Grains Aren’t Grown, Processed, or Eaten Equally, So The Paleo Narrative is Essentially False on That Score

Well, glad to have created a bit of a stir so far, given the last post on this topic: How Wheat Went From Superfood To Liability.

I really could not be happier that Tom “Fat Head” Naughton decided to advance the discussion: Ancient Wheat Was Superfood? While Tom still concludes by being unpersuaded, his treatment is very fair, and when you read the comments, they’re very constructive (Duck and I have been in there, and there’s a cameo by Tatertot). It reminds me of a conversation Tom and I had way back about why he chose to keep his stand up comedy routines PG. Do take a look.

I want to emphasize that this is more like what we mean. Click on it to open it big enough to read the back of the package. You can get their flour at a pretty decent price: Community Grains 100% Whole Grain Hard Red Winter Wheat Flour, 4lb Bag. Here’s their website.

Screen Shot 2015 09 02 at 10 01 57 AM
INGREDIENTS: 100% Organic Whole Grain Wheat Flour, Water.

This is not what we mean.

Screen Shot 2015 09 02 at 10 07 28 AM
INGREDIENTS: Whole wheat flour, water, wheat gluten, high fructose corn syrup, contains 2% of less of: soybean oil, salt, molasses, yeast, mono and diglycerides, exthoxylated mono and diglycerides, dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium iodate, calcium dioxide), datem, calcium sulfate, vinegar, yeast nutrient (ammonium sulfate), extracts of malted barley and corn, dicalcium phosphate, diammonium phosphate, calcium propionate (to retain freshness).

OK, just so we’re clear.

One final thing. I have a number of comments up at Tom’s place, but this one is perhaps my most important one, because it deals with the false part of the narrative (skeletons and teeth) that just won’t die. Hopefully, people will stop using it.

Stipetic says:

Have Duck look at the entire dental data. The wear and tear seen is a totally different issue and not related to wheat ingestion per se, and most of this wear and tear data is from the paleolithic. Lots of old geezers during those times with teeth grinded to the bone. This is not a marker of adverse health. It actually shows the paleolithic diet was healthy. I’m talking caries here (paleolithic versus onwards). The record is quite clear, to me.



So…The Duck Dodgers has looked into the entire [dental] record and our conclusion is that tooth decay is a common problem for all animals with teeth (even dolphins…who eat no grains, or even carbs). The problem for wild animals is that they have to have teeth, just as they have to be mobile, see, hear, etc. Else, they die, probably get consumed by other animals in most cases, and there’s a lack of evidence.

Tooth decay and significant missing teeth (reasonable to presume at least some were mechanically extracted if decaying—just like Tom Hanks did on that island) are well established in the pre-agricultural paleo record…even Neanderthal.

What it all ads up to for us is that it’s very presumptuous to single out grains, per se, as the just-so cause of skeletal problems, including tooth decay. Moreover, we believe that emphasizing spotty-at-best anthropological records IN PLACE OF actual observations of real living people smacks of convenient narrative and confirmation bias.

Weston Price was a dentist who observed real people, studied their teeth and their diets extensively, worldwide…I’ll remind everyone…and he developed a whole list of “wise traditions” that he believed contributed to healthy teeth and skeletal structure. He also had ideas on what compromised both by comparing identical genetic stock (twins, often enough) who had gone to live in civilization…and eating grains, per se, was not among them, but rather the lack of vitamins and minerals at large…and importantly, including soil depletion. This would have been an understandable mistake in early agriculture because people just didn’t know until they learned the hard way through crop failure. So, we conclude that the message of Price is that Physical Degeneration is a problem of insufficient Nutrition. You can single out grains to prop up your paleo narrative, but if you do, two plausible explanations come to mind: soil depletion as just mentioned, and also processing to remove the germ…analogous to eating egg whites and tossing the yolk.

Here’s a quote from a 1892 book by Erastus Wiman in the post, quoting a “prominent English physician”:

“Wheat and water contain all the elements necessary for man, and for the hard working man, too. Where is the man that can exist on our present white bread and water? There is an old joke about doctors being in league with undertakers; it would rather appear as if the millers and bakers were in the doctors’ pay, as if, were it not for them, and for the white bread they are so zealous in producing, the doctors would have less to do. Separating the bran from the flour became fashionable at the beginning of the present century. This fashion created the dental profession, which, with its large manufacturing industries, has grown up within the last two generations. It has reached its present magnitude only because our food is systematically deprived of lime, of salts and phosphoric acid, the creators of nerve bone, and tissue, which especially are so signally absent from our modern white bread.”

