Are You Eating Enough Anti-Nutrients, Toxins, Etc. To Be Truly Bulletproof?

This was to be Part 3 of The Duck Dodgers’ “Hormesis Files” series, but it’s way broader than that. It’s beyond hormetic effects. Rather, think of it as anti-nutrients as nutrients. While you’re at it, contemplate yourself…as a tender little paleo flower, born of Trademark.

There’s a long list of phytochemicals and “anti-nutrients” that people in the Paleo™ and “Bulletproof” world tend to worry about and try to avoid. Among others they include: lectins, saponins, phytate, polyphenols (tannins, isoflavones), protease inhibitors, cyanogenic glycosides, and favism glycosides. Even mycotoxin problems might be related to gut health since ruminants have little problem with them. These phytotoxins and anti-nutrients are also known as secondary metabolites. But what is never mentioned in Paleo™ circles is that there are a number of scientific papers showing benefits to consuming marginal levels of all of these toxins.[1][2][3][4]

From: Potential health benefits and problems associated with antinutrients in foods (1993)

Phytic acid, lectins, phenolic compounds, amylase inhibitors and saponins have also been shown to reduce the blood glucose and insulin responses to starchy foods and/or the plasma cholesterol and triglycerides. In addition, phytic acid, phenolics, saponins, protease inhibitors, phytoestrogens and lignans have been related to reduced cancer risks. Because antinutrients can also be mitigating agents, they need re-evaluation and perhaps a change in name in the future…It is evident that both adverse and health benefits may be attributed to antinutrients in foods. It is also evident that, in many cases, the same interactions that make them antinutritive also are responsible for their beneficial effects.

In terms of mycotoxins (shit from fungi), there are even some compounds that have anti-cancer, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and even anti-fungal properties. [5][6][7][8][9][10]

The dreaded kidney bean lectins have anti-fungal and anti-viral activities and lectins in general have anti-cancer properties too. Phytates have anti-cancer functions and therapeutic properties against diabetes mellitus, atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease and reduces kidney stone formation. Toxic glycoalkaloids, found in potatoes and nightshades, have been shown to offer antiallergic, antipyretic, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects; blood sugar-lowering effects, and anti-pathogenic effects against viruses, protozoa, and fungi. Cyanogenic glycosides have anti-cancer properties. Phytosterols, polyphenols, flavonoids and tannins, alkaloids, phytates all have anticancer, antioxidant or endocrine normalization properties as well. Anyone noticing a pattern?

Of course, cooking is well known to reduce most plant toxins to levels that are safe to consume. For instance, while many raw legumes are well known to be very toxic, it’s also well known that cooking destroys virtually all bean lectins. Whatever trace amount of toxins that remain from fully cooked beans are likely to be hormetic given the overwhelming evidence of longevity we see from the high levels of legumes and potatoes consumed in the Longevity Villages and Blue Zones of the world.

Wild Plants Are Toxic, of Course!

How anyone can believe that any wild plant can survive in a rainforest, a jungle or a savannah without a toxic defense system is beyond comprehension.

Furthermore, while indigenous cultures gravitated towards low toxin plants, and often took steps to reduce toxins in those plants, they did so in the context of wild plants that had significant levels of these toxins. They didn’t have the luxury of domestication.

To put this in perspective, we can look at the death of Chris McCandless. McCandless was an American adventurer who ventured into the Alaskan wilderness in 1992, hoping to live off the land. Four months later, McCandless’s starved remains were found, weighing only 30 kilograms (66 lb). Chris McCandless ate raw seeds from the alpine sweetvetch (Hedysarum alpinum) plant. The potato tubers from the plant are non-toxic and are eaten raw by the Eskimos, who steal them from mice with the help of their dogs trained to find them. However, the raw seeds are extremely toxic and contain L-canavanine, which paralyzed McCandless’s legs and made him too weak to obtain food. That’s the kind of plant toxins our ancestors had to avoid in the wild.

In the modern world, one of the major reasons for the domestication of plants is literally to hybridize and breed out the toxins from them. Domesticated plants are then coddled in fields with perfect growing conditions while pests and hungry scavengers are kept away so that they don’t have to produce all the toxic compounds they needed to survive in the wild. Our Paleolithic ancestors would easily scoff at the toxins Paleo™ gurus have scared people into avoiding.

Debunking Paleo™ Toxins

Paleo™ authors often use the Masai and Inuit to promote their low carb narratives of high meat and fat consumption—never mind that those two cultures are the exception and not the rule. The Paleo™ narrative suggests that they are healthy because they supposedly avoided plant toxins and anti-nutrients by favoring meat.

Except it’s not true.

These two cultures actually went out of their way to consume the very plant toxins and anti-nutrients that Paleo™ authors warn about.

For instance, it’s well documented that the Masai constantly consumed a lot of milk, honey and some rather “toxic” plants alongside their meat and fat. One such example is the highly toxic East African Greenheart (Warburgia ugandensis), known locally as Olsokonoi whose cytotoxic bark and toxic leaves are used as a spice and is known to have powerful medicinal properties. Another example is Acacia nilotica, which has been shown in studies to have toxic secondary metabolites that promote anticholesterolemic and anti—pathogenic effects:

Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia, edited by Ken Albala

Soups are probably the most important medium for consumption of wild plant food by the Maasai. Okiloriti (Acacia nilotica), a powerful digestive, is the most frequently used soup additive. The root or stem bark is boiled in water and the decoction drunk alone or added to soup. The Maasai are fond of taking this as a drug; it is known to make them energetic, aggressive, and fearless. Soups prepared during the time of a meat feast are laced with bitter bark and roots containing cholesterol—lowering saponins. Some that are added to the finishing stew on the last day of feasting have strong purgative or emetic effects.

It’s safe to say that indigenous cultures weren’t afraid of mind-altering compounds—not exactly a culture that fears its ingredients.

