutritional deficiencies. Preposterous! Again, though, where did that list even come from?

"However, does 3 ounces of blueberries provide more critical nutrition than 3 ounces of grass-fed beef? If not, why call blueberries a 'superfood' and beef 'marginally unhealthy' or whatever your stance is?"

"Whatever your stance is?" Clearly you haven't even bothered to read this blog to find out what my stance is.

In any case, you're once again debating arguments that were never made. Clearly, if you choose to look at protein and iron content, beef "wins." But that's not what this is about. This has to do with the high number of polyphenols, antioxidants, and flavonoids found in blueberries -- and most other fruits and vegetables. In the same way that no dietitian worth their weight would ever advocate for a fruitarian diet, neither would they advocate for a diet RICH in red meat.

"Phytonutrients are interesting - Aspirin and Taxol, for example, are phytonutrients. But there's absolutely no scientific evidence that any specific phytonutrient is required to thrive. In fact, some 'phyto' products are poisonous."

There are tens of thousands of phytonutrients. Picking out two and saying they are not required to thrive is a moot point -- phytonutrients are not essential nutrients, but that does not mean they do not provide health benefits.

"And there's no scientific evidence that mega-dosing on anti-oxidants beyond what you get with a meat/seafood/dairy/vegetable diet is in any way beneficial."

If you took the time to peruse my blog, you would see I don't advocate mega-dosing on antioxidants. In fact, I have even blogged about the fallacy of downing high amounts of antioxidants.

As for the studies you linked to regarding vegetarian diets and reproductive health:

* Study #1: This study says that poorly planned vegan -- not vegetarian -- diets can result in dietary deficiencies. Well, yes, I agree with that. That is why any dietitian with even the most basic training will sit down with a client pondering a vegan lifestyle and help them plan it appropriately. When properly planned, these diets provide all the necessary nutrients.

Also, dear Anonymous, notice that one of the dietary factors associated with reproductive health risks is low folate intake. Best sources of folate? Spinach (one of the 14 foods the WP Organization claims leads to deficiencies!), cabbage, wheat germ, peanuts, and chickpeas). Meat and dairy certainly don't make THAT list.

You also must have missed Table 7 (on page 9), where the authors recommend foods for weight gain -- and weight loss -- during and after pregnancy. I don't see meats or full-fat dairy anywhere.

* Study #2:

Excuse me, but did you read the actual study? If so, it seems you must have missed this paragraph in the abstract:

"Some misunderstand and may criticize the nutritional adequacy of such diets. The American Dietetic Association asserts that a balanced vegetarian and vegan diet is adequate to maintain health for all stages of life, including during pregnancy and lactation. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists agree that well planned vegetarian diets can be a healthy choice for pregnant women."

And this:

"Epidemiologic nutritional studies have documented numerous benefits of vegetarian diets. Vegetarians have been reported to have low rates of obesity, coronary diseases, diabetes, and many cancers. High consumption of foods commonly found in vegetarian diets, such as fruits and vegetables, legumes and unrefined cereals, and nuts have been consistently associated with a lower risk for developing many chronic degenerative diseases. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2001–2002) revealed a deficiency in the American diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The US Dietary Guidelines and the objectives for Healthy People 201012 endorse an increase in fruit, vegetable, and whole grain consumption for Americans in order to improve health."

* Study #3:

Once again I have to ask -- did you read the entire study?

I direct you to the authors' conclusions:

"The association of hypospadias with a vegetarian diet was not obviously explicable by the components of a vegetarian diet. There were differences in the proportion of hypospadias cases born to mothers consuming soya milk or other products, but they were not significant. An alternative explanation for the association of hypospadias with vegetarianism might be related to the 'unnatural' chemicals (used as fertilizers and pesticides, and which act as endocrine disrupters) present in many fruits and vegetables."

So, again I ask you, where is the evidence that properly planned vegetarian diets negatively affect reproductive health? The three examples you provided ended up weakening your case.

Anonymous said...

"Weston Price's list of 14 foods is not reasonable. 12 of the 14 items are animal meats or animal-derived. And where are the fruits, nuts, and seeds? And why, of all things, are beets considered the only vegetable worth "making it"?"

So what if they are animal meats or animal-derived? There's absolutely nothing intrinsically unhealthy about eating animals and animal products. Animals are not poisonous!

"Assuming we are talking about individuals living in regions where Vitamin D is not produced for certain months of the year, even those on Weston Price's "diet" would need to supplement (eating copious amounts of liver is not a smart or healthy way to get your Vitamin D fix)."

