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Plant Paleo Part 1: The Gatherer-Hunter Diet

Plant Paleo Part 1: The Gatherer-Hunter Diet
Angelo Coppola

In order for the Paleo approach to make any sense at all, it can’t be a diet. Not just one diet.

A fundamental feature of human diets during the Paleolithic era was that there were several of them. The eating patterns of humans were spread across Africa and eventually most of the globe. Dietary variances hinged on the unique characteristics of local ecosystems, the dance between organisms and environments—innumerable variables all at play and changing over millennia.

The diets eaten by people in the grasslands, the forest highlands, the deserts, the tundra, and the various islands were all different from each other in the Paleolithic era. Clearly, they are still different today among remaining indigenous populations. Prior to the corporatization of food, neolithic societies showed vast culinary diversity, too. Thankfully, some of this still survives to this day, even in the face of the leveling, homogenizing forces of GloboMcDunkinNuggets.

Dr. S. Boyd Eaton is often referred to as the grandfather of the modern Paleo movement. One of his premises is that our genus, homo, spent more time in East Africa than anywhere else on earth. So he suspects we are best adapted to the diet that was available to humans in that area during much of the Paleolithic period.

In his book The Paleolithic Prescription, he does note, though, the large variance in contemporary hunter-gatherer diets. The following table appears on page 74 of the paperback:

Subsistence Patterns of Contemporary Hunters and Gatherers

Plant-to-animal ratios in the diets of modern hunter-gatherers, ca 1988

As you can see, there is a wide variance in the ratios of plant-to-animal foods among these hunter-gatherer peoples. Aborigines in the desert climates of Australia subsisted on as much as 90% plant-based foods, while Eskimos of the North American Arctic subsisted on 90% animal foods. And it’s safe to say human groups have eaten nearly every ratio in between.

Ultimately, in The Paleolithic Prescription Eaton recommended a diet that is 60% carbohydrate (whole plant-based, small amounts of grain), 20% protein, and 20% fat. Twenty-five years later, Eaton raised the upper limit of his dietary fat recommendation to a range of 20-35%.

In 2000, Loren Cordain published a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition called, Plant-animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets. Data from George Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas was used to determine what percentage of hunter-gatherer groups relied more heavily on animal foods than plant foods. The data was also used to determine what the consumption ranges were for protein, carbohydrate, and fat within the groups.

The results were as follows for relatively modern hunter-gatherer tribes:

  • 73% received >50% of their subsistence from animal-based foods.
  • 13.5% received >50% of their subsistence from plant-based foods.
  • Dietary protein ranged from 19-35%.
  • Dietary carbohydrate ranged from 22-40%
  • Dietary fat ranged from 28-58%

Importantly, in the Limitations of the Model section of Cordain’s paper, it’s noted that these calculations are heavily based on some big assumptions. For instance, virtually all of their conclusions are hitched to the veracity of the data they used from the Ethnographic Atlas and the validity of the mathematical estimates they ran the data through in order to calculate plant- and animal-based contributions to the diet.

The methodology was outlined nicely in the paper, and it’s clear that small errors—or multiple, small compounded errors—could have yielded results that weren’t a good reflection of reality.

Cordain’s paper is oft-cited in Paleo circles. It’s also important to note that there was another paper published in the very same issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition titled, Hunter-gatherer diets—a different perspective. It was written by Katharine Milton, who specializes in the dietary ecology of primates at UC Berkeley.

In her article, she underscores the potential problems with Cordain’s source data. She walks us through other evidence we might consider, and concludes (bold emphasis mine):

[I]t is likely that no hunter-gatherer society, regardless of the proportion of macronutrients consumed, suffered from diseases of civilization. Most wild foods lack high amounts of energy and this feature, in combination with the slow transit of food particles through the human digestive tract, would have served as a natural check to obesity and certain other diseases of civilization. Yet today, all non-Western populations appear to develop diseases of civilization if they consume Western foods and have sedentary lifestyles. Given these facts, in combination with the strongly plant-based diet of human ancestors, it seems prudent for modern-day humans to remember their long evolutionary heritage as anthropoid primates and heed current recommendations to increase the number and variety of fresh fruit and vegetables in their diets rather than to increase their intakes of domesticated animal fat and protein.

In this conclusion, Milton brings up some very interesting topics worthy of consideration: nutritional and caloric density, transit speed through the digestive tract, and pre-Paleolithic ancestral clues.

The main takeaway, though, as far as I’m concerned, is right there in the first sentence. Again:

[I]t is likely that no hunter-gatherer society, regardless of the proportion of macronutrients consumed, suffered from diseases of civilization.

I have come to see this as the hallmark of Paleolithic diets, whereas today’s mainstream version of the Paleo diet is narrowly defined as one that is low in carbohydrates and high in fat and/or protein, as if Inuit-Paleo is representative of all Paleolithic diets—it is not. Increasingly, mainstream Paleo is also loaded with processed Paleo™ foods that are often calorie dense and nutritionally sparse—just like the SAD (standard American diet)! Even Paleo™ beverages are following this trend. Also, some of the food restrictions may re-examination when applied to healthy individuals, not suffering from leaky gut or other metabolic disorders.

The Paleolithic example remains:

  • simple, whole foods with minimal processing (if any)
  • nutritionally dense, calorically sparse staples (relative to modern foods)
  • omnivorous with widely varying plant-animal and macronutrient ratios
  • high fiber consumption (most groups)
  • “rich” foods reserved for celebrations

For nearly 5 years, I have personally been following Paleo-like diets influenced by evolutionary clues and scientific evidence. I started off on the low-carb end of the spectrum, and I have slowly expanded my food choices to include more whole foods, especially whole plant foods, which tend to carry most of their calories in the form of carbohydrates.

At each milestone where I increased real-food carbohydrates in my diet, I consistently made improvements in how I felt and with body composition.

Most recently, I have greatly increased the amount of plant food in my diet (more real, whole carbs and fiber), while virtually eliminating the final huge source of processed-food calories in my diet: the added fats, especially oil. Replacing three to seven tablespoons of oil per day frees up 360 to 840 caloriesand that’s a lot of nutrient-rich plant foods, broths, eggs, organ and other naturally raised or wild meats.

In terms of macronutrients, my diet now resembles Eaton’s original 60:20:20 prescription, with some variance. Carbs: between 60-80%. Protein: between 10-20%. Fat: between 15-30%. But reductionist macronutrient jargon aside—and far more importantly—my diet consists of simple, whole foods, mostly plants with lots of fiber, and with an emphasis on high-quality animal-based foods when I eat them (which is a few times per week + bone-based broths and stocks an additional several times per week).

I should note that these most recent changes led to an effortless and spontaneous 20-lb weight loss. Totally surprising. I didn’t realize I had 20 lbs to lose, and I was mostly comfortable with my body composition. Now, I like the leaner version of me far more than I thought I would have. I stand 6′ tall (1.83 m) and I went from about 185 lbs to 165 lbs (84 kg to 75 kg). This brings my total weight loss over the last 5 years to 80-85 lbs (36-38.5 kg), as my starting weight was 245-250 lbs (111-113.4 kg).

Having eaten Plant Paleo for several months now—that’s what I’ve been calling it and here are the details—I feel my diet is moving closer to several Paleolithic models of diet, and it’s been healthier than ever, too. This also means my diet has been becoming less mainstream Paleo. [Update: I posted a body composition article with pictures a few weeks after this was published. And, later, another.]

