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    You Ask, I Answer: The Paleolithic Diet (Part 2)

    paleo manI came across this webpage, which details the main claims made by The Paleolithic Diet crowd, especially in regards to why we shouldn’t eat grains.

    I am interested in knowing your thoughts on it.

    — Sean Murphy
    (Location Unknown)

    Oh, wow.  I have plenty to say.  My comments are in red.

    “It’s good to point out that grains and soy aren’t edible in nature without processing and so it’s safe to assume we haven’t eaten them for millions of years.”

    So what if they aren’t edible in nature?  Sugarcane, for instance, is edible in nature.  Does that mean pure sugarcane is “good for us”?

    In any case, since sugarcane is edible in nature, then clearly the human body has digested sucrose for hundreds of thousands of years (this will come in useful a bit later when debunking another Paleo Diet claim).

    “When you take a slice of bread and crush it in your hand, you are virtually eating that amount of refined sugar. The problem is that that amount of sugar elevates the bloodsugar levels amazingly fast and causes your pancreas to produce lots and lots of insulin to metabolise it.”

    This statement is overly simplistic.  After all, not all bread is created equal.  A whole grain bread has a different effect on blood sugar than a refined type.

    Besides, eating two slices of white bread by themselves is, from a glycemic (blood sugar) standpoint, very different from having a sandwich (made with slices of white bread) filled with tofu, avocado, and hummus.  The presence of additional protein, fiber, and fat in that sandwich greatly decrease the bread’s effect on blood sugar levels.

    Additionally, keep in mind that white bread was the “standard” bread sixty or so years ago, when diabetes and obesity rates were much, much lower.  If white bread in and of itself were a hideous food that caused everyone to get sick, why didn’t we see today’s disease and obesity rates back then?

    The problem isn’t refined flour itself as it is the amount and frequency in which it is eaten.

    Today’s health problems are mainly attributed to two things:  people are consuming too many calories, and these calories mostly come from nutritionally empty, overly refined foods.

    Blaming problems on “grains and soy” is too simplistic.  A tempeh and brown rice stir-fry is not akin to eating a 1,400 calorie bowl of pasta along with six breadsticks at the Olive Garden.

    “Further, many grains contain a lot of allergens which upset your immune system and causes the development of allergies. Imagine this: Humans have never in their evolution of millions of years eaten grains and
    now, since only 4.000-10.000 years ago, we are relying on this food.   Our genes aren’t adapted to these foods. Grains are in fact incompatible with humans (and also dogs and cats and many mammals)…”

    What do allergens have to do with anything?  Some people are allergic to shellfish, eggs, and tree nuts.  So, if allergens are such a concern, why only point the finger at grains?

    Also, if grains are incompatible with humans, how come our digestive enzymes are able to break them down?  An incompatibility would mean our bodies would not know what to do with them.

    Whoever wrote this apparently isn’t aware that humans have salivary amylase in their mouths, an enzyme that is designed for carbohydrate digestion (and especially for starches!)

    “Humans are not adapted to eat such amounts of concentrated carbohydrates and the pancreas (and adrenals) aren’t fit to the job.  Over time one will develop insulin resistance, hypoglycemia, [and Type-2] diabetes.”

    Those conditions develop as a result of unhealthy eating patterns, which, yes, can include consuming too many refined grains, but mainly come back to the problem of consuming too many calories.

    A lot of the Mediterranean countries, which originally had one of the healthiest diets, consumed refined grains.  Of course, their diets were also heavy on fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, and healthy oils, but their grains were mostly refined.  The key is they these grains made up a small portion of their diets.  There were no six ounce bagels or 500 calorie muffins in 19th century Italy.

    “You could eat the grains unrefined, but then a lot of antinutrients will remain. Antinutrients are substances that bind to essential nutrients in the digestive tract.”

    Antinutrients also have some positive benefits. Additionally, antinutrients are only a concern if your diet is entirely made up of that ONE food.  For instance, if a rural part of Africa is sent  massive amounts of one grain crop to subsist on, you can certainly expect to see deficiencies in that population

    However, if your diet contains whole grains along with other foods, antinutrients are not a concern.

    Keep in mind, too, that many foods and beverages (i.e.: spinach, tea, tomatoes, and almonds) also have antinutrients.  So, again, why are grains singled out?

