Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
28 Dec

Dear Mark: Did Grok Eat Grains?

sorghumThe Primal Blueprint, as our good readers know, is founded on the principle of evolutionary biology. This certainly applies to our view of what’s appropriate or not in terms of nutrition.  In short, what our long time ancestors ate during the course of 2 million+ years, we’re still designed to eat. Even the last 200,000 years of hunting and gathering, from a physiological standpoint, trumps the comparatively short 10,000 or so years since the Agricultural Revolution, when humans commenced widespread farming practices and prepared grains as a significant part of their diet.

An article published in this month’s Science Magazine presents archeological evidence that, according to its author, challenges this accepted timeline. A number of readers have written me about this story. Here’s one letter among the bunch….

Mark,

Please help me make some sense to this: Stone Age diet included processed grains

I’m a crossfitter in Colorado and most of the gym keeps a Grok diet and are confused about this article. Does this open the door to other minimally processed grains?

Let me give you the gist. Julio Mercader of the University of Calgary examined a variety of tools (scrapers, grinders, points, flakes, and drills) he and others retrieved from an excavation site in Northwest Mozambique. Based on dating of surrounding sediment layers, Mercader estimated the age of the oldest tools to be approximately 100,000 years old. Some 80% of the tools he found tested positive for sorghum starch residue, which – he says – suggests that sorghum was used as a food source at the time. Other residues found on the tools included African wine palm, African potato, the false banana, pigeon peas, and wild oranges.

Let’s suppose that Mercader’s dating estimates are correct. Let’s also suppose that the tools Mercader tested had indeed been used to prepare food, as the presence of other food residues suggest. First off, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the sorghum was also used as food. Tools, for prehistoric humans (if not for moderns as well) needed to serve multiple purposes, supporting not just food preparation but shelter construction and other daily living tasks. As one archeologist skeptic, Curtis Marean of Arizona State University in Tempe, explains, grasses were regular parts of “bedding” and “kindling.” Another critic, Huw Barton from the University of Leicester, questions Mercader’s assumption that the sorghum had been used for food based on the curious presence of the residue on tools not associated with food preparation, including drills.

However, the biggest stumbling block on the way to Mercader’s theory is sheer inefficiency. Just because evidence exists that they could, doesn’t mean that they did – with any regularity, if at all. I’m with critics of the findings like Marean and Loren Cordain, who argue that the full sequence of finding, collecting, transporting, processing and baking any kind of grain wouldn’t have been worth the effort for the nominal nutritional benefit gained. Make no mistake, the use of grains for food isn’t as simple as pulling and popping the seeds in your mouth. Even if you attempt to harvest the seeds by hand, a “tedious” process as Cordain notes, you’re still looking at a fairly lengthy processing. Raw, fully intact grains are indigestible for humans. The necessary preparation process involves – minimally – roasting (a relatively inadequate option) or fine grinding and baking (a better but more intensive method). Nothing from the excavation site shows any seed gathering tools like “animal skin containers” or baskets/pottery (too early for this time), as Cordain explains. Furthermore, there is nothing present at the site to confirm any kind of cooking preparation. As provocative as it is, it’s scientifically too big of a leap to make with any certitude.

Finally, even if the people of the Ngalue region did actually eat the sorghum as Mercader believes, there’s a big difference between suggesting grains were a significant and regular source of our ancestors’ diet 100,000 years ago and saying they were merely occasional – and probably desperation-induced – fruits of foraging labors. In times of scarcity, pre-Agricultural humans probably resorted to less nutritionally efficient means of “gathering.” It’s called the survival instinct, and it’s of little surprise that they might have been moved to a certain degree of ingenuity when their life depended on it. However, when the group was able to relocate or when traditional foods were in good supply again, logic dictates that they would have returned to their staple diets. The evidence supporting the use of the sorghum for food is relatively scant and virtually nonexistent when it comes to the gathering, processing and preparation of any significant supply. While Mercader’s research promps speculation to what an isolated group of early humans could have attempted on a small and likely very temporary scale, it doesn’t in any way rewrite the historical timeline on agricultural development – or evolutionary nutrition.

