Amber Waves of Pain

      45 Comments on Amber Waves of Pain

Last week I posted an on-line debate between me and someone who is, I believe, a nutritionist. Most of the debate was over grains, which she insists we need as part of a balanced diet. (Note: Sorry if this seems sexist, but I’m assuming the nutritionist is a she, since the vast majority of dieticians and nutritionists I’ve seen quoted in the media are women. I don’t like writing sentences of full of awkward “he or she” and “him or her” phrases, so I’m going with she.)

I asked her to explain the scientific basis for her belief that we need grains but never received a reply, other than further insistence that we need them — especially those oh-so-wonderful whole grains. I suggested she find and read Dr. Loren Cordain’s paper on grains, lectins and diseases … which I seriously doubt she did, since learning that grains are bad news could cause her head to explode.

Cordain’s paper, titled Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword, isn’t an easy read — some of the biochemistry can make your head swim — but it’s worth the effort.  I first read it after Fat Head was already in the can, which is why (to answer a question some people have asked) I didn’t quote Cordain in the film or ask for an interview.  After reading the paper, I finally understood why my vegetarian phase was such a disaster:  I was getting the bulk of my calories from grains and legumes.  Some humans may have adapted to those foods, but many (if not most) have not.

Below are some quotes from the paper, with my comments.

For the vast majority of mankind’s presence on this planet, he rarely if ever consumed cereal grains. With the exception of the last 10,000 years following the agricultural ‘revolution’, humans have existed as non-cereal-eating hunter-gatherers since the emergence of Homo erectus 1.7 million years ago.

It is apparent that there is little or no evolutionary precedent in our species for grass seed consumption. Consequently, we have had little time (<500 generations) since the inception of the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago to adapt to a food type which now represents humanity’s major source of both calories and protein. The sum of evidence indicates that the human genetic constitution has changed little in the past 40,000 years. The foods which were commonly available to pre-agricultural man were the foods which shaped modern man’s genetic nutritional requirements.

This is why it drives me nuts when nutritionists insist we “need” grains.  It makes zero biological sense.  According to Cordain, grains have been part of the human diet for roughly 0.4% of our existence. If 99.6% of my ancestors managed to live without them, why would I need them now?

Generally, in most parts of the world, whenever cereal-based diets were first adopted as a staple food replacing the primarily animal-based diets of hunter-gatherers, there was a characteristic reduction in stature, an increase in infant mortality, a reduction in lifespan, an increased incidence of infectious diseases, an increase in iron deficiency anemia, an increased incidence of osteomalacia, porotic hyperostosis and other bone mineral disorders and an increase in the number of dental caries and enamel defects.

So we became shorter and sicker, with reduced lifespans and bad teeth.  On the other hand, according to today’s nutritionists, switching to grains probably cured the type 2 diabetes problem among Paleolithic humans.

Consumption of high levels of whole grain cereal products impairs bone metabolism not only by limiting calcium intake, but by indirectly altering vitamin D metabolism. In animal studies it has been long recognized that excessive consumption of cereal grains can induce vitamin D deficiencies in a wide variety of animals including primates.

Consistent with populations from the fossil record showing a characteristic reduction in stature with the adoption of cereal-based agriculture, is the observation that present-day populations depending upon cereal grains for the bulk of their energy and protein also tend to be of short stature. Further, vegan and vegetarian children often fail to grow as well as their omnivorous cohorts despite apparently adequate intakes of amino acids and nitrogen.

Wait, that simply can’t be true … I just read an article published by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine that explains how feeding your kids a vegetarian diet is Raising Them Right From the Start.  I’m not going to be persuaded by actual evidence when it’s in competition with a catchy phrase.

Because primates evolved in the tropical forest, all of their potential plant food was derived from dicotyledonous species; therefore, the primate gut was initially adapted to both the nutritive and defensive components of dicotyledons rather than the nutritive and defense components of monocotyledonous cereal grains.

Consumption of monocotyledonous plant foods, particularly cereal grains, is a notable departure from the traditional plant foods consumed by the majority of primates. Consequently, humans, like all other primates, have had little evolutionary experience in developing resistance to secondary and anti-nutritional compounds which normally occur in cereal grains.

