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In the 1930s, an American dentist named Weston A. Price travelled the world studying traditional cultures of the Inuit, Pacific Islanders, Australian Aborigines, New Zealand Maori, Swiss Highlanders and South American Indians that had not been exposed to the processed foods of the west like sugar and flour. As a dentist, he was of course fascinated with their teeth and dental arches, and what he found over and over again were beautiful happy smiling faces with wide noses, broad jaws and mouths big enough to easily fit all their teeth in perfect shiny white rows.
This was in stark contrast to his clinic back in Ohio, where every day, he saw children’s teeth get more and more twisted and decayed, with mouths that got smaller each year, faces that got longer and noses that struggled to breathe properly.
How could this be? The USA — as a developed country — was supposedly advanced, yet the number of children needing braces was hard to ignore. Knowing that this was a problem that needed urgent attention, the focus of his work shifted to solving these problems. And his solution? As backed up by all his research and findings? “Restoring nutrient-dense foods to the American diet through education, research and activism.” This remains the focus of the foundation set up in his name in 1999, the world-renowned Weston A. Price Foundation. They recommend the consumption of unprocessed or minimally processed foods (tick) including a pretty high intake of saturated fats from animal fats, raw dairy products, as well as olive oil, and cod liver oil. Organic fruits and vegetables, soured or Lacto-fermented dairy and vegetables, whole grains and bone stocks are also heavily emphasized.
Now, of course, it makes sense that nutrition plays a huge role in the health of our children. That probably doesn’t surprise you, and this fact was made clear to Price when he saw, over the decades, how these cultures started suffering from the same dental and facial structure issues as western kids as soon as their diets became exposed to processed and refined foods.
There is no doubt that these so-called “primitive” diets were more nutrient-dense than what western kids were eating. Of course, with the emergent science of the past few years and decades, we know now that a diet high in animal products just does not stack up scientifically and the focus of a healthy diet should be made up of 90% plant-based whole foods. That last 10% is up to you. But yeah — the primitive diets were still oceans ahead of the standard American diet…
So what has this got to do with smoothies?
For me personally, it was the work of Price that really swayed me towards a diet high in animal products for many years. But the truth is, I never felt like I do now — on a plant-based diet. So what was missing? Yes, the diets of these cultures were far more nutrient-dense, but perhaps Price was looking at the wrong nutrient?
Perhaps, like me, you may have thought, Hang on, what about the Inuit diet that Price often quoted? The so-called “Eskimo Paradox”? The Inuits live in the frozen northern regions of Siberia, Alaska, Canada, and Greenland with a traditional carnivorous diet consisting mostly of birds, caribou, seals, walrus, polar bears, whales, and fish. Their diet is almost entirely animal products. And as the conventional wisdom goes, they experience wonderful health. But is that accurate?
Mummified remains of Inuits dating back 2,000 years have shown extensive hardening of the arteries throughout their brains, hearts and limbs. Two Inuit women, one in her twenties and the other in her forties, frozen for five centuries in a tomb of ice, both showed signs of severe osteoporosis and also suffered extensive atherosclerosis (a.k.a. fatty arteries). They have also been shown to suffer from higher than average rates of fatal strokes and lower life expectancy.
So the Inuit’s had straight teeth but didn’t live very long.
In episode 112, The One Essential Nutrient That Can Transform Your Health (That Almost Everyone Overlooks), I spoke about the crucial importance of a nutrient that so many people ignore: fibre. Check out that episode for a fascinating look at the role fibre plays in transforming your microbiome and health. But there was one part of the conversation around fibre that needed much more attention… CHEWING.
I don’t know about you, but when I think of taking down a polar bear or walrus for my dinner as the traditional Inuits would, I’m guessing that meat was pretty gamey and chewy. It’s not exactly going to be a tender cut of sirloin, right? Even if fire was used to cook it, we do know that all parts of the animal in traditional cultures were eaten, and some of these parts are damn chewy. They were likely having to munch their meals long and hard to swallow them down.
Which leads me to this: the missing ingredient in Price’s diet recommendations is not only what to eat, but how to eat. How we eat is just as important.
What do I mean by that?
Well, modern foods are very soft. Prior to the industrial revolution (which also means, prior to when we had access to soft, easy-to-eat processed foods and easy cooking methods), the skulls of our ancestors showed much wider jaws and straight teeth. Why? Because they had to chew their food — a lot! Then the industrial revolution made it easy for every household to cook and heat their foods, or to purchase foods that had been so processed and softened, it’s like they’d essentially been pre-masticated. And all of a sudden, we didn’t have to chew as much.
Now, when you don’t chew, you develop a weak tongue. And a weak slim tongue can’t hold it’s position at the top of the mouth, pushing the teeth out, holding them in place, and maintaining a wide dental arch. So if you look at anthropological records and data, you literally start seeing, around this time, physical changes to humans’ oral and facial bones and structure.
When your diet consists of softer foods, you end up with overcrowded crooked teeth, narrower faces and jaws that are not aligned. And this isn’t just from historical data. Studies show that if you take the same healthy foods and feed animals a softened version vs a harder version, even though the nutrients are the same, crooked teeth and narrower faces are the result of the softer food.
You might be thinking, well what’s the big deal about narrow faces and crooked teeth? Can’t our kids just get braces and we’ll all be fine? The answer is, actually, NO. Crooked teeth and narrow jaws are mere symptoms of a much greater issue: impaired airways and impaired breathing. Yep, that’s right: the fact that we are eating so much soft food is literally impairing our ability to breathe. It’s changing the structure of our faces and airways and obstructing our ability to inhale and exhale. This then spills over into so many areas of our health, affecting our hormones, our immune system, our sleep, our ability to lose weight, all of it.