You know where I stand on Mercader’s study. I’m interested to hear what you all have to say about it. Shoot me your thoughts, and thanks as always for your great questions and comments. Keep ‘em coming!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Mark –
    Great explanation of this study. I heard about this in the past few weeks and the garbledy gook from others made no sense to me. What you mention is great – just because they found the “residue” does not imply a widespread generalization that overturns everything we know. If another tool used to dig was found with Saber Toothed Tiger poo, does that then mean they ATE that too?

    Jeff P (P stands for Primal) wrote on December 28th, 2009
    • Just got back from the mountains. My son’s and I practiced a few primitive skills while there.

      Both kids (9-12) got their first camp knives for christmas… it was time to learn how to use them.

      We practiced safe knife skills and whittling, built a fire without matches, melted snow and made hot chocolate. We also enjoyed a small cheese snack.

      The moral of the stoy: On my knife you would find oak and grass residue (firewood and kindling), and a little cheese residue. On my oldest son’s knife you would find a small amount of human blood (sharp knives take getting used to). Band-aids were used (not too primal).

      Gotta consider the whole story before assuming anything……

      Nick wrote on December 31st, 2009
  2. You guys, Mark and co., just proved my point against supposed Paleo advocates “proof” that our ancient ancestors were heavy meat eaters.. because they DID at times eat meat, doesn’t mean humans are MEANT or BUILT to eat meat…

    plus the “tools” used to hunt/kill animals-meat, or the “cut marks” on fossil animal bones, doesn’t prove anything… those spears, tools, etc
    were used LARGELY for protection for humans AGAINST large carnivorous predators.. same reason as residues, partial circumstantial evidence FOR eating grains as early as 100,000 years ago pointed out in this article, is shoddy at best…

    The human digestive tract/enzyme system/organ system/etc prove the diet of humans, the same as with any animal in a zoo, the zoo keepers know exactly what type of food stuff is ideal and meant to be eaten by said animals…

    ALso, because most vegans/vegetarians/raw foodist, sterotypically eat high grain diets, doesn’t mean they are correct or that they represent what a vegan/vegetarian/raw food diet IS or SHOULD be… so the Paleo crowd continously gets the typecasting wrong… same as if vegetarian hippies classify categorically that all meat consumption is bad because 300 million AMericans eat the high fat, high cholesterol SAD diet, which includes a ton of meat… well, they are not equivalent, since Paleo diets choose far heaalthier cuts of meat…

    why can none in EITHER camp get these arguments right and complete, and take ego or emotion out of it and look at pure physiology/anatomy/digestion/etc?

    Lee wrote on December 28th, 2009
  3. Another important question to ask is why 100,000 years is the magic number of years required for humans to adapt to moderate grain consumption.

    Why is 10,000 years not long enough but 100,000 years is?

    This question could be asked in support of grain consumption or against it, but it’s important to point out that tolerance of grain can evolve rather quickly.

    Suppose there is just one famine in which the only source of calories was grain for some group of humans (presumably because grains are more easily stored). The result of this famine would be that anyone who could not tolerate grain would die, and many who could tolerate grain would live.

    Within one generation, a dramatic increase in tolerance for grain would evolve, just like when in one generation resistance to the plague evolved during the black death in Europe.

    Jon wrote on December 28th, 2009
    • Well yeah…obviously those who ate grains and died quickly from complications would be weeded out but what about those who had passive problems with grains but could still live to reproductive age? Ahh now we see why there is such a prevalence of problems with grains today which occurs usually in the late teens and 20’s. That’s usually when autoimmune diseases appear like diabetes and crohn’s disease etc.

      BlazeKING wrote on December 28th, 2009
      • Yes, but Crohn’s disease is rare. Many people are allergic to seafood. Does that mean that seafood is not primal-approved?

        Also, presumably an active case of Crohn’s disease would dramatically lower one’s expected rate of reproduction even if it didn’t appear until age 25. Even if such a 25 year old already had several children, they would be more poorly provided for than the children of his neighbor who didn’t have Crohn’s disease and remained productive and fertile until well into his 60s, 70s, and perhaps beyond.

        Jon wrote on December 28th, 2009
        • I don’t know about seafood allergies. But I guess that could come from ancestries that didn’t fish or live near water areas. Could also be from the cooking of the seafood. If it is very prevalent, then I agree it shouldn’t be primal.

