Separating Myth From Truth in Today’s Dietary Debate: An Interview With Sally Fallon Morell

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By HUW GRIFFITHS

Sally Fallon Morell, the best-selling co-author of Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition And The Diet Dictocrats, says people should eat more saturated fat, such as full-fat dairy products and fatty cuts of meat and offal, to lose weight and improve their health.

Sally has a growing grassroots following in Australia and regularly tours the world to publicise nutrition pioneer Weston A. Price’s philosophy of Traditional Foods. During her talks she emphasises that governments and the agricultural industry had conspired to demonise animal foods to make people buy processed products filled with refined carbohydrates, sugars, soya products and vegetable oils.

Naturopath and regular New Dawn contributor Huw Griffiths caught up with Sally during her Australian tour and she kindly obliged to an interview to discuss the US foundation she heads as well as important messages on nutrition and disease.

HUW GRIFFITHS (HG): Good Day Sally. It’s great to meet you and a warm welcome to Australia. I think my first question must be what many of our readers must be wondering. Just who are you, what is the Weston Price Foundation, and what have you come to Australia to talk about?

SALLY FALLON MORELL (SF): Well, there are three things that I’d like to put on my tombstone. I am the author of Nourishing Traditions which is a nutritional cookbook, I am the founding president of the Weston Price Foundation, and I’m the founder of the campaign for real milk, but in addition to that I’ve kind of become the lightening rod or the spokesperson for a return to traditional diets and a sloughing off of the whole cholesterol theory and the theories of heart disease which has totally screwed up the way we eat and the way that we practice medicine.

The Weston A. Price Foundation was established to provide accurate information about nutrition, to counteract the misinformation being put out by our governments and the health industry, to present the work of Weston Price to the public, and to demonstrate the scientific validation of traditional foodways.

I basically do a seminar on traditional diets and try to answer the question as to what are the characteristics of healthy diets and then to show people the practical steps that they can take towards adopting a healthy diet for themselves.

HG: Much of what you have to tell us about our dietary habits seems to fly in the face of “conventional wisdom.” Even on the TV the other day I saw Dr. Manny Noakes (the leader of the CSIRO team that published the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet) suggesting that the sort of advise you were giving the public was ‘irresponsible’ and ‘not based on any good science’. How do you respond to this sort of criticism?

SF: What they are saying is not based on any science at all. It is a religion, it is an act of faith and when in fact you start to look at the genuine science of it all it’s actually very different from what they are saying. The people promoting the low fat very high carbohydrate food, especially those who are influencing the diets of growing children, they’re the ones who are being irresponsible. They’re being irresponsible because children cannot grow up healthy and strong on that kind of diet and they are consequently creating tremendous health problems with it all.

Just as an example, they’ve taken whole milk out of the schools because they say that it makes children fat, but there was a recent scientific study done in Sweden where they put children on a low-fat diet and compared them to children on a normal diet. The children on the low-fat diet ended up getting fatter; they ate more sugar and had more insulin resistance. We’re just setting our children up for obesity and diabetes with these low-fat diets.

They know the body has to have fat. There is fat around every cell membrane of your body and that fat has to be mostly saturated fat and if you don’t give the body that fat it will make it out of carbohydrates and it will crave carbohydrates to get that fat. The big problem is that those carbohydrates don’t have the vitamins in them that the fats carry, such as vitamins A, E, D and K. You’re just giving the body a very poor substitute, when these vitamins are so vital; they’re needed for cell signalling, immunity, hormone production, and growth. So we’re seeing a growing number of the signs of deficiency in the many diseases and conditions that we see so much of these days.

For these people to be out there saying that “We don’t need or eat saturated fats any more” is a bit like trying to say that the human body has been genetically and dramatically changed in the last ten years, or something like that! We absolutely need saturated fat in our diet. Every cell in our body is surrounded by it.

Your lungs can’t work without saturated fat, nor can your kidneys and the organ with the highest amount of saturated fat in it is the brain. These people who vilify saturated fat are demonstrating that they don’t know anything at all about bio-chemistry. People these days have been educated to believe that diets that have saturated fat in them are the diets of the devil and that they have to keep themselves pure by not eating saturated fat. People look at you incredulous when you tell them these days that they have to eat saturated fat.

