Organs, bone broth, butter and fish roe aren't the stuff most health-conscious eaters long to sink their teeth into.
But these nourishing foods rooted in human tradition not only improve overall health, proponents say, they get to the root of strong teeth, free from decay.
"Nobody's really talking very much about teeth," says Jack Leishman, a certified nutrition therapist who practices in Talent. "I kind of like to look for spaces that haven't been filled."
To fill gaps in the mainstream medical industry's explanation of nutrition, Leishman returns to a body of dental research initiated in the early 1900s by Dr. Weston A. Price, who traveled the world studying indigenous populations and their primitive diets. Price's 1939 book "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration" not only linked modern, processed foods to tooth decay but also to chronic diseases that typified the era, such as tuberculosis. About 40 people at Ashland Food Co-op heard an overview of Price's work during Leishman's Feb. 1 lecture, titled "Going Mental Over Dental Health? Why Our Traditional Ancestors Didn't Need Dentists."
"When I read Weston Price, all the pieces just kind of came together," Leishman says.
The 63-year-old first read Price as a student of the Nutritional Therapy Association's practitioner training program, a path he pursued after his wife suffered a bout of pancreatitis, which Leishman came to blame on her vegan diet of highly processed soy foods and carbohydrates. The attack caused more than a third of her pancreas to cease function after a gall stone blocked the movement of digestive enzymes. Leishman, also a vegan, left his job as a science teacher to care for her and started searching for foods that would set both of them on the path to recovery.
"People who are eating a really balanced diet ... with lots of good fat don't have those problems," Leishman says.
American public-health officials, with their policies that promote a low-fat diet, may beg to differ. Price's correlation between regular consumption of animal fats and good health stands in stark contrast to today's widespread messages around disease prevention and longevity. Perhaps even harder for modern-day audiences to swallow is Price's emphasis on liver and animal bones — foods more familiar to Americans during the dentist's day.
"I get a lot of people who curl up their lip when organ meats are mentioned," says Summer Waters, an Ashland acupuncturist and certified nutrition therapist. "There's plenty of fears and phobias out there."
Waters, 33, had to face her own fears about eating animal-derived foods more than a decade ago. Her refuge had been a "politically correct" diet of salads, soy products and processed foods marketed as "organic," but the regimen perpetuated Waters' irritable bowel syndrome and bleeding stomach ulcers.
"If it said 'organic' on it at that time, I thought that was good," Waters says. "I was stuck in the old paradigm ... of 'How could saturated fat be good for me?' "
She and more than 12,000 members of the Washington D.C.-based Weston A. Price Foundation believe they have the answer in a doctrine that blends common sense and science. Their bible is the cookbook "Nourishing Traditions," written by foundation founder Sally Fallon with Washington D.C. nutritionist Mary Enig and Price historian Pat Connolly. Subtitled "The cookbook that challenges politically correct nutrition and the diet dictocrats," the book sold more than 300,000 copies in its first 12 years and continues to gain credibility as other authors pen odes to "real food."
By real food, Price adherents mean what Americans increasingly have come to recognize as "whole foods," usually prepared from scratch in the home kitchen. These include fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, eggs and dairy products free from the manipulations of industrialized agriculture. A boon to environmentally conscious eaters and followers of the "eat local" movement, the foundation favors only organically raised foods from grass-fed animals. Cultured or fermented edibles, such as yogurt and sauerkraut, as well as unpasteurized milk, have pride of place on the Price menu.
While not traditional to all populations Price studied, these foods helped comprise diets rich in vitamins A and D and another nutrient the Cleveland dentist dubbed "activator X," now thought to be vitamin K2. The theory is easily digested by Dr. James Benson, an Ashland dentist familiar with Price's work. A first-generation American whose maternal family hailed from Scotland's remote Hebrides, which Price visited, Benson says he well believes his ancestors benefitted from a fish- and grain-based diet that nevertheless included very few vegetables and was devoid of fruit.
"The people in these remote areas ate what was there, and by definition, they ate what was in season," Benson says. "Eating closer to the earth is a good thing to do."
And as more health care providers recognize the benefits of whole foods, Benson says, their recommendations are moving closer to Price's own. Benson, himself, is a practitioner of bioesthetic dentistry, a discipline that, not unlike Price's, documents healthy teeth, gums and oral features, rather than operating on a disease model.
"There's a parallel between what we've done ... and what doctor Price has done."
Medford naturopathic physician Lissa McNiel also sees parallels between Price's methods and the rising interest in whole foods from grass-fed animals of the highest quality one can afford. Those factors make all the difference, she says, in the healthfulness of fats.
"We've missed the whole train on the saturated fat thing," McNiel says. "Go for that whole Greek yogurt."