Today's post is a guest rant from Mike in response to this article:
Bread was around 30,000 years agoI don't doubt that Johnny Caveman occasionally had some grains, but I'll still contend that 1) evolutionarily 30,000 years is really no different than 5,000, 2) it wasn't nearly a staple in their diet, 3) it still wasn't good for them, and 4) our modern grains are much worse for us than what they had. In fact, I think that civilization happened when Johnny Caveman found some wild grasses, ate them, and got addicted to them, and rather than going out and hunting and gathering, he set up fences to keep the other cavemen out.
Starch grains found on 30,000-year-old grinding stones suggest that prehistoric man may have dined on an early form of flat bread, contrary to his popular image as primarily a meat-eater. Read more
1 - It's generally accepted that most of our genetics evolved somewhere between 500,000 and 200,000 years ago. So if we take the low-end of that, 200,000, and the high-end of grain eating, 30,000, that's still only 15% of our current evolutionary history. So I still feel pretty confident that our genes don't know about grains (all that much) - especially since they don't start to affect us until after we reproduce.
2 - The only time that Johnny Caveman would have had grains is when he stumbled across some wild grasses. Without agriculture and organized farming, he wouldn't have had them year round. So even with the presence of some grain in his diet, it wasn't until dedicated farming (5,000ish years ago) that grains played a significant role in our diets.
3 - The big problem with grains are i) they are gut irritants, ii) they contain "anti-nutrients", and iii) they cause autoimmune problems in many (if not most or all) people.
i - All grains (and even quinoa, which technically is a fruit) have some form of gut irritant in them. Basically our gut's job is to keep everything out. The only things that are allowed to go through the gut lining into the body are amino acids (broken down proteins), fats, sugar (broken down starches). Nothing else should get through. The trouble is that things, like gluten in wheat, can poke holes in the gut and cause it to get inflamed. This does a couple of things: an inflamed gut cannot absorb nutrients, and the inflammation allows things to get through the gut lining that aren't allowed, like whole proteins. So gluten causes the inflammation and then the inflammation allows whole gluten proteins into the body which causes more bad things.
ii - Grains and legumes contain things called phytates. Phytates bind very strongly to things like calcium (and a whole bunch of other good stuff). In fact they bind so strongly, that if you're an analytical chemist trying to find how much calcium is in something, you add phytates to your sample, and then measure the amount of calcium-bound phytates are there. That's is it binds so strongly that ALL of the calcium gets eaten up. That means that you can eat all of the nutrients you want, but if you eat them in the presence of grain, they get bound to the phytates and are basically undigestable. It's this reason that grains are the major cause of osteoporosis: they suck so much calcium from the body that just digesting them makes your bones weaker regardless of how much calcium supplements you are taking. I could go on, but I won't :)
iii - Back to that whole gluten proteins getting past the gut wall. (This is also true for other proteins, but I'll just stop with gluten.) Gluten looks a whole lot like the transglutaminase molecule. Transglutaminase is used in just about every biochemical pathway in the body, i.e., i uber important. Now, when your body sees the gluten in your system, it recognizes it as a poison and mounts an immune response to it by making little gluten-specific antibodies. But the trouble is these antibodies are pretty dumb and they just know how to attack things that look like gluten, which is often tranglutaminase. So now your body has mounted an immune response to itself (autoimmune) and starts killing of the tranglutaminase which means that lots of important things start to go bad. This can include things like Type I diabetes (the pancreas stops working because the immune system killed it), Multiple Sclerosis (the nerves quit working right because the immune system ate the protective covering), arthritis (the cartilage doesn't protect the bones because the immune system interfered with the production of it). And TONS of other stuff. I won't go on, but there is SO much related to gut irritation and autoimmunity that it's silly.
4 - Even the grains we had at the beginning of agriculture weren't as bad for us as the grains today. Start here (http://heartscanblog.blogspot.com/2010/05/emmer-einkorn-and-agribusiness.html and http://heartscanblog.blogspot.com/search/label/Einkorn%20bread) and dig into some more of his posts. Basically, the wheat of yore didn't have nearly the amount of gluten in it that today's grain has. So even if you did have that stuff, the level of gut irritation and autoimmune problems would have been much less. He even did an experiment of tracking down some old-timey grain and making some bread from it and noticed fewer (yet, still some) problems.
Finally, I don't take paleo eating and living as a religion and make hard and fast rules about only being able to eat it if Johnny Caveman had it. Rather, I look at the type of food available during our evolution and try to match that with the type of food available today. Then I watch my health and performance based on what I eat and try to optimize on that. It turns out that I look, feel, and perform better the closer I get to the theoretical Caveman diet, but there still are some variations. As I try to tell everyone, you may not think you're sick right now, but try eliminating grains, legumes, and dairy (the big three that are gut irritants, contain anti-nutrients, and cause autoimmune issues) for 30 days (no cheating!), and see if you feel better. If you do, great, you win! If you don't, then what have you lost? One month of missing food you loved.
Sorry for the rant :) I just love this topic and take any opportunity I have to try to convince people to try it, it's helped me so much, I feel like I need to tell everyone.