What is a cereal grain?
Cereal grains are seeds of monocot grasses that have been artificially selected by humans to serve as food. The ones that cause the most trouble, and constitute the biggest part of European and North American diets, are the gluten grains Wheat, Barley and Rye. I use the term gluten grains to signify primarily wheat barley and rye, but spelt, triticale and other less common grains, and some argue, oats are also gluten containing. One factor complicating gluten grain avoidance is the fact that non- gluten grains can often be contaminated by being processed on the same equipment as gluten grains.
How about other grains? Corn, rice and other non-gluten grains are carbohydrate heavy have antinutrients that interfere with mineral absorption and offer no nutritional advantages over animal products and non-seed vegetables in a food-abundant (non-subsistence) environment. As these non-gluten grains were also not consumed in important amounts in the Paleolithic period, the healthiest strategy is just complete grain avoidance.
That’s what I do generally. I have a little corn or white rice now and then, but no wheat, barley or rye if I can help it.
Here is the argument against gluten grains.
In a paleolithic non-food-abundant environment, omnivorous humans would at least occasionally eat anything that had caloric value that would not kill them. Natural selection favors propagation of the gene, even if the organism is not made "healthy" or does not live as long. It does not follow that any particular thing eaten was or is healthy, particularly if it were a type of plant that uses poisons in its seeds to discourage consumption by wild animals.
We need to apply the PaNu methodology to see if there evolutionary discordance. This has two parts. First, we look at evidence from modern medical sciences like biochemistry and epidemiology. Then, we look to the past with paleoanthropology to see if that supports our argument.
All plants tend to be in a contest with predators who might consume them. When we contemplate the chief difference between plants and animals, it makes sense that animal sources in general may be healthier for us. Animals are mobile, and can avoid predation by running away from us. Plants use a variety of strategies to avoid predation, but one of them is to discourage consumption by elaborating toxic substances. Hence there is a contest of co-evolution over generations between plants “trying” to avoid consumption and animals evolving adaptations (or not) to the plant’s defenses.
Nuts are seeds that have a physical hard shell to discourage consumption. Relying more on this physical barrier than poisons, nuts like walnuts or pecans are seeds but safer to eat than grass seeds.
Gluten grains are grasses that use wind to disperse their seeds. The seeds contain carbohydrate and protein meant to help the seed germinate and grow. The seed has lectins and physical structure designed to discourage consumption by predators, whether single cell, fungus, insects or vertebrates. Some creatures, like birds, are clearly adapted to overcome the defenses of gluten cereal grains and use them as a primary food source. Most animals, including most mammals and our closest relatives the omnivorous fruit and insect-eating chimpanzees, are not adapted to grains and don’t eat them in substantial quantities. The question is, are humans adapted?
The answer is no.
First, see 6s and 3s and the logic of grain avoidance, for what happens when bovines that are adapted to eating grasses, eat too many grass seeds (grains) to which they are not adapted.
Now consider humans:
1) Fully 1% of the population has celiac disease, with 97% of these currently undiagnosed. 30% of the population has the genetic HLA haplotype that is susceptible to celiac disease -we can only know which of these 30% have it by testing. Celiac disease is caused by gluten grain consumption, with the offending gliadin proteins heat stable and not destroyed by cooking. Nearly every common autoimmune disease described is associated with at least an order of magnitude increased risk of celiac disease. Conversely, celiac patients have increased cancer, osteoporosis, and autoimmune diseases like DM I, autoimmune thyroid disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Sjogren disease, Rheumatoid arthritis, neuropathies, and even neurological disorders like schizophrenia. We don't know how big the iceberg is with these diseases, but the tip seems very large.
2) Gluten grains are grass seeds that are employing a biologic strategy to avoid consumption, including elaborating the heat stable lectin WGA, which is known to damage the human gut. The nutritive value of gluten grains is inferior to the vast majority of non-gluten plant sources of carbohydrate and protein that have lesser adverse biological effects, and there is no evidence they provide anything uniquely essential. In addition to wheat germ agglutinin and gliadin proteins, there are a variety of other antinutrients in cereal grains, including phytates that bind essential minerals, and enzyme inhibitors that inhibit digestion. These are known to have their own dose-related adverse effects when included in the human diet. Inclusion of gluten grains and the oils extracted from grains in the diet also skews the ratio of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids in an unhealthy direction that adversely affects immune function.
3) The paleoanthropological record shows that humans and their hominid progenitors would eat nearly anything that had calories that would not immediately kill them, including occasional grass seeds. Nevertheless, the evidence also tells us that monocot grass seeds in general and gluten cereal grains in particular were inconsistent and trivial food sources prior to agriculture. The evidence is that cereal grains and legumes have antinutrients with clinically significant effects, and the evidence that these are an evolutionarily recent food source supports our observation that we are poorly adapted to them.
Note that the PaNu method does not ask solely if a food was or could have been eaten in Paleolithic times. A history of being a paleolithic food source is neither necessary nor sufficient to establish it as concordant or discordant. There must be evidence that it is discordant both in the present and in the past under the PaNu method.
Dairy products are evolutionarily novel, but I believe in the context of a modern food abundant environment, and given what we really know about their health effects in the present, they are healthy for most people if your gut is not made leaky by grain consumption. Although dairy products are historically neolithic food, there is evidence of traditional cultures doing very well with them.
So when I call something a neolithic agent of disease, that really has two parts: 1) We have current evidence that is is noxious and 2) It is somehow outside of our evolutionary experience
Conversely, wild honey is a preferred food source for its caloric value among modern hunter gatherers and has probably been a hominid food source for millions of years. Wild honey is just fructose and glucose with dirt and pollen in it. Would there be negative health effects with 100% elimination of sucrose (a disaccharide of glucose and fructose) from your diet ? Honey can keep you from starving if food is scarce, but is there some magic ingredient in there with the sugar? I have convinced you, I hope, that in a food abundant environment, excess sucrose or its chemical equivalent is not healthy, as anything you eat is necessarily displacing something else you could be eating. Clearly the argument in favor of a food must rest on more than simply whether it was ever exploited.
I am now making the same elimination argument for gluten grains we have made for refined sugar and white flour, even though the specific biological argument is different. In a food abundant environment where anything you eat displaces something else in a roughly isocaloric diet, eating gluten grains is not optimal for your health. What is in wheat that you cannot better get from a green salad with egg on it - without the lectins and the gliadin proteins?
I have never had anyone able to tell me exactly what evil would befall a person without wheat, barley or rye in their diet. I have scores of non-celiacs that say that it made a huge change for the better, and some say it did much more than the sugar elimination.
Our cultural veneration of grains literally amounts to making a virtue of necessity, as 55% of world calories consumed is from grains. A paradigm shift is possible, though, if you are willing to read some more and adopt a radical skepticism of current government, mainstream media and industry supported nutritional dogma. I was initially as skeptical as you might be, and only came to my conclusions through investigation.
Again I ask, rhetorically, what possible negative health consequence could there be to eliminating wheat, barley and rye from your diet?
Ditch the grains. Don't be a wheat-eater.
Read Part II Here.