In a comprehensive study by McGill University, 82% of the most common plant food additives heavily used by the Masai contained anticholesterolemic compounds including polyphenols, phytosteroids, water soluble dietary fibres, antioxidants, flavanoids and saponins. The researchers hypothesized that these “toxins” allow the Masai to maintain low cholesterol from their high fat diets, and likely plays a role in the very low incidence of coronary heart disease among the Maasai. Although there are many other variables to consider, studies show that urban Masai, who don’t have access to these plants, have higher cholesterol and more heart disease than the rural Masai.

With that obvious difference between wild and domesticated plants in mind, if one actually takes the time to investigate the dozen or so wild plants cataloged by the McGill researchers, you’ll find that the Masai specifically targeted plants that contain all of the toxins Paleo™ gurus would have you fear. In other words, it may very well be that avoiding these plant toxins may be counterproductive in the context of the very high fat diet that Paleo™ gurus advocate.

What about the highly carnivorous Inuit? Some of their favorite edible weeds included dwarf fireweed (Chamerion latifolium) and alpine mountainsorrel (Oxyria digyna) both of which are an antiscorbutic, and both contained a lot of plant toxins and anti-nutrients. Dwarf fireweed happens to be a rich source of flavonoids, phenolic acids and tannins and lipophilic compounds such as steroids and triterpenoids. I doubt it’s a coincidence that these are the same exact “toxins” that the Masai intentionally sought out. Fireweed also possesses antimicrobial, antifungal, antiviral and anticancer agents. Canadian indigenous cultures were known to utilize it in their foods and make decoctions from it. Like many plants, it’s a useful food to maintain health.

The Inuit’s wild alpine mountainsorrel is listed in the FDA’s Poisonous Plant Database due to its high levels of oxalates and anthranoids. You have to wonder why a culture that can supposedly get by on meat alone goes through the trouble of collecting toxic plants whenever they can find them.

Eskimos were also very fond of drinking boiled extractions of Labrador tea (Ayuq) with their frozen meats. Labrador tea is made from the leaves of a highly toxic Rhododendron plant that blankets the frozen tundra. Labrador tea has narcotic properties and contains tannins and the poisonous sesquiterpene ledol. Excessive consumption of the plant may cause delirium or poisoning due to the terpenes of the essential oils, which can cause symptoms of intoxication, such as slow pulse, lowering of blood pressure, lack of coordination, convulsions, paralysis, and in rare cases death. But these toxins also provide antioxidant and anti—inflammatory activities.

As you can see, even the cultures that were known to eat high meat and high fat diets went out of their way to consume plant toxins. And if you take the time to investigate it, you will find that every indigenous culture obtained a daily dose of wild plant toxins.

The Hadza

We all know the Hadza relied heavily on Baobab (Adansonia digitata). The Baobab is perhaps the most famous “tree of life.” Baobab seeds contain anti-nutrients such as protease inhibitors, tannins, phytic acid and amylase inhibitors. The seeds are eaten extensively, though cultures actively take steps to minimize those antinutrients including sun drying, roasting and fermentation. Baobab bark has several flavanols and tannins, and terpenoids and its decoction is used to control malaria. The alkaloid ‘adansonin’ in the bark is thought to be the active compound for amelioration of malaria. Baobab bark—often given to infants to promote weight gain—was found to be high in fat, calcium, copper, iron, and zinc. Baobab leaves, rich in minerals like manganese, are a staple in Africa. They are nutritionally superior to the pulp, eaten fresh or dried, but the leaves are high in tannins, alkaloids, flavonoids and terpenoids while the stem bark is high in saponins and phenolic acids. Aqueous extract of the baobab pulp itself has saponins and triterpenes.[11][12][13]

These properties aren’t particularly unique. Rather, they are fairly common in the trees and bushes that were most exploited by indigenous cultures. Researchers are finding therapeutic values from virtually all of these compounds that were regularly consumed by these cultures.

The Mbuti

The Mbuti tribe ate toxic plants too…

The Ecological Basis of Hunter-Gatherer Subsistence in African Rain Forests: The Mbuti of Eastern Zaire (1986)

“Many wild plant foods gathered by the Mbuti demand extensive processing before they can be eaten. This is particularly the case with yams which are also labor intensive to extract. Most edible yam species are either deep-rooted and/or contain toxins…Most tubers, and all stem bulbils, must be soaked and some boiled repeatedly before they become edible.”

Wild yams are not a major component of the Mbuti diet, but do the Mbuti shun these toxic wild yams. No, they do not. Toxic wild yams are real food to them.

Nor is their honey as tame as you might think. Honey is protected by an army of venomous stingers. And even “stingless honey” has its own defenses:

Ecological and Sociological Importance of Honey to the Mbuti Net Hunters, Eastern Zaire (1981)

“The Mbuti say that too much ingestion of the honey of these stingless bees may cause mbenda, a sickness of joints and bones, which is possibly caused by some toxic substances in the nectar collected by the bees”

Not exactly the honey we find at the local farmer’s market, or Trader Joe’s. Toxic honey is isn’t all that surprising. Honeys sourced near toxic/wild plants are well known to contain toxins.

Toxins Everywhere!

Few people noticed it, but even our beloved Tiger Nuts are full of Paleo™ toxins such as alkaloids, flavonoids, phenols, tannins, steroids, terpenoids and glycosides. Oh well.

Teas are an example of “tree/bush foods.” Teas and decoctions seem to have been very important parts of many traditional diets—Masaai, Bushmen, Inuit, Chinese, Indian, Persian, Turkic, Mongolic, Tibetan, Japanese, etc. There is even a “Tree food diet” (Bigu) that was used by Japanese monks. I think it would be hard to dismiss the importance of trees, leaves, barks and their anti-nutrition compounds in these cultures.

There is a long co-evolutionary history of trees/bushes and humans. Baobab is an early contributor. The fact of the matter is that plants need secondary metabolites/anti-nutritents to function and to protect themselves. It would appear that we use them to our advantage too. We obviously evolved with livers and gut flora that help us handle some level of these toxins. If we had always avoided these toxins, I doubt we could reap the benefits from them so easily.