To be clear, I’m not totally knocking the principles of mainstream, low-carb Paleo. The low-carb Paleo approach, even gimmicky versions, are huge improvements over the standard Western diet. I also believe I’ve benefited from it myself, for a period of time. The diet eliminates the worst processed foods, while acclimating adherents to the subtle flavors of natural foods. And, at it’s best, it also encourages supporting local, small-scale food growers and ranchers. This is why I love the Paleo movement, even if it is frustratingly commercial, marketing-driven, tribal, and myopically reductionist at times.

However, with that said, Low-Carb-Paleo is one of many, many ancestral templates for healthy, real-food diets—and the Paleo movement would be far stronger and more reality-based as an umbrella for a multitude of whole-food diets, aligning the Paleo movement more tightly with the latest science and evolutionary clues.

[Update: my position has evolved on this. I now think it may be better for Paleo to be defined by Loren Cordain’s The Paleo Diet™. This would allow us to be on the same page when we talk about the diet, and it would provide a single template for researchers looking into the efficacy of the plan. Other versions of Paleo could be properly prefixed, for example: LCHF-Paleo, Autoimmune-Paleo, and sure, Plant Paleo. These versions could also be defined, providing clarity in communication. For now, and ambiguously defined “Paleo diet” (do you eat dairy? do you eat potatoes? etc.), is probably creating too much confusion.]

I will be following up this article with: Plant Paleo Part 2: Grains, Legumes, Fiber, & Antinutrients.

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In the meantime, if you haven’t clicked through to the links embedded in the text throughout the article, there is some excellent reading material and food for thought to be found. Check them out! And here are the details to my Plant Paleo approach to diet.

Also, here are a few resources you might enjoy on YouTube. First is Dr. S. Boyd Eaton’s presentation at the 2012 Ancestral Health Symposium called, Long-term Paleo: Following an ancestral approach for 30 years. Yes, the grandfather of Paleo eats whole wheat toast for breakfast, and the cardiologist’s ticker appears to be ticking strongly.

After that, check out Denise Minger’s presentation at the 2013 Ancestral Health Symposium called, Lessons from the Vegans.

And finally, this is me talking about how my own diet has evolved, along with my thoughts on the (then-)current state of the Paleo movement (should start at the 55:15 mark):

So what do you think? Would you like to start eating more vegetables and plant-based foods in general? Have you ever tried a whole food, plant based diet that was low-to-moderate in grains and included high quality animal foods? Feel free to share your comments, experiences, and opinions!

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  • Charles Richardson

    Great, sensible discussion. I’m hoping the paleo police don’t jump in!

    • Thanks, Charles. I’d love to hear from anyone who disagrees; paleo police or otherwise. 🙂

  • Carla Flaim

    Looking forward to the additional posts! Thanks

  • Will

    Looking forward to the rest of this series, sounds like it will be great!

    I noticed that you revamped the “My Diet” page with all the details. I had a couple of questions:

    1) Is it still easy to meet the vitamin B12 RDA like this? Meats and fortified breakfast cereals tend to be the major sources of B12 in the American diet, although you limit both without supplementing.

    2) Dairy products are indeed calorie-dense, but I thought they were also quite nutrient-dense per serving. There is some evidence that dairy can lower blood pressure and uric acid levels. Although I’d agree that they aren’t essential for a healthy diet (I don’t eat much dairy myself), I think there is a case for permitting up to, say, 1 serving per day of dairy as a positive contribution to the diet.

    • It’s important to recognize that not all dairy products are created the same. For example, high-intensity pasteurisation significantly destroys the amount of lactase and micronutrients in milk, which prevent the natural process of lactose degradation from happening. This creates a form of industrial milk which contains a lot of lactose and is hence inflammatory in high amount for a large percentage of the population. The mainstream solution to this, is to further removed the fat from the milk, but a wiser solution would be to acquire raw milk from a source with high sanitary standards.

      Of course, the same could be said about butter, cheese, kefir and yogurt. However, given a jar of minimally-processed kefir and a jar of non-pathogenic raw milk, we would choose the latter anytime — if we have the choice that is. 😉

      • We’re very fortunate to live in a place where raw milk can be purchased at grocery stores, produce stands, etc. And we also live very close to the main raw dairy producer in the area. This is what we buy for our children in addition to organic (pasteurized) goat milk sometimes (mostly for convenience, since larger chains don’t carry raw milk even though they could).

        We also fed our baby a blend of breast milk and homemade raw milk formula promoted by the Weston A. Price Foundation (and green-lighted by our doctors, too).

        So, I definitely don’t want to come off as anti-dairy, but I do suspect that as I age, it is best for me to avoid it more and more.

      • Will

        Although I agree that not all dairy products are equal, I bet the form of dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, etc) probably matters a lot more than whether or not the dairy product is pasteurized.

        The FDA has a page dedicated to “raw milk misconceptions” complete with references. They state that raw milk does not contain lactase or lactase-producing bacteria. Yogurt, on the other hand, has been shown to work better for lactose intolerant subjects. But this has been attributed to bacteria that were intentionally added to the yogurt during the manufacturing process.

        The vitamin and mineral content of raw vs pasteurized milk is also largely the same (refer to section “Raw milk is not nutritionally superior to pasteurized milk”). The only vitamin susceptible to heat-induced breakdown is vitamin C, but milk doesn’t have much vitamin C to begin with.

        • From a primarily “nutritionism” or reductionist view of the final products, yes I would say it is difficult to make an overwhelming case for raw vs pasteurized. However, having visited both CAFO dairies and small, grass-fed dairies, there is no question in my mind which treat their animals more humanely and which have animals that appear healthier: the small, grass-fed operations. Traditional, raw milk also tastes a lot better, imo.

          Although the FDA consider raw-milk consumption “dangerous,” our friends in Europe who are able to legally purchase raw milk from vending machines are doing fine. Here in WA, retail raw milk sales are legal just about everywhere, and there seems to be no issue with this.

          The most important aspect of a safe raw-milk supply is legalization with the addition of applying some safety regulations. The dairy I used back in AZ consistently had the best health inspection reports of any dairy in the state.

          But in states where raw milk is illegal, people end up buying stuff that is not inspected by 3rd parties and labeled for cosmetic use or animal feed.

          In any case, I wouldn’t call this a major point of the (Plant)Paleo approach. I avoid dairy, in favor of other plant- and animal-based foods. Others may achieve their goals better by including dairy.

        • Of course. We are just using pasteurisation as one example as to how the manufacturing of dairy products could affect their nutrient density. For one, we would suspect homogenization as a way of making food more inflammatory, and the added ingredients and contamination don’t get better either.

          But then, it’s not as if we consume yogurt or cheese or butter all the time. In fact, we rarely consume those, and even we consume milk, we would take care to only half a glass at a time, because good milk is hard to come by here 🙂

          • Will

            Conventional dairy products (which, for the most part, are both pasteurized and homogenized) don’t increase biomarkers of inflammation, though. If anything, the data hints at the possibility that conventional dairy products might reduce inflammation.


            I have found it surprisingly difficult to build a case against conventional dairy, from a nutrition science angle. And I don’t have a good reason to suspect that the increased cancer risk associated with dairy (mainly prostate cancer, but there is weaker evidence linking it to breast, ovarian, and testicular cancer) would be significantly lower with raw, grass-fed dairy. This is because the prime suspects — calcium, galactose, IGF-1 — all apply equally as well to grass-fed dairy.

            That being said, I do agree with Angelo that grass-fed dairy is preferable even if only for the animal welfare reasons.