Don’t feel bad; I had to look ‘em up too.  From what I read online, grasses are monocotyledons and most other plants are dicotyledons.  Grains are grasses, and according to Cordain, humans haven’t been eating them long enough to build up much resistance to the anti-nutrients Mother Nature gave them as a means of warding off over-consumption by predators.

After several pages explaining how grains have replaced more nutrient-dense foods and may even block the absorption of nutrients we still manage to consume, Cordain begins to deal with effects of the anti-nutrients contained in grains. The worst anti-nutrients seem to be the lectins — which, by the way, are also found in legumes and are particularly high in soybeans.

Lectins are proteins that are widespread in the plant kingdom with the unique property of binding to carbohydrate-containing molecules, particularly toward the sugar component. They were originally identified by their ability to agglutinate (clump) erythrocytes which occurs because of the interaction of multiple binding sites on the lectin molecule with specific glycoconjugate receptors on the surface of the erythrocyte cell membranes. Because of this binding property, lectins can interact with a variety of other cells in the body and are recognized as the major anti-nutrient of food.

Of the eight commonly consumed cereal grains, lectin activity has been demonstrated in wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, and rice but not in sorghum or millet. The biological activity of lectins found in cereal grains are similar because they are closely related to one another both structurally and immunologically. The best studied of the cereal grain lectins is wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), and the in vitro biological effects of WGA upon tissues and organs are astonishingly widespread. In his comprehensive review, Freed has shown that WGA can bind (in vitro) the following tissues and organs: alimentary tract (mouth, stomach, intestines), pancreas, musculoskeletal system, kidney, skin, nervous and myelin tissues, reproductive organs, and platelets and plasma proteins.

But … but … but … my college nutrition textbook says grains are good for us.  So, uh … lectins must bind to our alimentary tract, pancreas, musculoskeletal system, kidneys, skin and nervous system so we’ll never be without them!  (I don’t even want to think about lectins binding to my reproductive organs.)

Most food proteins entering the small intestine are fully degraded into their amino acid components and therefore do not pass intact into systemic circulation. However, it is increasingly being recognized that small quantities of dietary protein which escape digestive proteolytic breakdown can be systemically absorbed and presented by macrophages to competent lymphocytes of the immune system. Under normal circumstances, when the luminal concentrations of intact dietary proteins is low, absorbed proteins generally elicit a minimal allergic response because of the limiting influence of T-suppressor cells.

Because of their resistance to digestive, proteolytic breakdown, the luminal concentrations of lectins can be quite high, consequently their transport through the gut wall can exceed that of other dietary antigens by several orders of magnitude. Additionally, WGA and other lectins may facilitate the passage of undegraded dietary antigens into the systemic circulation by their ability to increase the permeability of the intestine. Consequently, dietary lectins represent powerful oral immunogens capable of eliciting specific and high antibody responses.

In other words, lectins can lead to leaky-gut syndrome.  They poke holes in your intestines, seep into your bloodstream and are carried throughout your body, which then must produce antibodies to attack them.  If that were the end of the story, it would be bad enough.  But that’s not the end of the story.  The amino-acid profile of lectins is similar to the amino-acid profile of many of your own tissues.  The result of what Cordain calls “molecular mimicry” isn’t pretty.

Autoimmune diseases occur when the body loses the ability to discriminate self proteins from nonself proteins. This loss of tolerance ultimately results in destruction of self tissues by the immune system.

So your body ends up attacking itself.  We already know grains cause celiac disease.  Based on both observational and clinical evidence (such as high concentrations of the antibodies produced when lectins seep into the bloodstream), it’s also likely that grains cause or aggravate ailments like these:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Dermatitis Herpetiformis
  • Insulin-Dependent Diabetes
  • Sjogren’s Syndrome
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Epilepsy
  • Schizophrenia

Based on my own experiences as well as countless emails and comments I’ve received, I’d add psoriasis, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma and chronic fatigue to that list.  And yet nutritionists are apparently taught in school that humans need grains to be healthy.  So they scurry off to the clinics and tell people to eat foods that can make them sick.

That’s why I don’t listen to nutritionists anymore.


45 thoughts on “Amber Waves of Pain

  1. darrel

    How about non wheat, vegetarian forms of protein and fiber, like

    oat bran

    Do the above also produce an autoimmune response?

