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Plant Paleo Part 2: Grains, Legumes, Fiber, and Antinutrients

Plant Paleo Part 2: Grains, Legumes, Fiber, and Antinutrients
Angelo Coppola

In Part 1 of this series, I suggested that:

(1) a single set of Paleolithic-inspired dietary rules is not only futile, but entirely misses the point of the actual Paleolithic example, which shows us vast diet diversity amongst human groups; and that (2) the Paleo paradigm includes a wide array of whole-food diets consisting of various macronutrient ratios and plant-to-animal ratios.

This article will show that a dietary approach with plenty of whole fiber-containing foods, including grains and legumes, is consistent with both the evolutionary clues and the scientific evidence.

Paleolithic Consumption of Grains & Legumes

The common Paleo narrative tells us that humans did not eat grains or legumes prior to 10,000 years ago when we suddenly started farming and cultivating them during the agricultural revolution. This, according to the narrative, marked the end of Paleo Eden and the beginning of Neolithic Toil & Suffering.

Yet, modern archaeological evidence suggests some grain consumption by pre-humans as far back as 4 million years ago and by various prehistoric human groups as far back as 105,000 years ago. Sure, there are no smoking guns: no Lentil Food Trucks buried in Middle Eastern caves, no home videos of hunter-gatherers eating barley cakes as they adventurously emigrated out of humanity’s East African cradle.

However, taken all together, recent findings do suggest grains and legumes played some part in the stone-age diet.

Mozambique ~105,000 years ago

In 2007, Julio Mercader, a Canadian archaeologist, discovered the earliest known evidence of potential human grain consumption while exploring a cave in Mozambique. Dozens of tools were found that point to humans using and processing grains about 105,000 years ago.

A large assemblage of starch granules has been retrieved from the surfaces of Middle Stone Age stone tools from Mozambique, showing that early Homo sapiens relied on grass seeds starting at least 105,000 years ago, including those of sorghum grasses.

Mozambican Grass Seed Consumption During the Middle Stone Age; Science 18 December 2009: Vol. 326 no. 5960 pp. 1680-1683; DOI: 10.1126/science.1173966

Those wild sorghum grasses, by the way, were the ancestors of what is now the main cereal crop in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, Africans mill it, make it into porridge, bake it, and even use it to brew beer. It’s important, to say the least, and the Mozambican discoveries suggest they have a long, long history with the plant.

Traces of other plant foods were found in the cave, too: African wine palm, pigeon peas (a legume), wild oranges, false banana, and star grass (aka the African Potato).

The Neanderthals of Spain – 40-50,000 years ago

Up until very recently, Neanderthals have been portrayed as our stronger, larger brained, carnivorous, extinct, taxonomical siblings. Assumptions about their diet were based on faunal assemblage analyses and stable isotope studies, but these methods tend to overestimate animal-based food consumption and underestimate the amount of plant-based food in the diet.

In just the last 4 years or so, several studies have been published showing starch grains on the dental remains of neanderthals. At the Spy I & II sites in Belgium and the Shanidar III site in Iraq, starch granules from legumes, dates, and wild barley were found in the roughly 40,000-year old dental plaque of Neanderthals.

Now, based on this new evidence, archaeologists believe that Neanderthals ate a wide array of plant foods including tubers and grass seeds, in both warm and cold climates. A shadow of doubt is being cast on the theory that dietary deficiencies caused their extinction.

At the 50,000-year old El Salt site in Alicante, Spain, more evidence has been discovered. Here they found not only evidence of grain consumption…but they were cooking it, too. Evaluation of fecal matter at the site helped to verify that the Neanderthals were in fact ingesting their porridge.

Think about this for a moment. Neanderthals were cooking barley 40,000 to 50,000 years ago.

This certainly suggests that humans could have done the same. Humans were reproducing with Neanderthals around that time; it’s not so hard to speculate about them sharing meals and/or technology, too, considering they were sharing DNA.

Italy, Russia, Czech Republic ~30,000 years ago

In a study published in 2010, archaeologists reported tools like grindstones and pestle grinders were found at sites in Italy, Russia, and Czech Republic—all dating back to about 28,000 years ago. These tools were covered with traces of grain, mostly from starchy cattails and ferns.

The samples originate from a variety of geographical and environmental contexts, ranging from northeastern Europe to the central Mediterranean, and dated to the Mid-Upper Paleolithic. The three sites suggest that vegetal food processing, and possibly the production of flour, was a common practice, widespread across Europe from at least ~30,000 y ago. It is likely that high energy content plant foods were available and were used as components of the food economy of these mobile hunter–gatherers.

Thirty thousand-year-old evidence of plant food processing
PNAS vol. 107 no. 44 Anna Revedin, 18815–18819, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1006993107

Archaeologists believe the grains were ground up into flours and used for baking flat breads. In order to extract the full nutritive value from these grains, they would have had to have been lightly processed and cooked.

Does this sound like a lot to expect from our Sapiens relatives of 30,000 years ago? Well, paleoanthropologist Bruce Hardy suspects flour-making dates even further back. He says,

This is not isolated to a small group of people. It’s a regular part of subsistence for humans.

But would there have been enough wild vegetation to really make it worth our ancestors’ while economically?

Unlike Neolithic humans, who domesticated and cultivated grains such as wheat and barley, these hunter–gatherers relied on wild vegetation. However, many of the plants found by Longo and her team were widely distributed, offering a reliable, even nutritious source of food, she says. For example, once ground and cooked, the cattail grains contain nearly as much energy as domesticated cereals, the researchers calculate.

Israel – 23,000 years ago

Ohalo II, in Israel, is perhaps the most famous archaeological site with regard to grains. It’s located on the southwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and it provides rather definitive proof that humans have been processing and consuming grains for at least 20,000 years.

Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet™ says:

To my mind, the Ohalo II data still represents the best earliest evidence for grain consumption by hominins.

Grain oven at Ohalo II

Grain oven at Ohalo II

This Upper Paleolithic site remained buried in silt until 1989. After it was unearthed, archaeologists found 24 different species of wild grass seeds. Only two of the 24 species of grass were found on the grinding stones, though—wild barley and wheat. Unlike the other wild grasses, wheat and barley must be pounded or ground up to obtain maximum nutrition from them.

Not only did people at the site apparently mill grain, but a simple hearth oven suggests that they may even have baked dough made from the flour.

“Grain starches from [this] ‘Ice Age food processor’ confirm that people were using species that later became cultivated crops,” says paleoecologist Mark Bush of the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. The finding is “clearly a breakthrough” in establishing a time frame for wild grain processing…

American Association for the Advancement of Science — Ice Age Cereal

Incidentally, no starch from tubers or roots were found embedded in the stone, which suggests the site was used exclusively for grain processing and preparation.

UPDATE 07/25/2015: The Origin of Cultivation and Proto-Weeds, Long Before Neolithic Farming — http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0131422

This study suggests, based on evidence at the Ohalo II site, the cultivation of plants began 11 millennia prior to the agricultural revolution. This pushes small-scale farming back to around 25,000 years ago—or two-and-a-half times further back than the current mainstream Paleo narrative.

Fiber & the Gut Microbiome

Based on the last several years of gut microbiome research, clearly, one could devote a lifetime to studying it and the role various dietary fibers and other prebiotics play in microbial health—and human health, by extension. This section is obviously not an exhaustive analysis of the relationship between us and our gut bugs, but it does presuppose the importance of this relationship.

With that said…

Prebiotics in Mother’s Milk

I doubt many would argue against awarding the Perfect Human Food trophy to breast milk—well, perfect for newborns and infants anyway. It is universally regarded as the ideal food for our children who are growing rapidly, both physically and mentally, during the earliest stages of life after birth.

After lactose (a specific sugar) and lipids (all the fats), oligosaccharides (short chains of sugars) are the third most abundant component of human milk. There are actually over 200 different types of known human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs).

Infants digest a minor portion of HMOs present in the breast milk, while a fraction passes undigested through the intestine. Different researchers have confirmed that HMOs are resistant to enzymatic hydrolysis from intestinal brush border membrane and pancreatic juices. We hypothesize that, given the high concentration of oligosaccharides in human milk, these polymers must have an important role in the well-being of the baby, particularly when considering the evolutionary forces that have shaped the contents of human milk—to ensure the least energy burden on the mother and the greatest survival benefit for the infant.

Consumption of Human Milk Oligosaccharides by Gut-related Microbes, Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry

So why does human milk contain all of these HMOs, both in quantity and variety, when the infants only digest a minor portion? Well, among other things, these HMOs are also prebiotics—food for the infant’s gut bacteria. It turns out that a beneficial bacteria for newborns, Bifidobacterium infantis, thrives on these oligosaccharides.

Our mothers not only fed us well, but they provided nourishment for our nascent gut bacteria colonies, too.

The Fiber Hypothesis

Back in the 1970’s a new dietary theory emerged known as The Fiber Hypothesis. Scientists were beginning to notice a correlation between consuming high amounts of fiber and positive health outcomes, but one of the fathers of the hypothesis was disappointed by the reductionist interpretation of his ideas:

More than 30 y ago, Trowell surmised that a diet rich in whole grains protected against coronary heart disease (CHD). Trowell believed that the protective effect of grains was in the whole grain and was disappointed that his hypothesis was interpreted as a “fiber hypothesis” rather than as a “high-fiber food hypothesis.”

Paleolithic Fiber Intake

In the summer of 2005, Dr. Boyd S. Eaton—grandfather of Paleo and author of The Paleolithic Prescription— delivered the opening lecture at the annual meeting of The Nutrition Society. His lecture was called, The ancestral human diet: what was it and should it be a paradigm for contemporary nutrition?

Calculation of ancestral dietary fibre intake, based on a 50: 50 animal–vegetable subsistence ratio (as opposed to the 1985 estimate of 35: 65), suggests an average total fibre intake of >100 g/d.

Today’s Adequate Intake of dietary fiber for adults may seem paltry by comparison at about 14 g per 1,000 calories per day—that’s roughly 25 to 38 g/day for women and men, respectively. This potentially low bar represents a level that 97% of Americans do not achieve. The average for Americans is just 15 g/day.

Fiber Intake of the Hadza

In a recent 2-part episode of The ABC’s Catalyst, called Gut Reaction, they took a look at the interaction between the food we eat and the bacteria that live inside the human gut. Among several others, the program featured Dr. Jeff Leach (Ph.D. in anthropology), who is also the founder of the Human Food Project. He is perhaps now most well known for having undergone a fecal transplant donated by a Hadzabe.

An average person in the west—man or woman—is consuming less than 20 grams of fiber a day. And, to put that into an evolutionary perspective, 6-month to 1-year old Hadza kids are eating 50 to 200 grams of fiber a day. Every day. And they do this throughout life. —Dr. Jeff Leach, Gut Reaction Pt.1

[Note: I highly recommend watching Gut Reaction. It covers many of the recent areas of study that I’ve been following in the news and literature, including resistant starch. The program contains a good balance of plain language and science speak to be both entertaining and informative for the average layperson. Not only can you watch the entire program online, but several ancillary interviews are also included at the link above.]

While researchers are making great strides in all areas of microbial research, Leach perhaps puts it best when it comes to summing it up in an actionable step for the public at large (from Gut Reaction, Pt. 1):

What’s lacking in our Western diet is dietary fiber. So, if people can consume a larger quantity and diversity of plants—between 25 and 30 species of plants per week—by default, you’re going to be eating a lot larger quantity. And we know that diversity and quantity will promote an increased diversity of bacteria in the gut. At the end of the day, probiotics are fine, but the thing that will most benefit you is to eat a larger quantity and diversity of dietary fiber, which means eating more whole plants.

Antinutrients

It is quite easy to spin a narrative about a diet, a food, or a food component. And therefore, as you can imagine, narratives like these are an especially useful tool for those who sell diets, supplements, so called superfoods, processed foods, and such.

It is  their marketing teams’ bread and butter.

On the one hand, the information they use to weave their tales can be factual. But on the other hand, those facts can also be so far removed from a real-world context that they aren’t truly useful or miss the forest for the trees.

One of the most popular arguments against the consumption of grains and legumes is that these foods contain antinutrients (like phytic acid, lectins, and saponins). The phytic acid in grains and legumes, for example, is characterized by its ability to bind to minerals such as calcium, zinc, magnesium, and iron, preventing their absorption by the human body.

This can potentially lead to real problems for individuals who are barely scraping by on the nutrition front or whose diets are largely dominated by grains and legumes with little else of nutritional value (like animal- and plant-based whole foods). This issue is resolved by eating a nutrient-dense diet, along with the grains, legumes, potatoes, nuts, and any other foods with anti-nutrient properties.

But why bother?

Well, for example, phytic acid is considered by many to be a health-promoting phytonutrient (phyto=plant). It is a natural antioxidant, which is especially effective in preventing iron from forming free radicals. Phytic acid may have anti-cancer effects, and the researchers behind this study even go so far as to suggest that we consider it an essential nutrient or vitamin.

All these facts of normal physiological presence of [phytic acid] in our body the level of which fluctuates with intake, association of an [phytic acid]-rich diet with low incidence of several diseases and vice versa, and finally reversal of some of these conditions, at least in part, by [phytic acid] supplementation strongly argue in favour of its inclusion as an essential nutrient or perhaps a vitamin.

Other research suggests that phytic acid can have cholesterol and blood-sugar lowering effects.

It is also worth mentioning that in Blue Zones and Longevity Villages around the world—where we find the highest concentrations of very-long-lived humans—grain and legume consumption is universal.

Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat—mostly pork—is eaten on average only five times per month. Serving sizes are 3-4 oz., about the size of a deck of cards.

BlueZones.com — Power 9

If beans are filled with dangerous toxins, these centenarians appear to have missed the memo or possess some sort of bean immunity. But they’re not the only ones benefiting from legume consumption. In fact, it is quite challenging to find any published articles implicating beans, lentils, or peas in poor health outcomes.

Based on the present ancestral clues and scientific evidence, I find it very difficult to believe the (currently) standard Paleo™ narrative about legumes. I find it far more likely that what Paleo™ considers to be phytochemical toxins are instead protective and/or hormetically beneficial in the proper dose.

But the underlying thrust contradicts assumptions about the need to protect oneself from hardship. Certain kinds of difficulty, it turns out, may be required for health. That’s because health doesn’t result solely from the instructions your genome contains, but from your relationship with the wider world. Resilience isn’t completely inherent to your body; it’s cultivated by outside stimuli. And some of those stimuli just happen to be mildly noxious, slightly stressful chemicals in plants.

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

Wrapping Up

It is apparent from the archaeological evidence that at the very least our ancient ancestors had a good deal of experience with grains and legumes prior to eventually cultivating them. And, frankly, this makes me feel a lot better about the sapiens in our species’ label (homo sapiens translates to wise man). I mean there’s plenty of crazy to go around, but can you imagine picking random plants from the forest to start your garden?

Me either. And that’s not what happened 10,000 years ago. Rather, our ancestors began cultivating plants they were familiar with and that they presumably already valued.

Notably, all of the examples of prehistoric grain and legume consumption in this article—which range from 4 million years ago to 23,000 years ago—were discovered and published after 2002, which would be after the publication of Loren Cordain’s The Paleo Diet™: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat.

Does this evidence conclusively point to regular consumption of these foods in large amounts? Unknown. But, I do strongly suspect further discoveries will continue to point to our ancestors’ familiarity with and consumption of grains and legumes.

Much less controversial is our species’ proclivity for fiber consumption. While it certainly appears to be the case that humans can survive on low-fiber diets, it’s unlikely that this is ideal for most of us.

Are current levels of under 20 grams/day optimal? Likely not.

The Hadza, like many other modern hunter-gatherer groups, provide a convincing example that shows, at the very least, high-fiber consumption is not detrimental to health. Their natural dietary pattern is aligned with widely accepted recommendations to eat a diet that is high in fiber and whole foods.

Hopefully, I’m not painting The Paleo Diet™ or other popular Paleo diets as being anti-fiber. However, most adherents would probably be surprised by how low their levels of fiber intake are in practice. Even without elevating whole grains and legumes to staple status—which I avoid with my own dietsmall portions of each provide an easy way to healthfully add nutrients, fiber, and seemingly beneficial phytochemicals to one’s diet, even if some of the compounds present in these foods sound undesirable because they are called antinutrients.

The dose makes the poison.

It is apparent that the scientific community does not regard all phytochemicals with antinutrient properties as being necessarily bad for human health. In fact, some even suggest that we change the name of some antinutrients to more clearly represent their role in the diet:

Antinutrients commonly found in plant foods have both adverse effects and health benefits. For example, phytic acid, lectins, phenolic compounds (tannins), saponins and enzyme (amylase and protease) inhibitors have been shown to reduce the availability of nutrients and cause growth inhibition, while phytoestrogens and lignans have been linked with infertility problems. However, 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.

Not only is it OK to be wrong, but being OK with being wrong, helps us become more right over time.

Heck, we may even be wrong about cavemen living in caves. Is it so hard to believe, then, that we are still piecing together the clues and evidence that are helping us to paint the picture of what healthful human diets look like? And, healthful human diets is intentionally plural here.

In science it often happens that scientists say, “You know, that’s a really good argument, my position is mistaken,” and then they actually change their minds, and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. —Carl Sagan

This isn’t to say that mainstream flavors of Paleo™ or The Paleo Diet™ are wrong or unhealthful. Not at all. But, I firmly believe they’re not for everyone—at least not for a lifetime. Some gurus who beat their chests the loudest, claiming they maintain the most orthodox approach, tell us they continue to suffer, or even start suffering, from overweight, obesity, autoimmune diseases, fatigue, brain fog, etc.

If you’re in that boat…should you continue to put up with it for the sake of belief in a narrative or belonging to a tribe?

Just as our ancestors have always done, I would rather look at my present food environment and make the most of it. For me, making the most of it means eating in such a way that adds the most years to my life, but far more importantly, adds the most life to my years.

Right now, I believe Plant Paleo is doing that for me, and this approach also appears to be on the right side of most of the current dietary and health research, too.

Nutritionismor nutrition reductionism—analyzing foods from the perspective of discreet components—has its place. It’s nice not worrying about scurvy, after all. However, the reductionist view of grains and legumes in the Paleo approach may be leading some people astray. Let’s not ignore the new evolutionary clues, the scientific evidence (including epidemiology), nor the value of simple, whole foods.

So what do you think…do grains and legumes have a place in some people’s Paleo diets? Share your thoughts in the comments.

UPDATE—FURTHER READING

As new research comes in, I will post links to articles and/or studies here. If enough are collected, or if any particularly interesting discoveries are made, I’ll write another article on the topic.

If you would like to be notified when new articles are published on this blog, please subscribe here. I’ll never, ever send you spam—just the articles published on Humans Are Not Broken. If you don’t like the emails, you can unsubscribe instantly at any time. If you prefer, you can also follow along on Facebook, Twitter, Feedly, or with your favorite RSS reader.

If you’re new to the blog, have a look at what Humans Are Not Broken means. Then, you might want to take a look at The Plant Paleo Diet to see how I eat to support my body transformation. The reasoning behind the diet can be found here and here. And if you’re into podcasts, you’ll probably really enjoy Latest in Paleo, which looks at the latest health news in a uniquely entertaining way.

  • PeeWee

    Really enjoying this plant paleo series, I follow more of a scavenger paleo where I eat lots of plants one day ,more meat the next day ,more balanced the next day, nothing overly complicated. Avoid the narstiest modern processed food eat plenty of organs/meat, fish, nuts , some eggs and veggies.

    I don’t exclude any well prepared food, even bread but it’s not a staple.

    Will definitely give plant paleo a solid 30 days to see how it affects me.

    • It sounds like your sporadic eating style is great, and very likely matches up with at least some ancestral eating patterns.

      I’d love to hear how your 30-day attempt goes. One of the ‘cons’ of Plant Paleo is that for those who are not used to cooking without oil, it can be a challenge. If you like tasty, recipe-style foods (as opposed to simple, single-ingredient foods), I highly recommend checking out the recipes at http://www.forksoverknives.com. They are excellent, no oil, and it’s very easy to add a small portion of meat or an egg to them or to substitute in some bone broth for water or veggie broth.

  • Will

    Great stuff, Angelo. I’m going to have to check out “Gut Reaction,” I haven’t really been following the gut microbiome research too closely thus far.

    Could you elaborate a bit on why whole grains and legumes shouldn’t be dietary staples? Blue Zones do seem to get along well on staples like these, as you mentioned.

    And +1 to an article explaining the rationale for very low levels of meat intake. I think it would be interesting.

    • Man

      Hey Will,

      Nikoley at freethenimal.com is about to publish a long article from the Duck Dodgers regarding iron fortification in all processed foods in the US / UK / Canada. The main difference between mainland Europe and the US is that flours are not fortified with irons and extra B vitamins. So if you live in the US and you don’t take extra measures to avoid iron buildup over time, you have good reasons to be worried about grains (in the form of processed flours) or any other food item with added iron to it. Look at the French: eating twice as much the same wheat as in the US, not nearly as screwed up …

      • DuckDodgers

        We are putting the finishing touches on the article at the moment and Richard is editing now. We are very excited about this upcoming post as we’ve been able to explain most modern chronic diseases and all dietary paradoxes by looking at the disruption of iron homeostasis in the diet. We have even been able to explain the commonality of all longevity diets, right down to individual idiosyncrasies. The concept is fairly groundbreaking and we hope readers will see it that way once it’s finished. In many ways, the concepts in our post will go well beyond what is found in any diet book.

        Up until now, all dietary gurus have engaged in macronutrients wars. However, all macronutrient-based arguments are easily debunked by dietary paradoxes (French, Masai, Hunza, Kitava, MButi, Hadza, Blue Zones, etc.). Yet, the preservation of iron homeostasis explains all of these paradoxes. All cultures with notable health issues have a disruption of iron homeostasis. Dietary gurus have been oblivious to this. But that will hopefully change once the article has been published and people begin spreading the word.

        As far as anti-nutrients go, I can provide one key point that we discovered. Antinutrients play a dual role that varied from culture to culture—which is where the confusion must have come from…

        • Cultures that had limited access to meat took steps to reduce antinutrients.

        • Cultures that had unlimited access to meat took active steps to consume antinutrients.

        • Cultures that had moderate access to meat didn’t pay much attention to them one way or the other.

        That’s the riddle of antinutrients.

        Why did they do this? Because the flip side of antinutrients is that they can act as antioxidants. Phytic acid binds to excess iron in the gut and in the blood. In fact, this appears to be one of the reasons why persorb fibers into our bloodstream—to bind free iron. This is why the term “antinutrients” is antiquated and should be revised.

        Where it gets quite comical is that some Paleo™ authors have actually recommended IP-6 pills (purified phytic acid) to people who have too much excess iron in their blood—a problem that is more common in modern societies. Keep in mind that iron just accumulates in our bodies as we age and we have no active mechanism to secrete excess. (Hookworms, were ubiquitous before modern sanitation, used to keep our iron stores low).

        There’s something more than a little ironic about a Paleo™ author recommending phytic acid in a pill to lower iron stores.

        Iron intakes in the US, UK and Candan have increased dramatically since WWII, thanks to fortification initiatives and increased meat consumption. If there was ever a time people needed to start consuming phytic acid, it would be now.

        • Man

          I can’t wait for this article! Thanks for writing and publishing this “for free”. It is about time people stop fantasising about macronutrients / paleo / primal, vilifying entire categories of foods (legumes, grains, even dairy, etc) and get real about nutrition.

    • Hi, Will. I think you’ll enjoy gut reaction. It’s been out for a while now, but it’s still current. I think the buzz around gut flora research is deserved. In fact, it is/was a major driver in my experimentation with—and now adoption of—Plant Paleo.

      Regarding grains and legumes as staples, what it really comes down to for me is having enough room in my belly for all of the foods I want to eat. What a luxury, right?

      First let’s define staple (Wikipedia):
      A staple food, sometimes simply referred to as a staple, is a food that is eaten routinely, and in such quantities that it constitutes a dominant portion of a standard diet in a given population, supplying a large fraction of the needs for energy-rich materials and generally a significant proportion of the intake of other nutrients as well.

      I do eat grains and legumes routinely; probably daily for the last several months. But I mentally keep them each to under about 250 calories/day, or 500 calories/day total. That’s about 20-25% of daily calories, not the dominant portion of my diet.

      This leaves me room for the larger amounts of greens, vegetables, mushrooms, and tuber tubers that want, along with occasional animal-based foods, too.

      With that said, I’m still a fan of the Paleo narrative which is built on two main pillars: the evolutionary example and the scientific evidence (there just needs to a major reboot / update of both pillars). I would say the evolutionary example, based on current evidence, is a diet that includes grains and legumes, but not as staples. There’s a far stronger evolutionary case for plant-based staples being tubers, nuts, and fruit (seasonally). More evidence of grain and legume consumption could easily sway me on this, though.

      The modern scientific evidence for whole grains as a staple is pretty good, and I especially like steel cut oats and whole barley. I would still highly recommend that people avoid processed grains, even processed whole grains to a certain extent, but especially heavily processed and/or enriched grains. And of course, make sure the remainder of the diet is nutrient-dense.

      • Jane Karlsson

        Hi Angelo
        “More evidence of grain and legume consumption could easily sway me on this, though.”

        What do you think about the Hunza of 100 years ago? Their staple was whole wheat flour, which should have ruined their health but didn’t. They were spectacularly healthy. This is so embarrassing for Paleo people they never mention Sir Robert McCarrison, who was the Hunza’s doctor for 7 years and did experiments on rats showing that their health was due to their diet and not their genes.

        Paleo people try to say ‘modern wheat is different’, or ‘the Hunza were never healthy’, or ‘McCarrison’s experiments were not good ones’. None of this is true.

        Please Angelo, write a post about McCarrison’s work and the Hunza. It really needs to be done.

        • I don’t know a heck of a lot about the Hunza yet. My only exposure to them so far has been what I read in the John Robbins book, ‘Healthy at 100.’

          In that book, the Hunza are featured prominently. They are portrayed as eating a plant-based diet that is heavy in wheat. They favor traditional methods for growing their foods and are skeptical when it comes to GMOs and pesticides. They walk a lot, much of it up and down steep hills. They swim in frigid waters.

          Robbins says (like Buettner) that their longevity is a bit exaggerated, because the culture values elders; and so the older one is the better s/he is treated—which provides the motivation for exaggerating. However, it is clear that they possessed spectacular health and the best longevity estimates are still high.

          A mutual friend recommended that I read, The Wheel of Health, by Guy Wrench. I’ve gotten a hold of it, and it is at the top of my reading list right now. I should be able to finish it this month.

          Would it be all right if I email you when I begin to learn more about the Hunza and McCarrison, should I have any questions?

          Thanks for the suggestion regarding making them a blog-article topic. I think that’s a fantastic idea, and I think I’m up to the challenge. Feel free to send me additional reading materials if you have them handy.

          • Jane Karlsson

            Yes of course, you can email me any time.

            The Wheel of Health is absolutely my favourite book. I just love it. There isn’t anything else I would recommend actually. You could read McCarrison’s lectures, but they might make you go to sleep.

            I can’t wait for your post. I don’t know of anyone who could do a better job of this than you.

  • Man

    Hey Angelo, what you wrote should actually be obvious but for some reason, the high fat low carb Atkins style narrative has highjacked the paleo sphere for a few years now (thanks to guys like G.Taubes, etc). Look at what the Primal Blueprint used to look like way back, or even the Perfect Health Diet, the Archevore Diet (which switched to higher carbs at some point), etc, etc. Even the wheat-belly diet is borderline ketogenic (and for what reason ? none, same taubesian narrative …). Some of them are still going strong and promote ketosis as a metabolic steady state, with adherents to these diets ruining themselves in keto-sticks and blood glucose-meters, even when they had no need of them in the first place. This brand of paleo should be called the fart-free diet (gut flora shrinking), and I’d be worried about the long term effects (especially iron overload …).

    • “The Fart-free Diet” has a nice ring to it. 🙂 Valid point, though. My experience with low-carb Paleo was that I would maybe pass gas a couple of times a day, usually at night. Now—and I hope this isn’t TMI—but the frequency has gone up a bit (nothing that’s out of hand, lol), and fortunately there is almost never any odor. Bowl movements are very regular with an ‘earthy’ odor.

      The reluctance to actually update these diets is surprising, especially in the face of all of the new evidence.

  • PaleoFast

    Dear Angelo really excellent piece. As well as eating basic healthful foods my motto so to speak is not to have a staple! This pushes towards greater variety as our pre agriculture ancestors who although may have had favourites (don’t we all) they did not and mostly could not have staples. One never knew what would end up on that plate! ;-)… er well I am sure they did not have plates but you get my drift!

    • There’s definitely something appealing to this approach for me. The Jeet Kune Diet. I suspect most people would do really well on this approach as long as 95%+ of the foods that end up in the diet are whole, recognizable foods.

  • Teo

    I agree that people ate grains way before 10,000 years ago. It makes sense that they started to cultivate whatever they were used to already for a long time. However, that does not mean that food was preferred by them. It also does not mean it is the healthiest. How about nutrient density? I think for beans there is a good case to include them in the diet since they are very nutrient dense in certain nutrients and they are stellar in fibres. I don’t see the same for grains. They are not particularly rich in anything…. I have a hard time replacing 7 or 8 cups of vegetables with one cup of grains for the same calorie count. To me grains are a food to eat if your budget does not allow for eating more nutrient dense foods. Also, it drives me crazy when people call flours whole-grain foods. The flour is not a whole food, no matter if the grain was whole or not. It is processed a lot. Same apply to any flour, not just wheat. Coconut flour is not a whole food.

    • Hi, Teo. You are absolutely right. I know at least some hunter-gatherers are disappointed when they come home empty handed from the hunt and have to eat tubers while they imagine a nice chunk of fatty meat on their plates.

      For many hunter-gatherers, the food environment dictates that they cannot eat their preferred foods, and must settle for their fall-backs (often fall-backs are the staples, because they’re so plentiful and reliable).

      From a reductionist view point, there are definitely better foods than grains and legumes. And the evolutionary example, so far, shows us that grains were eaten, but not necessarily in very large portions.

      However, when you look at the available research on a food like steel-cut oats, there certainly appears to be a cardiovascular benefit from the food. I’m not sure if it comes from antinutrients, nutrients, the fiber, or some combination of all the above—but it appears to be real.

      Also, beans are complemented well by grains. Cultures around the world eat them in combination, providing a complete spectrum of amino acids. Also, the Blue Zone correlations are decently strong, too.

      For me, when I’m already eating huge amounts of greens and vegetables, a little bit of grain is a nice culinary addition. Perhaps its the Neanderthal DNA in me, but I really enjoy barley in soups and bean dishes and such.

      Oh, and I couldn’t agree more about calling whole grain flour a whole grain. Nope, it’s not. But I do occasionally eat wraps made from sprouted grains and legumes, as well as tortillas made from nixtamalized corn. The only place where coconut flour (or coconut oil for that matter) is a whole food is in a Paleo cookbook.

      • Teo

        Thanks Angelo. I think your approach to food makes a lot of sense. I also try to eat only whole foods. After your first podcast about plant paleo I changed the dressing on my salad from olive oil based to avocado+water based. I put in some balsamic vinegar, cumin, turmeric and pepper and it tastes great. I enjoy your podcast very much. You are doing great work.

    • Will

      Recently I came across a blog post from a dietitian who pointed out that whole grains generally contain more fiber *per serving* than vegetables. Since you have stomach room for only a limited amount of food, incorporating some whole grains (by displacing vegetables) would make it easier to boost fiber intake.

      http://bitemywords.com/2013/08/26/another-example-of-why-nutrition-advice-should-come-from-nutrition-professionals/

      • Teo

        Will, I agree with you if you have a small stomach :-)… I can easily find room in my stomach for 12-15 cups of vegetables every day. And for me the veggies are the fast food. I eat them raw, boiled or sauteed and it is so quick. The idea of soaking, sprouting whole grains turns me off. I do eat rice a few times per month. And beans a few times per month. And my daily fiber intake is 50-75g without grains or beans.

        • Will

          15 cups of vegetables a day? Wow – curious how much are you able to eat in one sitting? I’m unable to eat anywhere near that amount of volume. If I ate that much food, I’d have to be grazing all day long.

          • Teo

            I guess I am a freak 🙂 I skip breakfast, eat 8 cups of raw veggies for lunch with 3 boiled eggs and some protein and the rest of veggies cooked for dinner. I need one hour at lunch to eat and one hour at dinner. I add high fiber foods on salads like sprouted chia, acai, psyllium, kelp. I also eat more fiber from bee pollen, roasted chicory and dandelion roots, raw cacao beans, seeds and nuts. Macronutrient ratio is 55-60% fat, 20% protein, 20-25% carbs. I can call my diet lowish carb high fiber :-). Most fat is from eggs, avocado, seeds and nuts.

    • DuckDodgers

      “…beans…are very nutrient dense in certain nutrients and they are stellar in fibres. I don’t see the same for grains. They are not particularly rich in anything…. I have a hard time replacing 7 or 8 cups of vegetables with one cup of grains for the same calorie count”

      Well, I hate to point out that you’ve contradicted yourself in your own sentence. Grains are rich in calories (you even said so yourself), and that is the very definition of nutrient density. Grains are also high in dietary fiber, and antioxidants, and rich in certain micronutrients as well (magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and selenium), amino acids like lysine, and vitamins (including niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin E). Freshly ground flours, which are not easy to find these days, preserve virtually all of these nutrients. Modern machine-ground flours, not so much.

      Secondly, it should at least be noted that indigenous cultures didn’t waste their time eating buckets of low-calorie plants. Doing so would actually promote a calorie deficit. They would burn more calories gathering plants than eating them. So, they actually couldn’t do this. The desire for high-calorie plants is explained very well here:

      http://www.eattheweeds.com/finding-caloric-staples/

      Humans have a very close relationship with grasslands. One terrific documentary was shown on the BBC. “Human Planet: Episode 6 – Grasslands” which documented this close symbiotic relationship that remains in many indigenous cultures today. Unfortunately the video is no longer available online.

      There is also a new book, “The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History” that just came out. You can find a preview here:

      https://books.google.com/books?id=BASCBgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover

      I don’t think it makes sense to praise legumes and demonize grains. They both have a long history in human nutrition.

      Cheers

      • Teo

        DuckDodgers, you are right, grains are rich in calories. And yes, it makes sense that our ancestors looked for calorie density. When I said nutrients I meant esential nutrients. My approach to nutrition is to eat such a way so I don’t need any supplements. I made a spreadsheet with all essential nutrients and all foods that contain these nutrients. I also aded RDA and the toxicity limits of the nutrients. Then I filter by density to find out what are the best foods to make as staples in my diet. From my calculations, making grains as staple leads you to nutrient deficiencies. However, using beans as a replacement for some of the meat can work very well. Any nutrient you take, grains are very poor compared with vegetables, fruits, nuts, meats and beans. For example, fiber: one cup navy beans – 19.11g, one cup wheat – 8.19g, one cup raspberry – 7.99g. I will take the raspberries :-). And this is whole wheat, unprocessed. Magnezium: one cup wheat – 58.24mg, one cup navy beans – 96.46mg, one cup spinach – 156.6mg. I will take the spinach….. And so on and on with all essential nutrients.
        The only reason to me to eat grains is if you really enjoy them and as Angelo mentioned, to complete the aminoacids profile of beans when replacing meat – beans with rice. That is, if you want to replace most of the meat in your diet.

        • DuckDodgers

          Perhaps you should look into other grains besides wheat. For instance..

          1 cup of cooked Amaranth has 160mg of Magnesium, more than any of the the items you mentioned. Amaranth also has twice as much Manganese as Navy Beans.

          Wheat has twice has much Manganese and 15 times as much selenium than Navy Beans.

          This is not meant to be a competition. I am merely pointing out that it doesn’t take a spreadsheet to realize that every staple food has some advantages and disadvantages. And your point that whole grains are not nutrient dense is certainly an exaggeration.

          Finally, while wheat is actually a powerhouse in some areas, there are many other ancient grains worthy of consideration: oats, wild rice, buckwheat, sorghum, kamut, rye, barley, quinoa, millet, spelt, amaranth, chia and farro are all superfoods in some aspects of nutrition.

          • Teo

            DuckDodgers, I am an engineer, I like spreadsheets :-). I do occasionally eat quinoa and I put chia on my salads almost daily. I will look into amaranth and the other grains you mentioned. Thanks.

          • The Ohalo II findings mentioned in the article are interesting, and not just because of the solid evidence for grain processing, storage, cooking, and consumption…but wow, 24 different grains—that’s at least one good example of eating a variety of grains, while most cultures had one (up to a few) staple grain.

        • DuckDodgers

          “I made a spreadsheet with all essential nutrients…The only reason to me to eat grains is if you really enjoy them”

          The great flaw with a “spreadsheet” approach is that you can’t possibly evaluate all of the phytochemicals in each plant. Whole grains are a good source of unique phenols such as benzoic/cinnamic acids, anthocyanidins, quinones, flavanols, chalcones, flavanones, tocopherols, and amino phenols, that all have powerful antioxidant activities.

          These phytochemicals are actually believed to be the major health-promoting factors of these grains. So, in fact, the idea that you can just put all your essential nutrients into a simple spreadsheet is actually rather antiquated and oversimplified in the context of complex phytochemicals.

          For instance, it’s well known that oats are particularly healthy and have anti-diabetic properties. The health-promoting effects of oats are believed to be from the unique phytochemicals found in the grains.

          http://jibresearch.com/Manuscript%20PDF/Manuscript%20JIB-201402-003.pdf

          Cheers.

          • Teo

            DuckDodgers, I agree I do not account for phytochemicals but all plants have them. My method might be simplistic and antiquated. If you have a better way of selecting your staple foods from the hundreds of possible choices, please let me know. I am open to new ideas. Here are the foods I eat the most during a given week: tomatoes, romaine lettuce, spinach, dandelion greens, avocado, carrots, onions, garlic, parsley root, bell peppers, radishes, turnips, green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, parsnip, kale, winter squash, bok choy, olives, sundried tomatoes, sprouted chia, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, hazelnuts, brasil nuts, almonds, acai, psyllium husk, kelp, chicory root, bee pollen, raw cacao beans, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries, pineapple, mushrooms, eggs, organ meats, meats, fatty fish, butter, coconut oil, palm oil, olive oil, lard. I occasionally eat beans, rice, cheese, potatoes, cassava, rutabaga, sweet potato, cream, plantains, tigger nuts, hemp seeds, banana, apples, kiwi. In your opinion, which of the foods I eat each week I should replace with grains?

          • DuckDodgers

            Teo,

            I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your diet. My main point is that it makes no sense for you to convince others to shun whole grains when in fact the research shows they are quite healthy.

            I think the key point is that every phytochemical does slightly different things. So, I don’t see why one would shun one phytochemical over another.

            My personal feeling is to not be so analytical about it. I don’t eat based on a spreadsheet. I generally eat based on what whole food tastes good with a bit of common sense. Tastebuds are actually designed to crave what we need. Our ancestors didn’t need spreadsheets.

            Cheers

          • Teo

            I was not trying to convince anyone. It was just a point of view. And you are totally right about the tastebuds. However, when you re-learn what food tastes best, you might not be able to rely on them only. I used to hate fatty fish and now I die for it and I can eat it for breakfast. I think the pesky gut flora tells us what tastes good…. Wrong flora – wrong message.

          • Your diet sounds pretty awesome. Personally, I would be happy to substitute some or all of the added fat with grains…and, in fact, that’s pretty much what I’ve done.

            When it comes to mineral-, phytochemical-, and micronutrient-density the grains should ‘win’ hands down. I don’t doubt the value of fats; I just get them in whole foods (many of which are in your list of weekly foods).

          • Teo

            Angelo, I will try that. The added fats are the most processed foods I eat right now (and mustard is next :-)). I want to replace coconut oil with raw coconuts and some of the other oils with beans/grains. One day a week I am vegan. I will try adding another day with no added fats. Thanks.

          • Cool, Teo; I hope it works out well and that you’ll have an opportunity to provide an update if there’s anything detectably better/worse.

          • Teo

            I will report back. Thanks.

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  • Jan

    Thanks a lot for this great series! The general idea sounds extremly compelling and I am currently giving it a try.
    One question: What is your take on the study where they compared archeological finds of one half of a tribe being still hunter/gatherers and the other group already living a agricultural life. The health of the second group seemed to be significantly worse. A paleo argument is the unhealthy grain story. Sorry that I cannot state the actual study but I cannot remember where I read it. But I am sure that you know what I am talking about:-) Thanks again Angelo! I am grateful that I found your work!

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  • Jon W

    Sounds like we need to reconsider grains. While they aren’t the most nutritious food, it does contain some nutrients and by golly it tastes good.
    If one wanted to partake in the pleasure of eating bread, I am thinking the best way to do so would be to purchase an heirloom variety of wheat berries, grind it into a coarse flour and bake it yourself.
    Any thoughts?

    • It gets tricky when we talk about “nutritious” because it totally depends on which nutrients (and other food components) that we look at, and how much weight we give to them.

      I think you’re right as far as creating the highest quality bread possible. We’ve used Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Flour with great luck: http://amzn.to/1M5hYWv

      Amy found a bread machine at a yard sale (this is the one: http://amzn.to/1PEK2G4 ), and we’ve been making our own ever since.

      Also, just eating plain old whole wheat berries (they take about 40 minutes to cook in boiling water or broth) is wonderful. We recently bought some from a Whole Foods bulk bin, and I was so surprised at the pleasant flavor. They go great in soups, with beans, as a pasta substitute, etc.

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  • Daniel Hunter

    Very interesting reading. Thanks!

    > How did it go for you when you added any grains and/or legumes back into your diet?

    Being diabetic (T2) controlled only by diet and exercise, adding legumes back in was hard at first. I added them gradually, but I often had to go for a short run after eating to get my blood sugar to come back down. But it was SO worth it. Now, almost 2 years later, my UNMEDICATED fasting blood sugar is 70 – 80 mg/dl. I can eat my fill of pinto beans and my blood sugar stays below 110. I no longer have dips in energy or mental fog. I am 71 and apoE3/4 and my lipid panel (again unmedicated) has gone from TC over 300 mg/dl at the worst to 165 now. And best of all (totally unexpected) is my sleep, averaging 9 hours per night.

    I’ve also been able to add buckwheat groats to my diet without messing up my blood sugar readings.

    • Jasmine

      This is helpful Daniel. How long did it take you to adapt to eating carbs? And did you just add back in according to what your blood sugars did? If I eat a sweet potato and huge salad I get a 1 hour postprandial of 150 so I’m thinking I’ll start with a 1/4 of a sweet potato…

      • Daniel Hunter

        If you are diabetic and are concerned about your PP BGs, sweet potato might not be the way to start out. Although they have the same GI as pinto beans, in my experience, pinto beans were less challenging. Of course, it could be argued that due to the reversible nature of glycation, short term it doesn’t matter how high your PP BG gets, as long as you have 12 hours of a low fasting BG while you sleep. But, again in my experience, jumping in actually seemed to overwhelm my beta cells and they just gave up. I found it better to just ask them to do a little bit more each week, as in a little more glucose from low GI foods.

        You might want to start by adding beans gradually to your salad, counting grams of glucose, shooting for a 1 hr PP BG of 140 or less. If you are substantially over 140, it might mean that your b-cells just gave up and so then you would help them out by going for a little run. Remember when calculating what your PP BG will get to, if you have a missing 1st phase insulin response, your PP BG is highly dependent on your BG at the meal start. Also important is, for me, when I run, I drop my BG bu about 3 mg/dl per minute.

        Make sure you drop your fasting BG low by keeping your glycogen stores close to depleted at night. The full adaptation took me about 18 months from April 2014 to Aug 2015. Here’s a screenshot of my FBGs with recent spikes from 2 cheat meals: my birthady, Sep 20 and Thanksgiving:
        https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/96885971/FBG.JPG

        I would love it if you let me know how it goes. I want to know if my success can be replicated by others!

        • +1! Great info, Daniel. And, I’d love to hear how it goes for others, too.

          • Jasmine

            Hi Angelo and Daniel,

            It has been awhile since I’ve posted, major life changes (all good in the end) and got off track with eating a little. I seem to automatically slip back into eating paleo when I’m stressed – lean meats, veggies, nuts, coconut and olive oil and pretty low carb..but I tend to overeat if I’m not tracking. My PP numbers have been okay but fastings are now consistently over 100 which is what happens when I eat too much fat and too low carb. Ive gained 2lbs but did wean the toddler (fist pump).

            SO transitioning back to lower fat higher carb and hoping I can stay that way. I did have a meeting with Denise Minger which was great and thought you would find that info useful. She basically said there is not a woman alive that she would recommend be low carb and encouraged me to cut down on the fat consumption and increase the whole carbs to about 70% and to try to eat at least 2000 cals a day (this is hard for me!). She also recommended raw potato starch at night to help with fastings, and it does seem to help.

            The couple days of transitioning are always rough with way higher PPs then I like. My main challenge is making sure I eat enough, I have a hard time even eating 1500 calories when its mostly plants. What I want to eat is handfuls of nuts, cheese, and meat but I know that will make the fasting tomorrow higher.

            Angelo – excited for your new baby Boy on the way! I am a midwife and maternity acupuncturist and wish you the best.

          • Thanks, Jasmine! Everything is still going as well as possible with the pregnancy. We are still on course for the midwife to do the delivery and we just learned that the hospital we plant to deliver at has pools for water delivery. We’re just now at the 28-week mark, a few days shy of when Amy went into delivery with Lucy.

            Your consult with Denise sounds interesting. I agree with her and would say that long-term low-carb and keto are best reserved for those who have to do it, not as a first course of action. Look for some of the more calorie-dense plant foods to get those daily calories up. It may take some experimenting, but you could add some avocado, whole grains, potatoes.

            Since you’re no longer breast feeding, you might even consider doing a fast to get things kick started. I recently did an episode about fasting (#157), which has a lot of references in the show notes that might be helpful. Proponents say fasting is a quick way to get blood sugar numbers down, and it keeps them down…especially if you fall into a Plant-Paleo-esque style of eating afterwards. As always, YMMV! And it’s always best to talk to a doc about doing a fast, if you decide to try that route.

            Cheers!

          • Jasmine

            Hi Friends! I am still working on myself and coming back around to low fat plant based. I took your advice Angelo about fasting and I had a question for you. When I fast, lets say for 24 hours I have noticed that my body is SO sensitive to sugars of any kind, even veggies can shoot my blood sugar up and fruit causes very high spikes. Is this something you have heard of? Or perhaps my body isn’t ready for fasting?

            And Daniel – your wonderful chart has been removed, but I came back to look at it again. Have you updated it? Hows it going?

        • Jasmine

          Thanks Daniel, this post and your blog were very helpful. In a word – yes it’s working. It took a few days without eating much fat but my blood sugars are responding well. And I have been using the exercise method to control sugars (this is how I stayed off medication during pregnancy!) I had a cheat meal night last night, ate cheese and ice cream and alcohol on a special date and my PP BG were higher today. My 1 hour after eating buckwheat and berries for breakfast was 190 (which almost caused a heart attack!!) after 30 mins of stairs it was 110. My PPs are never that high, it was still reacting from the meal last night. Numbers seem to be more normal tonight, after eating sprouted brown rice (about 1 cup cooked) veggies and seaweed my 1 hour was 120.

          One interesting thing I have noticed is that if I don’t eat enough carbs my fastings are higher, I’m guessing from a cortisol spike and gluconeogenisis going on in the middle of the night. If I go really low carb and exercise a ton I’ll wake up between 130-150. If I eat upwards of 200g of carbs my fastings are in the 80s the next day. So confusing!! Does this happen to anyone else?

          I’m combing through both blogs now trying to figure out good targets for protein and fat for myself. I am still nursing a baby and could stand to lose maybe 15 lbs (currently 158 and 5’6”) but this does not need to happen quickly. Daniel or Angelo can you point me to any of your pages that might help with figuring out ratios and calorie targets? There is a lot to get through. I’ll keep experimenting and I have an appointment to consult with Denise Minger next week. Thanks again to both of you, and I hope this long post helps someone else!

          • Hi, Jasmine. I focus a lot more on whole foods and food quality than macros and calories. With that said, my macros lately would probably fall into a range of about 70% carb, 20% fat, and 10% protein. The typical BMR x activity-level coefficient should work as a good starting point for caloric needs. Then shave off a hundred or so at a time until you are losing about 1/2 pound a week. And shaving off a hundred calories doesn’t necessarily mean less food. For example, you can trade a tablespoon of oil for 3 oz of cod at half the calories.

            At 5’6″, 158#, and nursing…I wouldn’t be concerned at all with weight loss. Getting adequate calories and abundant nourishment is job 1. 🙂 Also, considering your blood sugar levels, it’s worth talking with a nutritionist for help, especially if your insurance covers it.

          • Daniel Hunter

            Hi Jasmine, Thanks for the update! I’m glad it seems to be working so far!

            Re your buckwheat and berries: Breakfast is the meal that is generally recognized as the most challenging for BG control. Here’s a simple estimation for determining foods to limit/avoid, especially during this transition period if you want to avoid having to go for a run. I call the number the fiber index = fiber / [net carb]

            So for example, in 100g of raw blackberries:

            * fiber = 5.3g
            * carbs = 9.6g
            * net carbs = 4.3g
            * fiber index = 5.3 / 4.3 = 1.23 — GREAT!!

            In general, a fiber index at just about, or greater than 0.5 is good and this is the stuff to look for in this transition period.

            Taking your buckwheat groats, in 100 g:

            * fiber = 10.3g
            * carbs = 75.0g
            * net carbs = 64.7g
            * fiber index = 10.3 / 64.7 = 0.16 — not so good.

            The fiber index (my own invention), will give you a rough idea what kinds of foods you want to focus on. Of course you can eat foods with a low fiber index, but save them for later in the day, later on in your recovery and/or stick to small amounts.

            The fiber index doesn’t account for non-glucose carbs very well, and doesn’t measure starch complexity and/or resistant starches at all. It’s just a ball park estimate.

            Re your running: I think it’s cool that you dropped your glucose at just about the rate running does for me = 3 mg/dl/min.

            Re not enuf carbs & cortisol: Yes, if your liver is insulin resistant and insufficient carbs at night causes gluconeogenesis then your insulin won’t be enough to shut it down once it gets triggered. That’s what a lot of people think, at any rate.

            Re carbs and protein: I started at 20%P-50%F-30%C back in Jan 2014 and gradually moved to 20%P-30%F-50%C. My fiber intake is 70-80g per day. Maintenance for me is 1800 calories (5’3″, 71 years, resistance training 2x/week). But I like what Angelo said about not being so concerned with weight loss right now. Also, I think you will find as you bring your fiber up and get rid of the added oils/sugars and processed foods, you will naturally eat exactly the right amounts for what your body needs. I track calories only to understand my body – not to tell it how much it needs.

            Please give me a synopsis of what you learn from Minger! And please keep me posted on your progress! 🙂

            – Dan

  • Alice Sowerby

    Hey Angelo!

    Thanks so much for your refreshing post. I have been following the Primal (Mark Sisson) diet for a year or so and have enjoyed getting really geeky about nutrition. However, lately I have been feeling a bit suspicious about the hate for carbs that seems to be so prevalent in Paleo. Watching some awesome videos about Anthropogeny research at http://www.uctv.tv/carta/ and reading Denise Minger’s article “In defence of low fat” http://rawfoodsos.com/2015/10/06/in-defense-of-low-fat-a-call-for-some-evolution-of-thought-part-1/ has caused me to reconsider the role of plant and animal-based foods in my diet.

    I now feel that I have permission to try out how I feel eating less fat, more starchy veg and maybe the odd grain or bean without feeling bad about it!

    I am also starting to go heavy on the veg and have just treated myself to a pile of inspiring salad recipe books to help!

    I will report back what happens when I try this! I never lost any weight on the Primal (I only have maybe 10 pounds to lose anyway so I figured maybe I was already at my natural weight).

    • That’s great, Alice; I’m looking forward to hearing back. Here are some tips:

      1. Get enough calories. A high-vegetable diet can make it very difficult to eat enough, and eating very little in the day time could lead to overeating at night. As long as you are not allergic, potatoes, roots, other tubers, whole grains, and legumes are really necessary in order to eat enough.

      2. Good job grabbing the salad recipe books. Soups, stews, sauces, porridges, etc. are also great types of food that are still tasty when well seasoned and they help to keep your palate happy.

      3. Gradually increase your intake of vegetables, grains, and legumes. This will give your digestive system and gut flora an opportunity to adjust. Likewise, gradually decrease the meat and oil consumption.

      Cheers!

      • Alice Sowerby

        Mm, good tips Angelo!

        Really what I want is to reduce the “dogmatic” approach of Paleo (TM) and move towards finding one of the “paleo dietS” that I like and works for me. That might mean eating more seasonally, for example (got a veggie garden this year, woo!). I’ve always found I go through “phases” of eating things anyway.

        1. Good point! I’m not one to go hungry, but I realise that at the moment I’m still leaning on protein for satiety with my meals while I fiddle about with adding more carbs (mainly cold cooked potatoes and white rice at the moment) and reducing refined fats. I’m not planning on going back to grains apart from the occasional “in a pinch” option while out and about. Beans I might have a little more often, and it’s gate open wide to tubers (I have never been too worried about these).

        2. Yep, you are right, the leaning towards salads is just a delicious way to shift the emphasis from what I already eat more over to veg and raw. My current diet includes a lot of meat + 3 veg and stews.

        3. I agree again, plus also I have all my old pantry to eat up first, just “diluting” with veg for now. I have always thought if there was a diet named “just add veg” it would do a lot of good for most people. Veg is universally hailed as beneficial 🙂

      • Shameer Mulji

        “Gradually increase your intake of vegetables, grains, and legumes.”

        Is it necessary to soak / ferment the grains before consumption?