          • There are lots of meddling even behind the nature of scientific studies being published, and the studies you have cited just happen to go directly against our experience. Having tried different kinds of milk, for instance, we can say that raw milk/cheese tastes sweeter, fuller and don’t not do havoc to our stomach. Sure, the science is fluid, and maybe the current most plausible explanations might also be also totally off (you could also find tens of thousands of studies denouncing saturated fat, for that matter. And we won’t really exactly regard FDA as an authority on the matters pertaining to health).

            For instance, it could be that the irritability of conventional dairy is not related to lactose at all, or it could be also that pasteurized milk destroys certain yet-to-known enzymes which in turn prevents lactose from being absorbed in the body. But then, it could also be other foreign substances accidentally introduced to the milk during the manufacturing processes (e.g., growth hormone, antibiotics, GMO grains). The argument that pasteurization/homogenization doesn’t degrade nutritional content is a great suspect. For one, we can taste the difference, and also, when we focus on changes in vitamins and minerals, we are only focusing on those that we are currently aware of.

            Whatever we believe is true, there is always a way to find counterargument suggesting the opposite. On the study showing no difference between raw and pasteurised milk in terms of their inflammatory potential, one could suspect that they were looking at the irrelevant biomarkers to start with, but if we let biomarkerism dominates the discussion about food in the mainstream science, then we would be able to create super food based on their respective effects on our biomarkers. The fact that we can’t do it as of now suggests that nutritional science is simply not mature enough yet to explain much about the health benefit of real food – something that our previous generations might have taken for granted.

          • Will

            These are all great research questions. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “my personal experience is X, and the current scientific literature does not offer a satisfying explanation for it.”

            I’d just note that taste and micronutrient content are not necessarily correlated. I’m reluctant to make assumptions about the nutrition profile of a food based on how it tastes. Flavor compounds may be altered without disrupting essential micronutrients. This wouldn’t necessarily be harmful, just as cooking your food is not necessarily harmful. Pasteurization is, after all, just a very light form of cooking.

            I also wanted to revisit my previous comment, where I said that there’s no reason to believe grass-fed dairy is less risky for cancer than grain-fed dairy (note that this is unrelated to whether or not the dairy is raw). I forgot that grass-fed dairy fat may have 2-5X the CLA content of grain-fed dairy. CLA is cancer-protective in animal experiments. Australia is a country that still relies primarily on grass-fed cows, and their CLA intake is high. So I went looking for an Australian prospective study of dairy and prostate cancer, and I found one. The results? No link between dairy and prostate cancer within the Australian cohort. This is interesting, although I would like to see this replicated in other cohorts where the dairy supply is predominantly grass-fed, before I hang my hat on this.


    • Hi, Will. Glad you spotted the updated page. That reminds me, I need to update the links above, which I’ll do as soon as I’m done with this reply. Here it is, by the way:

      1) I’m pretty sure I have the Vitamin B12 base covered. A serving of liver has about 1000% of the RDA for B12 (and excess B12 is stored in our own livers). This, in addition to a few additional servings of animal-based foods & broths each week should be sufficient. Probably the best way to answer this question would be for me to have my levels tested a few times over the next year or so to see what happens.

      2) I changed the wording a bit in the dairy section. I don’t do particularly well or poorly on dairy. It seems to help for bulking up, but not for weight loss, although some studies do indicate that full fat dairy is good for weight loss. Other studies also associate dairy with prostate, testicular, breast, and ovary cancers. Honestly, it’s a gray area for me these days as much as it is for mainstream Paleo…but I do find myself agreeing more with Cordain on this issue now than I did in the past.

      • Tyler

        This video by Michael Greger contains some good advice on B12:

        The information was new to me, anyway!

        • Good information, thanks Tyler! I’ve basically applied this same information and instead of using B12 supplements, I just use natural B12 powerhouses, like liver. The liver has the advantage of also having additional vitamins, minerals, etc.

  • William Weedon

    Angelo, thank you for all you do. My wife and I eagerly look forward to the podcast. Inspired by you to venture out, we’ve limited our oils. No butter added, no sour cream to the baked tater, but I eat it with my meat and it’s wonderful. Right around thanksgiving I was weighing 165. I’ve dropped since my recommitment to clean eating and regular walking (and running, I love running) to 141 this morning. I’m a 5-10 male; I’ve never felt better. Thanks again for the work! Will W

    • Awesome, William! This is what I’m finding pretty amazing about this approach…it really seems to be effective in helping people lose those “last 20.” I’ve also felt significantly more energy and endurance. Now, on my walks, I’ll mix in some intermittent running, and I’m loving it. Being lean with some visible abs is nice…but how it makes me feel is priceless! 😉

  • Aryno Wyrth

    Angelo, this isn’t an article, it’s the beginnings of a manifesto! It’s always good to shake up the Paleo® community a bit, and you’re certainly leading the charge in a new direction. I hope in future installments that you’ll address how you approach adding salt to your food, e.g., if you keep it minimal, any concerns or myths, etc.

    Keep up the great work! 🙂

  • Stephan Guyenet, PhD

    One interesting fact that I’ve gleaned from researching HGs and speaking with anthropologists lately: HGs rarely eat vegetables, that is, low-calorie plant foods. They eat fruit, tubers, and other plant foods, but they are generally foods that provide significant calories. For example, there are many edible greens in Hadzaland, but the Hadza rarely eat them except as fallback foods. They prioritize foraging effort based on energy gain, and low-calorie plant foods provide a poor energy return for effort. The !Kung do eat greens sometimes, but they aren’t a major part of the diet.

    That said, both cultures eat a large amount of unrefined, fibrous plant matter in the form of fruit, tubers, and nuts. So they probably have little nutritional incentive to eat more plant matter because they’re already getting a lot of it. Vegetables as we know them are largely an agricultural creation and IMO they mostly serve to fill the nutritional gaps in a grain-heavy diet and reduce the energy density of the diet to reduce overeating. I do believe they play a positive role in the modern diet but it’s interesting that they seem to be an agricultural invention that solves an agricultural problem.

    • Excellent points; thank you, Stephan. I don’t think I would be able to eat the way I’ve been eating without tubers and other roots and starches providing sufficient energy.

      I still consider most of these foods calorically sparse, though, in the context of the Standard Western DIet. A pound of russet potatoes has about 360 calories; a lb of sweet potatoes has about 400 calories; red potatoes, about 320; purple potatoes, about 380. Yams are higher at about 530 calories/lb.

      By contrast, a lb of Big Macs has about 1100 calories and a lb of Froot Loops has about 1700 calories.

      But your comment got me thinking about wild tubers. Data on these is a little more difficult to come by, however I found that Cassava have about 720 calories per lb—roughly twice the caloric density of the tubers we commonly eat. This is fewer calories than a lb of fatty steak, but a bit more than a lb of ground venison. Interesting!

      I know you’ve also written about the Kitavans…do they partake in higher levels of consumption of greens, perhaps sea vegetables? I know tubers, coconut, fruit and fish are a big part of their diets, too.

      • Stephan Guyenet, PhD

        Hi Angelo,

        I totally agree with the calorie density point you made. Plus, a big mac and other refined foods lack the fiber and nutrients of unrefined foods, plus they are easier to slam down in seconds (my view is that the #1 nutritional problem in the US is simply overeating). Many, many cultures throughout the world eat meals that are primarily a large pile of plain starch food, plus some vegetables, legumes, and perhaps a bit of meat and/or dairy. It’s hard to overeat a meal like that.