          Autoimmune diseases are not rare. It’s probably because grains are such a big part of the western diet now.

          Being poorly provided for doesn’t mean a child cannot grow up and reproduce. Also, perhaps wheat and other grains weren’t a big part of the diet in the past so it is only now that those diseases appear more.

          BlazeKING wrote on December 28th, 2009
        • I agree that using grains for your entire diet is probably a bad idea. But you have to remember that even in societies that don’t have a diet loaded with refined grain, they still eat a fair amount of grain.

          As for poorly-provided-for children, are you suggesting that there is no historical statistical correlation between having healthy parents and growing up healthy and able to reproduce? Obviously you can find specific counterexamples, but that’s not what matters. What matters is aggregate statistics.

          For example, if someone with grain-tolerant genes (say someone who lives to 100+ in good health eating bread every day) has 10% more children than someone who suffers ill-effects of grains at age 25 due to genetics, then after 70 generations (2k years) the relative abundance of the grain-tolerant genes would be 1000x the abundance of the grain-intolerant genes.

          Jon wrote on December 28th, 2009
        • seafood allergies are an artifact of a polluted world, not so much the seafood itself. as evidenced by the fact that seafood allergy is usually shorthand for ‘shrimp-eating problem’.

          fbw wrote on December 28th, 2009
        • This link suggests that seafood allergies are not merely an artifact of pollution:

          http://www.webmd.com/allergies/news/20040713/seafood-allergies-common-adults

          Moreover, the prevalence of such allergies appears to be even higher than clinically significant grain allergies.

          What do you make of this?

          Jon wrote on December 29th, 2009
    • That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking. Lots of different time scales get tossed around–it’s logical that something that has only been introduced in the last 10-20,000 can’t have been adapted to that much (except for a few enzymatic changes, perhaps), but time periods of several million years will have definitely contributed to conditioning our metabolisms (but without entirely replacing the generalized metabolic aspects we share with other mammals).

      So where does a period like 100,000 years fit into this? I think if there were substantial evidence that we had been consuming large amounts of grains it would be long enough we would expect to see some adaptation. Due to the efficiency argument Mark makes above, however, there is no reason to believe that grains were consumed in any meaningful quantity prior to the advent of agriculture.

      Conversely, the emphasis that was clearly placed on animal foods during the last several million years of evolution of the genus Homo indicate that we would have substantial adaptations to these kinds of foods.

      Nick L wrote on December 28th, 2009
  4. I saw this surfing the net one day, but I forgot where. Someone had made a whole grain dish they titled “Bog Man”. It was based on the contents of the stomach of a very old mummified body found in a bog. Apparently it was full of grains. I just thought “Let’s hope Bog Man didn’t die of a stomach ache!”. All I know is that I feel better on a grain free diet. I suffered with undiagnosed Celiac’s and Crohn’s for 41 years. My child came out of autism 3 weeks into a grain free diet. I don’t really care who ate what years ago. (although it’s probably no coincedence my Highlander Welsh ancestors were not grain eaters). I just care that we’ve overcome some big obstacles on a grain-free diet.

    Tracee wrote on December 28th, 2009
    • Tracee,

      this is exactly why these articles are intriguing to read, but ultimately I am going to go with what my gut is literally telling me. The proof is in the pudding, and my pudding is grain free, sugar free, and high in quality fat. Having overcome severe headaches, chronic and painful eczema, fatigue, and weight issues in less than 4 months…. well I will not be stopping my primal lifestyle anytime soon. I have experienced too much benefit to change anything. All the data backing up a paleo-esque diet is important to understand, but for me personally, it is always trumped by how healthy I am while on it.

      Jaaron wrote on December 28th, 2009
    • I was diagnosed with Crohn’s 2 years ago after having some of my intestine cut out and the doctors said diet had nothing to do with it, it was genetic and drugs are the only answer.

      Right…

      I have had no symptoms or problems since I cut grains out of my diet, period. No drugs, doctors are baffled. I guess I am a crappy customer since I don’t need to visit the GI any more.

      I am also of northern descent. I remember hearing somewhere that they were the last to start consuming grains. And, of course, autoimmune diseases are more prevalent in people with northern ancestry.