    Wheat seems to be the worst. Cordian says oats can block the absorption of iron and zinc and I believe people with celiac have to avoid them, but I’m guessing they’re not as bad as wheat. In traditional cultures where people consumed grains, they soaked and fermented them to reduce the impact of the lectins. Bottom line for me is that we don’t need grains, so why eat them?

    I haven’t heard anything about nuts causing autoimmune disorders. Beans contain lectins, so if you eat them, I’d sugget soaking them first.

  2. Becky

    Thanks for posting this. Tim Ferris had an interesting post up about Paleo/grains/etc that piqued hubby’s curiosity. I do believe you have saved the day, sir, by providing a link to this paper.

    A further thank you for the partially translated versions. I wish the whole paper was as readable.

    It’s pretty dense on the biochemistry, but he’s also written articles for the general public. His book “The Paleo Diet” is readable, although he was a bit worried about saturated fat when he wrote it. He seems to have backed off on that recently.

  3. Lori

    A few days ago, my mom suddenly developed a bladder infection and severe pain in her arms. She blamed the antibiotic and Vicodin she’d started taking for her root canal; I didn’t think they had anything to do with it. Tonight I asked her if she’d switched breads recently. Sure enough–Dad couldn’t find the flax bread, so he brought home something even junkier. Coincidence? Maybe, but I showed her some of Dr. Davis’s posts on wheat and arthritis, wheat and weight gain, and wheat and blood sugar, and she’s going to give a wheat-free diet a try.

    Another anti-nutrient in grains and legumes is phytic acid. It binds to certain minerals and keeps you from absorbing them.

    When I stopped eating wheat, my appetite ratcheted way down, the bloating went away and I was able to at least tolerate not taking an acid blocker. When I eat wheat now, any more than a piece of meat rolled in a little flour, I get a stomach ache that lasts for days.

    My surgically-repaired shoulder keeps my wheat consumption to near zero. If I eat the stuff, the shoulder begins to ache, which happened a lot as the shoulder was developing a big ol’ bone spur.

  4. Howard

    Even when presented with the most convincing scientific proof, vegetarians and vegans always point to Asian rice cultures as the having the longest life spans, and to primitive cultures around the world that exist almost exclusively on grains and plant food and have none of the diseases of civilization. What is your response to that?

    Depends on the Asians. Okinawans have long lifespans, which may be partly genetic, but they also are big on pork and lard. Most of the rice-eating Asians were poor, did hard physical labor, and lived on what we in the U.S. would consider a semi-starvation diet of around 1700 calories. That means the carb load wasn’t really that high.

    Now that the Chinese have a more prosperous society and can eat more, they’ve got a huge diabetes problem. Many in the media attribute that to Western foods, but one researcher said in an interview that they still eat mostly Chinese food … just more of it.

  5. kelebek

    I would like to shove this article into the face (and possible other places) of the gastroenterologist that told me to eat even more fibre to cure my IBS when I was already eating two servings of all-bran goodness (blegh!). The more ate the worse it got. I never made the connection between the fibery goodness I was eating and my unbearable bowel pain until I switched to a low carb diet and poof IBS has disappeared. I am thankful now to IBS because it keeps me on my low carb diet. Slightest hint of bread or cereal or whatever the pain comes back. Low carb diet, keeps the kilos and IBS away!

    If fiber comes from broccoli or lettuce, it’s probably good. If it comes from bran, you’re dealing with lectins. Too bad most of the medical community doesn’t know the difference.

  6. Daniel Kirsner

    This isn’t what Jane Brody says, and she writes for THE NEW YORK TIMES. You write for…uh, what, again? The New York times is an AUTHORITATIVE SOURCE, and Jane Brody is a FAMOUS AUTHORITY ON DIET AND NUTRITION. And besides, the most important factor in health is genetics, which is why Jane, despite following a high-carb, low-fat diet with plenty of HEALTHY WHOLE GRAINS is on STATINS. This shows me she really cares about her health and knows what she is doing.

    Also, Jane has a wikipedia article:
    The only one for someone with a name similar to yours is this one, which makes me wonder if carb-deprivation causes deviant criminal behavior:

    Yikes. No relation, I hope.