Wild plants are more toxic than domesticated plants. This is not controversial. Do hunter-gatherers take steps to reduce wild plant toxins and do they make an effort to avoid highly toxic plants? Yes, of course!

However this does not necessarily apply to us Westerners who eat fairly coddled, hybridized and domesticated wimpy plants that happen to contain negligible amounts of these secondary metabolites when compared to their wild cousins. From that perspective, one could argue that most Westerners probably don’t eat enough plant toxins these days.

There’s even a new paper out that suggests that hominids co-evolved with entire plant communities that specifically adapted to humans.

Gut flora also play a role in detoxification. Certainly there are many with wrecked modern guts who can’t even handle cooked domesticated potatoes. One might suspect the ancestors of indigenous tribesmen would be unimpressed at our weak modern guts.

The problem with the “avoid all plant toxins” meme is that the entire narrative was perpetuated by various dietary authorities looking for a convenient way to make carbohydrates and plants look unappealing next to meat and fat. In reality, foods are complex and these toxins and anti-nutrients often have dual roles in our bodies. But in the eyes of many dietary authorities, all they had to do was isolate each ingredient and call each one “toxic” to scare people away from those foods. Fructose, lectins, you name it. And their narrative culminated in making everyone in Paleo™ orthorexic. Nobody noticed that these same compounds have many documented benefits.

Did those early hominids and indigenous cultures have it all wrong? Did the Egyptians get it wrong? No. More likely modern Paleo™ authors got excited about “anti-nutrients” and backed their almost exclusively low-carbohydrate narratives into some very rudimentary biochemistry that didn’t add up in the real world of wild plants. WAPF-friendly authors who didn’t consider dual roles of these compounds or hormesis, and didn’t want to look out of touch, promoted blanket anti-nutrient reduction techniques even though they only applied to certain situations (i.e., there is no tradition of diligently soaking legumes in Mexico, while there is a clear tradition of soaking maize).

As we showed above, scientists now believe the word “anti-nutrients” needs to be revised. Even the Wikipedia entry on tannins is hinting at this:

Wikipedia: Tannins

“Tannins have traditionally been considered antinutritional but it is now known that their beneficial or antinutritional properties depend upon their chemical structure and dosage.”

And there we go. The hand-wringing over anti-nutrients that have saturated the Paleo™ world is rather weak and unimpressive in the context of domesticated foods and nutrient-abundance. It’s time for people to wake up to the reality that hunter-gatherers gravitated towards low-toxin foods in the context of highly toxic wild plants. They utilized cooking to minimize toxins in the context of highly toxic wild plants. Over the past few thousand years, modern societies have hybridized plants down to a weak version of their wild cousins. Plants of the Solanaceae family (nightshades) were traditionally used as medicinals, but today we enjoy tomatoes and Yukon gold potatoes that have negligible/hormetic amounts of toxins in them.

We sleep in cushy beds, in warm houses and we take hot showers. We now consume far less toxins and expose ourselves to far less stressors than our hunter-gatherer ancestors did. Our honeys are tested for toxins, our plants are cooked to death (the Hadza barely cooked theirs).

It’s no wonder that those with the weakest guts tend to gravitate towards modern low toxin Paleo™ diets. The inability to handle weak domesticated plant toxins in cooked foods is almost certainly due to a modern disruption of toxin-clearing gut flora.

Obviously this is a controversial topic in the Paleo™ world, but when we look at the habits of indigenous cultures and the observed benefits from these compounds, it’s difficult to buy into the anti-nutrient meme anymore, within the context of hybridized domesticated foods. Traditional preparations are a good blueprint, but it makes sense for people to actually follow the actual traditions (sourdough baguettes, or unsoaked Mexican beans) rather than to simply assume that all toxins are verboten and poisonous.

…Incidentally, herbs and spices are one of the few plants you can easily obtain that are fairly close to their wild varieties. It’s fairly impossible to overindulge in herbs/spices—they often taste too bitter or hot. Herbs and spices are pretty toxic, but they are well known to provide health benefits when used in tolerable amounts. Go figure.

[If anyone has contact with Arthur Haines, please alert him to this. We’d love his critique, perhaps added input.]

Update: Botanist Arthur Haines has offered his input/critique in this comment. I think it’s a great juxtaposition. Whereas Arthur comes from a grounded perspective of how to use wild plants while mitigating toxins to hormetic or medicinal purposes, towards true natural vitality, The Duck Dodgers come from a perspective where supposedly, “”paleo” makes you strong through the almost complete avoidance of even the most dilute “toxic” load contained in domesticated plants—that must be protected by pesticides and other technological measures because they’re so defenseless against nature itself.


  1. pzo on May 13, 2015 at 16:15

    Glad to see you back at what you do best: shaking things up in food and health.

    Too many trees in the food forest. I’m back to modest beans and lentils, great foods.

    About toxins, tomorrow is my 69th BD so I kicked off the preview with a single serving of frozen Key Lime Pie as I read your posting. And tomorrow I will (Roar!) eat some wheat! And finish the day off with some toxic high quality Scotch.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 13, 2015 at 18:13

      I think the 10 or 11 bean mix package is about the best thing on the planet.

      Quick recipe:

      Toss a package in the slow cooker with a quart of favorite stock (beef, chicken, veal, vegetable, whatever; low sodium Kitchen Basics is my go-to).

      – 1 lb quality polish sausage made locally, diced

      – 1 large can diced tomatoes

      – 1 medium onion, chopped

      – 1/2 head of cabbage, chopped

      – 2 carrots, chopped

      Add water as needed for consistency, salt & pepper to taste.

    • Wenchypoo on May 15, 2015 at 10:32

      Out of control blood sugar and food allergies keep me from eating all except the Polish sausage.

  2. Alesia on May 13, 2015 at 16:53

    This post is timely for me. Lately I’ve become more interested in foraging for plants beyond berries. It just makes sense to me. It’s free food, it’s higher in nutrients/”anti-nutrients” and gives me a chance to connect with nature. I get some odd looks sometimes, but what’s new? Plus if I’m ever lost in the woods I’d probably stand more of a chance at surviving. Today I cooked up some Japanese knotweed for the first time, tomorrow maybe some dandelion greens!

    • pzo on May 13, 2015 at 17:16

      I appreciate and endorse your efforts.

      But the fact remains that while perhaps nutritional and/or tasty, they are very much lacking in calories and protein.

      This from a guy who gathered wild raspberries as a kid; I’d bring them home and Mom would break out the ice cream, put my berries on top, and we’d smush them into ecstatic food.

    • Alesia on May 13, 2015 at 19:22

      I’ve become more interested in foraging for plants, beyond berries. Berries seem safe because they’re sweet and are usually easily recognizeable. I’m more interested in looking for other plants that are edible and grow wild in my region, such as Japanese knotweed, chicory, fiddleheads or dandelions.

      I’d probably be more concerned about lack of protein or calories if I wasn’t an omnivore. ;)

      pzo congrats on the bday. Live it up! :)

    • wildcucumber on May 14, 2015 at 07:13

      Stinging nettles are quite high in protein and in season now. Try ’em!

      Happy bday pzo.

    • Jessi on May 14, 2015 at 09:34

      I second the stinging nettles. I don’t pick them after they “flower” but until then, I harvest the tops to saute in garlic, anchovy and olive oil. Very tasty!

  3. Jed on May 13, 2015 at 20:44

    Nice post. I’m curious about traditional food preparation. Wasn’t everything cooked over a fire, using wood as fuel? Couldn’t inadvertently eating small amounts of charcoal with each meal a mitigating circumstance, regarding the anti nutrients? I say that cause whenever I light a bowl of weed and burn a seed, I always eat the burnt seed and sometimes I even eat the charcoal in the bowl. Some people take charcoal pills. Just wondering how this ancient dust fits in to the health and belly equation, cause I’ve never heard anybody address this.

  4. GTR on May 14, 2015 at 15:00

    What do you think about the toxins present in the seawater? Could they be hormetic too? Apparently a corporation called Ocean Grown makes a fertilizer out of the seawater, that contains niceties like Plutonium, Uranium that are present in the seawater. List of the ingredients:

    Notice that some species living in water are quite long-lived, even though needing to deal with all such elements. Like bowhed whales (despite the size!), or hundreds-years-old sponges.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 14, 2015 at 16:28

      Well, oceans are the origin of all life. Beyond that, like Carl Sagan said, “we’re star stuff.”

  5. Marc on May 14, 2015 at 03:45

    All those plant toxins clearly fuck up Rich Roll pretty badly… Hahahaha.

    The paleo crowd of meatza never got it anyway.

    What the hell happend to common sense in all of this nutrition drama?

    Keep it up Richard, I do hate your new found freedom and adventure a bit …but I’ll deal with it :-)

    • Skyler Tanner on May 14, 2015 at 05:08

      I’ll poke the beehive (because I know Richard personally):

      Why are we getting excited about a white dude retiring to Mexico? It’s not like he’s the first one to do it. ;)

    • Richard Nikoley on May 14, 2015 at 07:12

      The first was probably a Dutch explorer named Shuyler. ;)

    • Skyler Tanner on May 14, 2015 at 11:34


      Glad the back is feeling better; I’ve had clients who resisted the same surgery and look back at how much better their life has been since. Enjoy Mexico!

  6. Fred on May 14, 2015 at 04:46

    Great post – very thorough, informative, and through-provoking.

    However, as someone who sadly cannot even tolerate a pussy ass cooked white potato, this makes me feel even sadder about my shitty fuked-up modern gut.

    I imagine a lot of the Low-Carb-Bible-Bangers are so adamant in their delusion because they’ve found that eating that way makes them feel somewhat better – because their guts are fucked up and they can’t tolerate certain fibers / starches / toxins / etc. As someone with a majorly fucked up gut… where do I start? Nightshades make me feel pretty awful – what other toxins could I try? Should I try to add them slowly, but, if I lack the right bacteria, is that gonna eventually help fix the long-term problem?

    • Richard Nikoley on May 14, 2015 at 07:19


      Thanks for getting it. It’s not about us moderns going and seeking out toxins and low-level poisons, but rather kinda mocking the Paleo narrative as being one of strength when the evidence suggests all this need for toxin elimination is evidence of modern frailty.

      How to fix or make better? Well, the only thing I’ve seen so far is some people gaining more tolerance over time using the probiotics and gut foods I’ve blogged about. Which one work, hurt, improve or do nothing is individually anyone’s guess. This is why I use the shotgun approach.

    • Fred on May 15, 2015 at 05:19

      This might sound retarded, but I’ve found I feel the best literally living on berries – I have tried adding every kind of prebiotic, RS2, RS1, RS3, digestible starch, inulin, polyols (prebiotic?), and glucomannan, just don’t tolerate them well.

      I also really want to do a 30 day water fast – I’ve read some really interesting stuff on them (tongue becoming extremely white 5 days in then clean again, tons of yellow mucus coming out 8 days in, old injuries becoming extremely painful again temporarily to re-heal, old scars fading).

  7. Arthur Haines on May 14, 2015 at 08:49


    Thank you for posting this article, it was an interesting read. I do feel the authors are generally correct in their premises, though I also feel there is a bit of exaggeration going on (though this is typical in a lot of writing–no doubt including my own–when a novel point is being made). There are a few items I think they would do well to consider. First, and foremost, dosage is the difference between medicine and poison. Therefore, some phytochemicals that are beneficial at certain levels and become problematic at higher levels (whether acute or chronic). They are conflating toxins with phytochemicals in some paragraphs (while wild plants do have higher levels of certain phytochemicals, those phytochemicals are not necessary toxic at dosages achieved in the diet and are known to have substantial benefits to human health).

    It is important to keep in mind that indigenous cultures pioneered many food preparation methods that reduce (don’t read as eliminate) antinutrient and toxin levels. They (at least in some cases) certainly understood that certain plants produce too much of what this article would call a good thing. For example, the authors are glorifying tannins. Research does show that some tannins in the diet can be beneficial (which the authors point out). But all indigenous cultures that ate lots of acorns processed them to reduce tannin levels (and note that tannins are found in all species of acorns). They did this for species that many people of European descent today don’t process because they don’t taste too bitter (modern people incorrectly assume that the absence of bitter taste indicates an absence of tannins, which is not true in subgenera of oaks and their acorns). The paleo humans of Grotte des Pigeons in northern Africa did not process acorns and suffered extensive dental caries and tooth loss. This paper has presented a lot of good research, but is perhaps somewhat guilty of the dietary extremism they are criticizing the very low carb world for.

    The statements about moving past the antinutrient fear are useful, but are not completed supported when indigenous eating habits are viewed–because they processed wild plants in a diversity of ways to deal with the antinutrients and toxins to some extent. Hunter-gatherers used a variety of practices like leaching, soaking, cooking, parching, and drying in their diets, practices that chemically altered the foods the foods they ate. I can present many examples that attest to these practices. While I do agree with the authors that antinutrients are beneficial (to an extent), an extreme view that antinutrients were not and are not important to human health does not appear to be supported by the evidence at hand. Keep in mind, the Standard American Diet is an example of diet that has largely ignored antinutrition in cultivated plants–and this, along with other facets of this diet, have had disastrous consequences on the people who practice it.

    Thanks again for posting. While it might not come through in my comments, I did enjoy this article and thank the authors for putting it together. Best wishes.

    • Duck Dodgers on May 14, 2015 at 10:57


      Thanks so much for your feedback. I’m a huge fan of your work, and we are honored that you even took the time to read it. And I have to agree with you. Your comments are spot on. Well said. And yes, this post was originally written in response to extremism.

      Much of the inspiration for this paper was actually based on the McGill paper cited in the article, above. I’ll quote a key paragraph that hopefully sheds a bit of light on why we picked out the highly-carnivorous cultures when we decided to pooh pooh anti-nutrients, toxins and phytochemicals:

      Saponins and phenolic content in plant dietary additives of a traditional subsistence community, the Batemi of Ngorongoro District, Tanzania (1999)

      The paradox posed by the low rates of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease (CHD) among some French populations with a high intake of saturated fat points to the role of other dietary components in the development of heart disease (Artaud-Wild et al., 1993). In relation to the authentic place of non-nutrient constituents of food and of fats in human physiology, traditional situations where humans actively seek potentially toxic compounds and incorporate them into a diet rich in animal fat are instructive. The case of the Maasai pastoralists in East Africa provides a comparable paradox to that observed in industrialized European countries, but in a traditional ecological context. The low incidence of cardiovascular disease among the Maasai was extensively studied during the 1960s and 1970s in relation to the high cholesterol and fat containing diet of this population, but not satisfactorily explained (Mann and Spoerry, 1974, McGill, 1979 and Biss et al., 1971).

      So, while I know it’s not apparent in our article, we actually have a good reason for glorifying some of these compounds in certain contexts—such as within the context of a meat/fat-heavy Western diet. In other words, the use of these “potentially toxic compounds” (those are the McGill researchers’ words) seem to relate to cultures who ate diets rich in fats and animal meat. The cultures that took steps to avoid these compounds (such as the acorn eaters) were cultures that had limited access to meat/fat.

      Different approaches and pairings for different styles of eating. Even the French will pair different concentrations of phenolics with different types of meats or fish. They don’t do it to be healthy. They do it because their taste buds are designed that way.

      Those differences in context is what we are focussing on, and I completely agree that cultures with more limited diets avoided these compounds.

      We hope to explain further in future posts and if you’re curious I’d be happy to share our findings with you. You can get back in touch with Richard if you’d like to hear more. Otherwise, stay tuned!

      Cheers and thanks so much!

  8. John on May 14, 2015 at 09:20

    I’ve really enjoyed not sweating the small stuff the past few years, after fearing so many things in food, from a paleo-born desire to be stronger and healthier.

    Many just will not comprehend.

    Mark (MDA) put up a post on fermented dairy yesterday. I commented on my love of 2lb fat free yogurt+blueberries post workout. Almost immediately someone jumped on me saying I was essentially asking to develop an allergy from over consumption of milk protein, and other problems independent of milk fat. This was combined with all kinds of assumptions about my diet as a whole (unbalanced, unvaried), as well as an anecdote about how our bodies may be expecting more milk fat because certain cultures fed skim milk to hogs historically.

    I was dealing with a person that used uncited historical hog feeding as a basis of concern for low fat dairy consumption. I brought up that in the very post I was commenting on Mark talked positively about skyr, a fat free dairy product consumed for over 1000 years. (Also, this person said I should better approximate a natural fat intake to get the nutrients of the berries, yet has not replied to my question of whether eating low fat berries alone approximates natural consumption.)

    It was more of the same “the fat is the good part, the information confirming my advice is out there if you look up Masterjohn, its safe to assume the cultures eating skim products also ate the fat, isn’t paleo all about suspicion of new foods?” commentary. My reply is awaiting moderation – which may be for the best, given how much time I’m spending spinning my wheels.

    What is up with condemning isolated protein from milk, but embracing wholeheartedly isolated fat?

    I don’t know what this person looks like, but I notice the people I meet in person most critical of my diet are the ones that look the least healthy. It is always people 250 lbs+ that ask if I’m worried about how much dairy I consume, how much meat I consume, how many carbs I consume before bed, and any other number of potentially trivial issues. No, I’m not, because while staying lean, strong, alert, and health issue free, I don’t worry about the highly speculative risks of one small aspect of my diet.

    And of course, if there is some strong evidence out there that consuming fat free yogurt with blueberries post workout is asking for trouble, I’d love to hear it. Low fat dairy + berries = asking for trouble?

    • David on May 17, 2015 at 08:14

      Paul Jaminet in Perfect Health Diet writes about toxins in the industrial food system, and reconstituted & chemically processed food. If you are concerned, you could always make yogurt at home. I tend to buy the full fat plain organic variety. If you’re eating 2lb of low fat, I wonder if you’d naturally eat less buying the full fat- 2lb of full fat yogurt is almost 700 calories. I’m curious how that compares with the 2lb low fat brand you are eating.

  9. Onlooker on May 14, 2015 at 10:33

    Excellent stuff, Richard. And I’d recommend that you put a addendum in the post to make sure to read Arthur Haines’ comment.

    I just ate some freshly picked Pokeweed from my property for lunch, with a bit of delectable duck fat. It’s a great “pot herb.” I boil it twice, first one minute, drain, then 15 min and drain.

    It was once commonly eaten in the southern U.S. and even sold canned until the 70’s, I think. Now the over-paranoid establishment says, “stay away, poisonous!”; no surprise.

    More great info on this and other foraged vegetation at

    • Richard Nikoley on May 14, 2015 at 10:47

      Yes, as soon as I get done with some business matters I will ad such an addendum. Arthur’s perspective is important in a yin-yang way. He didn’t come from one where you literally try to avoid everything with potential dosage downside, but rather assess the landscape and mitigate, while also identifying various medicinal properties. Essentially, Arthur’s perspective is one where you might want to toss the bathwater, but keep the baby.

      “Paleo” comes from this weird perspective where ancient humans seemed to shun plants mostly, and should be very picky and choosy because these wimpy domesticated varieties of supermarket fair might have trace amounts of compounds that were in abundance in wild varietals, but competently dealt with.

      Now, you’re STRONG and BULLETPROOF if you avoid them like a Victorian socialite avoided basically everything primitive.

  10. John on May 14, 2015 at 11:09
  11. Golooraam on May 14, 2015 at 13:19

    Hi Richard,

    Does this mean you don’t do a bean soak anymore prior to cooking ?

    The cooking, cooling, and reheating really has helped me out

    Nice having food always in a pinch as I vacuum pack portions

    • Richard Nikoley on May 14, 2015 at 13:45

      Nope, I don’t soak beans anymore.

      And yep, probably most beans I eat are leftovers. Plenty I eat cold.

    • Duck Dodgers on May 14, 2015 at 14:39

      I’m sure some varieties of beans do better with a soak but the Mexican varieties are well known to taste better without soaking:

      And if they taste better and have better texture without soaking then that’s a huge clue in my book.

      Nobody wants sub-par beans. It’s time to start making beans taste good. Listen to the chefs who actually know how to cook them.

    • Duck Dodgers on May 14, 2015 at 16:59

      Btw, the best quote from that SeriousEats link:

      So You Like Flavor? Don’t Soak Your Black Beans!

      “Turns out that tracking dog farts accurately without specialized equipment is actually quite difficult.”

    • Richard Nikoley on May 14, 2015 at 17:05

      Here’s another thing. My Mexican mother-in-law does up a pot of pintos from dry to 50/50 refried in no time, like 2 hours. And, the color is always how Mexican pintos look in Mex restaurants and such, not purplish like mine.

      Secret? No salt. In fact, nothing at all except water. Seasoning is added when they are done. Yep, found out first hand. Salt added to the pot discolors them, and seems to make them take longer to cook. I speculate that it inhibits them absorbing the water, as salt is often used to pull water out of stuff.

      Finally, yes, listen to the chefs. Also, the old folks who’ve been doing this all their lives.

    • Duck Dodgers on May 14, 2015 at 18:08

      In the article we mentioned that there is definitely a Mexican tradition of soaking maize in lime water. It’s for Nixtamalization to convert corn’s bound niacin to free niacin, making it available for absorption into the body, thus preventing pellagra. Here’s a video on how they used to do it.

      The beans, nope. They just fired ’em up.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 14, 2015 at 18:12

      Yep, years ago when I told my mother-in-law she should soak beans, she laughed, said “Old American Wive’s Tale.”

      In 20 years of being around my wife’s family, I have never seen a pot of beans soaked. Same thing with the Peruvian side of her family.

  12. Eric on May 14, 2015 at 21:27

    I think all you’re saying is that most indigenous cultures do not draw the same arbitrary distinctions between food and medicine that we do and that they also practice much more preventive medicine for general well being. Treating people only when they’re sick is a symptom of a society that has fallen behind. Refugees.

    • Eric on May 15, 2015 at 09:25

      What I’d like to know is how they determined which toxic plants to eat and how to process then and when to take them and who should take them. I don’t buy the idea that is was all just trial and error. Ethnobotany is an extremely fascinating subject, especially the stuff that gets you hi ;)

    • Duck Dodgers on May 15, 2015 at 10:32

      What we plan to show is that there is a method to the madness and a logical reason for the disparities in anti-nutrients that nobody has noticed (until now). Everyone likes to point out how some cultures did X and others did Y, so therefore we must do X to promote some kind of dogma. But, that’s counterproductive unless you understand why some cultures needed to do X and others needed to do Y. Nobody has been able to explain this. But we think we’ve figured it out.

      There’s a pattern that emerges once you crack the code. It explains virtually all dietary paradoxes. Why do Jews avoid dairy with meat but the Masai always pair them together? (The French often do it too). Why do the Masai and Inuit seem to rely on anti-nutrients when their meat is nutrient-abundant? Why did acorn-eating cultures take steps to reduce and avoid those anti-nutrients? Why is there no tradition for soaking legumes in Mexico but a tradition of soaking legumes in other cultures?

      Hopefully it will all make sense once we’ve presented the pattern we found. The McGill researchers noticed this pattern and then presented a hypothesis. We plan on taking it a step further to not only explain all of these disparities, but to also explain virtually every dietary paradox on the planet (French Paradox, Northern Ireland Paradox, Pima, Jews, Masai, Inuit, vegetarians, vegans, etc.).

      Seems like a tall order, but it’s pretty easy once you see it.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 15, 2015 at 10:48

      And then we’re going to take on something hard. :)

    • wildcucumber on May 15, 2015 at 13:09

      Eric, look into the “Doctrine of Signatures”, you may find it interesting.

    • Eric on May 15, 2015 at 20:31

      I think that observing other animals could play a part, taking advantage of the instinctive knowledge stored in their genes. The Doctrine of Signatures sound pretty medieval but I’m sure there’s a little truth to everything, like people getting ideas about what to eat/take from dreams and other kinds of visions that are induced in various ways. I wonder if any cultures have used prebiotics to induce vivid dreaming. Herbal dream enhancers are pretty common. Extreme physical distress is known to cause visions which suggests that it is a resource that becomes available to us when we are in greatest need, or maybe just means the brain ain’t work right, who knows…

  13. Marius on May 14, 2015 at 22:15
    • AnarkhosRRJ on May 15, 2015 at 02:19

      Looks and reads like one of those parody web pages from Grand Theft Auto V.

    • John on May 15, 2015 at 06:27

      I’d never considered the state of grass consumed by “grass fed” cows. There’s an interesting idea in this post about grain fed vs grass fed and how grass fed cow pastures are not as seed rich and diverse as they should be.

    • Sharon on May 16, 2015 at 08:39

      Ours are. To raise healthy Grass fed anything, it’s not “just grass”. Just like us, ruminents prefer a variety. Clover or high sugar grasses are the “finish”. As well as Plantain, a “super food.” Our Beef regularlly grade choice. That being said, it’s more about what is in the soil life that feeds the forage that feeds the animal which feeds us…a variety of healthy microbes in the soil in the rumin and in our guts.
      Thanks Richard for the Fitbit tip and taking the “shotgun” effect with probiotics. Following that protocol now. Two thumbs up!

    • David on May 17, 2015 at 12:15

      There are a lot of references to Vilhjalmur Stefansson on that thread. The kids look like identical twins- I guess from eating the same exact diet since birth.

    • John on May 18, 2015 at 07:21

      Sharon, those pictures on your website are awesome. I may find myself living in Oregon someday…

    • Duck Dodgers on May 18, 2015 at 09:35

      The article was taken down, but you can still find it here.

      I know why he and his kids feel like crap when they drink fruit juice or eat carbohydrates after living on a high meat diet. It’s not at all surprising. The answer will be explained in future posts.

      Incidentally, Vilhjalmur Stefansson did not believe that a high-meat diet promoted longevity. Quite the opposite, actually. Stefansson observed that the Eskimos aged rapidly.

      From: “Adventures in Diet,” Part III, By Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Harper’s Monthly , January 1936

      While meat eaters seem to average well in heath, we must in our conclusion draw a caution from the most complete modern example of them the Eskimos of Coronation Gulf, when he was anthropologist on my third expedition, that the two chief causes of death were accidents and old age. This puts in a different form my saying that these survivors of the stone age were the healthiest people I have ever lived among. I would say the community, from infancy to old age, may have had on the average the health of an equal number of men about twenty, say college students.

      The danger is that you may reason from this good health to a great longevity. But meat eaters do not appear to live long. So far as we can tell, the Eskimos, before the white men upset their physiological as well as their economic balance, lived on the average at least ten years less than we. Now their lives average still shorter; but that is partly from communicated diseases.

      It has been said in a previous article that I found the exclusive meat diet in New York to be stimulating – I felt energetic and optimistic both winter and summer. Perhaps it may be considered that meat is, overall, a stimulating diet, in the sense that metabolic processes are speeded up. You are then living at a faster rate, which means you would grow up rapidly and get old soon. This is perhaps confirmed by that early maturing of Eskimo women which I have heretofore supposed to be mainly due to their almost complete protection from chill – they live in warm dwellings and dress warmly so that the body is seldom under stress to maintain by physiological processes a temperature balance. It may be that meat as a speeder-up of metabolism explains in part both that Eskimo women are sometimes grandmothers before the age of twenty-three, and that they usually seem as old at sixty as our women do at eighty.

      Stefansson even wrote an article in JAMA hypothesizing on why they age rapidly.

      That blog, above, uses a tagline implying that you can just “eat meat and drink water.” High-meat cultures drank lots of dairy and/or lots of phenolics with their meat. Again, we will explain this in a future post.

    • GTR on May 18, 2015 at 16:20

      @Duck – about aging, meat, and diary + phenols: the advantage of both milk and tea is that they prevent iron overload, that can happen while eating red meat.

    • Duck Dodgers on May 18, 2015 at 17:31

      Ding, ding, ding… Well done, GTR! You’ve guessed a key part of our next article. And that’s just the beginning. Gonna be groundbreaking.

    • Benjamin David Steele on April 28, 2020 at 12:30

      About Inuit meat-eating and longevity, there are many complicating factors. The theory about iron and dairy is interesting. But it would be nice to have more info about Inuits prior to contact. Many Inuits were affected by European contact centuries ago and it was already seen in health changes back then.

  14. Wenchypoo on May 15, 2015 at 10:35

    Does this have anything to do with the recent retirement of Mr. Paleo himself–Loren Cordain?

  15. Natasha on May 15, 2015 at 10:40

    Excellent article!! Well done. Well researched.

    I guess I have been reading here about a year. I totally believed in the LC dogma, despite the fact that I was steadily re-gaining weight that had been lost.

    Pure desperation drove me more extreme – LCHF and Eades PW, looking for advice and only getting more dogma from the converted. Yes, I was one of those people who has lost the ability to eat potatoes and potato starch.

    I am glad there are still some thinking people who are willing to say, the Emperor has no clothes, when that is the truth.

    I understand now, that the extreme diets work because they temporarily starve some gut bugs. But the diet’s results level off or fail, when there are no more bugs to starve.

    Now, if I want a little fat, I do have butter. But historically, fat has always been a minimum in diet. Mostly, I eat home made foods and have little to no added fat. Don’t need it.

    I haven’t lost weight but I have stopped gaining. I have also been able to eat a wider variety of food – grains, beans, veggies, fruits. I haven’t bought bacon in almost 6 months! Such a relief. I couldn’t look at another egg and bacon in coconut oil breakfast again. Also cheese, taking a break.

    Thanks guys.

    • Natasha on May 15, 2015 at 10:54

      PS: I can eat potatoes now!! Love them so much.

  16. ProfAyers on May 15, 2015 at 16:23

    It seems to me that the point is to consider the impact of phytochemicals on gut bacteria and fungi. Aside from starch, vegetables are all about fermentable fiber prebiotics. All of those other non-starch polysaccharides are food for your colon bacteria. So, you eat veggies to feed your colon bacteria. The point of all phytochemicals is that they are first and foremost antibiotics, phytoalexins. Plants protect themselves from bacteria and fungi by phytoalexins.

    Our bitter taste sensors provide protection from phytochemicals to trigger vomiting, and the detox enzyme systems of our intestines and liver provide further protection. All phytochemicals are eliminated in feces or urine.

    Our gut microbiota adjust to phytochemicals, just as they do to any other antibiotic, there is selection for resistance. Remember that pharmaceuticals are mostly domesticated phytochemicals and retain their antibiotic activity that also is essential for their pharmacological properties.

    The problem with modern guts is that they have no way of getting more bacteria and fungi to replace those killed off by phytochemicals. The combination of pharmaceutical/antibiotics, processed foods that lack prebiotic fiber to feed gut bacteria and quick changes in phytochemicals in herbs, spices and exotic super veggies has purged our flora. Other, more down to earth, cultures eat muddy, bacteria laden veggies that provide lots of new fecal recruits that can grow on the current diet. We are hygienic and microbiota depleted. It also makes us unable to tolerate phytochemicals. Hence, Richard’s/Duck’s thesis that we are phytochemical wooses.

    How do we go beyond quick fix, temporary dairy probiotics and fix our flora. We need fecal flintstones.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 18, 2015 at 19:48

      Hey Art

      Lots of cool points and insights. I suppose it could be viewed that everything we ingest is probiotic, antibiotic, or some of both. And moreover, not all probiotic is good (might promote unfriendliness) and not all antibiotic is bad (may reduce unfriendliness). And to further complicate, a probiotic to one species might be a by-product antibiotic to another species.

      Perhaps we need new words. :)

  17. Plant Paleo Part 2: Grains, Legumes, Fiber, and Antinutrients – Humans Are Not Broken on June 3, 2015 at 13:54

    […] more on hunter-gatherer consumption of antinutrients, see this article posted on the Free the Animal blog. Here is an article about the Paleo status of legumes, written by Stephan Guyanet. And another […]

  18. Benjamin David Steele on April 28, 2020 at 12:24

    I disagree with your portrayal of paleo diets. I read many paleo blogs, watch paleo videos, andI’m subscribed to the Paleo magazine. Most paleo advocates don’t seem worried about anti-nutrients. The carnivore and bulletproof crowds overlap but are largely distinct from paleo.

    Anti-nutrients is an important topic. You drive home a good point, even if going to the opposite extreme, as Arthur Haines argues in his comment. I find myself somewhere in the middle. We shouldn’t live in fear of anti-nutrients, but neither should we pretend they don’t matter.

    I read Sally Fallon Morell’s recent book, Nourishing Diets. She is also critical of the paleo diet, although for other reasons. She is arguing for a more general traditional foods perspective that includes plenty of plant foods, including agricultural plant foods.

    But there is one thing that is made clear in that book. She describes the effort intensive and time consuming methods traditional people used in making plants safe and healthy to eat. It sometimes involved multiple steps over days or weeks. Obviously, anti-nutrients weren’t taken lightly, if it didn’t stop them from eating those plant foods.

  19. Benjamin David Steele on April 28, 2020 at 13:42

    By the way, I’d be cautious about too simplistically interpreting observed diets with immediate health outcomes. Diets have changed immensely over the generations, sometimes even over a single lifetime, an issue that comes up in the Blue Zones populations. When you see healthy people, the diet they are eating now may not be the diet they ate growing up nor the diet their mother ate during pregnancy and both parents before pregnancy.

    We know epigenetic effects also get passed on multiple generations. So, you have to know what the grandparents and great grandparents were eating, which might’ve been far different from what you’re seeing now. Health is never a mere individual equation, as demonstrated by Pottenger’s cats. For example, as studies show, the propensity for obesity can be inherited from a parent eating junk food or from a grandparent having survived a famine.

  20. Benjamin David Steele on April 28, 2020 at 13:46

    (I posted this comment, but it didn’t show up. I don’t know if it disappeared or is waiting for moderation. Here it is again and this time with fewer links so it won’t get eliminated as spam.)

    By the way, I’d be cautious about too simplistically interpreting observed diets with immediate health outcomes. Diets have changed immensely over the generations, sometimes even over a single lifetime, an issue that comes up in the Blue Zones populations. When you see healthy people, the diet they are eating now may not be the diet they ate growing up nor the diet their mother ate during pregnancy and both parents before pregnancy.

    We know epigenetic effects also get passed on multiple generations. So, you have to know what the grandparents and great grandparents were eating, which might’ve been far different from what you’re seeing now. Health is never a mere individual equation, as demonstrated by Pottenger’s cats. For example, as studies show, the propensity for obesity can be inherited from a parent eating junk food or from a grandparent having survived a famine.

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