      BlazeKING wrote on December 28th, 2009
    • Thanks for sharing your story. That IS the bottom line.

      A good friend suffers from Crohns and is losing weight and feeling much better.

      Me… I have lost 75lbs and I am an insulin and medication FREE T1.5 Diabetic.

      And that my friends is all that really matters to me. :)

      Steve

      Steve wrote on December 28th, 2009
  5. “because they DID at times eat meat, doesn’t mean humans are MEANT or BUILT to eat meat… ”

    Given the archeological record, I think “at times” is a gross understatement.

    David wrote on December 28th, 2009
  6. Simply because humans can now tolerate grains doesn’t mean that they are healthful to consume. I’ve managed to tolerate them for 55 years now, but not without great cost to my well-being. Sure, grains are a wonderful option vs. starving to death in the short term, but unless that is really my choice, I will go without.

    David wrote on December 28th, 2009
    • Very well said. Do you want to “tolerate” your diet and scrape by with adequate health. Or do you want to THRIVE on your diet?

      fixed gear wrote on January 1st, 2010
  7. Did Grok consume alcohol? Did Grok imbibe in hallucinogenics? Probably some groks, somewhere, did it sometimes. But that doesn’t justify free reign to imbibe in these ‘delicacies’ ad lib and ad nauseum. Did Grok paint pictures of golden waves of grass on those cave walls? So far archeologists haven’t found them. I’ll stick to the poisons my system can handle, such as small amounts of alcohol (especially in the context of a diet high in saturated fats), rather than those that it can’t, such as large amounts of grain.

    Just remember that for human physiology, whole grain is sugar wrapped in toxins; refined grain is sugar without the toxic wrapping.

    Aaron Blaisdell wrote on December 28th, 2009
    • Lol good catch. I’ve never seen cave painting of bread, pasta and grainfields.

      BlazeKING wrote on December 28th, 2009
      • I once saw a bagel o_O

        Mary wrote on December 30th, 2009
    • +2 for grain free cave art. LOL

      Aaron, remember, many modern alcohols are made with grains! ;)

      Grok wrote on December 28th, 2009
      • And I enjoy grain alcohols, both beer and whiskey. I have tempered my beer drinking by substituting more wine. I have not tempered my whiskey drinking, but that’s always been a moderate consumption. Plus, I’m guessing that the distilling process removes most of the unfavorable compounds. I’m not going to give up some of the privileges/indulgences of modern civilization!

        Aaron Blaisdell wrote on December 28th, 2009
        • Just messin with you man.

          I drink Kombucha like a rock star. It’s made with white sugar! I’ve tried other ‘sugars’ (honey etc..) but they didn’t taste as good. Plus, whats the point? It’s basically all the same stuff anyway.

          Grok wrote on December 28th, 2009
      • Scrumpy’s Hard Apple Cider…Yummmmmm!!!
        Organic apples and fermenting yeast only….the best!

        Uncle_Bulldog wrote on December 31st, 2009
    • Just watched Robert Lustig’s lecture “Sugar: the bitter truth” and must amend my final sentence.

      Whole grain is poison wrapped in toxins; refined grain is poison without the toxic wrapping.

      That sums it up neatly.

      Hat tip to Richard Nikoley.

      Aaron Blaisdell wrote on December 28th, 2009
      • If I remember correctly, Robert Lustig says that the sugar fructose is a poison. Grains do not contain fructose, but glucose.

        From his lecture, I understood there was a pretty big difference. So much of a difference that the diet he recommends does not exclude starches, but high-fructose foods and drinks like fruit juice.

        According to Wikipedia, Sucrose (glucose+fructose) is found in “honey, tree fruits, berries, melons, and some root vegetables.” Another name for sucrose is table sugar.

        Not saying everyone should eat grains, of course. But personally, I’d eat popcorn before I’d drink apple juice.

        Kaity wrote on December 28th, 2009
        • I read somewhere that apple juice has more sugar than an equal amount of Coke.
          Shameful. All those mommies putting apple juice in their kids baby bottles…
          I have a friend that used to work at a public dental clinic. Kids would have apple juice, and sometimes even coke in their bottles. No wonder their teeth were rotting as they erupted.

          Dave, RN wrote on December 29th, 2009
        • No kidding, Dave. Poor kids.