  7. Patz

    The worse is that the mass of dietitians and people that are on the mass media are promoting those foods. They are super-duper stupid or they are getting paid for it. What is even worse is that the human genome is getting changed with each generation. It is not changing so we do better with those foods. Nope. We are having more and more with each generation triggers in our genome triggers that will help for the cause of cancer , obesity and all the other nice stuff we get.
    The more we eat it , the sicker our children will be and the more they eat it the sicker their children are going to be. Have you noticed recently that there are enormous amounts of people , young people that are not able to have children? The nature is saying – NO! YOU ARE NOT GOING TO PUT DAMAGED ENTITIES ANYMORE. The nature is about evolution and we are devolving and she we will stop us from doing it.

    Best we can do is spread the word and take care of our own. My girls don’t eat the garbabe they push on us.

  8. Angie

    Fascinating article! I would suggest adding fibromyalgia to that list too. I was diagnosed 6 years ago and I notice a significant increase in pain levels proportionate to increased carbohydrate consumption. Knowing that about my own physiology, this article makes complete and total sense. Thank you for posting it.

    I’d attribute all kinds of pains to grains. (That should be a song.)

  9. dlm

    So fiber is so good now, officially? Fiber was officially evil in the 70s when the ulcer milk diet was prescribed — even pie crust was too rough on your gut, as well as uncooked veg. After 6 weeks of diarrhea (and finding out you could be too thin), I gave up the milk diet (discovered a decade later I was lactose intolerant and always had been). The ulcer was caused by aspirin for migraines –milk did not help. That was an early lesson not to take for granted that ‘doctor knows best’.

    I think the jury is still out on fiber. Clearly not all fiber is created equal.

  10. scottR

    Hey Tom,
    Celiacs have to avoid oats only because of the chance of cross contamination during processing or while they are growing in the fields with wheat. If they are milled in a wheat free facility and not grown on the same land they can be eaten, though I would completely agree they should be soaked first.
    Since I think evolution is bad science I have a problem hanging the entire argument against grains on it but I think a quick look at how grains were used and prepared even a hundred years ago would surprise most people. Take sourdough for instance, in essence you are using the flour to feed good bacteria which you are then consuming. The same way one uses white sugar to feed bacteria when making Kombucha. It’s using something we can consume to utilize something we can’t (just like eating beef to get all of the fatty acids cows are able to turn grass into).

    Thanks for the clarification.

  11. Alex

    In addition to soaking beans and tossing the soak water, cooking them in a pressure cooker is more effective at breaking down lectins than cooking them in an ordinary pot.

  12. Patrick

    I will say this: I’ve been getting migraines routinely for the past 16 years. Started getting them when I was 22. It took me forever to isolate at least partial triggers, and one of them for sure is excessive carbohydrates, especially from grains and related sources. My problem is I really like pizzas and pastas and beer and such (and those things together = phenomenal), and so I still eat them quite a bit – but I have definitely tried to cut back on them, especially over the past several years, because 8 hours of migraine pain just isn’t worth it (although thankfully the miracle of 2-3 Extra Strength Excedrin pills works like a charm 90% of the time). My frequency of migraines drops from 2-3 per week to about once a week or less if I go super-low-carb or no-carb. But then I lose weight, which sucks too, given my body type. Its a vicious circle, man! In addition, I can also say from personal experience that I strongly agree with the contention that excessive grain/carb diets result in Vitamin D deficiency or absorption problems. Going low-carb/no-carb and taking Vitamin D supplements (and/or drinking inordinately large amounts of milk which I love) has been a great solution. But anyhow, my point in all of this is that, yes, given my own personal experience, I believe strongly that in general a grain-rich diet is bad for human beings.

    Thanks for the article – it was a great read.

    Pizza and beer is a delicious combo, but I’ve managed to save it for maybe two or three occasions per year. I take the ibuprofen before the first bite of pizza.

  13. Dan

    Grain is a Pain. How’s that for a low carb slogan? As a type 2 diabetic, I’m always hearing about how diabetics should eat whole grains and I just want to scream.

    I recently saw some sanity about grains.

    You know the story about whole grains vs. refined grains, but they have never tested the no grain option and just assue that whole grains are good for you. Jimmy Moore had this lady on his podcast.

    That’s the same complaint I’ve had about all those studies. It’s the equivalent of comparing the results of smoking filtered or non-filtered cigarettes and, when people smoking filtered cigarettes end up with a lower rate of lung cancer, declaring that filtered cigarettes prevent cancer.

  14. Blanche

    Wow, this is where most of the alternative health nutritional information points to. The key and foundation of health is a healthy livestyle. Common sense says hold the processed food. Now, most of that has grain as a key component.