    “Another problems with grains and soy bean it that they can’t be eaten raw, which only allows us to eat them cooked. Cooking essentially damages all foods. The more you eat raw, the better you will feel..”

    Not necessarily.  While most foods provide the highest level of phytonutrients when consumed in a raw or lightly cooked state, cooking makes some nutrients MORE available and absorbable.

    Also, does this argument mean that all meat products should be eaten raw?

    And what about eggs?  After all, raw egg whites contain a substance that prevents the absorption of biotin and vitamin B6.  Cooking eggs makes those two nutrients absorbable.

    “I forgot perhaps the most important reason why grains are bad: They are very hard to digest properly. They need to be digested in two phases.  First, the starches, which are very long chains of carbohydrate molecules, must be seperated [sic] into small pieces consisting of 2 glucose molecules. This is called maltose (or isomaltose).

    Next, the intestines need to produce enough enzymes (maltase) to digest the maltose into the elemental glucose molecules. As you see, quite a lot of work.  The problem is that the human body isn’t fit for this job and
    a part of the starch isn’t absorbed and descends into the large intestines, feeding critters, causing inflammation, gasses, damage to the wall of the intestines, and other problems.”

    I don’t understand the significance of grains being digested in two phases.  Protein, for instance, is partially digested in the stomach and then in the small intestine (therefore also considered a two-phase process).

    As for the claims that carbohydrate digestion is a lot of work.  How so?  After all, it takes more time for meat to travel through the digestive system than, say, a slice of whole wheat bread.

    Remember the point I made about raw sugarcane at the beginning of this post?  Let’s ponder that for a second.  Sugar cane is is raw and unprocessed, and is contains sucrose (which is eventually broken down into glucose and fructose).  As far as our bodies are concerned, there is no difference between raw sugar cane and a packet of table sugar.

    There is sufficient evidence to believe raw  sugar cane was consumed in the Paleolithic Era, which means the arguments that humans are not equipped to digest carbohydrates falls flat.

    As for unabsorbed starch traveling to the large intestine and “feeding critters” — that’s actually a GOOD thing!  This is commonly referred to as resistant starch, and it promotes healthy bacteria growth in the colon.

    “Compare this to fruit and honey, which are predigested foods. They primarily contain glucose and fructose, which don’t need to be digested at all and can be absorbed painlessly by the intestines. Because everything is easily absorbed it can’t feed the critters.”

    These “critters” are actually health-promoting bacteria!  So, as I explained in the previous paragraph, feeding them is very beneficial.

    “As for the problem of not getting enough carbs: No such problem exists.  Carbohydrates are optional. You can survive and feel perfectly healthy on a zero-carbohydrate diet.”

    Wow, this is entirely wrong. Not to mention, it completely goes against basic knowledge of paleolithic dietary  habits, since fecal matter studies have concluded that these populations ate very high fiber diets.

    In any case, carbohydrates are our body’s preferred source of energy.

    If you don’t consume ANY carbohydrates, protein and fat are instead used for energy, in turn not allowing them to be used for their specific purposes!

    One of the main reasons for getting a sufficient amount of carbohydrate in your diet is for “protein sparing” — that is, to allow protein to do what it needs to do.

    Imagine that you own a large apartment building with 50 units.  You have a doorman, a facilities manager, and a valet parking attendant.

    Imagine that each one of those is fats, carbohydrates, and protein.  If you eliminate one of those positions entirely and ask the other two people to take on the additional work, they won’t be doing THEIR jobs quite as effectively anymore.

    The same thing happens with nutrients.  In the same way that fats can not be used to replace protein, neither can protein replace carbohydrates.

    From an evolutionary standpoint, if carbohydrates are unnecessary, why, then, do we have salivary amylase, which is exclusively used for starch digestion?

    ——————————————————–

    It scares me that such misinformation is so easily available.

    I also like how these Paleolithic Diet fanatics go on and on about the evils of grains and the wonders of meat while eating meat from grain-fed cows.

    Meanwhile, physical activity is completely left out of the conversation.  Want to be more like your Paleolithic ancestor?  Then get off the computer, unplug your television, and move around a little more!