          Did a google search on sugar grams in soda pop verses fruit juice, and came up with this:

          http://www.hookedonjuice.com/

          Yikes.

          Kaity wrote on December 29th, 2009
        • Kaity, thanks for the correction. I still include starchy vegetables in my diet (e.g., potatoes & sweet potatoes) which is broken down into ‘clean’ glucose in the body. But grains are evil for the most part, except for a little bit of white rice now and then, which also turns into glucose.

          Aaron Blaisdell wrote on December 29th, 2009
  8. It’s a common fallacy to think evolution works only by survival. It is really survival and ability to reproduce and pass on the selected for genes. If the grain diet did not kill paleo man before reproductive age, then the next generation would have the same genetic makeup as the previous with no selection. Since there is substantial research to show that consumption of grains has toxic results that do not show up until old age – diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc. – there is no environmental pressure for natural selection to occur. Everyone always forgets the reproductive part of evolution.

    As an aside, I did a little looking around on the Lyle McDonald forum, since there seem to be a few trolls coming from that direction. Sure enough, there is a lot of bashing of primal/paleo eating over there including from McDonald himself. One post even called Mark crazy. So I guess we know where some of the naysayers are coming from.

    Keep on grokking, Mark! Excellent post today.

    lbd wrote on December 28th, 2009
    • Natural selection could still be acting to affect longevity beyond the reproductive period. First of all, there is the time period necessary to raise one’s children. Secondly, as the amount of learned knowlege accumulated in a group (without ability to write it down), groups with more stored knowlege, in form of elders, would tend to outperform groups that had to rediscover everything on their own every generation. Someone who could provide instructions on dealing with a severe famine because he/she survived one 50 years earlier would be immensely beneficial to the group’s survival, encouraging the longevity of that group’s genes.

      Jeff wrote on December 28th, 2009
      • If hunter gatherers lived in groups of up to 30 people, perhaps the children were raised as a collective effort, thereby reducing the impact of an ailing parent on their offspring. Grain induced diseases could have been bad for the individual but only a small issue for the group as a whole. While it’s true that there would have been one less adult to help with daily activities, it’s also one less mouth to feed.

        Kristin J wrote on December 29th, 2009
    • They are just ignorant. Believe me, if they were diagnosed with an autoimmune disease they wouldn’t be saying what they are saying. Mcdonald has a huge ego and isn’t that great anyways IMO. He just reiterates what others have figured out and puts his name on it. Not that great IMO.

      BlazeKING wrote on December 28th, 2009
  9. Thank you Mark for clearing the waters in this topic!

    iisierra wrote on December 28th, 2009
  10. I translated the following from a lengthy paper from a dutch scientist:

    Homo sapiens is approximately
    160.000 years old and our genome mutates at a rate of appr. 0,5% in a million years.
    Since agricultural revolution we ate more carbohydrates from grains at the cost of vegetables and fruits. This change is unparalleled: no other in free nature living primate consumes grains regularly.
    At this moment eight species of grains provide for 56% of the world energysupply from food and 50% of all global consumed proteines. Without grains mankind would not have progresses as it did since the agricultural revolution. We would not be able to feed the world’s population. Uncooked grains nevertheless are no part of our optimal nutrition which can be deduced from the toxicity of its anti-nutrients (i.e. substances that interfere
    with absorption of vitamines, minerals and
    other nutrients, like lectines, fytate, protease-inhibitors) and als from epidemiology of coeliakie,
    i.e. hypersensitivity from gluten (gliadine). Grains gain no evolutionary advantage in being eaten by humans and if it had belonged to our regular nutrition we would have developed an evolutionary respons to withstand these anti nutrients.

    Evolutionary medicine. You are what you eat, but you should
    be what you ate. FAJ Muskiet. Ned Tijdschr Klin Chem Labgeneesk
    2005; 30: 163-184

    Richard wrote on December 28th, 2009
  11. So this is my thought on this whole “sorghum on the tools” discovery. I think it sounds EXTREMELY plausible that the sorghum could have been used for shelter or for other uses. It grows up to 2m tall and its stalks are still used for creating thatched style walls (according to some research I just pulled by googling it).