    Processed food uses cheap ingredients. Wheat isn’t expensive the way it is used in bread and pasta. Automatically, convenient mass food is becomming a phenomenal experiment on humans. The results of which will be good for the bottom line of big food corporations.

    People are at risk from this created food. Rid your body of these poisons, by going on at the very least a whole food diet. By using less gains you can eliminate many chronic conditions. This is known as a anti-inflammatory diet.

    Grains aren’t needed for intestinal health. Good digestive powers come from a low to no grain diet. We have most of the problems because of accumulated waste from the hign amount of damage to the intestines.

  15. Jan

    I used to suffer from all manner of aches and pains in my back, shoulders, arms and legs. Since giving up grains, refined sugars, vegetable oils and soy, they have all vanished. It’s not a coincidence, either, because I have eaten small amounts of corn, oats and wheat on a couple of occasions and when I have, all the aches and pains come back. (My son still wants bread so I’m making it. I’ve bought some sustainably raised sprouted wheat flour and am going to obtain a sourdough starter – those two things are supposed to do a great deal to mitigate the anti-nutrients in wheat – but I still won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.)

    We’re slowly but surely spreading The Word – we’ve bought and given away four copies of Fat Head along with a couple of copies of Splendid Calories, Dreadful Calories (I’m sorry, that still makes me laugh) and a couple of copies Protein Power Lifeplan. The converted so far: 2 employees, one sibling and a blogging buddy. And my mother-in-law has ditched her statins.

    Of course, the fact we’ve lost over 50 pounds between the two of us in four months doesn’t hurt either.

    Those are excellent results. I hope Elephantine Head is making a few converts.

  16. Erik Danielsen

    Glad to see you mentioned psoriasis but eczema seems to be another grain-related condition. I grew up with eczema reddening the insides of my knees and elbows (which is common) but also my upper eyelids, which is a bit less pleasant. I always used a perscribed hydrocortisone-based cream to keep it under control… until I dropped grains from my diet. On those occasions when I indulge in something grain-based (like cinnamon-walnut pancakes at the diner on my bike tour this weekend!) I wake up and the skin on my eyelids is all flaky. If I get grains a couple days in a row, the eyelids get worse and the elbows start getting red. No grains, no pain. Or itch, for that matter.

    I suspect a number of skin ailments are caused by or aggravated by grains.

  17. Dianne

    My father thought I was totally crazy when I told him I wasn’t eating any grains any more and my doctor strongly suspected Celiac disease. He was just diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome.

    Sorry to hear that. I have a vegetarian friend suffering from Sjogren’s. I’ve suggested a couple of times that her love for all those “wholesome” grains might have something to do with it, but it’s apparently not something she can reconcile with her vegetarian beliefs.

  18. Tammy

    Tom – Great post – it’s funny I guess it’s the same mainstream mentality that humans need grass just like cows need corn !

    I’m afraid so.

  19. Lori

    Tom, I see you italicized the last paragraph I wrote in my post. Maybe you had such a similar experience that you could have written it youself.

    I could almost have written your comment. My left shoulder was never operated on, but whenever I eat too much carb in general, it hurts. I thought it was from three years’ carrying 20 pounds of photo equipment followed by four and a half years’ lugging around 20 pounds of text books. Now, I just control the carb intake and wear a rucksack and the shoulder has no pain at all.

    Fixed the comment. I had what the surgeon described as a “tremendous” bone spur removed. He’d planned to remove it with arthroscopic surgery but couldn’t, so when I woke up I learned it was open-shoulder. I have a pretty nifty scar as a reminder.

  20. John Auston

    One of the reasons, I think, that it is not as obvious as it should be that grains are bad for us, is because the symptoms take quite a few years to manifest.

    The shaping pressures of Natural Selection cannot work to our benefit if the negative consequences of a particular behavior don’t show up until AFTER we have produced the next generation ( say, by age late 30’s ). I mean, look at the Praying Mantis. The male is often beheaded immediately after procreation, and so even that trait has not be selected out of the species.

    I don’t think enough importance has been given, in the scientific literature, to this principle of post-reproduction negative effects.

    But because this principle exists nevertheless, we humans must educate ourselves to bad behaviors. Mother Nature is not going to do it for us.