        It is true that some tubers have a higher calorie density than the ones we commonly eat like potatoes and sweet potatoes. Cassava, as you mentioned, and taro as well I think. I don’t know about African yams. Between those three, sweet potatoes, and breadfruit, that is the majority of the Kitavan diet. The Kitavans do eat greens regularly, particularly taro leaves. But they are horticulturalists rather than hunter-gatherers, and all of those tubers are selected and cultivated to have a high energy yield.

        IIRC, the tubers the Hadza and !Kung eat are lower in calorie density and have a high fiber content. Brian Wood described them as tasting like jicama. But if you add all the sugar they eat from honey and fruit, their total carb intake is probably similar to ours.

        • Steven

          Hi Stephan, based on your research that HGs don’t eat many vegetables: what you you estimate HG fibre intake to be?

          A figure that gets circulated a lot is that HGs ate at least 100g of fibre, but after looking at the amount of fibre in whole plant foods (USDA nutrient database) it seems a bit unrealistic as a general rule (exceptions may apply of course), particularly if as you say, they don’t eat many vegetables.

          • Stephan Guyenet, PhD

            It varies, but in the tropics (which I think is most relevant), fiber intake tends to be high. Certainly much higher than what the typical affluent Westerner eats. I haven’t seen a quantification of Hadza fiber intake (would be difficult to do), but in “The Hadza”, Frank Marlowe says “The Hadza diet is high in fiber. Tubers contain so much fiber that they are nothing like the food we eat, even the foods highest in fiber… They try to avoid fiber…” His team has quantified food preferences, and the Hadza’s favorite foods are meat and honey, both of which are calorie-dense and contain little fiber.

            So I think they eat a high-fiber diet because they have no choice. Like us, they tend to gravitate toward lower-fiber foods when they can, but they have much less of an ability to do so because of their more limited options. They view fiber as something to be avoided, but it probably does play some role in their apparent metabolic/cardiovascular health, and I believe it plays a role in ours as well.

          • Stephan Guyenet, PhD

            My point in mentioning that they try to avoid fiber is not that fiber is bad, but simply that our instincts are probably not that well aligned with our long-term health interests in the context of the modern world. We have been crafted by natural selection to try to get calorie-dense, low-fiber foods in an environment where these types of food are hard to get, and the minimum possible fiber intake is still high. In the modern food environment of infinite choice and minimal effort cost, we’re free to indulge our instincts to eat calorie-dense, low-fiber foods, but we take it too far because the constraints have been removed.

          • Jane Karlsson

            Paleolithic people ate high-calorie high-fibre legumes and grains, and probably liked them. I certainly do. I suspect if the Hadza were forced to live on nothing but meat and honey, they’d pretty soon acquire an ‘instinct’ to get themselves some high fibre plant foods.

            ‘We have been crafted by natural selection …’ How do you know? You said once on your blog that humans are not adapted to eating grains, because unlike rodents, they don’t have phytase. But rodents don’t have phytase either, their gut bacteria do. So do ours.

            Even the Masai are not genetically adapted to drinking milk. Most Masai have lactose intolerance, according to this study.

          • Stephan Guyenet, PhD

            Hi Jane,

            My statement that we have been crafted by natural selection to try to get calorie-dense, low-fiber foods is speculation, strictly speaking. There is no way to test that hypothesis. However, it is strongly implied by the behavior of HGs as well as our own innate food preferences. Kids don’t have to learn to like pizza and ice cream, but most kids do have to learn to like broccoli and brussels sprouts.

            My point about not being adapted to grains is not that we can’t eat them or even that we can’t be healthy eating them. Rodents can eat grains raw, straight off the plant. Humans can’t. We have to cook grains to break them down prior to consumption. We have to process them fairly extensively to make them acceptable to our digestive physiology. Traditional cultures often go to great lengths to prepare grains, including soaking, pounding/grinding, fermentation and cooking. We aren’t adapted to eating grains, so we adapt them to ourselves.

            Regarding phytase, the rodent digestive tract secretes it. So does the human digestive tract, but in much smaller quantities. It has been shown countless times that phytic acid reduces the absorption of divalent cations (e.g., Ca, Zn, Mg, Fe) from food in humans, so regardless of what the gut and the microbiota are doing, minerals end up in the toilet more often when foods high in phytic acid are consumed. This is easily measured and has been demonstrated many times.

            Phytic acid is not a toxin, it’s just a substance that reduces mineral absorption. If you’re eating a mineral-dense diet, you may be able to lose 30% of your minerals down the toilet and still have plenty to spare. Phytic acid becomes a big problem when people eat diets based heavily on unfermented whole grains and/or lack sufficient variety. There are a number of cases of mineral deficiency disorders that have been described among both traditional and affluent groups that eat a heavily whole grain based diet. This includes traditionally-living Pakistanis and Pakistani immigrants in the UK, macrobiotic dieters, and Bantu farmers in Africa. The most commonly reported problem is “mineral deficiency rickets”, which looks like vitamin D deficiency but occurs among people who have good vitamin D status. Dietary mineral intake is adequate on paper in these cases, but mineral absorption is poor due to a high intake of unfermented whole grains like whole wheat chappati and brown rice.

          • Jane Karlsson

            People accustomed to eating phytate break down nearly all of it. Look up what Don Matesz says about phytate. It really isn’t a problem.

            Grains don’t have to be cooked, they can be sprouted. If we are going to speculate, why can’t we speculate that early humans gathered grains and sprouted them?

          • Stephan Guyenet, PhD

            Hi Jane,

            People do not break down nearly all phytate once they’re accustomed to a high-grain diet, otherwise they would not develop mineral deficiency disorders on a diet that contains sufficient minerals. How do you explain the frequency of mineral deficiency in macrobiotic vegan children eating primarily brown rice, vegetables, and legumes? This is a mineral-rich diet that is supposed to be as healthy as it gets by some peoples’ standards, yet it leads to nutrient deficiency, failure to thrive, and stunting.

            I agree phytic acid isn’t a problem if you have minerals to spare in your diet and you can lose some of them without becoming deficient. This is particularly true if the diet contains animal foods, particularly dairy. However, if that isn’t the case, excessive consumption of whole grains can result in mineral insufficiency or deficiency, as is observed among macrobiotic kids.

          • This is probably the Matesz info regarding phytates that Jane was referring to:

            He says, “I have never seen any evidence that dietary phytate causes mineral deficiencies except in the context of overall poor quality diet, such as people attempting to live on diets composed entirely of unleavened grains and legume flours without adequate intake of vegetables, fruits, and other mineral sources.”

            In the article, he goes on to discuss the potential anti-cancer effects of phytates.

          • Jane Karlsson

            I’m not sure what Don means about ‘other mineral sources’. I can’t think of any mineral with the possible exception of calcium that might be a problem here. Vitamins, certainly, but not minerals.

            Grains are often low in calcium. But if most of the phytate is broken down anyway, and calcium absorption goes up / excretion goes down, I don’t see a problem. Far more of a problem would be a diet low in fibre, because the organic acids produced by gut bacteria make the minerals soluble so they can be absorbed.

          • DuckDodgers


            As much as I didn’t want to admit it at first… I believe Jane Karlsson is right about manganese being key for sugar metabolism. A striking feature of metabolism is the similarity of the basic metabolic pathways and components between even vastly different species—from single-celled organisms to plants and animals.

            High carbohydrate plants require manganese to manage their sugar metabolism. Tubers/HSOs and every single one of the ancient whole grains are *extremely* rich in manganese (teff, chia, amaranth, wheat, wild rice, sorghum, kamut, quinoa, spelt, farro, millet). This cannot be an accident.