    Anyway, so imagine this. You are a happy Primal Blueprint eater and have been for the last 2 months. You eat a bowl of rice…how sick do YOU feel?! Now imagine that you have been eating primally since you were BORN and you eat a bowl of rice. Ugh!! I’m imagining that the transition from primal to agricultural was a long painful and DESPERATE process. My Bachelor’s is in Anthropology (so I spent long hours studying the cultural end of H/G cultures) and very few things about the agricultural revolution appeared to be worth it. So even if they DID eat sorghum I imagine the instances to be very few and far between and less than pleasurable. More of a “okay, it’s not totally poisonous so in a pinch it’ll do” kinda way.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Michelle wrote on December 28th, 2009
    • Unless I miss my guess, the use of grains as a staple part of the diet didn’t really come into play until the Younger Dryas. This was a dry, cold period when the gazelle herds stopped moving through the Levant. Keeping grains meant you didn’t starve. I’d bet that by the time the Younger Dryas was over, grains were a traditional part of the diet which people couldn’t imagine going without.

      Katt wrote on December 28th, 2009
  12. An analysis of the bones of a woman dug up in Britain determined that her diet, circa 4500 years ago , was the same as a wolf’s diet. In other words all she really ate 4500 years ago was meat. This was recent in Man’s history.

    One point about autoimmune diseases. They are linked to vitamin D deficiency. No one with adequate vtamin D gets them regardless of what they eat.

    Man is a daytime hunter, and usually a midday hunter in hot climes because other animals cannot sweat but must “pant” to cool off. This gives man a big advantage over other carnivore as they are resting along with prey animals. This time of day produces vitamin D most effectively in human skin.

    Gordon wrote on December 28th, 2009
    • Peter over at Hyperlipid had an interesting post up recently where he argued that overt vitamin D deficiency – rickets in children, osteomalacia in adults – really only manifests if meat is lacking in the diet, i.e. vegetarianism/veganism. I wonder if there is a connection between meat eating and vitamin D? Besides meat actually containing the vitamin, which it usually does not (pork fat being the exception.) It’s something to think about, in any case.

      Here’s the post:

      http://high-fat-nutrition.blogspot.com/2009/12/vitamin-d-and-uv-fluctuations-2.html

      Icarus wrote on December 28th, 2009
      • Check out Brian Peskins work on cholesterol and vit D
        http://www.brianpeskin.com/index.htm
        I have been in nutritional circles for a long time and Brian’s voice is one of pure science. Great info.
        HAPPY NEW YEAR to all!

        Gina wrote on January 1st, 2010
        • Hmmm I have come to believe differently as of late…live and learn!

          Gina wrote on April 12th, 2010
  13. I think Mark’s last main paragraph is correct – “there’s a big difference between suggesting grains were a significant and regular source of our ancestors’ diet 100,000 years ago and saying they were merely occasional – and probably desperation-induced – fruits of foraging labors”. It would be foolish to think that humans *never* ate grains then all of sudden 10,000 years ago came up with agriculture and started cultivating grains after having no experience with them. It was probably a gradual shift, so there would have been some grain eating for people to desire to cultivate it. But I think more importanly is, what is best for the human body biochemically? If you are starving they will keep you alive, but they should not be a regular part of the human diet.

    Mistizoom wrote on December 28th, 2009
  14. Dairy is sometimes brought up as a neolithic food that humans – at least some of us – were able to adapt to consuming in only ten thousand years. However, mammals are defined in part by the mammary glands we use to feed our young. Drinking cow’s milk, and drinking milk into adulthood, are new, but milk itself is a very, very old food and thus definitely a real one. And, even though the nutrient ratio of milk differs highly from species to species, the actual ingredients list is pretty much the same because the raw materials needed to build mammals don’t differ all that much species to species.

    So, I’d say that the ability to digest milk into adulthood, even the milk of another species, is not a huge stretch, and in fact as far as I know there is only one gene that relates to lactase persistence in adulthood. Grains, on the other hand, are about as different as food gets until you start to get into pica territory; high in starch, antinutrients, damaging proteins, and a particularly rough form of fiber, not to mention requiring extensive effort to prepare and store. Grains are a bastardized form of grasses, and only certain bacteria have the ability to digest the cellulose (fiber) which is prevalent in grasses in the first place; those mammals who eat grasses, the ruminants, are specialists in the extreme, with large digestive systems that have evolved specifically to accommodate those bacteria. They pretty much only eat grasses. And even they do really poorly on grains.