I call it ‘food puritanism’, in a way it’s just like when Galileo and Copernicus were first saying that the sun was the centre of the solar system and were persecuted on the basis that to say this was against all common sense.

HG: It’s difficult to know where to start with the questions, but perhaps one of the cornerstone campaigns for which you are best known and recognised is the Real Milk Movement. Just what exactly is it and why is it so important?

SF: The Campaign for Real Milk is a project of the Weston Price Foundation. Real milk has all the fat in it, it comes from cows on pasture and is unpasteurised. Milk is a magic food. It has everything in it that a child needs in order for it to grow normally. You can live on raw milk and nothing else. It’s a curative food; it contains numerous components that assist the body to absorb all of the nutrients properly. It helps put dietary calcium in the right place, it helps get rid of bad bacteria and it supports the immune system and when you pasteurise milk all those attributes are destroyed.

We know all this from the science. A recent study for example has found that the one factor in preventing asthma in children was their access to and ability to consume raw milk. Asthma can be a life-threatening disease and it afflicts around thirty percent of our children. So we really think that raw milk is a key to the nutrition of our children because we historically have gotten calcium and related nutrition from milk.

I’m not however saying that milk is necessary. There are cultures that don’t drink milk, but they tend to have very different types of diets that Western children tend not to eat.

The other reason that our campaign is important is because it restores the connection of consumers to the farm and is a way of restoring small pasture based farms, because the people who are looking for real milk are also looking for milk from cows that are reared on genuine pasture. It also gives farmers a tremendous income, at least this is what has happened in the States where the real milk movement is absolutely huge. In fact its growing at about forty percent a year and we have literally saved hundreds of farms.

HG: Dietary fats are a confusing issue and always have been, but from what I understand you are saying most of the animal, and therefore saturated, fats that have been demonised over the last few decades are, in fact, not only nourishing, but good for us, whereas many of the ‘new’ (for want of a better word) fats such as margarine and canola oil are in fact bad for our health. So how can, for example, the CSIRO, be so far adrift from you on the matter of whether the former type of fats do or do not in fact drive up cholesterol levels which they say inevitably lead to conditions such as atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease?

SF: The demonisation of saturated fats has been a deliberate campaign of the vegetable oil industry and in order to do so have set up this cholesterol and heart disease myth (and it is a complete myth). The levels of cholesterol in your blood have really no bearing on your predisposition to heart disease. I’m not saying that we aren’t prone to heart disease, we obviously are, but cholesterol levels are not the thing that we should be looking at.

Secondly, the amount of saturated fat that we are eating in real life, not in institutions, where people are fed under very strange conditions, bear no relationship to the amount of cholesterol in your blood. This was borne out by the International Atherosclerosis Project, where they looked at fifteen thousand autopsies in thirteen countries and they didn’t find any relationship at all between the diet of the person, the level of cholesterol in their blood and the degree of blockage in their arteries. There was just no correlation!

We’re simply looking in the wrong place for answers. There are so many other avenues for possible research as far as heart disease is concerned and the really sad thing is that this cholesterol theory has been used to demonise the very types of foods that were so prized by traditional cultures and that were both necessary and sacred to the rearing of healthy children and healthy people.

Cholesterol is in fact the body’s repair substance and if a person has either weak arteries or a tendency towards inflammation then the body, which is a lot wiser than any of us, produces more cholesterol and that is used for repair. So blaming cholesterol for heart disease is a bit like blaming the outbreak of a fire on firemen because they always seem to be around when a fire breaks out.

Our biggest concern right now though are these cholesterol lowering drugs which are not saving lives, but are causing a tremendous amount of suffering with the side-effects.

What has shocked me, however, both over in New Zealand and in Australia, is the type of coercion that is put on people. Now, in the United States a lot of pressure is put on people, but from what I hear here you have to take these drugs or, for example, you can’t get your pilot’s licence, or you can’t get your insurance. We had one women in New Zealand tell us that her doctor told her that if she didn’t take her cholesterol-lowering drug or if she had any kind of heart problem, that she would not be insured.

It seems to me that if you can’t say “No!” to taking a drug, then there is a real problem and the implications are staggering. So the next thing that you’re going to have are mandatory drugs for children and in essence a giving way to a dictatorship of the doctors. So what we’re simply trying to do is to give people the facts and to reinforce the fact that the only way that we’re going to change this is for individuals to say “No”!