            Tree saps too. Even maple syrup is extremely rich in manganese. When Westerners refine sugars, it’s mainly a removal of minerals/fiber/antioxidants.

            Deciduous fruits can be low in manganese, but there are perhaps two reasons for this: The plant reserves its manganese for its own survival, and engineers the deciduous fruit to drop by losing its sugar signaling, while shunting manganese and minerals to the seeds. It’s almost like the fruit itself becomes diabetic (i.e. loss of sugar signaling and metabolism) and drops off.

            Growing seeds and buds need lots of manganese to utilize carbohydrate stores. Of course, you’ve heard Jane rant about manganese for years. This was widely dismissed by low carbers (and even me) since no one could imagine how carnivores obtained manganese. Manganese seemed worthless for animal species that don’t eat many carbohydrates. And so, we’ve just ignored it.

            Well, it turns out that herbivore stomach contents—who regularly eat buds, stems and leaves of plants—have very high levels of minerals—particularly manganese. There are ~10mg of manganese in 100g of caribou stomach, which is just shy of the daily “upper tolerable limit” of manganese in humans.


            That’s not a typo. I nearly fell off my chair when I saw that. Any obligate carnivore that regularly eats stomach contents is obtaining extremely high doses of manganese (and not to mention some carbohydrates). Western VLCers?… they often have too much iron, not enough manganese. Sugar signaling gets compromised. You can’t easily buy stomach contents from your butcher—the USDA frowns upon it.

            The Blue Zones and Longevity Villages have very high manganese consumption. Most have too much manganese in their soil, and water, and their local plants are those that can utilize high mineral soils (hemp, tubers, legumes etc).

            Are minerals everything? No. The key components seem to be fibers, (hormetic) antioxidants and minerals as best as I can tell.

            And even the honey hunting cultures that eat enormous quantities of honey, will still eat tremendous quantities of fiber and minerals while they are on their massive honey binges. Their honey contains larvae, and, for instance, the Hadza eat lots of fibrous baobab fruit and subsurface tubers year round. 100g of baobab contains 2mg of manganese and the baobab leaves have even more. If I’m not mistaken, the Hadza eat at least 200g of baobab per day, bringing their daily manganese intake to about 4mg from baobab pulp alone. In other words, even during the rainy season, when honey makes up much more of their diet, they are still supplementing with fibers and minerals from baobab.

            Are these all coincidences? I doubt it. You’ve got the connection with sugar/stress signaling the plants, and animals, the habits of indigenous and longevity cultures. It all points to manganese as one of the key components of sugar metabolism.


            PS — I’m a big fan of your work and I particularly enjoyed the posts on antioxidants in the context of hormesis.

          • DuckDodgers

            Oh, and another fun “coincidence” is that dark chocolate has been shown, in more than a few recent studies, to be protective of diabetes, with “anti-diabetic” properties.

            This implies that dark chocolate somehow improves sugar signaling. Most have attributed this phenomenon to chocolate’s antioxidants. But few people seem to realize that dark chocolate has a ton of manganese in it. 1oz of dark chocolate (70-85% cacao solids) has 0.5mg (27%DV) of manganese.

            Fun Facts:
            The world’s oldest human ever, Jeanne Calment, ate up to 2 pounds of chocolate per week. She may have consumed as much as 250%DV of manganese from chocolate alone.

            The oldest US resident, Sarah Knauss, lived on a diet with a high consumption of milk chocolate turtles, cashews, and potato chips.

            Is chocolate an ideal form of mineral supplementation for the modern world?

            The Mayans had no cows/goats, and therefore no milk. They drank chocolate with water. However, they had an abundance of honey. So much honey that they were exporting it—particularly from Tulum. On my last visit, it was explained to me that the Mayans sweetened their chocolate with their abundant stocks of honey. The exporting of honey to neighboring cultures, via large canoes, suggests that their honey wasn’t just reserved for royalty.

            Anyhow, next time you order pancakes, splurge for the chocolate chip ones. Or throw caution to the wind and go for the chocolate croissant. The chocolate is apparently a supplement that makes up for what’s been refined out of the flour. 🙂


          • Jane Karlsson

            Those vegan macrobiotic children were eating brown rice porridge that had been sieved, according to the paper you discussed on your blog. Presumably the sieving removed the bran and germ. So it wasn’t really brown rice at all.

            Nobody claims you can live on whole grains. They lack fat soluble vitamins (except E) and vitamin C. McCarrison found 100 years ago in northern India that a diet of whole grains + vegetables + dairy products produced excellent health, and if either the vegetables or the dairy products were lacking, health declined.

            Of course, fat soluble vitamins can be supplied by plant foods and gut bacteria, but it seems that milk products do a better job. There is a theory that drinking the milk of herd animals is a lot older than the evidence suggests.

          • DuckDodgers

            One more thing, Stephan,

            Phytic appears exhibits the classic bi-phasic response that is the hallmark of hormesis. In fact, most “anti-nutrients” we’ve been taught to fear by Paleo™ authors actually have hormetic benefits:

            “…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.”


            Secondary metabolites from domesticated plants are no big deal. Eat a diet that’s 100% grains and yes, you’ll hit the long end of the bi-phasic response and those secondary metabolites become counterproductive. Luckily, we don’t have to worry about that.

            It’s not so scary when you see the big picture, in the context of the bi-phasic (hormetic) response. In reality, our Paleolithic ancestors had it much harder eating wild plants. Indigenous hunter gatherers are not scared of their regular plant toxins. In fact, if you look closely at HG practices, you’ll see that every single one goes out of their way to obtain plants with high levels of secondary metabolites.

            Even more carnivorous cultures had their toxins. The Inuit had their highly toxic/poisonous labrador tea (Rhododendron). And they often ate wild dwarf fireweed (Chamerion latifolium) and alpine mountainsorrel (Oxyria digyna), both of which are an antiscorbutic, and both contained a lot of plant toxins. Virtually all of the Masai’s plants are full of toxins. In particular, Acacia Nolitica, is rich in tannins and saponins, which Paleo™ dieters fear. These cultures consumed these plant toxins with nearly every meal.

            It’s beyond obvious that these cultures craved some level of plant toxins and made a concerted effort to consume them on a daily basis. I don’t see why anyone needs to worry about phytic acid when it has been shown to offer hormetic benefits.


          • Duck Dodgers, there is an interesting discussion to be had, I believe, about Reductionist Paleo vs. Wholistic Paleo. Or even diet in general, not just Paleo. In the reductionist paradigm, isolated biochemical reactions appear to be valued over observational health outcomes.

            I found this article on the subject to be excellent:

            I plan on addressing a lot of these points in Pt 2. I hadn’t seen the paper you linked to above, though. Thanks for posting it: “Because antinutrients can also be mitigating agents, they need re-evaluation and perhaps a change in name in the future.”

          • DuckDodgers


            That’s a great article! That was actually one of the articles that got me looking into Paleo™ toxins. The more I looked into it, and the more closely I looked, the more I found that virtually *all* of the wild plants that were gathered by HGs were fairly toxic according to modern Paleo™ standards. I mean, even the wild honey has toxins in it. This isn’t surprising, of course. Plants use phytotoxins to survive in harsh environments and repel pathogens. How anyone can think that non-toxic plants can survive in the harsh wild jungles, savannas, and rainforests, without pesticides and scarecrows, is beyond me. To say that HGs avoided all toxins is to say that they didn’t eat any plants.