    Share

    20 Comments

    1. US Food Trends said on July 2nd, 2009

      Interesting discussion. I’m not sure I understand the concept of food “addition”. The FDA defines a “whole grain” wheat product as a product that contains: 85% refined grain, 14% wheat germ, and 1% endosperm. These are the same proportions as found in a grain of wheat.

      So, if refined wheat products are bad, and “whole grain products” are good, I should be able to eat any refined grain product, have a couple tablespoons of wheat germ with endosperm sprinkled on top, and somehow I’ve now eaten a healthy, good, meal?

      Or table sugar is bad, but if I add fiber and some “phytonutrients”, it’s suddenly good for me?

      For example, who says “fat is bad, but if you eat it with X, it’s good?”

      As I understand it, Paleo is anti-grain, but not anti-carb?

    2. Andy Bellatti said on July 2nd, 2009

      I’m not sure where you got that definition. In their latest guidelines, the FDA defines a whole grain as: “cereal grains that consist of the intact and unrefined, ground, cracked or flaked fruit of the grains whose principal components — the starchy endosperm, germ and bran — are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact grain.”

      If you add fiber and phytonutrients to table sugar, then you no longer have table sugar (which, by definition, is pure sugar).

      The Paleo Diet is anti-grain, but some off-shots are also heavily anti-carb.

    3. US FoodTrends said on July 2nd, 2009

      So in a grain of wheat, it’s 85% starchy endosperm, 14% bran, and 1% germ. Refined wheat just means that the bran and germ have been removed, leaving pure starch – the endosperm.

      Per the definition you provide, refined endosperm with bran and germ added back in to create a 85%/14%/1% ratio is certainly a “whole grain” product. So, all I need to do to turn a bad “refined flour” product into a good “whole grain” product is have a couple tablespoons of wheatgerm and a little bran?

      Table sugar + something else is still sugar. Let’s say I have some asparagus swimming in butter – no one says “then you no longer have fat” even though I’m eating it with fiber and phytonutrients. It’s still fat!

    4. Andy Bellatti said on July 2nd, 2009

      I don’t understand your point. If you take a refined grain product and then add back the appropriate ratios to make it a whole grain, then of course you have a whole grain product. What, exactly, is the confusion? The bran and germ contain unique nutrients and compounds ; so, yes, that is sufficient to differentiate between a refined and whole grain product.

      Table sugar + something else is not the same thing. Table sugar is pure sucrose. If you add fiber to that, you are also adding starch. By definition, table sugar is pure sucrose.

    5. Brandon said on July 2nd, 2009

      I’m definitely jumping to conclusions, and I can’t read nonverbal communication over the internet, but it seems like “US Food Trends” is trying to say: adding fiber + phytonutrients to sugar to make an apple or whole grain is insignificant. When a food is mostly compromised of sugar (in whatever form), it IS essentially the same as [table] sugar. The food, mostly compromised of sugar (or fat, in the asparagus example), isn’t magically ‘good’ by adding 3g of fiber (or whatever vitamins & minerals & phytonutrients).

      That is how I perceived his message.

      It’s a pretty simplistic view of the situation, if that is the view he/she is taking.

    6. US FoodTrends said on July 2nd, 2009

      Here’s my point: I agree with you that many health problems are a result of high caloric intake.

      So, ultimately, as a nutritionist, why would you say: “refined grains are bad, but if you eat them with wheat germ and bran, they’re good.” or “Table sugar is bad, but if you eat it with fiber and phytonutrients, it’s good.” You’re just encouraging people to eat more.

      Why not just say “reduce or eliminate your intake of refined flour, and if you want the benefits of whole grain, just eat a little wheat germ.” or “reduce or eliminate your intake of sugar, and if you want fiber eat an actual whole fruit”.

    7. Andy Bellatti said on July 2nd, 2009

      Brandon,

      It’s very simplistic — it doesn’t take into accounts what the presence of fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals does for health. That is why a tablespoon of sugar is not the same as eating a small apple.

    8. Andy Bellatti said on July 2nd, 2009

      US Food Trends,

      So, ultimately, as a nutritionist, why would you say: “refined grains are bad, but if you eat them with wheat germ and bran, they’re good.” or “Table sugar is bad, but if you eat it with fiber and phytonutrients, it’s good.” You’re just encouraging people to eat more.