    Or so it seems to me.

    Good point. I consumed grains for years without any serious ailments to give me a clue. I did experience more than my share of digestive upsets as a kid, but of course no one suggested it was an intolerance to grains.

  21. Lori

    @Darrel, nuts are high in phytic acid, an anti-nutrient. The Weston A Price Foundation recommends soaking and roasting them as well if you’re going to eat more than a handful a day.

  22. damaged justice

    I think it was Ray Audette in NEANDERTHIN who pointed out that grains are literally the first “processed food” — i.e., requiring processing to become edible.

  23. CPM

    I don’t think lectins are as much of a problem in some legumes like beans because fairly normal preparation (extended boiling) tends to destroy just about all the lectins (peanuts and soy would be different).

    I recently did a post on my blog comparing beans to polished rice and potatoes, two Neolithic foods that some consider a “cleaner” option in terms of lectins and phytic acid.

    I do think lectins are just a piece of the puzzle though, and there may be more factors and interactions at play.

    Agreed. I don’t get the immediate negative feedback from beans that I do from grains, so while I don’t make a meal of beans, I’m not worried if there are a few in my chili or stew.

  24. Laurie

    Cereal grains are the ultimate and first processed ‘food’. They aren’t just added to processed food; they are the signature processed food. They require plowing, planting, harvesting, tons of water and oil (for tractors, transportation and factories), grinding, pulverizing, separating, fractionating, fumigating, heating, chemically extracting, bleaching, pressurizing and otherwise heavy processing to make the inedible (to humans) small seeds ‘edible’. AND FURTHER PROCESSING IS REQUIRED, like hydration and baking flour into bread after all the aforementioned processing! The plants have anti-predation mechanisms and techiques to avoid predation but if that fails they have anti-digestion compounds so that their seeds can pass through predator’s guts undigested. If that too fails, they have co-opted much of our human activities to destroy and desertify hundreds of millions of acres of land by monocropping them and our doing the reproductive work for them. See Michael Pollan and Lierre Keith.
    Grains are bad for the human internal milieu and bad for the external broader environment.

  25. shutchings

    There must be something wrong with me. I haven’t had cereal in a long time, but every time I read the word I wanted it more. 😛 But I very much liked the thought of Eliza and Professor Higgins singing “the pain in your brain is mainly from the grain”! 😀

    I understand completely. Grains don’t appeal to me anymore, but when I write the word “beer,” I picture that cold, frusty mug …

  26. Jakounezumi

    You should have realized by now I think, that discussing nutrition using logic and biochemistry with a dietitian is like trying to discuss a logical analysis of the holy bible and/or evolution theory with a religious fanatic.
    It simply cannot be done.

    One of the doctors Jimmy Moore interviewed said if you want start a fight, talk about politics. If that doesn’t work, talk about religion. If that doesn’t work, talk about diet.

  27. Be

    This post is exactly why I love your blog – you aren’t afraid of science. I’ve enjoyed the Eades’ books and their direct common sense approach. I think Uffe is a bit rabid (even if right) and over the top – certainly not going to win an Emmy and change the world. The well researched and documented (and I respect that immensely – very unlike Uffe) epidemiology of Gary Taubes is a great story – right up until I wanted to scream Uncle so he stops beating a well murdered horse and got to the point. “Spit out Gary! Tell the world this is “complete and I’m about it”.

    Tom, keep bringing it on! I want to understand the science. This either is or isn’t true and only logic and rational science will get us there. Part of the problem is that science lags because of the political influences. We SHOULD have many more studies had our dollars been diverted to political motives.

    False morality, ethics or politics makes for what you so often prove to be comedic relief, but this is also a serious business. I don’t need any more epidemiology – cutting out grains, starches and sugars works for me (and my wife). We are leaner and healthier and I don’t give a rabbit’s nibble if it offends a Vegan, my Doctor or my government.

    But everyone knows that “we” are only getting better. Since grade school we are taught that we are growing taller and more slender – reminiscent of the typecast alien gait. In fact we are such bad asses that we can evolve in a blink of the eye and adapt to grains. We don’t want to assume we aren’t always “right” and “ahead” and “more evolved” than anyone else – on this planet or off of it.

    Thank you. I try to make my posts comedic or at least amusing when I can, but I’m pretty the readers know I take these topics seriously.