            See, the problem with the “avoid all plant toxins” meme is that the entire narrative was perpetuated by low carb authors who were looking for a convenient way to make carbohydrates and plants look unappealing to next to meat. In reality, foods are complex and these toxins and anti-nutrients often have dual roles in our bodies. But in the eyes of low carb authors, 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 made everyone in Paleo™ orthorexic. Nobody noticed that these same compounds have documented benefits.

            I’m sure by now you’re familiar with Tiger Nuts (C. Esculentus)? They were among the first crops to be domesticated by the Egyptians and Oxford researchers recently showed that they were a staple food for early hominids. They are widely known to be safely eaten raw. Baboons snack on them and they even taste like candy. I’ve been telling people about them for months, and now you see them at Whole Foods and inside the pages of Paleo™ magazines. Sounds like the perfect food, right? The only thing is that nobody noticed that they too have a good amount of Paleo™ anti-nutrients in them (oops):

            “In the present study various extracts of Cyperus esculentus… 50% ethanol and acetone extract were found to be rich in phytochemicals such as alkaloids, flavonoids, phenols, tannins, steroids, terpenoids and glycosides”

            Oh dear. Look what I’ve done! 🙂

            Did those early hominids have it all wrong? Did the Egyptians get it wrong? No. More likely modern Paleo™ authors got excited about “anti-nutrients” and backed their low carb narratives into some very rudimentary biochemistry that didn’t add up in the real world of undomesticated plants. WAPF-friendly authors who didn’t consider hormesis (at least at the time), 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 I showed in my earlier comment, scientists now believe the word “anti-nutrients” needs to be revised. Even the Wikipedia entry on tannins is hinting at this:

            “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. As I’ve said before, I’ve been very unimpressed with the hand-wringing over anti-nutrients that have saturated the Paleo™ world. It’s time for people to wake up to the reality that HGs 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 HG 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 from what I’ve seen after taking a closer look, I just don’t buy into the anti-nutrient meme anymore, within the context of hybridized domesticated foods. Traditional preparations are a good blueprint, but I think 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.


            PS — 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.

          • Amanda C

            Very well put! I really appreciate your approach and how you logically present your findings, which is so hard to come by these days.

          • Stephan Guyenet, PhD

            Hi DuckDodgers,

            There is research suggesting that phytic acid can be beneficial in some contexts, and I agree that there’s no reason to avoid all phytic acid. However, I’m not aware of evidence that it’s a hormetic agent. Phytic acid is a chelator and therefore suppresses metal-induced free radical reactions in the gut lumen. This can theoretically be beneficial, and it has been associated with the ability of phytic acid to reduce digestive cancer incidence in animal models, but that doesn’t qualify as hormesis and does not make phytic acid a toxin.

            The same applies to most of the other substances you listed, most of which are digestive enzyme inhibitors. They lead to lower blood glucose and lipids because they inhibit digestive enzymes, causing carbohydrates and fats to be digested more slowly and less completely. This might be a good thing if your problem is excess body fat and glucose intolerance, but digestive efficiency isn’t something you want to mess with too much, and your body communicates that to you using the aversive bitter/astringent flavor of those substances. Many phenolic compounds probably do act as hormetic agents intracellularly.

            I’ve repeatedly said that phytic acid is not a toxin, it’s just a chelator that binds minerals and inhibits their absorption. To my knowledge, the only way it can harm the body in realistic quantities is by reducing mineral absorption. Many traditional cultures throughout the world go to great lengths to reduce phytic acid levels in grains, as you can see in the free FAO publication “Fermented Cereals: A Global Perspective”. Many cultures that rely heavily on grains have accumulated cultural wisdom that tells them the work of fermenting grains is worth the trouble. I suspect part of the reason relates to mineral availability.

            Many cultures throughout the world seek medicinal herbs when they’re ill, and some of these herbs may have hormetic effects. However, I’m not aware that traditional cultures regularly seek out hormetic toxins in their everyday food, with the possible exception of the Masai. To the contrary, cultures like the Hadza and Ache seem to gravitate toward the lowest-toxicity, most readily digestible foods available. They readily adopt white flour and sugar when available, displacing foods higher in phytic acid, polyphenols, other digestive inhibitors and hormetic agents (not saying this is a good thing). It is worth noting however that due to their limited options, they can’t avoid eating a certain amount of polyphenols, digestive enzyme inhibitors, etc. It is possible that in moderation, these play a role in their metabolic health, as is the case with fiber.

          • DuckDodgers

            “However, I’m not aware that traditional cultures regularly seek out hormetic toxins in their everyday food”


            The Inuit were known to drink a lot of labrador tea—it’s fairly poisonous in high doses. There is some debate as to when this practice started, but perhaps it was craved to displace another toxin. The Inuit also regularly seek out those toxic plants I mentioned, above, as antiscorbutics—so they have to eat them with some regularity and they are often a part of their cooking routines whenever available, as I understand it. Peruvians sought out wild potatoes, high in glycoalkaloids and “scary” lectins.

            Virtually all cultures drank (and continue to drink) bark and bush tea extractions which were full of tannins, saponins, and antioxidants. I was under the impression you thought polyphenol antioxidants were “hormetic” given your two posts on the subject.

            Obviously these cultures took steps to reduce toxins—we are talking about *wild* plants with higher toxic profiles after all. However, I suspect that domesticated plant toxins are far less of an issue, particularly when cooked.

            Domesticated legumes seem to be well tolerated by Blue Zoners. Do they soak for extended periods with thermometers and stop-watches? I doubt it. Mayans only soaked their maize/corn as I understand it, not their legumes. Mexicans look at you like you’re crazy if you tell them they need to soak their legumes. They had easy access to lime water from their underground cenotes, which was ideal for soaking maize, but the beans were just cooked up without soaking as I understand it. (I could be wrong, but that’s what I’ve found in my research of references to traditional texts).

            Fermentation? Sure, why not if your diet is extremely high in these foods. However, if I’m not mistaken (and maybe I am) the practice of soaking legumes is a Middle Eastern tradition for very specific legumes. Some authors have extrapolated this to apply for all legumes, but the traditional recipes from Mexico seems to counteract that practice.

            The point being that cultures weren’t orthorexic about their plant toxins. They simply ate what made them feel good and likely took steps to bring toxins down to hormetic levels when necessary. They knew which plants to avoid. Chris McCandless wasn’t so lucky when he tried to survive in the wild. But that’s what you get when you play with wild plants.

            We have it a lot easier with domesticated plants for sure. For instance, our “toxic” potatoes have far less toxins than the wild potatoes eaten by early Peruvians.


          • Stephan Guyenet, PhD

            Hi Duck,

            I think we mostly agree in the big-picture sense.

            I’ve done a lot of reading about the Inuit and I’ve never encountered a description of them drinking tea regularly, but if you have a reliable source then I could believe that at least some Inuit did that. The Inuit were very keen on plant foods such as berries because they were so limited in their environment.

            Regarding your statement “Virtually all cultures drank (and continue to drink) bark and bush tea extractions which were full of tannins, saponins, and antioxidants.” I’m not aware of that. I have never seen anyone refer to the Hadza, Ache, Kitavans, Hiwi, or !Kung drinking teas regularly. In fact, this would have been impossible prior to the invention of cooking pots, which most current HGs only got access to relatively recently. Some pacific Islanders do drink kava, but that’s a drug with reinforcing properties, which explains its appeal. True tea, camellia sinensis, is also a reinforcing drug. So are coffee and yerba mate. People do love drinking tea when there’s a drug in it!

            I do think polyphenols act through a hormetic mechanism, as I stated above (“phenolic compounds”). Phytic acid is not a polyphenol however, it’s inositol hexaphosphate.