    As for those who would say that humans have the ability to digest starchy tubers (which is true) and thus should do OK on grains: the fact that all of the diseases of civilization can be observed among Egyptian mummies, who ate no refined sugar (because there was none) but plenty of grain, is telling, in my opinion. Sugar and n-6 fatty acids cannot be the only dietary contributors to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc. in the neolithic diet; grains must be included in there as well. If we have been eating them for a full 100,000 years, well, it doesn’t seem to have been enough time to adapt, does it?

    Icarus wrote on December 28th, 2009
    • One last thing: the great apes, including humans, are all relatively slow breeders. For slow breeding species, 10,000 years is not a very long time at all. And it’s worth noting that the vast majority of the human population loses much or all of the ability to digest lactose into adulthood, sometimes at a very early age, so as a species we haven’t *really* adapted to that one yet, either.

      Icarus wrote on December 28th, 2009
    • I still contend that raw milk, especially goat milk, is paleo. I think in times of want, Grok knew that he needed to keep that mama goat and not eat it, but saw that the baby goats did well on the milk. Not so much of a stretch to get some himself. A rich source of nutrients, and fat, and non of the casein that causes problems for many…
      That’s my justification for continuing with the raw milk…. :) just stay away from the store bought stuff…

      Dave, RN wrote on December 29th, 2009
  15. Going back even further to our primate ancestry we see primate species, extinct and extant, subsisting on fruits, vegetables, bugs, and meats. I think we’d be hard pressed to find any primate that ate or eats grains.

    Certain aspects of evolution are slow while others are fast. Our digestive tract is much shorter than even our closest chimp cousins. A shorter digestive tract is an adaptation to a richer diet, i.e. MEAT. But that took millions of years to happen. In a different way we are now undergoing a very fast evolution, in the form of diabetes and other carb overload ailments. Once the high starch diets hit 10000 yrs ago, people who are/were not able to handle the toxic load die early on from these insulin related ailments and don’t as much chance to procreate. While I see lots of obese people around who clearly got there from the high carb diet, I also know plenty who seem to have no problem staying thin and fit on it.

    So in a perverse way, we may be evolving to a species that can at least tolerate the high processed starch laden foods. Fortunately or unfortunately I’m one of the dinosaurs who must go primal.

    Lee (not the Lee from the top of this post) wrote on December 28th, 2009
  16. evolution just boggles my mind sometimes. It’s amazing. I wonder what’s the future for the human race, will we become meat eaters of veggies or not polarize at all? We can all just eat raw or vegan diet and it makes you feel amazing!

    Richard wrote on December 29th, 2009
  17. Hey mark! Just thought I’d say you’ve won another convert. this is day four going primal and this web site is great. I’m getting a copy of the book too. Thank you for all the great info. Oh and BTW, am I just a little bit more Grok because I don’t hold to evolution? ;)

    Mike wrote on December 29th, 2009
  18. Thank you Mark. I am a 44 year old man that has worked out on and off but eaten terribly. I bought the book right before Thanksgiving. Started primal right away, even through Thanksgiving. I started dropping weight which was needed and feeling great. No sugar crashes, great energy, sleeping better etc. A week before Christmas I started baking the traditional treats and for a week went off the primal lifestyle. Wow what a difference. Weight went up, constantly tired, craved sugar like crazy. I got back on track Sunday and am already feeling the benefits. Just wanted to say thank you. I appreciate the book and website. Keep up the great work. Any plans for a primal cookbook? I have been spreading the primal word. Can’t wait to see the benefits in the upcoming year!

    Jamie wrote on December 29th, 2009
  19. “Raw, fully intact grains are indigestible for humans.” This is really the entire rationale for not eating grains. I like that we as a species have figured out how to cook our food, but understand, it’s a form of processing. If you want to go back X number of years, before agricultural revolution, before fire, and try to decide what foods, occurring in nature are fit for human consumption, then it would have to be foods that don’t require cooking to be edible. And that would mean no grains.