  28. Todd

    More on the Okinawans. In addition to being a traditionally pork and lard-loving people, as an island nation they consumed a lot of fish. Further, as drought was relatively common before dams provided a somewhat more regular water supply, sweet potatoes were grown as a staple, as they require less water and are hardier than rice.

    Sadly, perpetual economic hardships, American culture, etc. have largely replaced the traditional ways of eating with tons of cheap junk food and sodas.

    One little bright spot I noticed – a school guidance counselor (in Japan they are responsible for all disciplinary action in schools beyond the classroom) uses protein powder for boys who act up. Through trial-and-error he found it helps chill them out when they are sent to visit him. One of their complaints was hunger, and the modern lifestyle gives them mainly milk and bread for breakfast, and milk and rice for lunch. Little wonder they were freaking out well before five.

    We had sugary cereal for breakfast before going to school. No wonder we nap time in the middle of the morning. We’d go from wired to tired.

  29. tina

    I taught ESL in Korea for 1.5 years. I ate lots of fish I’ve never heard of, lots of fermented seaweed and kimchi, pork, beef and rice (and possibly a cat or dog but not knowingly.) I also only remember one soup that had tofu in it. China, Thailand, Japan and Vietnam had similiar foods.

    I’ve never been to Asia, but people who have tell me it’s not all rice and veggies by any means.

  30. Clyde

    There are ways to highly process grains so they are low carb and don’t have any of the bad affects discussed here:


    Properly taken they can be very good.

    Some might consider beer in this group, but it isn’t processed enough to get rid of all its carbs. I don’t know about the other stuff discussed here.


    The occasional Jameson’s or Glenfiddich works for me.

  31. ben

    What about microwaving oats, or wheat? Does that break down the lectin as effectively as soaking?

    Also, what about rice? I don’t think it contains lectins, nor is it refined, but is there anything particularly bad about it?

    I doubt microwaving breaks down lectins any better than cooking them. Keep in mind that many non-grain foods also contain some lectins — tomatoes, nuts, potatoes, milk — but it’s a matter of the dose. From what I’ve read, rice is lower on the lectin scale than other grains, especially if it’s white rice.

  32. Clyde

    Ethanol certainly is a carb. However, it’s a good carb. Basically it’s not a carb that the body turns into fat or stores in any way.

    Beer does have some carbs that are convertible and storeable, because yeast doesn’t eat all kinds of sugars/carbs. Wine can have a little to a lot of sugar in it. Distilled spirits get down to just ethanol – well, until they start adding stuff back in. Often that stuff includes sugar.

    I’m not food scientist (maybe that’s a good thing), but from what I’ve read and experienced, whiskey, vodka, and gin are absolutely great on a low carb diet. So are other spirits that don’t have added sugar: brandy, rum, tequila, etc.


  33. Susan

    Just found you through a friend’s FB post. Thank you for your voice of reason in a sea of sickness and confusion. My hubby and I lost a combined total of 120 pounds by no longer eating grains and sugar. Our numerous illnesses disappeared and we no longer needed a multitude of medications. Finding this blog is a delight. I’m signing up and will spread the word. Go forth, “Beefy” Head!


    Isn’t it a pleasure when you realize you can eat your way to better health?

  34. Dr. William Davis

    Hear, hear!

    I agree, Tom. Elimination of wheat has been, in my experience, among the most potent strategies to regain health I have ever witnessed.

    Beyond the lectin effect, there is the extravagant increase in blood glucose peculiar to wheat, the brain-active “exorphins” that modify mood, as well as inflammatory phenomena that are only partly understood due to glutens.

    I, too, have had to engage dietitians and nutritionists in this debate. Sadly, they have not read the literature as carefully as you have.

    Thank you, Dr. Davis. I started testing my glucose after your lecture on the cruise and was stunned by the reading after a small bit of pasta. There’s something about wheat that goes beyond the carb load.

  35. Brian

    Hi Tom. Thanks for the post! As a skeptic and a scientist it’s always awesome to see people engaging with the research being done, rather than just swallowing mainstream media or cultural ‘wisdom’. That said, there’s a few things that bother me about the science (and the use of) here. While I am definitely on board with low carb and grain free (how could I not be, with the evidence available?), but I hope you can bear with me a bit.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, when you say that it makes “zero biological sense” that we could thrive on a grain based diet is just wrong. To answer your question there, it’s because we’re the *last* .4%. Evolutionary change can happen VERY quickly when selective pressures become high. This is what’s called “punctuated equilibrium”.