            I am a fan of beans, and ironically, they’re actually one of the most “paleo” foods. When they’re soaked prior to cooking, 30-70% of the phytic acid is degraded during the cooking phase. I’m not an expert on Mexican cuisine, but it would surprise me if they didn’t soak their beans traditionally, given that soaked beans cook in 1/3 the amount of time and therefore require 1/3 the amount of firewood to cook. My understanding is that most traditional cultures soaked beans prior to cooking, with some exceptions like split red lentils, but my knowledge is limited in that area. It’s just far more time- and energy-efficient to soak prior to cooking. But things may have changed with the introduction of modern technology like pressure cookers.

            I hope beans are healthy, because if they aren’t, I’m screwed.

          • DuckDodgers


            Yes. We agree on a lot. And I’m a beaner too. As I said, I’m a big fan of your work. And I respect your opinions and expertise. So, this is purely an exercise in refining and comparing notes. Nothing more.

            My apologies. I should not have used “tea” so broadly. More specifically, I have yet to find an indigenous culture that didn’t utilize the leaves, barks, stems/roots of their bushes/trees/weeds in their daily dishes, or decoctions. Furthermore, I have also yet to find a *wild* tree or plant with bark, leaves, stems/roots, or leaves that are free of toxins and anti-nutrients. If you know of any, please let us know. Wild plants require defenses, after all.

            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 principle for treatment of malaria. Baobab bark is 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.


            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 tribe ate toxic plants too…

            “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 honey as tame as you might think. Honey is protected by an army of venomous stingers. And even “stingless honey” has its own defenses:

            “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”


            This actually isn’t that surprising. Honeys sourced near toxic/wild plants are well known to contain toxins:


            As I said before, the Inuit (and Cree) ate a lot of Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) whenever it was available. Fireweed has its fair share of secondary metabolites (anti-nutrients), and would not be considered legal in modern Paleo™. And yet, Canadian indigenous cultures were known to utilize it in their foods and make decoctions from it:

            (Free Download)

            Fireweed is considered “medicinal” as it possesses antimicrobial, antifungal, antiviral and anticancer agents. Like many plants, it’s a useful food to maintain health.

            The Inuit also loved their Alpine mountainsorrel (Oxyria digyna)—it’s considered to be one of their most favorite plant foods. Alpine mountainsorrel is listed in the FDA’s Poisonous Plant Database due to its high levels of oxalates and anthranoids.

            Teas are just one 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 and barks 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. My guess is 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 hormetic effects so easily.

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

            However I don’t see how this applies 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.

            Gut flora also play a role in detoxification. Certainly there are many with wrecked modern guts who can’t handle cooked domesticated potatoes. I can think of a few authors who fit into that category. The ancestors of indigenous tribesmen would be unimpressed at our weak guts.

          • DuckDodgers


            Regarding beans. I’ve looked into this “Mexican paradox” of unsoaked beans. And honest, literally nobody in Mexico seems to soak their beans. There’s just no tradition for it as far as I can tell. Yet, there is a clear and storied tradition for soaking corn/maize.

            I believe only “old” beans need a good soak. In terms of fresher beans, soaking black beans apparently only saves 30 minutes of cooking time and the taste and texture is inferior with soaked beans.

            Many chefs agree:

            Furthermore, soaking is believed to make beans “more digestible” which is code for a reduction of undigestible fibers/sugars that would ordinarily result in gassiness for some.

            Therefore, if your goal is to maximize fiber consumption, and we know many cultures valued their fibers, then there is a benefit to un-soaked beans. Mexicans also retain their cooking water to maximize nutrients from what I understand (where you get the characteristic soupy black gravy from).

            I doubt soaking is bad. While the beans are soaking, bacteria break down those indigestible glycans and I believe some of those bacteria survive as extremophiles, so soaked beans can act as a kind of probiotic. Best bet is probably do rotate between soaked and unsoaked beans.

            But, again, as far as I can tell, the beans that Mexicans often ate did not apparently require soaking.

          • My wife’s family is Mexican, sister-in-law Puruvian. Never in nearly 20 years have I seen anything but dry beans and water, fire ’em up. No salt or other herbs/spices either (salt afterward). It’s remarkable how fast my 80-yr-old mother-in-law gets a pot of pintos tender. She says don’t salt. Makes them purple and takes longer to cook.

            I once told her about soaking beans. “Old American Wives Tale,’ she said, laughing.

            You’re probably in luck, Stephan. I know significant numbers of 80 and 90 yr-old vibrant Mexicans who’ve been eating beans (and tortillas, for that matter, both corne and flour) pretty much every day of their lives.

          • Jane Karlsson

            ‘Many traditional cultures throughout the world go to great lengths to reduce phytic acid levels in grains, as you can see in the free FAO publication “Fermented Cereals: A Global Perspective”.’

            Stephan, you once sent me that FAO publication and I went through it. I found to my surprise that most of the fermented foods were refined, meaning they’d had their bran/germ removed and therefore had no phytic acid. I pointed this out to you and you agreed. But when this topic came up later on your blog, you were saying exactly what you are saying now. I pointed it out again, but still you are saying the same thing.

            You have forgotten or disregarded almost everything I’ve told you over the years. I’ve had to stop commenting on your blog, because of it. Why is it that you listen to your other commenters, but not to me? Duck Dodgers thinks it’s because I ‘rant’ about manganese. But when I ‘ranted’ about magnesium and copper, your response was to write some excellent posts about them. So I don’t think Duck can be right.

          • BungleeayvuhCockleberry

            Energy is NOT anything material, nor a substance, you scientifically illiterate fool. Stop abusing the term. It is a CONCEPT ONLY. MATTER IS ACTUAL STUFF. Calories CANNOT turn imto fat tissue…?. Yes, I AM Razwell and particle physicists LAUGH at you……

          • Jane Karlsson

            Stephan, here’s what I wrote on your blog in November 2013.

            “I remember that paper about macrobiotic kids. Did you realise their brown rice porridge is sieved? Presumably this removes the bran and germ, so it isn’t really brown rice at all. Children raised on nothing but vegetables and non-brown rice are going to have nutritional deficiencies, as observed. But the authors think part of the problem is too much fibre. ‘[reduction of fibre intake] could be achieved by longer continuation of the macrobiotic practice of sieving young children’s food…’

            Earlier in the same comment I wrote this:
            “Hi Stephan
            Yes of course you are right, there are papers showing that phytic acid reduces mineral absorption. However in my literature searches I have found just as many papers saying it doesn’t. Which of them is correct? There are even papers showing it IMPROVES copper absorption in rats, which could be very important because at least here in the UK, veggies have lost most of their copper according to government figures.”

            Phytic acid can inhibit iron absorption, and you think that’s why vegetarians and vegans have ‘iron deficiency’. Do they really have iron deficiency, or do the meat eaters they are compared with have iron overload? Iron doesn’t really get excreted, and overload is common*. Obese people have it, although they are often anemic. ‘Iron deficiency anemia’ might actually be copper deficiency, since copper is needed both for iron absorption and for heme synthesis.

            The idea that iron deficiency is very common comes from a mistake made by anthropologists, who found lesions in the bones of early farmers and thought they were due to iron deficiency as a consequence of eating grains instead of meat. We know now that the lesions could not have been due to iron deficiency.

            *Iron overload has been found in obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, arthritis and others.

        • Jane Karlsson

          “My view is that the #1 nutritional problem in the US is simply overeating.”

