22 February 2013

Traditional Diets and Dental Health (Switzerland)

After reading this article about the relative absence of tooth decay in hunter-gatherers, I immediately thought of the work of  Weston Price about dental health.

The following information is from the book: Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.

Isolated and modernized Swiss
In the 1930s, the Valley of Loetschen (Loetschental) in Switzerland was still an isolated place: no roads, no railway. They were self-sufficient. The only product brought in - on horse back - was salt. 

The traditional diet consisted of:
  • Cheese, cream and butter in liberal amounts, and leavened whole rye bread. The rye was thrashed   by hand, and ground in stone mills. The best quality of cheese and butter was obtained during the summer months (especially June) when the animals were allowed to graze outside on the fresh grass, after months on winter hay. The "June" butter is more yellow in color, proof of the abundance of vitamin A. Children for lunch, were usually given a slice of rye bread with a slice of cheese (as thick as the bread). They also consumed fresh cow and goat milk. On feast days, large amounts of cheese an cream were available.
  • Meat was consumed once a week. Every part of the animal was used fat and bones as well, not just the muscle meat.
  • Greens were available in limited amounts only in summer. No greens were consumed in winter.

They had excellent health and bone structure, they were very sturdy. At that time, tuberculosis was the most serious disease in Switzerland. However, none of the inhabitants of this valley suffered from this disease.

  • In the town of Grachen: 2.3% of the teeth examined were attacked by tooth decay. 
  • In Visperterminen: 5.2% of the teeth (of 1600 people) had cavities.
  • In Ayer: 2.3% of the teeth were attacked.

In comparison, here are a few examples of Swiss living in easily accessible towns (by road and railway), were the products of trade, or modern foods were available for consumption:

  • white flour 
  • sweets
  • canned goods
  • sweetened fruits
  • chocolate
  • limited amount of vegetables grown locally

Of course, health declined, and bone structures were not fully developed. This can be seen on the crowding of the teeth (it means a narrowing of the jaws), over-bites, under-bites and of course the number of cavities.

  • Vissoie: 20.3% of tooth decay of the examined teeth.
  • St Moritz was a health resort, very modern town. Yet, tooth decay reached 29.8% of the teeth examined.
  • Herisau: Children of the school were examined. 25.5% of the teeth were attacked by decay. There was one child without any cavity: he was still on a rye bread and dairy diet.
  • Leysin: 3500 people were examined, all of them tuberculosis patients. Tooth decay was rampant. None of these people were from the countryside. Several doctors already observed an association between cavities and tuberculosis.

Again an example of the introduction of sugar and refined carbohydrates in the diet.
"[Peter Cleave] considered dental cavities the chronic-disease equivalent of the canary in the mine. If cavities are caused primarily by eating sugar and white flour, and cavities appear first in a population no longer eating its traditional diet, followed by obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, then the assumption, until proven otherwise, should be that the other diseases were also caused by these carbohydrates."
                                                                          - Gary Taubes


  1. I went to see Sally Fallon from the Western Price Foundation speak about his - very enlightening. I see the "normal butter" picture but luckily all of our butter in New Zealand is very, very yellow. I've never seen pale butter :)

    1. You are lucky! I wish I could attend one of the Weston Price conferences. That's great that you have good quality butter in New Zealand. Here, in Singapore we mainly have pale butter... unfortunately.