So finally we get to smoothies. The premise behind a healthy smoothie is to jam-pack a lot of nutrition into an easy to digest and convenient liquid form. Don’t get me wrong, a smoothie packed with raw fruits, vegetables and plant-based fats is a long way ahead of a processed meal. But unless the rest of your diet consists of foods that make you chew, you are missing out on the huge benefits that come from the most basic of human functions, one which our jaws were literally designed to do: chew.
In a rather well-known book called The Bible, Jesus was quoted to have said…
“And when you eat, have above you the angel of air, and below you that angel of water. Breathe long and deeply at all your meals, that the angel of air may bless your repasts. And chew well your food with your teeth, that it becomes water, and that the angel of water turns it into blood in your body. And eat slowly, as if it were a prayer you make to the Lord. For I tell you truly, the power of God enters into you if you eat after this manner at his table…”
While I am not religious, I do look for interesting signs like this, and clearly thousands of years ago it was understood that health meant eating slowly, chewing and taking deep breaths.
And it’s not just ancient Christians who understood the benefits of chewing…
During excavations on Lolland, an island off Denmark, archaeologists found a 5,700-year-old type of “chewing gum” made from birch pitch. Fossilized remains of other ancient humans showed that our ancestors also ate bark and grasses. We can extract whatever we want from these findings, but we do see consistently throughout history that chewing fibrous material has been essential to us as a species.
Now let’s think about a smoothie for a second. There must be anywhere from 5 to 15ingredients or more in a normal smoothie. That’s a lot of data for the body to make sense of. And what do we do? We chug it down. The body then has to interpret what just landed in your stomach without warning. When you chew, on the other hand, you taste the ingredients and can feel and sense what fibres are present. The body then gets an advanced warning and can prepare for what comes next. Enzymes are released. A whole cascade of bodily processes is kicked into gear. So it’s no exaggeration to say that digestion starts with chewing. Health starts with chewing. Straight teeth, broad noses, wide jaws start with chewing. The breath starts with chewing.
To be clear, I absolutely love smoothies! I have two on most days as part of my normal routine and fitness protocols. But I make one quick and easy tweak that makes a smoothie an incredible source of health:
Step 1: Blend your smoothie as per normal
Step 2: Stir in something that makes you chew
(Basically, you are just turning it into a smoothie bowl. But remember, not too cold. Especially if you are a Vata or Kapha body type. First thing in the morning you want to wake up your digestion with warm, easy to digest foods, not stone cold blended frozen fruit that uses a boatload of internal fire to warm up which inevitably weakens you and your digestive system).
I normally save some of my healthy fats, like hemp seeds, soaked or activated nuts and seeds for this part. Because they are small, they distribute throughout your smoothie making sure every mouthful needs to be thoroughly chewed.
And as a rule, chew your drink and drink your food. Everything that hits your stomach should be in liquid form. No chunks. I mean, what on earth is your digestive tract going to do with a chunk of almond? Poop it out! That’s all it can do. Not only is this a waste of food, energy and digestive energy, it weakens your digestive power and therefore optimal health.
(To learn more about rekindling your digestive fire, check out episode 78 of my Ayurveda Series.)
I have also been searching for tools out there that can hack the chewing process. Sounds kinda crazy I know, I mean how can you do more than just chew, right? It turns out there are different devices out there that can actually reshape your facial structure naturally.
This is interesting not for aesthetic reasons (although wide jaws and faces are traditionally associated with beauty), but because reshaping your facial structure means you can reshape your airways. By chewing, you can literally lay down the bone that helps to strengthen and open your airways and change the way you breathe. Traditional dentistry and orthodontics have often shied away from this finding, but the research is there: chewing can change your bone structure.
So back to these devices that can help you hack your chewing. Some of them sound like hard work, to be honest, but I have come across one simple tool that I think is worth sharing. Now, disclaimer, I have just purchased this and am yet to use it myself, but it makes a lot of sense to me. It’s basically a silicone block that you put in your mouth and, well, you chew on it. It looks like the creators are more focused on the aesthetics of a bigger jaw, tighter neck and chin, and stronger healthier skin. They do mention an increase in digestion and blood flow, but when I see something that could produce similar benefits of chewing on very fibrous plants and bones — like our ancestors did thousands of years ago — well, I have to give it a crack.
Because the act of chewing stimulates digestive juices, I think it would make more sense to actually do this after eating. (If you don’t do it around the time of eating, your body will think there is food on the way and start the digestive process, which is not natural. You might find yourself seeking out food or getting indigestion. Which we don’t want. So I’d only use it after or around mealtimes.)
If you want to check out this device, called the Jawzrsize, head to www.iamnickbroadhurst.com/chew for more details. Make sure you follow me on Instagram at @iamnickbroadhurst and I will share my before and after photos.
The emerging science of how we can physically improve our breathing and lay down new bone simply by letting our jaws do what they’re designed to do is incredibly exciting, and I plan on sharing more on this…
But right now, you can make one powerful change that’s going to trigger a whole cascade of benefits…
I would love to hear from you, so please tag me @iamnickbroadhurst on social media. Please also leave me a comment below (I read every single one!). And if you could take a minute to leave me a review on iTunes I would be very grateful. Tell me what you want more of! I am at your service.
P.S. Always listen to your intuition (and your doctor or practitioner) before trying any new health or lifestyle practice.