There's absolutely no way to get Vitamin D from plant sources. However, fatty fish and cod liver oil are excellent natural sources of Vitamin D - as well as beef liver and eggs to a lesser extent.

"In any case, you're once again debating arguments that were never made. Clearly, if you choose to look at protein and iron content, beef "wins." But that's not what this is about. This has to do with the high number of polyphenols, antioxidants, and flavonoids found in blueberries -- and most other fruits and vegetables. In the same way that no dietitian worth their weight would ever advocate for a fruitarian diet, neither would they advocate for a diet RICH in red meat."

That's exactly what this is about. The fact is, beef, ounce for ounce, provides more of what we need to thrive than blueberries do. And not even Weston Price advocates for a diet RICH in beef - grass-fed beef is #12 on the list. WP apparently advocates for a diet rich in a wide variety of animals and animal-derived products.

"phytonutrients are not essential nutrients, but that does not mean they do not provide health benefits."

It doesn't mean they do provide health benefits, either. Yes, some are probably good for you, some are probably bad for you - that does not make blueberries more nutritional than steak.

"So, again I ask you, where is the evidence that properly planned vegetarian diets negatively affect reproductive health? The three examples you provided ended up weakening your case."

Yes, a properly planned and supplemented vegetarian diet can keep people alive and functioning. So can a properly planned and supplemented diet comprised entirely of animals and animal-derived products.

So what? We're talking about how to help people thrive here, not survive. The diet that Weston Price suggests seems much more likely to help people thrive, in terms of providing essential nutrients in easily available forms.

I know you think saturated fat is unhealthy, but the fact is that there is not a single controlled study showing a strong link between saturated fat and heart disease. In fact, diets high in animal fat and animal protein have been shown to increase levels of HDL significantly - a very important factor for good heart health.

Andy Bellatti said...

This is starting to get mind-numbingly repetitive, so consider it my last response on this issue.

”So what if they are animal meats or animal-derived? There's absolutely nothing intrinsically unhealthy about eating animals and animal products. Animals are not poisonous!”

Who said they were? It’s hard to take this exchange of ideas seriously when you fabricate an issue that was never brought up. I never said animals were poisonous. Once again, if you bothered to actually read Small Bites, you would see I absolutely do not believe that “all animal meat and all animal-derived products are unhealthy.” I have NEVER said anything close to that.

The issue with a list of “14 healthiest foods” including 12 that are either meat or dairy is that it is not accurate. A more reasonable list would take a few items from different food groups to truly form a “best of the best” (ie: berries, salmon, almonds, quinoa, spinach, etc.)

Like I said, though, I tend to stay away from “healthiest foods EVER!” lists because they don’t tell a whole picture. Yes, blueberries are healthy, but so are cherries, strawberries, bananas, and pineapple. This whole hierarchy of healthy foods has gotten out of control.

”There's absolutely no way to get Vitamin D from plant sources.”

Incorrect. Some mushroom species, when exposed to sunlight, are actually good sources of Vitamin D.

“However, fatty fish and cod liver oil are excellent natural sources of Vitamin D - as well as beef liver and eggs to a lesser extent.”

True. Some vegetarians eat eggs. Additionally, if we are talking about “better nutrition”, I would recommend someone consume fatty fish before liver.

”That's exactly what this is about. The fact is, beef, ounce for ounce, provides more of what we need to thrive than blueberries do.”

Wrong. While beef provides more magnesium and potassium, blueberries provide more fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, and manganese when compared ounce to ounce.

”It doesn't mean they do provide health benefits, either. Yes, some are probably good for you, some are probably bad for you - that does not make blueberries more nutritional than steak.”

Please look into phytonutrient research. There is plenty of literature on their health benefits. Even a Nutrition 101 student is familiar with the health benefits of many phytonutrients
“The diet that Weston Price suggests seems much more likely to help people thrive, in terms of providing essential nutrients in easily available forms.”

I fail to understand how someone can thrive on a low fiber diet.

”I know you think saturated fat is unhealthy, but the fact is that there is not a single controlled study showing a strong link between saturated fat and heart disease. In fact, diets high in animal fat and animal protein have been shown to increase levels of HDL significantly - a very important factor for good heart health.”

If your conclusion, after looking at all the science, is that high intakes of saturated fat (remember, no one is calling for an elimination of saturated fat from the diet, just staying within certain guidelines) are heart-healthy, I’ll save myself unnecessary typing and just say “thank you for participating in this debate.”

PS: Perhaps you want to send your resume to the Weston Price Organization?

justjuliebean said...