      How is that encouraging people to eat more? People are going to eat grains anyway; so the goal is to get them to eat as many of those grains in their whole form. I am not saying “On top of all the refined grains you eat, eat the same amount of WHOLE grains.”

      Table sugar is bad, but if you eat it with fiber and phytonutrients, it’s good.” You’re just encouraging people to eat more.

      Again, the message is not: “on top of the 70 grams of added sugar you are eating, eat 3 fruits.” Instead, it’s “instead of having that huge glass of apple juice, have an actual apple.” This will reduce total caloric intake and provide fiber and more phytonutrients.

      Eating a little wheat germ is not equal to eating whole grains. There are plenty of whole grains that are not wheat-based (ie: brown rice, oatmeal, amaranth). So simply adding wheat germ to foods is not sufficient.

    9. US FoodTrends said on July 2nd, 2009

      “People are going to eat grains anyway”

      Not necessarily. I mean, that’s part of the Paleo argument, isn’t it?

      I’m pretty neutral on grains, but but’s who’s really out there saying that significant grain intake is necessary in order to thrive – apart from Monsanto, ADM, and processed food manufacturers and marketers, all of whom love the idea that they can take a super cheap raw material, add some flavorings, and sell it for 20x it’s underlying cost? And now they add some wheat germ and can call it “whole grain”. And leverage blogs like this that promote “whole grains”.

      Your argument “against Paleo” seemed be be mostly “for grain” – and the truth is many, many people are thriving eating little or no grain, whole or otherwise.

    10. Andy Bellatti said on July 2nd, 2009

      “The Paleo argument”, as already outlined, is weak and full of holes. Of course an argument against Paleo is “for grains”… after all, an argument FOR Paleo is ANTI grain!

      It’s not so much that grains are necessary to thrive. What I am stating is that avoiding grains does not guarantee better health!! Additionally, blaming grains for obesity and diabetes rates is silly and unfounded.

      Whole grains are not about adding wheat germ to crappy processed food. Nutrition professional recommend implementing whole grains by eating oatmeal, putting barley in a soup, or having some whole wheat pasta. What does that have to do with Monsanto? You will never find a dietitian telling someone to get whole grains by eating Teddy Grahams with a sprinkle of fiber on them or Sun Chips.

    11. US FoodTrends said on July 3rd, 2009

      Well, the “Whole Grains Council,” for example, is a “nonprofit consumer advocacy group working to increase consumption of whole grains for better health.”
      From this page: http://wholegrainscouncil.org/about-us
      “In 2007 we are continuing our retail Stamp program, our ongoing media campaign, and other existing WGC programs, while also partnering with Registered Dietitians to educate consumers about whole grains.”

      Here are some of the products that they explicitly recommend:
      http://wholegrainscouncil.org/find-whole-grains/cold-cereals?page=4
      * Berry Lucky Charms
      * Cocoa Puffs Combos
      * Count Chocula
      * Reese’s Puffs

      They explicitly recommend products like:
      http://www.wholegrainscouncil.org/find-whole-grains/bars?page=2
      Nutri-Grain Cereal Bars – Strawberry Yogurt
      see the ingredients here:
      http://www2.kelloggs.com/Product/ProductDetail.aspx?brand=199&product=360&cat=

      because
      “On average, children are not meeting the dietary guidelines recommended servings of whole grain, but brands like Cheerios and Nature Valley can help meet their needs.”
      http://www.wholegrainscouncil.org/find-whole-grains/WG-for-school-vending-machines

      To me, this whole thing seems very, very questionable.

    12. US FoodTrends said on July 3rd, 2009

      And here’s a whole slew of registered dietitians who are explicitly supporting the Whole Grains Council:
      http://www.google.com/search?q=%22registered+dietitian%22++%22whole+grains+council%22

      All right, stepping off my high horse! But seriously, that’s some pretty gross “food”…

    13. Andy Bellatti said on July 3rd, 2009

      What is questionable about it?

      I fully support The Whole Grains Council because they help consumers differentiate between products that contain different quantities of whole grains.

      Additionally, their recommendations are not coming from a “these products are the most nutritious out there”; they are STRICTLY in reference to whole grains.

      I also don’t appreciate the fact that you twist their words around. They are not telling consumers to explicitly buy Berry Lucky Charms. All they are saying is, “Hey, FYI… that cereal has a little bit of whole grains in it.” Their stamp is also on cereals that are 100% whole grain and are much healthier.

      Their stamp is also on foods like brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat pasta. I find it unfair that you are selectively choosing processed foods made with whole grains to prove your point. Your assessment is inaccurate and skewed.

      The sole purpose of that group is to identify foods that contain whole grains (I love the fact that they help differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ sources).

      The Whole Grains Council is not making health claims or recommendations from a large nutrition standpoint, so it is unfair — and silly — to judge them under that standard.

      The Whole Grains Council Stamp has helped many people I have had consultations with. When they express concern about about buying 100% whole grain products, I often advise them to simply look for the Whole Grains Council stamp that says “100% Whole Grain”.

    14. Andy Bellatti said on July 3rd, 2009

      I support them as well (you can search my blog archives for Whole Grains Council and read the post I wrote a few years back).

      They do their intended job — helping consumers find products that contain whole grains — very well.

    15. Brandon said on July 6th, 2009

      “Why not just say “reduce or eliminate your intake of refined flour, and if you want the benefits of whole grain, just eat a little wheat germ.” or “reduce or eliminate your intake of sugar, and if you want fiber eat an actual whole fruit”.”

      Most nutrition professionals focus on what TO EAT instead of what NOT TO EAT. Otherwise negative relationships with food can and often do develop. Plus, focusing on what to eat will naturally push out foods that shouldn’t be eaten that often.

      That concept goes past nutrition. In the childcare setting I work with, they also focus on what to do instead of what not to do. They say “Do walk” instead of “Don’t run”

    16. US Food Trends said on July 7th, 2009

      Late night! I’d encourage anyone to follow the links I posted to the Whole Grains Council and decide for themselves as to whether the preponderance of products there could be considered healthy by any stretch of the imagination.

      Here’s a blurb from their marketing materials:
      http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grain-stamp/its-working
      “These adults, who were the primary grocery shopper for their household and who regularly purchased breads (other than store brand) from the bread aisle of their grocery store…
      – associated the Whole Grain Stamp with being healthy, and”

      They are explicitly pitching this stamp as something the consumers believe connates a “healthy” product. It is what it is.

      Brandon, I’d say if you want to stay positive, then just say “eat wheat germ” or “eat fruit” – and don’t assign health markers to products that, in fact, aren’t worth eating – like cocao berry puffs, or whatever.

      I personally don’t know about this “good foods push out bad foods” – as we’ve all seen, people have a real capacity to eat! You can’t walk and run at the same time, but you can definitely eat a lot! of food.

    17. Andy Bellatti said on July 7th, 2009

      US Food Trends,

      Once again, you’re arguing this from an angle that is irrelevant. The Whole Grains Council is not a nutrition board. They are not looking at foods from a perspective of calories, sugars, sodium, etc. Their ONLY goal is to help consumers identify products that contain whole grains. The fact that Lucky Charms cereal made with whole grains is nutritionally empty is not their concern (all they want you to know is that the cereal is question contains a small amount of whole grains).

      As I stated before, I have seen the Whole Grain Stamp on unsweetened oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat couscous, quinoa, and cereals high in fiber and low in sugar. I think it’s wise, however, for the Whole Grains Council to be practical and also point out popular products (ie: kids’ cereals) that contain some whole grains.

      The other issue here, US Food Trends, is that you appear to be analyzing this from a very dictator-like position. Saying that Cocoa Berry Puffs “aren’t worth eating” is extremist. If a child wants to have some as a snack along with a piece of fruit, what is the big deal? We are not talking about a 1,000 calorie burger with a day and a half’s worth of saturated fat and a day’s worth of sodium.

      I am a firm believer in the bullseye method of eating. Some foods should be encouraged as daily, others a few times a week, and others a few times a month. As long as the GENERAL DIET is healthy, having a treat (like, say, Cocoa Berry Puffs) is not going to be a problem.

      The real problem stems from the fact that, for many people, Cocoa Berry Puffs and other processed foods are the NORM, rather than the exception.

    18. Blake said on January 12th, 2010

      Loved this post! Your last paragraph was my fave. Keep the good info coming.

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