In fact, a lot of people have woken up to these issues in the States to the extent that the medical industry is not getting the same levels of compliance and have taken to hawking their drugs all over the rest of the world as a result. It’s almost as if doctors have become the new god, or in fact the ‘new devil’.

HG: Setting aside the morality of killing animals for meat (which I guess is a matter of personal choice)… Is meat eating a preferred thing to do as far as health is concerned, or can we acquire all the nutrition that we need from a vegetarian diet?

SF: You don’t absolutely have to eat meat to be healthy, but you do absolutely need some animal food in your diet. That would be dairy products, raw dairy products, eggs and fish. But there’s nothing wrong with eating meat as long as you eat it with sufficient fat and not eat lean meat.

Meat is a wonderful source of complete protein, zinc, iron, B12. It’s a healthy food and there is nothing wrong with eating it, but I just want to go back to the question of personal morality because they may not admit it, but most vegans and vegetarians believe that they have the moral high ground and that they’re better people than the people who eat meat.

What I’d like to point out though is that the products produced from slaughtered cows are used in many ways that are hidden from the public. They are used in modern building materials, in plastics, in cosmetics, the hydraulic break fluid in aeroplanes, there is even a membrane in your telephone that is made from cattle products, so there is no way that anybody in modern society can say that they don’t use the products of slaughtered animals.

With our ancestors it was even more so. They absolutely had to kill animals, not only for meat, but for tools, hides and furs in order to be warm and stay healthy. So we have always had to slaughter animals for our survival and well-being. What bothers me is the hypocrisy of saying “Oh, I don’t eat meat,” to look better, when the reality is that you wouldn’t be here if it had not been for your ancestors having to slaughter animals.

We’re also really concerned about the industrial system that has trivialised animals in the way that they have been made into units of production with a very cruel and heartless system. So we’ve put our money where our mouth is. We, through our local chapters, help people find animal products that are raised humanely.

HG: Whoever is right on whatever disputed dietary issue, it would seem that children are always the most vulnerable of the lot. We not only play dice with their lives and health by lacking certainty as to how we should nourish them, but by getting things wrong in our own diet, we kind of muck it up for future generations via the genes as well. Do you have any absolutely certain guidelines for diets for children and if so, where can they be accessed?

SF: Yes, we really set up the Weston Price Foundation because of our concern for children’s diets. All traditional cultures that were healthy put an awful lot of emphasis on nutrient dense foods for pregnant women, nursing women and growing children because you can’t go back, later in life and build a healthy kidney or a healthy inner ear. You have to build health during these crucial periods. The vegetarian, the vegan, low-fat and US government guidelines and other diets that are being heavily promoted today are seriously lacking in important nutrients.

We show the science in this and we do have diets for pregnant women and for growing children. We have a whole section on our website on children’s health and this is where our most important emphasis is. This is why so many people come to us, often out of desperation over their heartbreaking condition with their children’s health. They ask us what can they do about this or that problem, where nothing has helped these children. I can’t say that we have helped one hundred percent of the children, but we have helped a large proportion with our diet, it really does work. 

HG: One matter that sticks out like a sore thumb over the years is the issue of whether margarine is (or is not) a safer alternative to butter as far as health in general (but cardiovascular disease in particular) is concerned. And now the National Heart Foundation is issuing press releases headlined “Australia leads the way with virtually transfat free margarine.” This kind of publicity would suggest that even margarines weren’t as good for us as they were hyped up to being, but that they’re OK now. Or should we be circumspect about this type of publicity?

SF: Definitely be circumspect. First of all, butter absolutely does not cause heart disease and we know that it doesn’t do that because while butter consumption plummeted throughout the twentieth century, heart disease went up. Indeed, one study demonstrated that margarine eaters had twice the rate of heart diseases as butter eaters.

Getting the transfats out of the margarine is a good publicity stunt, but you’re still using all of these suspect oils. Look for ‘mono’ and ‘triglycerides’ on the label which don’t have to be labelled as fats yet they’re always partially hydrogenated transfats. You just should not use any type of margarine or spreads, you should just use the traditional fats that have kept people healthy for thousands of years.

The first recorded heart attack in the US was in 1921, it was a new disease and it grew to epidemic proportions especially after the Second World War when Americans started abandoning animal fats in significant amounts.