Wow, this Weston-Price guy is quite the evangelist! I thought low-carbers and religious culters were bad, this really takes the cake. Or cowpie, if you will.

Anonymous said...

oh, I've got nothing to do with Weston Price. I actually enjoy this blog, and think there are some very clear-headed posts - and I just ran across the WP site a couple of weeks ago.

I'm interested to know if you agree with this statement:
Saturated fat is a natural food that is a healthy part of a balanced diet.
After all, we've been eating it for hundreds of thousands of years, and it's as natural as it gets. And there absolutely no controlled trials that link saturated fats to cancer or heart disease.

As opposed to trans fats, for example, an industrial product that's been proven to cause heart disease. Or refined sugar.

Here's my problem - when you demonize saturated fats and cholesterol, as you do in every single one(!) of your 138 posts that mention them, you give people bad information.

Think of that person, thinking about what to have for breakfast. An egg, or a bowl of "Kellogs Harvest Strawberry Blueberry Cereal". Gee, on the one hand, the egg has saturated fat and cholesteral (bad!) - and this cereal has blueberries (superfood!) and whole grains (superfood!). Well, that's easy, I'm having cereal - I'm so healthy!

So instead of having a 100 calorie breakfast, that's got a nice mix of nutrients and that will keep me full for a while, I eat 150 calories comprised almost entirely of sugar and nutritionally empty carbohydrates. And yet, based in part on what you've told me is good and bad, I think I'm making a healthy choice. That's nuts - that's extremism in my view.

John Serrao said...

In DC, I know the Weston A Price foundation is very active in getting raw milk legalized - for better or worse, depending on your position. They also put out an annual publication called the 'Shopping Guide' - nifty little resource for finding local meat/fish products across the country.

So, they are not all bad but those writings you put up there Andy - definitely an agenda there...

Interesting back and forth here though. You two should get together and do a video debate. It would be youtube gold.

mitzi said...

Yikes! It's like trying to talk to some of my (medical researching) colleagues at work about healthy eating! They boast of going to an all-you-can-eat meat buffet-style restaurant while the females at the table eat our veggie soup and cornbread or curry and rice and roll our eyes. I suffered the effects of a low-fiber diet as a child, and enjoy a much less painful life now. But even now, if I ingest a large hunk of meat (no matter how grass-fed or "organic"), consequences follow. Maybe a few people might thrive on a Weston Price style diet, but I would have to be hospitalized. Thanks for taking a stand.

Andy Bellatti said...

Alright, I can't resist one more back and forth here.

"Saturated fat is a natural food that is a healthy part of a balanced diet."

Yes, I agree with that statement. After all, even the healthiest of fats (like avocados and olive oil) contain some saturated fat.

I do not advocate a diet free of saturated fats. I never have.

I simply agree with guidelines to keep saturated fats within a certain limit, and to instead eat more unsaturated fats (paying particular attention to monounsaturated fats and Omega-3 fatty acids).

The key is "part of a balanced diet." A diet rich in red meat, full-fat dairy, and butter is not balanced.

"After all, we've been eating it for hundreds of thousands of years, and it's as natural as it gets."

Here is where your argument falls apart for me. The EXACT same thing can be said about sugar. I share the same sentiment about sugar (sucrose) as I do about saturated fat. It is not the root of all evil, and a little is not going to kill you, but just because sugar has been consumed for centuries and "natural" does not make it ripe for unlimited consumption!

Poisonous mushrooms are also natural. That does not mean they safe for consumption.

"And there absolutely no controlled trials that link saturated fats to cancer or heart disease."

This is completely untrue. If you simply search the literature you will see this is not the case.

"Here's my problem - when you demonize saturated fats and cholesterol, as you do in every single one(!) of your 138 posts that mention them, you give people bad information."

You mean like the post where I recommend that people order omelettes instead of egg-white omelettes to get more nutrition?

"Think of that person, thinking about what to have for breakfast. An egg, or a bowl of "Kellogs Harvest Strawberry Blueberry Cereal". Gee, on the one hand, the egg has saturated fat and cholesteral (bad!) - and this cereal has blueberries (superfood!) and whole grains (superfood!). Well, that's easy, I'm having cereal - I'm so healthy!"

Except that I would never advocate a sugary cereal. I don't know how many more times I need to say it, but if you took the time to carefully read this blog, you will see postings in which I criticize cereals that are nothing but sugar posing as "healthy" items.

I have never hailed Special K as a healthy cereal, particularly since it doesn't do much in terms of helping someone achieve satiety.

I would much rather someone eat a handful of real blueberries and some oatmeal or whole grain toast.