          Why do people overeat? Your group showed that obese people have inflammation in the hypothalamus, and moreover that rodents on a high fat diet have inflammation there before they become obese. Meaning, the high fat diet damages the hypothalamus, and that’s what makes them overeat. It would also lower energy expenditure, since the same part of the hypothalamus regulates browning of white fat, according to a paper you tweeted recently.

          It was reported late last year that obese people have iron overload in the brain, including the hypothalamus.

          This explains the inflammation your group found. Obese people also have excess free iron in their urine.

          Iron is only dangerous if it’s unopposed by manganese. A high fat diet can cause precisely this imbalance, because saturated fat increases iron absorption and inhibits that of manganese.

          High fat diets cause diabetes as well as obesity in lab animals. Iron overload is implicated in both, and diabetes due to a high fat diet can be prevented by manganese.

          I should also mention that whole grains are very, very high in manganese. White flour and white rice have had most of it removed and replaced with … iron. Your idea that overeating is the #1 nutritional problem in the US is an oversimplification, to say the least.

      • BungleeayvuhCockleberry

        Calories , A CONCEPT, CANNOT put physical MATTER on a human body. Energy cannot turn into fat tissue. Calories are NOT what builds our tissues. Nor do atoms, which ismwhat fat matter is made out of ever burn up or burn away.

    • Bris Vegas

      Greens are typically a vastly (~10-100x) richer source of micronutrients than tubers weight/weight. A handful of leafy greens is usually ample for nutritional needs.

      kale (100g):

      Boiled potatoes (100g):

  • Marcus Alexander

    A superb and insightful piece. You cut through the noise to provide a crystal clear description (prescription) for a truer Paleo approach. Cheers.

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  • Brian Klein

    In my opinion, this could be a book. It’s a fascinating look at how a person modifies paleo to make it work for their situation. And it might help to get rid of the paleo=meat reputation that paleo has. I often tell people I I eat a plant-based diet. Of course, they assume I’m vegetarian. Anyway, looking forward to the other posts.

  • Madeleine

    I live with chronic fatigue syndrome, and have tweaked my eating many times through the years. Your Plant Paleo is much simpler and more realistic than other nutrient-dense diets I’ve tried.
    I’m tweaking yours to increase anti-inflammatory factors as much as possible, and to avoid foods I can’t handle (eggs and dairy are the big ones).
    I can’t seem to get fiber over 15 grams and protein over 25 grams (on non-meat days) without the addition of 1 ounce each chia and flax….which feels unbalanced.
    I’m enjoying this new challenge.

    • Hi, Madeleine! Great to see you here. If you can’t get your fiber over 15 grams, I’m thinking you have a relatively small appetite? For example, 1 cup of lentils has 16 g of fiber. A single red potato has about 3-1/2 g, and I can usually eat 4 or 5 in between meals, if I get hungry.

      Today, for breakfast—well, my first meal, which was at about noon—I made a bowl of food from leftovers. Let’s see what it works out to for fiber and protein. Measurements are approximate, since I don’t weigh and measure in the kitchen. In parenthesis I have, in grams (fiber, protein):

      – 1 cup of steel cut oats (4, 5.3)

      – 1/2 cup of chickpeas (6, 7.5)

      – 1 cup of shitake mushrooms (3, 2)

      – 6 cups of Organic Power Greens, Costco (6, 6)

      – 1 T nutritional yeast (2, 4)

      – 1 t ground up flax seeds (0.7, 0.5)

      – 1 t ground up sesame seeds (1.1, 1.6)

      – 1/4 cup of green onion (.65, .45)

      – 3 T pepper sauce (0,0)

      – salt and pepper (0,0)

      …and since lunch I had a snack consisting of 5 carrots (7, 2.5).

      That adds up to 30.45 g of fiber and 29.85 g of protein. And for dinner, Amy is making some kind of Thai peanut dish with wild rice, potatoes, veggies, mushrooms and I’m not sure what else, but it’s delicious! 🙂 Plus, I’ll have a good sized salad with it, too. If I’m still hungry, I might snack on some pecans afterward.

      So, all in all, I’m guessing I’ll more than double those fiber and protein numbers for the day.

      One of the biggest things that has helped me to succeed on this approach is to always cook extra grains, beans, and potatoes—and to have them on hand in the refrigerator at all times. That’s what enabled me to throw together that (mighty tasty) breakfast.

      • Madeleine

        By definition CFS is a sedentary illness, so I can’t use up a ton of carbs. I’m also allergic to nightshades, so potatoes are out.

        I bought the wrong thing for salads! My baby lettuce mix has 1g protein and 1g fiber per 3 ounces. That makes a big difference.

        I’m not seeing how you get 30 grams of protein out of your dinner!

        I agree that success depends on having lots of great prepared foods on hand. I spent most of yesterday cooking….now it’s hard to choose what to eat first.

        I sorted out my cupboards this morning and found some Explore Asian mung bean noodles. These are crazy-high in protein and fiber, and are now my safety net while I figure out how to reach my goals with whole foods.

        I’ve been a dinner-for-breakfast person for many years. As I moved from gluten free to grain free to egg and dairy free, I got bored with creating substitutions. I’m not grain free any more, but my meals look pretty similar to each other. Beef stew for breakfast has always been a favorite in winter.

        • Re: using carbs…I went on an hour walk, 91st a pretty quick pace before eating that meal. So I had worked up a healthy appetite. A lot more difficult with CFS, but it would be interesting to see if it affects your energy levels. I know Plant Paleo makes me more energetic.

          The power greens are great. They have baby kale, chard, and spinach. A 5-lb bag, I think, is under $4. The protein and fiber are double that of the baby lettuce mix.

          I was also surprised by the nutritional yeast numbers.

          Re: choosing what to eat first. Great problem to have! 🙂 we started dating our stuff by using masking tape on containers, so I do my best to get to everything before it spoils and the compost bin gets it. 🙂

          • Madeleine

            I am certainly hoping for more energy! I’ll keep you posted.

            I’m still working my elimination diet, and I’ll add nutritional yeast to the list. Or maybe I’ll just stick with the bean pastas.

            I do marathon shopping/cooking days, so everything in the fridge is equally old. Then I go through periodically, culling faster-spoiling foods into the freezer.

  • sautterron

    Questions: all those tribes like Hadza or Australian Aboriginals you want us to follow have 2 features:
    1) They are not known for high IQs or intellectuctual achievments
    2) They are genetically distant from Eurasians.
    Thus how could following their diets assure a proper brain development for a high-IQ Eurasians?

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  • BungleeayvuhCockleberry

    Duck Dodgers and CarbSane are not scientifically literate. Energy is NOT a thing. It is a CONCEPT, A PROPERTY of things. Fat tissue is MATTER. Energy , by itself, is NOT ANYTHING. Energy is MERELY a very abstract mathematical CONCEPT. Fire is NOT energy. Fire is a cloud of hot particles that HAVE energy. Energy is extremely subtle and difficult concept and topic.

    Calories, a CONCEPT CANNOT become fat tissue, which is MATTER.

  • Bris Vegas

    I note that none of the “paleo diet” experts have PhD level qualifications in human nutrition from a leading nutrition school. Most are complete amateurs with no scientific training at all (eg Denise Minger) . The handful of real scientists are all from completely unrelated fields or (at best) work in fields marginally related to human nutrition. [Physicians are not scientists and have almost zero knowledge of nutrition.]

    I have also noticed that virtually all the leading PhD qualified experts in human nutrition recommend low fat plant-based diets with extremely limited meat and dairy intake. They universally regard the Paleo diet as complete nonsense.

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