    Even if grains weren’t indigestible, the argument concerning the sheer amount of TIME and effort required to acquire such a ridiculously small amount of food is a very VALID argument. Even if Grok came across a vast FIELD of wheat – it’s basically grass. You really think he’s going to walk around with a basket collecting, the dried out tops of that grass as food? I doubt it. No more than he’d try to eat leaves off trees.

    fixed gear wrote on January 1st, 2010
  20. Hi Mark!

    I have been in this discussion with some med students and doctors and while we are all in agreement on living primal as a basis for health, one of them had an interesting point we couldnt yet fit into how Grok might have lived. It appears that a lot of the corpses found from neolithic times, ESPECIALLY the female ones have shown damaged or misaligned spines suggesting that they spent a lot of their time in life actually kneeling with their backs bent towards the ground. This position, we assumed, might have been in correlation with their grinding methods. After all, we might be a species that survived due to us adapting to imperfect circumstances by utilizing less useful food. For example, grains.

    While the science on celiasis and passive, invisible effects due to grain consumption are pretty obvious to our generation of medstudents, this was an interesting point to have made. Science says it is bad, but maybe Grokkina had to do it to survive while Grok was on hunt?

    Cheers from Germany!

    Frank Taeger wrote on January 5th, 2010
  21. Gathered grains have a great advantage in that they can be stored for later use. Our great ancestors had all day long and did almost nothing else except hunt and procreate.

    Just soak the grain in water, soon they sprout and are extremely nutritious and digestable. Nothing could be easier. A small amount goes a long way. I do it every day. Our ancestors were more in tune with the environment than you give them credit for.

    Sprouted grains left to ferment make mead. Mead doesn’t spoil and is fun to drink.

    Don Radina wrote on January 11th, 2010
  22. One thing to keep in mind with the “did Grok eat grains” debate is that it is almost a moot point. Our modern grains are VERY different from what prehistoric man would have eaten, if he had the desire to do a little harvesting. Of further interest, note that in the last 100 years, the gluten content of wheat has DOUBLED, driven by our selective breeding of the plants. Corn doesn’t look at all like it did 200-300 years ago. Don’t get me started on GMOs!

    In setting aside the difference in it’s composition, we (as a society) eat a dramatically increased AMOUNT of wheat, rice, and corn in our diet from prior generations. Even though they did eat bread and sugar, my great-grandparents ate nothing like the quantity seen in the “modern” diet.

    I don’t think anybody could seriously make an argument that we have had sufficient evolutionary time to adapt to such dramatic changes in our food sources over the past 3-4 generations. I personally believe there is a huge relationship between the high prevalence of autoimmune issues (allergies, IBS, Chrohn’s, Celiac, rheumatoid arthritis)and the foods that we have ramped up on in the past few decades.

    Carrie wrote on April 12th, 2010
  23. This doesn’t really destroy the study; it’s just a Paleo-rationalisation of it. Nothing specifically wrong about what you said Mark – nothing that jumped out at me – but it’s not conclusive.

    G wrote on September 10th, 2010
  24. It was simpler back then. So many try to put modern perspectives on our ancestors. Milk left at room temperature will be digested by friendly bacteria (yogurt), is highly nutritious and we are well adapted to both the milk and bacteria. Grains left at room temperature will sprout or ferment into highly nutritious foods without any work. Because we have such a symbiotic relationship with these foods I tend to think they have been part of our diet for a very long time.

    Don Radina wrote on September 10th, 2010
  25. Carrie, I agree about the rapid and recent changes in wheat (gives me hellish indigestion) but sometimes I think Paleo people overestimate the slowness of adaptation. Dairy is a relatively recent adaptation and it is complete in many populations.

    G wrote on September 28th, 2010
  26. What I always see on discovery channel is primitive cultures grinding up plant matter (after its been dried) to make face or wall paint.

    I mean, how big is the tribe? How big was that grinder and the tools?
    Why would 1 person grind up a tiny bit of grain in a mortar and pestle when the tribe is 20+ man strong.
    Back in those days it was all community meals..not “Oh, the neighbor (1 foot away hut) is having chicken and we’re chewing on banana peels..damn”.
    Community hunts leads to community meals.

    I could almost guarantee those tiny grinding tools were designed to grind plant matter into a paste for other uses.

    Suvetar wrote on April 5th, 2011

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