Back to Weston Price. Here’s a widely integrated post by Chris Masterjohn on understanding Weston Price. Amongst other things, it covers with references the fact that tooth decay is an ancient problem, even in the paleo, and also amongst wild animals, even marine mammals.

Note particularly the sections on how tooth decay is ancient and how lots of wild animals get tooth decay.

On balance, I find I pretty much have to dismiss all the convenient narrative concerning the Garden of Eden paleolithic as being spoiled by the advent of grains and their by-products. It’s the processing and making of by-products and combining them into engineered crack-food that’s the more Occam’s Razor explanation of health woes.

OK, onward.

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  1. RMcSack on September 2, 2015 at 14:45

    You’ve made references to the Human Planet tv series before in regards to honey. Something to the effect of why people risk their lives to gather honey. This article reminds me of another episode about people who live in mountainous terrain who have to fend off gangs of baboons from eating their grain.

    Even though I can accept that monkey diets do not always equate to human diets, but the idea that ancestral humans and hominids did not eat grain seems to be absurd in the face of this. If remote, traditional human villages eat grain, and have to fend off competing monkeys from the same food source, it’s much harder for me to believe that humans all suffered from some sort of mass delusion 12,000 years ago deciding to cultivate and harvest this particular plant.

    • RMcSack on September 2, 2015 at 14:49
    • Bob Dillon on September 9, 2015 at 03:32

      Scientists report Stone Age flour production

      Grinding tool dated to more than 32,000 years ago used to grind grains into flour, say researchers.

    • Duck Dodgers on September 9, 2015 at 07:46

      And a new study published just the other day adds more fuel to the fire.

      Natural selection at the brush-border: adaptations to carbohydrate diets in humans and other mammals (2015)

      Dietary shifts can drive molecular evolution in mammals and a major transition in human history, the agricultural revolution, favored carbohydrate consumption. We investigated the evolutionary history of 9 genes encoding brush-border proteins involved in carbohydrate digestion/absorption. Results indicated widespread adaptive evolution in mammals, with several branches experiencing episodic selection, particularly strong in bats. Many positively selected sites map to functional protein regions (e.g. within glucosidase catalytic crevices), with parallel evolution at SI and MGAM. In human populations five genes were targeted by positive selection acting on non-coding variants within regulatory elements. Analysis of ancient DNA samples indicated that most derived alleles were already present in the Paleolithic. Positively selected variants at SLC2A5 (fructose transporter) were an exception and possibly spread following the domestication of specific fruit crops. We conclude that agriculture determined no major selective event at carbohydrate metabolism genes in humans, with implications for susceptibility to metabolic disorders.

  2. Charles on September 2, 2015 at 19:27

    Dental disease is a bacterial disease.
    These bacteria live in acidic environments in your mouth. They eat things like sugar forming more mouth acidity. Plaque is layers of this bacteria. Enamel is a living membrane and it can be softened and demineralized by acids

    Your mouth, nose, ear, throat, entire digestive system are all connected and have this bad bacteria.

    Today after you eat something acidic follow that up with something alkaline. The best thing is Xylitol. Basically the bad bacteria eat the xylitol thinking its sugar. They soon realize that it’s not sugar and try to eliminate it. This elimination process uses up all their energy and they die.

    Weston Price who lived from 1870-1948 probably didn’t understand the role of harmful microscopic bacteria.

    • gabkad on September 3, 2015 at 13:36

      Okay, let’s stop the misinformation right now. Enamel is not a living membrane. It’s not a membrane. It’s a crystalline substance formed of Hydroxyapatite.

      Second, Xylitol is a sugar alcohol. No alcohol is alkaline. Alcohols have lower than 7.0 pH. Sugar alcohols are naturally produced by certain plants in order to lower the freezing point of sap (birch).

      The most recent studies indicate that investing in Xylitol chewing gum or candies is not worth it.

      Stop making things up, Charles. If you consume enough Xylitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol (apple juice and cherries) you will get diarrhoea if that’s what you want to get.

    • Duck Dodgers on September 3, 2015 at 13:57

      Charles said: “Weston Price who lived from 1870-1948 probably didn’t understand the role of harmful microscopic bacteria.”

      False. Weston Price discussed the role of bacteria in tooth decay in Chapter 16 of his book. Bacteria was discovered in the 1600s and it role in disease was well known during the 1800s. It should not be at all surprising that Dr. Price knew about the role of tooth decay by 1939.

      I’m not sure anything Charles said was accurate.

    • gabkad on September 3, 2015 at 14:09

      Duckie, are there any non-microscopic bacteria? Any huge, monster bacteria sneaking out from under the bed in the middle of the night to bite Charles? LOL!

    • Richard Nikoley on September 3, 2015 at 16:17

      [This is the original Duck reply, but got eaten as I was changing hosting providers this morning.]

      Charles said: “Weston Price who lived from 1870-1948 probably didn’t understand the role of harmful microscopic bacteria.”

      It irks me when people make statements like this without taking 10 seconds to look it up. Antony Leeuwenhoek discovered bacteria in the 1600s.

      The role of bacteria in diseases—and even the role of probiotics—were well known during the 1800s. See Élie Metchnikoff, for instance. If you take the time to look, you’d be very surprised at how much they knew in the 19th century.

      Meanwhile Dr. Price mentions the role of bacteria in decay over and over again in his monograph.

      Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, by Dr. Weston A. Price (1939)

      Such a practice by a primitive people would appear rather remarkable in view of the comparatively recent introduction of kaolin into modern medicine as a protective agent for the gastric and intestinal mucosa and as a remedy for bacterial infections of the gut…

      …While there are many theories regarding the relative importance of different factors in the process of decay practically all provide for a local solution of the tooth substance by acids produced by bacteria. The essential difference in the various theories of tooth decay is the difference in theories relative to the control of these decalcifying organisms, and relative to their quantity and activity…

      …When a tooth has a deep cavity of decay, the decalcified dentine has about the density of rotten wood. With an adequate improvement in nutrition, tooth decay will generally be checked provided two conditions are present: in the first place, there must be enough improvement in the quality of the saliva; and in the second, the saliva must have free access to the cavity. Of course, if the decay is removed and a filling placed in the cavity, the bacteria will be mechanically shut out…If [the saliva] has been sufficiently improved, bacterial growth will not only be inhibited, but the leathery decayed dentine will become mineralized from the saliva by a process similar to petrification.

      We often think of anything before WWII as being the dark ages of medicine, but the truth is that even 19th century doctors and scientists knew that bacteria played a role in virtually all diseases. It was a very hot topic for them.

      So, I don’t understand why it should be at all surprising that a dentist in 1939 knew full well that bacteria plays a significant role in tooth decay. C’mon people!

  3. Dr. Weezil on September 2, 2015 at 11:15

    I’m reminded of my youth seeing a documentary on Ancient Egypt where an Egyptologist was examining a mummy’s dentition, noting that the molars were particularly ground. The explanation for this condition was given by the scientist as being the result of sand that introduced into the wheat used for bread making, as well as into other foods eaten at the time.

    Just a bell ringing in the back of my mind.

    • Richard Nikoley on September 2, 2015 at 11:31

      In NAPD, Weston Price even showed modern instances of this, with photos.

      But, when has anyone ever heard a Paleo guru or others promoting the narrative EMPHASIZE that there could be variable confounding going on?

      Well, that kind of bullshit dealing is going to come home to roost, I predict, and if I have anything to do with it.

      I’m embarrassed that I took all this skeletal/dental stuff as just-so, good sounding, never even considering the massive amounts of confounders from starvation to even natural famines, droughts and many other ways nutrition could be compromised, even including migrating to a point of no return, finding it unable to sustain life year round.


      But oh, the narrative that it’s The Grains is so simple and easy, like a child’s fairy tale. …And even on that score, grains also permitted animal husbandry that brought high nutrition in the form of meat, eggs, dairy, etc. Of course, peasants didn’t have a lot of access to that but for sure a lot of people did and a population exploded and brought higher standards of living for all, such that today, peasants are way fucking over fed.

      This, still, is not an indictment on grains, the food.

  4. Duck Dodgers on September 2, 2015 at 16:21

    Gotta love the last parenthetical added to the list of Wonder Bread ingredients…”(to retain freshness)”. Oh, I didn’t realize that any of that stuff had an expiration date. :)

    Meanwhile, Community Grains is left in the sad situation of having to explain to the general public that real whole wheat flour isn’t reconstituted.

    Hope that CG has some success selling their products—it’s an uphill battle.

  5. Charles on September 3, 2015 at 10:45

    Raw Honey is also alkaline. If you ate something that was acidic the alkaline foods create a neutral ph in the mouth.

    • gabkad on September 3, 2015 at 14:12

      Here you go, Charles. Read it all and weep. pH above 7.0 is alkaline. Below 7.0 is acidic.

    • gabkad on September 3, 2015 at 13:38

      Raw honeys can have pH of 4.5. What the heck is wrong with you, man? Did you flunk chemistry class?

  6. Big Oscar on September 3, 2015 at 11:43

    In Finland, where i’m from, they stopped fortifying wheat flour in 1994 after they noticed that the situation of the anemic middle-aged women did not improve. Also the part of the population eating the most bread (active young men) were now getting too much iron with no natural way of expelling it.

    Despite the cessation of fortification, obesity numbers and cardiovascular disease are still on the rise.

    But i guess the general preference of white flour over whole grain-products is to blame for that as well. Also, pre-baked whole grain supermarket bread tends to have a suspiciously long ingredient list in Finland as well.

    Thoughts on this? I guess I don’t need to donate blood after all.

    • Duck Dodgers on September 3, 2015 at 12:58

      Well, fortification is just one part of the puzzle.

      For instance, refined oils high in Linoleic Acid, like soy oil, have been linked to obesity. Interestingly, Linoleic Acid appears to significantly increase iron absorption. So, this links refined oils to the iron hypothesis.

      Increased meat intake will also increase iron uptake—not necessarily because meat has easily absorbed heme iron (although that’s part of it) but because meat itself is believed to actually increase the absorption of non-heme iron as well. Increased meat consumption is linked to diabetes and obesity, and this may be related to iron.

      Smoking cessation is also known to increase weight, though that’s a different kind of weight gain. There’s more than one way to get fat.

  7. Paul on September 3, 2015 at 16:14

    What I think is critical in this, is that that the lenses we apply to life need to be examined in a critical fashion and revised.

    What I appreciate about the paleo narrative is that it has given a group of people around the world an identity connected to eating. It has also given a rationale for making food decisions.

    I used to argue with people on the diet around all the elements that were nonsensical. Now if the overweight metabolically deranged office worker takes up crossfit and eats “paleo” I am more inclined to pat them on the back.

    For those who try it, suffer and get told by the paleo zealots it is their fault for doing the diet wrong I hope this blog serves as a resource to help them to find a healthy way to deconstruct the narrative and repair the damage

    • Richard Nikoley on September 3, 2015 at 16:57

      That’s fair, Paul.

      What you describe is why I stick around and try to nudge here and there and really, I can’t complain about not getting attention.

      It’s really about the great people, in the end, not the dogma or the narrative.

  8. Richard Nikoley on September 3, 2015 at 17:10

    Here’s another comment that got chewed up in the move, from GHK:


    “What about refined grains, but without the detrimental enrichment (especially iron)? They would be probably healthier than the whole versions.. There´s a reason why some cultures refine or process whole grains..”

    For me, it’s a “policy decision.” I don’t really know, so I begin with the original form and we’ll see.

  9. Richard Nikoley on September 3, 2015 at 17:16

    Another comment lost in transition, this one from Colombo (and interesting too):

    “I go back and forth in the issue of addiction.

    “Some people say addiction is all about chemicals in the brain. Others, say addiction is only about character and willpower. These are the two extremes of the continuum. Most people fall somewhere on the middle.

    “If chemical addiction is impossible, then all the claims that the food industry has tried very hard to make food as addictive as possible, simply fall apart. Yes, they have corrupted the food, which is now less nutritous and more toxic, (at the same price, which means real nutrition is more expensive). But a free-will extremist would say that it is the consumers, who are individuals with free-agency and completely full of responsiblity who have chosen to indulge in bad food (yet prettier and sweeter) to the point their wrongful actions have resulted in harm to themselves.

    “A hard determinist would say that it really doesn’t matter the quality or the processing of food, because some people are genetically weak and would have developed the same health issues with any other foodstuffs. This view inadvertently channels the old myth of the golden age, which includes the idea that generations will inevitably grow weaker and weaker as they distance themselves from the golden age, when people were giants and used redwood trees as disposable toothbrushes. It is all because of mixing the races, you see.

    “People in the middle could say there is a bit (or a lot) of bad stuff in food, and there is a bit (or a lot) of lack of self-control in people, which may be exploited, or not, by the companies. Libertarians are closer to this view, because it leaves open all posibilities for an agitated debate.

    “But, perhaps, there is the possibility of an inverse Deus ex Machina: Let’s blame the Sun for weird, unexpected changes in both the food and the ability of animals to absorb nutrients. This argument should make everyone happy: companies are not responsible, governments are not responsible, people are not responsible, nor capitalism or communism is responsible. It is the Sun. God damned Sun!

    “It is not as important the absolute truth about what happened and how it happened, as being able to leave behind health issues and concentrate on living. I know this does not satisfy scientists, but it is what real people want.

    “This is the difference between engineers and scientists, and between entrepreneurs and philosophers: the former try to satisfy the needs of the people, the later try to satisfy their personal need for knowledge. I think there’s room for everybody, but let us not give more prize to the thinkers than the doers, and let us not demand more finesse and wisdom to the doers than the thinkers, and, most importanly, let us not ask the doers or the thinkers to become Presidents or Kings. It is a very bad idea, even worse than allowing a four year-old kid to play with gasoline, a dog and a box of matches.”

  10. George Phillips on September 4, 2015 at 01:54

    Thank you very much for this post and thanks also to the commentators additions here.

    FTA always keeps me thinking, reading more and moving on.

  11. ryan on September 6, 2015 at 12:19

    Stephansson reported studying the skulls & teeth of eskimos in about 1910. Of about 140 skulls, virtually all of them had all their teeth, including wisdom teeth, and only one skull had a carrie.

    That tooth had been cracked.

    Stephansson wrote several books on the arctic My life with the Eskimo, and The Friendly Arctic.

    Those folks ate fat mostly. Some meat. Some fish. Virtually no plant life. And certainly no wheat.

    Now it’s rare to find an eskimo with any teeth at all. heh.

  12. Richard Nikoley on September 6, 2015 at 13:02

    “Stephansson wrote several books on the arctic My life with the Eskimo, and The Friendly Arctic.”

    Oh my.

    • Michael44 on September 8, 2015 at 00:24

      Check out Richard’s posts on the Inuit, Ryan.

      Things aren’t necessarily as we’ve been led to believe.

  13. pzo on September 14, 2015 at 16:03

    I remember reading several times about two indigenous Native American sites in Kentucky. In fact, I think they were on top of each other, not geographically separated. Immaterial.

    The older site was hunter-gatherer, no agriculture. The newer one grew corn, and I suppose, squash and other veggies. The skeletal dentition of the former was almost w/o any caries, very rare. The latter civilization had rampant caries, missing teeth, and reduced bone robustness. Smaller people.

    Some years ago I asked myself a question that seemingly few have (other than the types here at FTA.) “Why is it animals eating the diet they evolved to eat have little to no dental issues, but we moderns believe we have to brush, floss, and see the dentist every six months?” One strong possibility is that we aren’t eating the diet we evolved on; remember, 50,000 years ago ain’t squat for major evolution. We have to look at 200,000 years and even further back.

    I am eating some grains again. Corn, rice, grits (corn, again) and even conventional bread. I don’t eat lots of them and I find my diet so much more interesting. I’ve also been supplementing with D3 and a multi-Vitamin K (Price’s Substance X) for some years and seem to be doing just fine.

    Most of the damage of teeth being ground down – this was true in every early grain eating culture, I think – was due to the stone mortar and pestles used. And since the softer stones were more easily formed, that meant more “sand” got into the meal. There is a difference between frictional erosion and bacterial/nutritional defects.

    I JUST moved to Austin, TX and figure I’ll go see my dentist………… Mexico. No real reason other than might as well. And it’s inexpensive and I get a Mexico fix.

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