HG: What about coconut oil? I’ve been an avid fan of it (for cooking) for years, yet it is still accused of being bad for us (courtesy of being a saturated fat) by most of the public and private sector dietary experts. There is now so much overwhelming evidence to support its credentials as a superior health food (such as that it prevents heart disease, lowers cholesterol, is an anti-microbial and even that it acts as an antidote to some poisons). So which or who is right and how can we be so sure?

SF: Well, we have a lot of science backing us up on the healthfulness of coconut oil, but let me just say that the parts of the world that use a lot of coconut oil have amongst the lowest rates of heart disease and cancer. Once again, coconut oil is a competitor to the vegetable oils and it’s been demonised. Mary Enig, a colleague of mine, and I have actually written a book on coconut oil called Eat Fat, Lose Fat in which we present a lot of the evidence. So the evidence is there whether people want to believe it or not.

HG: A lot of what the Weston Price Foundation is about is the benefits of traditional diets among various peoples from around the world. Just very briefly, how can you explain what all this was about and how should we go about finding out what these diets are all about and how we can apply the relevant learning from them to our own diets?

SF: The work of Weston Price and all the diets are very different in their particulars, but what we look at is the underlying characteristics and I’ll just give you the first three; there were no processed or devitalised foods, all of them contained animal foods, but the most important one was the very high levels of nutrients in these foods. They had very high levels of vitamins and minerals, but the really significant thing was the very high levels of vitamins A, D and K which are found in organ meat, animal meat and some types of seafood, and you absolutely have to have some of these foods in your diet to be healthy, and the moment that you start to industrialise your agriculture and put your animals inside they go away.

The one that we’re most excited about right now is vitamin K which Dr. Price called the X Factor. He studied it, but didn’t quite know what it was, but it dovetails perfectly with what we now know about vitamin K. Vitamin K is in the fat, butter fat and organ meats of grass fed animals and what it does among many other things is prevent heart disease by preventing the calcification of the arteries. It’s also critical for the myelinisation of the nerves and it supports learning capacity.

Now we have developed a system where we have heartlessly and thoughtlessly put our animals inside and taken them off green grass. Mother Nature though always gets her revenge and her revenge for what we have done to her animals is that she has given us an epidemic of heart disease and a generation of children who can’t think and there is no way to solve this except to get these foods back in the diet, especially women and especially when they are either pregnant or nursing.

Doing seminars is the only way that I know how to break through this wall of ignorance and start to make some changes. The alternative is what I call the natural selection of the wise, that is the people who don’t eventually return to these traditional diets are actually going to die out. Their children won’t reach maturity or the parents will be infertile. This of course is something that we’re already seeing.

What we are seeing now, however, is the sort of thing that we came across in New Zealand, where the libraries are only stocking books that recommend pregnant women adopt low fat diets with lots of whole grains, which of course are very hard to digest. I’m sure the picture is the same here in Australia too.

HG: Sally, you clearly have a busy agenda and a lot of touring to do before your advice hits a critical level of awareness amongst the consumer mainstream and can be widely embraced. So, apart from your tours, your book Nourishing Traditions and the behind the scenes work done by the Weston Price Foundation, what else do you suggest might be done to advance your new (or maybe the better description should be ‘traditional’) dietary paradigm?

SF: Weston Price’s dying words were, “You teach, you teach, you teach.” You see we’ve lost that primitive instinct that primitive people had and the only way that we can reach people now is by teaching and showing them the science. So we’ve prepared a lot of educational materials and flyers. We urge people to become members and to recommend them read our magazine so that they are up to date on things. We’re just trying to enlist everyone who becomes a member to help us teach. Even if you only teach two other people by providing them with our literature, you’ve started them with this process and it’s a geometrical process whereby more and more people can learn about it.

HG: Sally, it’s been very kind of you to spare the time to talk to us and share your goodwill and knowledge. We really appreciate it.

Find out more about the Weston Price Foundation by visiting www.westonaprice.org

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HUW GRIFFITHS is a British-born naturopath who came to Australia in the early ‘90’s with his wife and two sons. His interest and passion for natural and traditional health therapies was developed and nurtured alongside an international career in marketing and communications.

The above article appeared in New Dawn No. 104 (Sept-Oct 2007)

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