    An example of this is human skin color. People turned white very fast in response to vitamin D deficiency, which correlates strongly with birth defects and miscarriages. Reproductive issues are about as selective as you can get. Interestingly though, reduced melanin expression only developed in high latitudes… *and grain consumption*. It’s highly plausible that grains interfered with vitamin D uptake, which couldn’t be made up for by sunlight, so light skin evolved… funny how our cousins in northern Asia and America didn’t lighten up, and they didn’t eat grains…

    If you can’t tell, I actually think this supports ‘grains-are-bad’, but the salient point here is that the key of your quote there is “The sum of evidence indicates that the human genetic constitution has changed little in the past 40,000 years.” Sure, it could’ve happened… *but it didn’t*. This is the same thing again below re: jungle and primates, etc. This gives us an idea to investigate, but it isn’t an *answer*.

    My goal here isn’t to “poke holes” in your argument, but it’s *really* important when we deal with science that we never forget that science is about questions and ideas, not answers. We get data, we form an idea, but then we have to ask “what could be wrong with this picture? How else can I check this?” *Especially* when dealing with something so intrinsically related to our lives and health.

    Remember that jumping on the first idea that sounded good was what got us in this mess, you know? I read the comments and I see some really awesome success stories and scientific engagement, but I also see a lot of “science faith”, which is very scary. Every time someone swears by science, a higgs boson dies (hah, science humor, get it? So clever).

    I’ve gotten slightly off topic from the grains discussion here, but there has to be a level of caution when dealing with new infos like this. So please guys, *please* keep looking at the science. It’s there for *you*, not some mystical lab-coated figure making declarations. But question. Always, always question.

    I would also love to add to and hopefully elucidate on some of the biology, immunoregulation and all that, but I figure this has gone on long enough. Not much to say when everyone’s already wandered off bored. So one last time, thanks for bringing this paper and its knowledge to a wider audience!

    **I am a University student currently studying master’s cell biology**

    All good points. But to clarify, I stated it makes zero biological sense statement that I would NEED grains to be healthy, not that I might be able to tolerate them. Clearly some people do tolerate them, and most Europeans adapted to tolerate milk in something less than 10,000 years.

  36. Walter

    Speaking of mood alteration, I’m in physical therapy for a car accident that happened a month and a half ago. Yesterday for some reason the pain and headache really got to me, so I had some carb “comfort food” 3 oatmeal cookies and 2 coffee milkshakes on top of a normal days food intake. Got on the scale 6 pounds heavier today! Past experience says it will come off easily over the next few days.

    For the next time, which do you think is less damaging oatmeal cookies (one of the few types that doesn’t taste so sweet to me that I can still eat) or ice cream?

    I don’t think I could make that call. If I’m really craving ice cream, I get the low-carb variety.

  37. tony-k

    Great post Tom! This blog never fails to deliver eye-opening facts! BUT.. You missed one single vital point! And that is YOU NEED GRAINS!! I mean, you JUST DO!!! For..something, you.. You NEED THEM!!

    You’re officially qualified to teach nutrition classes.

  38. Alex

    I’m not food scientist (maybe that’s a good thing), but from what I’ve read and experienced, whiskey, vodka, and gin are absolutely great on a low carb diet. So are other spirits that don’t have added sugar: brandy, rum, tequila, etc.

    Fantastic. I don’t have to get rid of my Chivas Regal after all.

  39. Theresa

    Fab post and explains the reason corn polenta affected me the same way porridge oats did when I first went gluten free. I was never able to work that one out. I rarely eat any grain now and when I do experience many of the symptoms of other posters.

    Incidentally one of my cats started throwing up after eating cat biscuits. The vet said she was either gluten or beef intolerant – it would be too hard to tell which and sold me some very expensive cat food. When I read the ingredients I found that it included many of the things that I am trying to avoid myself and things that a carnivorous animal wouldn’t naturally eat. Both my cats are now happliy eating raw grass fed beef (so obviously not beef intolerant!) and grain free cat biscuits and have more energy and are generally happier and healthy, so it is not just ourselves we are poisoning with diets nature never intended.

    Too true; we’ve poisoned a lot of our pets with grains.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *