Thursday, July 10, 2008

Grains and Human Evolution

[Update 8/2011: as I've learned more about human genetics and evolution, I've come to appreciate that many Europeans actually descend from early adopters of agriculture more than they descend from the hunter-gatherers that previously occupied Europe.  Also, 10,000 years has been long enough for significant genetic adaptation.  Read The 10,000 Year Explosion for more information].

You've heard me say that I believe grains aren't an ideal food for humans. Part of the reason rests on the assertion that we have not been eating grains for long enough to have adapted to them. In this post, I'll go over what I know about the human diet before and after agriculture, and the timeline of our shift to a grain-based diet. I'm not an archaeologist so I won't claim that all these numbers are exact, but I think they are close enough to make my point.

As hunter-gatherers, we ate some combination of the following: land mammals (including organs, fat and marrow), cooked tubers, seafood (fish, mammals, shellfish, seaweed), eggs, nuts, fruit, honey, "vegetables" (stems, leaves, etc.), mushrooms, assorted land animals, birds and insects. The proportion of each food varied widely between groups and even seasons. This is pretty much what we've been living on since we evolved as a species, and even before, for a total of 1.5 million years or so (this number is controversial but is supported by multiple lines of evidence). There are minor exceptions, including the use of wild grains in a few areas, but for the most part, that's it.

The first evidence of a calorically important domesticated crop I'm aware of was about 11,500 years ago in the fertile crescent. They were cultivating an early ancestor of wheat called emmer. Other grains popped up independently in what is now China (rice; ~10,000 years ago), and central America (corn; ~9,000 years ago). That's why people say humans have been eating grains for about 10,000 years.

The story is more complicated than the dates suggest, however. Although wheat had its origin 11,500 years ago, it didn't become widespread in Western Europe for another 4,500 years. So if you're of European descent, your ancestors have been eating grains for roughly 7,000 years. Corn was domesticated 9,000 years ago, but according to the carbon ratios of human teeth, it didn't become a major source of calories until about 1,200 years ago! Many American groups did not adopt a grain-based diet until 100-300 years ago, and in a few cases they still have not. If you are of African descent, your ancestors have been eating grains for 9,000 to 0 years, depending on your heritage. The change to grains was accompanied by a marked decrease in dental health that shows up clearly in the archaeological record.

Practically every plant food contains some kind of toxin, but grains produce a number of nasty ones that humans are not well adapted to. Grains contain a large amount of phytic acid for example, which strongly inhibits the absorption of a number of important minerals. Tubers, which were our main carbohydrate source for about 1.5 million years before agriculture, contain less of it. This may have been a major reason why stature decreased when humans adopted grain-based agriculture. There are a number of toxins that occur in grains but not in tubers, such as certain heat-resistant lectins.

Non-industrial cultures often treated their seeds, including grains, differently than we do today. They used soaking, sprouting and long fermentation to decrease the amount of toxins found in grains, making them more nutritious and digestible. Most grain staples are not treated in this way today, and so we bear the brunt of their toxins even more than our ancestors did.

From an evolutionary standpoint, even 11,500 years is the blink of an eye. Add to that the fact that many people descend from groups that have been eating grains for far less time than that, and you begin to see the problem. There is no doubt that we have begun adapting genetically to grains. All you have to do to understand this is look back at the archaeological record, to see the severe selective pressure (read: disease) that grains placed on its early adopters. But the question is, have we had time to adapt sufficiently to make it a healthy food? I would argue the answer is no.

There are a few genetic adaptations I'm aware of that might pertain to grains: the duplication of the salivary amylase gene, and polymorphisms in the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) and apolipoprotein B genes. Some groups duplicated a gene that secretes the enzyme amylase into the saliva, increasing its production. Amylase breaks down starch, indicating a possible increase in its consumption. The problem is that we were getting starch from tubers before we got it from grains, so it doesn't really argue for either side in my opinion. The ACE and apolipoprotein B genes may be more pertinent, because they relate to blood pressure and LDL cholesterol. Blood pressure and blood cholesterol are both factors that respond well to low-carbohydrate (and thus low-grain) diets, suggesting that the polymorphisms may be a protective adaptation against the cardiovascular effects of grains.

The fact that up to 1% of people of European descent may have full-blown celiac disease attests to the fact that 7,000 years have not been enough time to fully adapt to wheat on a population level. Add to that the fact that nearly half of genetic Europeans carry genes that are associated with celiac, and you can see that we haven't been weeded out thoroughly enough to tolerate wheat, the oldest grain!

Based on my reading, discussions and observations, I believe that rice is the least problematic grain, wheat is the worst, and everything else is somewhere in between. If you want to eat grains, it's best to soak, sprout or ferment them. This activates enzymes that break down most of the toxins. You can soak rice, barley and other grains overnight before cooking them. Sourdough bread is better than normal white bread. Unfermented, unsprouted whole wheat bread may actually be the worst of all. 


reid said...

That's a great well-researched post.

It made me see a parallel between low quality grain diets and fossil fuels. Both are relatively cheap sources of energy that have boosted human population and technological growth respectively. Both also create assorted problems for biological and ecological systems.

Stephan said...

Thanks Reid. That's an interesting parallel.

Chris said...

Thanks Stephan, very well written.

It would be interesting to see this post expanded to consider milk?

Adam said...

Stephan -

Thanks for the great post.

Have you seen this:

I can't vouch for its accuracy, but it's interesting. It seems to indicate that grains entered our diet in large quantity before tubers.

As you point out, we clearly have some adaptations to grain-based diets. Since it appears from this timeline that milk came into our diet after bread, couldn't the adaptations to grains be farther along than the adaptations allowing us to digest lactose as adults?

This post also raises one issue I have with the "Paleo diet" (or other similar diets). Basically all the plants and animals we eat today are not similar to those our ancient ancestors ate (pre-ag). The vegetables and fruits we eat have been selectively bred (or engineered) to have many traits that make them different from their wild cousins. The same is true of our domesticated animals. In addition to this selective breeding, the farm-raised food we eat today gets its nutrition (from fertilizers to grain) quite differently than any of their wild counterparts.

I'm not sure what all this means for the "optimal" human diet, except that its probably functionally impossible to accurately mimic the diet of our paleolithic ancestors. Probably the closest way to do it would be to eat nothing but wild-caught sea food and wild sea plants (though I'm sure the plastic and other chemicals polluting our oceans will have some effect on that).

Anyways, thanks again for your posts - I find them very informative and I respect that you're one of the few bloggers in this space that is academically honest enough to admit that it appears as if we humans have adapted (at least somewhat) to consuming grains as food.

Stephan said...

Thanks Chris, I may do one on dairy one of these days.

Adam, that timeline is consistent with what I know. It only reflects domesticated foods, however. The reason I say we've been eating tubers for so long is we were eating wild ones, before agriculture existed. Wild tubers are a much more abundant, widespread and easily accessed source of calories than wild grains, so they were used much more. So while it's true that we domesticated grains first, we were eating tubers a long time before we domesticated grains.

I agree that we can't all eat exactly like hunter-gatherers. My approach is to stay within the same categories that they would have used. Some modern foods are actually pretty similar to what they would have eaten. Grass-fed beef is very similar in nutrition to a wild ruminant in wintertime (with its winter fat). And of course we have wild seafood, as you mentioned.

I think vegetables, fruit, nuts, tubers, meat and eggs are probably close enough to what HGs would have eaten that they can support good health.

I agree that human health is complicated and there's a lot of individual variation, but I do believe a paleo-type diet is probably the common denominator that will allow virtually anyone to be healthy.

Chris said...


Tubers = potatoes?

Or are your thinking of something else?

Stephan said...

Hi Chris,

By tubers, what I really mean is underground storage organs (USOs). That includes tubers, rhizomes, bulbs and corms that have calories stored in them. I use the word tuber to mean USO and assume people are getting my drift. So yes, potatoes are in that category.

Debs said...

I like your explanation that we've adapted slightly to being able to digest grains, but that we haven't adapted enough. I think that sounds accurate and also makes the point a bit more comprehensible to those who don't understand why 11,000 years wouldn't make a difference. It would, just not enough.

About dairy, there's a comment in Nina Planck's book Real Food about evidence that we domesticated animals for milk and meat earlier than we began conventional agriculture, 30,000 years ago if I remember correctly. Still a blink of an eye, but worth noting.

But I think dairy's a different issue anyway. Milk is our first food and always has been. Milk and eggs are arguably the only foods intended primarily to be foods.

Most grains, on the other hand, are reproductively invested in not getting eaten. Chewing up the seed makes it harder to grow new plants.

Food Is Love

Mark Sisson said...

Great post. I agree with everything.

The fact that so many international charitable organizations are trying to save the world by feeding the starving with diets that consist 90% of grains leaves me very conflicted. It's a brutal irony that the thing that will save them in the short term could also cause considerable harm in the long term. ("in order to save the village we had to destroy it"?)

As one who lived on grains for 20 years as a top endurance athlete, I can attest that the complete elimination of grains from my own diet has resulted in countless health improvements. It is the single best thing I have ever done for myself.

Keep up the great work, Stephan.

Stephan said...


I definitely agree with your point about seeds being invested in not getting eaten. That's probably why non-industrialized cultures typically treat seeds with care, soaking, sprouting, fermenting or toasting them.

You're the second person to mention the dairy thing, so I guess I'd better do a post on that too!

Stephan said...


Nice to see you on the blog!

I see your point about international aid. It seems like a double-edged sword. Eating is healthier than not eating, but eating nothing but grains isn't so good.

It's too bad grains are so convenient and cheap; otherwise maybe we wouldn't have so many health problems.

I was never really a competitive athlete like you, but I've been very active my whole life. I have an appetite to show for it too. I used to stuff myself with white bread all day. I had huge swings in energy and mood. I looked "puffy" and I had mild acne. I'm happy to say all that has changed since I've minimized grains, particularly processed grains.

Chris said...


Sorry if my comment on potatoes sounded a bit silly - it is just that they have always puzzled me from a "paleo" point of view.

I must admit that now when adding any carbs I tend to go for baked potatoes, hopefully avoiding the problems with grains.

Mike OD - IF Life said...

Great Read.

It's funny (or not), I can eat rice with no issues, can eat a pizza with regular dough and feel fine...but eat too many wheat bread products and I feel like crap and have increased joint pain.

The general public has been sold on it has to be whole wheat...when in fact that's far from the truth. I like this article to give people about the whole "I need my whole wheat/bran for fiber and health"

Stephan said...

Hi Mike,

Thanks for the link. The situation is complicated; it's no wonder people have a hard time eating healthy. We've lost the cultural context that makes it easy.

Yuneek said...

I'm with debs on dairy, it's primal, though modern dairy (non grass-fed cows, pasteurized, reconstituted, low-fat, no-fat, etc.) complicates the issue. Dairy, in its original sense, represents powerful nutrition for a high growth phase. For those who are very physically active growth becomes re-growth in the form of recovery from microtrauma experienced in intense muscular activity. Dairy would seem to be a valuable nutritional resource for that class of people.

On a specific level there's the prominence of K2 (mk-5 through mk-10) in cheese as something to recommend dairy.

Vishal said...

The fact that we need to have bacteria in our gut to digest the complex polysaccharides also supports the idea that grains were incorporated into our diet very recently. However, the composition of this gut flora (which consists of thousand's of bacterial species) varies from individual to individual. Given that some groups of people (Chinese, Indians) have both grain-based diets and a very low incidence of celiac disease, while others (Europeans) have the opposite, the bacterial flora specific to a population might be, in part, responsible for the difference in the ability to digest grains. This area of research has only come to the forefront in recent years (see publications by JI Gordon on Google Scholar), so it remains to be seen how these bacteria in the gut are interacting with our immune system. The presence of some bacteria might make the immune system less susceptible to the stimulatory effects of foreign antigens (like gliadin in wheat), and many Europeans may not carry these bacteria.... but now I'm just theorizing.

Stephan said...


I'm with you. Weston Price thought of grass-fed dairy as one of the most nutritious foods. I would agree, although I think there are some caveats since it is not a paleolithic type food, strictly speaking. Of course, it's complicated since we did drink milk, just not cow's milk.

I think the most compelling evidence is empirical: grass-fed dairy was able to sustain some of the healthiest populations on the planet. I genuinely do think it doesn't agree with some people though, especially cow's milk.


Rice-based cultures tend to have a low prevalence of celiac because they don't eat much wheat. There may also be genetic factors; I haven't looked into it. The Chinese certainly aren't resistant to the fattening effects of wheat, if you believe that epidemiological study I posted recently! But diet also affects gut flora, so what makes you think the flora is causing celiac resistance?

Seth said...

I can't help but find it a bit odd that we are the only species on the planet that consumes milk past infancy, let alone that of another species entirely. Milk definately serves it's purpose (to provide enough nutrition, fat, etc for the extremely fast growth phase during infancy), but beyond that why do we continue to consume? In this whole movement to get back to basics and mimic the behavior of our hunter/gatherer ancestors, this is one topic that seems contradictory to me, and is not often discussed.

Stephan said...

Hi Seth,

It's a difficult question. What I find most relevant is the fact that dairy eaters were among the healthy cultures Weston Price identified. To me, that sweeps away most of the hypothetical arguments over whether or not it's healthy.

László said...

I following the paleo diet too, but I'm not that hardcore fan of it. Do you all think that people of the ancient times had so bad health? I think they could manage healthy life with their moderate grain consumption. I don't think that the general bad health is (only) the grains' fault. I think there are many other things that harm health more than the grains. I know that people are different but how is it possible that people who live vegan or raw vegan are seemingly healthy and balanced if the grains are that bad?

Stephan said...

Hi Laszlo,

I'm not aware of any data that suggests vegans or raw vegans are healthier than non-vegans in the long term. I have a very hard time believing a vegan diet is healthy overall, given the fact that humans are clearly omnivores and all hunter-gatherer groups eat at least some animal matter (most of them get the majority of their calories form animal sources).

You say that we may be able to be healthy with a moderate grain consumption. You may be right about that, but I think it depends on the grain, the amount and how it's prepared. I think modest amounts of soaked+cooked rice or slow-fermented low-gluten grains are probably OK, as long as you have a good source of fat-soluble vitamins.

There are examples of healthy mesolithic cultures that eat a modest amount of grains. The Kuna are one example. They eat a bit of corn.

László said...

I don't believe that the vegans are healthy overall too, but I have a couple of friends who are vegans and have pretty good health conditions. They are doing their yoga classes, saving the world by not eating meats etc:). However I think the common believe that vegans are average person who cut off meats from their diet is false. Of course is not healthy. Sorry for this vegan propaganda, it's odd for me too to hear myself bullshitting about this too. I know that humans always ate meats and this is our evolutionary heritage, the only way we can be the healthiest, I believe in this too. However we are animals with intellect, I don't think that cutting of meats beceause of the cruelty in stock-farms is silly. I'm not an expert but I deeply believe that the present rate of meat consumption (and of course our lifesytle) is very harmful for the environment. Meat consumtion is also a double-edged sword.

Thank you for your words about the least harmful grains.
(Sorry for my english).

László said...

About the examples you mentioned, the hunza culture is also a good example for that. Although this is a cliche' but the japanese people's case is good too. They are famous of their longevity, and their low meat and high rice consumption:). However maybe their low meat consumption is the cause of their average short height. I read it somewhere and maybe there is truth in it.

Stephan said...


I agree that eating meat has moral caveats. It has a large environmental footprint and standard factory farming is totally inhumane. I respect vegans and vegetarians for their principles, I just don't think it's the healthiest path. I actually try to limit my meat intake, not for health reasons but for moral ones. When I do eat meat, it's almost always from the farmer's market.

I've read about the Hunza as well. Although they didn't seem to get cancer, I haven't been able to find any hard data on their lifespans.

The Japanese are definitely healthier than Americans, but they still suffer from the "disease of civilization". They have a very high rate of stroke and their cancer incidence is similar to the US. One thing they aren't is overweight. Until they start eating wheat, that is. It's beginning to happen already. I don't think rice causes the same type of weight problems wheat does, but it may have its own problems. Oh yes, and by the way if you include fish, the Japanese eat as much meat as anyone.

László said...

Thanks for the response, keep up the good work!

Lars Pergou said...

As a first-time reader of your blog, it's refreshing to see some rationality in the Paleo debate.

It's also interesting to see you advocate potatoes and that even rice is not so bad. (Wash your mouth out!) Wheat should be next.

I have a different perspective. Grains made us human, glucose made us smart. The low-carb Neanderthals in the north never stood a chance.


Stephan said...

Lars, you should check out what the archaeology says about societies that adopted grains. It isn't pretty...

Grains didn't make us human, they made us short, sick and gave us bad teeth.

Before agriculture, we were getting glucose from root vegetables, so there was no need to get it from grains except to increase population density.

Lars said...

"Lars, you should check out what the archaeology says about societies that adopted grains. It isn't pretty..."

. . . you know I have Stephen. Ohalo 2 in Israel puts grain consumption at around 23,000 years ago. It would not surprise me if it went back further. Read 'The Lost Crops' of Africa. Modern Homo would not have ignored that food resource.

In any case, over 2% of the US population have a seafood allergy, some is life-threatening. There's lactose intolerance . . . nuts, eggs, you name it, intolerances and allergies exist. You eat what you tolerate.

Whole grain consumption is consistently associated with lower diabetes and CVD incidence and probably colorectal cancer.

You need to get perspective. Refined grains and sugars are not healthy. Trying to toss out healthy grains for some 'tribal' allegiance to a dietary cult is not what I would expect from you. And I suppose you deny the lipid hypothesis as well . . . sigh.

Stephan said...

Lars, grain consumption before agriculture was restricted to a very few localized groups and was typically seasonal. Try collecting enough wild grass seeds for a meal, let me know how that works out for you. Very different from agriculture-based grains consumption.

The transition to grains as the primary source of calories was associated with shortened stature, osteopenia, osteoporosis, dental decay and dental crowding worldwide. That's what the archaeology says, and there is no controversy about it.

Whole grain consumption is only associated with lower CVD risk when compared to refined grain consumption!! Look at CVD risk in cultures that don't consume grains at all: traditional Maasai, Inuit and modern-day Kitavans. They don't get heart attacks. None. They don't get diabetes or colorectal cancer either. Compare that to "healthy whole grains".

Lars said...

"Lars . . . try collecting enough wild grass seeds for a meal, let me know how that works out for you. Very different from agriculture-based grains consumption. "

Yes, it's a nice myth from the Paleo people . . . except it's not true. Paul Gepts (UC) has put together some numbers on energy costs and returns in various agriculture systems. Guess what's way, way out in front? Harvesting wild wheat.

You also make the elementary error of assuming association is causality in stating that grain consumption caused poor health in early agricultural populations. Variety in diet changed, physical activity lessened, infectious diseases increased. And relying on single foods can produce poor health in any population.

The Maasai are hardly a solid choice for comparison seeing their life expectancy was low (40-50 years?). It may have improved now that they eat corn as well. There's also a pathology study around that sinks the myth that they had no heart disease. I can provide that when I track it down.

Inuit have very high levels of osteoporosis?

The Kitavans eat a low-fat, high-fibre, high-carb, mainly fruit and vegetable diet and maintain energy balance. That will work even if you're from Mars.

In any case, you're arguing that no grains should be eaten. I'm not arguing that grains should always be eaten. There's a difference.

Chris said...

Lars, have you read the earlier posts on this blog about the Massai?

Stephan said...


Wild wheat only existed in a few locations in enough density to bother collecting. And it was seasonal.

Osteoporosis in the Inuit was found mostly, if not completely, among those who had already transitioned away from a traditional diet.

Life expectancy diminished when humans adopted agriculture, until a very recent time. You can't compare the life expectancy of the Maasai to that of modern nations with little violence and healthcare.

Patia said...

Thank you for this very interesting post (and ensuing comments). I found it by googling "human eating grains" -- did you know it's number one in the results?

I've recently been learning about and experimenting with low-carb approaches in an effort to lose weight and feel better. I was curious to know when humans began eating grains. Fairly recently, apparently, in the grand scheme of things.

Thanks again. Food for thought.

Lars said...

Chris said: "Lars, have you read the earlier posts on this blog about the Maasai?"

Yes, I caught up with the discussion re Mann et al, mainly on your blog I think. Forgive me if not, don't really hang out on low-carb blogs much. Looked to me like Randy had the better of it.

It's problematic trying to assess significance of genetically isolated communities though. I don't take *too* much from it.

BTW, Nathan Pritikin's autopsy (NEJM) showed virtually no atherosclerosis. I'm not really a Pritkin man, but at 75% CHO, wheat and all, not a bad result. Wonder what Atkins' showed?

Randy's right, pathology is the only way to know what's really going on in this context.

Lars said...

Stephen, yes, but you get the point from the table in the Gepts article. Hand collecting of wild millet and sorghum are going to be less efficient than wild wheat but still quite efficient compared to other forms of energy production.

It would surprise me if those vast resources in East Africa documented in the 'Lost Crops of Africa' were not utilized quite early within modern Homo range, say to 50,000 years ago.

Then there's the issue of C4 (grass, grain) signatures in Australopithecus dentition, which is well studied. Yes, the Paleo mob would say from eating grazing animals but I don't buy that. How does an Australopith catch a grazing animal? With a fierce look?

The possibility exists that early hominids ate grass grains with those grinding teeth -- gelada baboons still do -- then moved away from that when habilis found some meat to eat. And back again when they got smarter and cooked them.

From a genomic perspective, wouldn't it be curious if grain eating turned out to older than meat eating?

Stephan said...


Thanks, I'm glad it was useful.

Stephan said...


I checked out the link you posted on harvesting wild wheat. All it showed was a comparison between harvesting wheat and different forms of agriculture. There was no comparison with other gathered and hunted foods. I do not dispute that people were harvesting wild wheat. But wild wheat only grows in a few places, and it's seasonal. Furthermore, is there even any evidence that the people eating it were healthy?

I'm ready to believe that Pritikin's arteries were clean, but I'm sure you'll agree that anecdotes like that don't constitute solid evidence.

The transition to grain-based agriculture caused widespread skeletal and dental abnormalities that have still not been fully reversed today. For example, late paleolithic humans virtually all had straight teeth, and they had a larger cranial capacity than modern-day humans. Their wisdom teeth erupted normally, and they retained nearly all teeth until their deaths, even if they died old. Today, we have braces and we get our wisdom teeth pulled.

Modern HGs also typically have straight teeth, as do people in regions of Africa where root veg is the primary source of carbohydrate rather than grains.

By the way, Neanderthals were essentially carnivores. We are separated from them by about 500,000 years and our DNA is 99.5% identical. They were our closest relatives when they went extinct. Humans are not obligate carnivores but we are capable of being healthy on a meat-only diet, as the Inuit demonstrated (as well as Europeans who adopted their diet like Stefansson). I would say that's consistent with a long history of meat eating.

Debs said...

Was just rereading this. What puzzles me is how wheat got to be such a widespread grain given its problematic nature. I wonder what that's about. Ease of production or hardiness compared to other grains? Lack of options?

In so many other circumstances, cultures have figured out that something is detrimental and avoided it. Sure, people figured out that fermenting wheat made it less detrimental, but wheat consumption still became quite widespread. Strange.

Food Is Love

Stephan said...


I'm not sure, but the toxins may be exactly why it became so widespread. Gluten is the reason wheat is so great for making bread, and it's also part of the reason it's unhealthy.

butt0080 said...

Thanks for the great information guys. I have now come to the conclusion that I will now eliminate grains from my diet. I plan on following a raw-vegan diet soon. Even though we did possibly evolve through meat eating, ever since I eliminated the consumption of meat, I feel alot more energetic, healthier, and happier.

I am not discriminating the consumption of meat, but I am just stating something that could be against the fact that we are fully adapted to meat consumption.

If I, which I am a human, were fully adapted to meat consumption, wouldn't I feel worse, in terms of energy and feelings of health?

I personally believe were are mostly adapted to the consumption of fruits, moderate nuts/seeds, and vegetables. Not so root vegetables because we weren't able to consume them until we recently learned how to cook them. I believe we are more adapted to eat raw foods than foods that have to be cooked. Cooking is an unnatural thing to do, and it destroys the natural make-up of that food, causing health problems.

There are many articles online stating extensive information on why the cooking of foods is an unhealthy practise.

I am not trying to change any beliefs here, rather I am just trying to state some solid facts.

Chris said...

They are not "solid facts". As you said they are your beliefs. Maybe it is grain not meat that is making you feel bad. You'll struggle to get healthy on a raw vegan diet.

Chandler said...


I'm not going to discuss the health implications of a raw-vegan diet.


- In order to reach a non-starvation diet, all of your free time will be devoted to eating, waiting for your stomach to empty, and then eating some more.

- Unless you live in Hawaii (or possibly California), finding enough quality fruits and vegetables to meet your caloric needs is quite difficult.

Have fun, and good luck.

butt0080 said...

Grains can actually been eaten healthily when they are sprouted. Grains are pretty much grass seeds, when you sprout them the anti-health agents pretty much disappear, and they nutritional value sky-rockets.

I did alot of research, and cooking anything makes it harder for our body to digest it. So I am guessing raw meat is alot healthier, as well as raw eggs and raw milk. Commercial, pasteurized milk is toxic because they boil out all of the nutrients out.

And guys please be a little more welcoming, it seems like you both take what I say into offence or something.

butt0080 said...

And Chris, how is it that I will struggle getting healthy on a raw-vegan diet?

There are so many raw vegan foods out there offering all of the necessary nutrients, enzymes, vitamins, antioxidants, and everything needed to strive.

In-fact, raw vegans look a - lot healthier than your average north american meat and dairy eater.

PS. Grains are extremely healthy when sprouted.

Chris said...

I am not taking offence....just that if you have read the many many articles on this site explaining why saturated fat is healthy, the importance of vitamin D or the fact that we are not meant to be vegetarians - - etc for you to come out as a raw vegan is a bit inconsistent with the huge amount of data here.

I agree if you are going it eat grains, sprouting or fermenting is a good idea.

maxwell said...


Do you eat all your grain sprouted? ie. sprouted grain bread, etc?

I think people who generally follow the advice on Stephan's blog and other similar ones have come to the same conclusions on grains:

- Bioavailability of minerals
- High phytate levels leading to deficiences
- Gluten/lectin intolerance and gut sensitivities
- Insulin/hormone response from the carbohydrate content

Not everyone strictly avoids grains but its more about informed choices as opposed to a dictated diet.

"In-fact, raw vegans look a - lot healthier than your average north american meat and dairy eater."

What if you compare the Raw-vegan to the meat/insect/fat-eating Hunter Gatherer like the Australian Aborigine?

My pork/wild bird/fish/coconut eating ancestors were built along the same lines prior to the introduction of western foods including grain and sugar in Polynesia.

Scott said...

Butt0080, In many ways, cooking(control of fire) and meat eating is what made us human. The results and evidences are clear in showing that we are fundamentally, as a species, cooked food eaters and meat eaters, by evolution, and, overall, we are omnivores. Go live in the wild without animal products and fire. Go on, try it.

Bréanainn Séaghdha said...

Nice article. I would add that the term most often used for "sprouting" grain is actually "malting" grain. As an avid beer maker, I use malted (or sprouted) grain all the time and after I steep it in hot water to get the sugars out for beer making, the grain itself makes an excellent, granola-like snack!

I never thought of making other things with malted grain, but if malted grain really is better for you maybe I'll have to start making other things with it besides beer.

Peyoti for President said...

Great debate. good to see it. I guess one of the best things people can do is sacrifice 6 weeks of their lives and try a paleo diet, and see how they feel. My personal experience has been the following:- I became more toned-up/firm and muscular. I completely lost the massive exhaustion/fatigue episodes I used to experience. I initially missed the feeling of being 'full' as its quite hard to get that 'feeling' (which may well be unatural afterall) when on a paleo diet but I kinda got used to it. my belt size went down to 28 inches. The downsize was (sorry about this guys) going to the toilet was 'mushier' then before. Someting I did not particulary appreciate. It would be good to hear other peoples experience of switching to a paleo diet. ps. my diet before was what would conventionally be described as healthy, fruit vegatables, grains and meat once a week. Many Thanks

Dr. Jessie said...

I am glad that I came across your blog. I too graduated from UVA! While I was in chiropractic school post UVA biology degree, I learned a lot about the paleo diet and it's link to inflammation, but I appreciate gathering data from other sources and opinions, like your helpful blog!
What I found most interesting was the idea that the toxins in grains prevent absorption of minerals. Even if consuming grains doesn't lead to celiac, this fact cannot be ignored. Thanks for the posts. I am looking forward to reading more.

Socrates said...

Humans have been eating grains for many tens of thousands of years, if not hundreds of thousands of years, cooked of course. And it's apparent that humans have been making fire and cooking food for approximately two million years. The inferential evidences are out there.
Homo habilis to erectus
Homo floriensis was a cooker, but skeletal anatomy shows decent prior to erectus, apparently.
Cooked starch granules found on 40K year old Neanderthal teeth, as reported by National Geographic.
Desire for cooked starch and widespread use is a fundamental of humanity. And yes, grains too.

Alchemist said...

which is the first cereal that human race started eating?

dakota2u2 said...

Homo habilis did not cook grains. Why? Creating fire had not yet been discovered. Homo erectus was the first ancestor with this skill. "H.E." was a migratory ancestor. Hard to believe that wheat was a substantial part of their diet (if at all). In the wild (since agriculture hadn't been developed until about 12,000 years ago), grains would only be available for a few weeks per year. Doubt they could store it very efficiently as well. I don't know when human ancestors first started eating wheat, but I doubt very much that we ate it in mass quantities prior to the development of agricultural 12,000 years ago. Why is it so popular now? As stated earlier... money! Cheap to grow in large quantities. It's crap.

throwaway-account said...

"Some modern foods are actually pretty similar to what they would have eaten. Grass-fed beef is very similar in nutrition to a wild ruminant in wintertime (with its winter fat)."

You think it's "natural" to eat large ruminants? I thought I read that we didn't start hunting large animals until relatively recently, and it wasn't really for food, but mostly just to show off to the ladies.

Our natural diet's meat content is birds and small land animals, not big, red meat animals.

Thomas Bernstein said...

Interesting article. I try to eat whole foods and avoid flours, and honestly, I find this reflects my preference for starchy foods almost completely. I absolutely LOVE potatoes and yams (of all verities) and eat them all the time, and among grains, I rank rice right up at the top, being the most desirable, and wheat being at the very bottom. This is especially true when I eat whole grain wheat (wheat bran, rolled wheat, etc. as it tends to be very bitter and not at all tasty). I do really enjoy corn and sweet corn, though, and oats to a lesser degree, and would eat them just as soon as rice.

I also love the other things you said reflected the original human diet, and really don't crave meat that often, though I sure do love it when I get it!

James said...

If wheat is so cheap to produce, then shouldn't we continue to eat it, so that we can continue to evolve our species to tolerate it?

Pamananda said...

Are the grain-like seeds also a problem for humans? For example: buckwheat, quinoa, chia.
Also, how do oats compare to wheat?

It seems like early humans would have been eating various seeds, for their nutritional content and storability.

M. Safranski said...

I know this is an older post but thank you for breaking this down so succinctly. There is so much information out there on the topic of grains and whether we "should" eat them, and this give a great overview. I just started a blog about my journey with going grain free( and this was a great help!

Jaclyn Leigh said...

Hey Stephan,

I am currently writing an ebook on how to truly cleanse the body and I would love to add a link, under the gluten free section, to this article. How does you feel about that?

Be Well,
Jaclyn Leigh

Catherine Gibson said...

Hi Stephan,
I am trying to find information on how grains are not good for us, because most of my friends are cynical and will only accept a published journal article as evidence. I therefore would like to ask, where did you get your information from? If you know of any good journal articles that I can find online, I would love to hear about them.

Cheers, Cate

Randy king said...

What about beer? Cooked and fermented. I could easily give up whole grains, but I love my barley and hops

Monkey in BKK said...

one thing i don't understand regarding this ancestral "anti-grain" movement: if we are trying to follow the eating habits of our ancestors, we must be assuming that they were healthier and/or lived longer than this generation, right? true??

Anonymous said...

Grains have mostly been peasant food. They were and still are cheap and abundant. I'm sure while Queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra chomped on meats and fruits, the peasants building the pyramids were eating breads with water. Just look at the Renaissance era and even the Edwardian age. The rich courts could afford the precious meat and pigeon pies, while the peasants doing the actual work ate meatless stews and bulked on grains. Even Jesus Christ and his disciples ate bread and wine for that last meal. They were all peasants. I think it's also interesting that nothing has changed regarding energy expenditure. If you want to eat a low carb diet, you won't be able to do any kind of heavy exercising. I doubt Augustus Julius Ceasar or Caligula were doing much "heavy lifting." If you want to lift heavy weights or build pyramids, you'll need to adopt a peasant diet.

Scott_M said...

Really great stuff here, and intelligent comments from the readers. There is no nutrition found from grains, that we cannot get from other sources, in a less inflammatory fashion; i.e vegetables and plant based sources. All round, grains pose a problem for so many individuals, with a considerable amount of the population suffering un diagnosed degenerative afflictions from lectin and other grain based protein related sensitivities. This site will find a spot in my regular visitation! Well played all.

Scott_M said...

In response to what Monkey in BKK said...

We must remember that we now understand that our ancestors did actually live to rip old ages, things like saber toothed tigers, famine / food shortages, microbial infections and contractible disease were the elements responsible for early demise. Eating back in paleolithic time were much more seasonal, so certain nutrients were not around in certain times of the year, leading to deficiencies.

We now understand nutrition better than we ever have in human history, so a balanced diet of high nutritious fats (omega's etc), and quality proteins, low processed sugar and grain consumption / refined carbs, instead eating quality fresh plants and happy animals, means we have access to gleaming important nutrients from all food sources at all times of the year, something that paleolithic man did not have access to.

The point is to follow a paleolithic diet, eating the whole foods that were most nutrient dense, as often as possible, instead of pro inflammatory processed foods, refined, non fermented, flash heated, sprayed, GMO, fried, or otherwise unhappy plants and mammals.