Sorry, Paleo People: Grains Are Part of the Human Diet

There are many versions of the modern Paleo diet, assumed to be based on a partial or simulated version the diet of humans during the Paleolithic era (starting about 2.5 million years ago and ending about 10,000 years ago with the advent of agriculture). All these variants share an opposition to the consumption of grains, such as barley, wheat, rice, quinoa, kasha, oats, millet, amaranth, corn, sorghum, rye and triticale. 

That anti-grain stance is based on the belief that since Paleolithic man didn't eat grains, we shouldn't either.

Archeology is now proving that Paleolithic man, in fact, ate grains. The entire premise of the Paleo diet's anti-grain stance is false.

Paleo diet fans are right about one thing, though: Industrial bread and industrial grain consumption plays a large role in the health crisis. But it's the industrial version of grain consumption -- the monoculture of mutated modern wheat in high quantities and unfermented -- that causes health problems, not grains per se.

In fact,  strong evidence has recently emerged that humans and pre-human ancestors have been eating grasses and grass-like plants for about 4 million years, which eventually lead to people focusing on the seeds of those grasses in the form of grains. 

How did this misunderstanding happen? Archeological evidence is skewed toward materials that survive the centuries, such as stone, bone and other hard objects. Soft materials (such as grains) don't survive unless hard objects were used to process them. Even then, actual food residues are unlikely to be detectable millennia later.

Fortunately, advancing technology is enabling us to figure out what ancient peoples really ate without relying on surviving bone and tools exclusively. 

When the Paleo concept was first popularized in 1975 by Walter L. Voegtlin, and even when Loren Cordain published his influential book The Paleo Diet in 2002, there was little material evidence for Paleolithic grain consumption. That lack of evidence, combined with an absence of grain in the diets of today's remaining hunter-gatherer groups, lead to the belief that grain consumption was not part of the Paleolithic diet.

The oldest evidence we have for the domestication of grains is about 10,500 years ago. But the direct evidence for the processing of wild grains for food goes back much earlier than domestication.

Mortars and pestles with actual grains embedded in the pores were found in Israel dating back 23,000 years, according to a 2004 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper. Note that the grains processed were wild barley and possibly wild wheat. This is direct, unambiguous evidence that humans were eating grains deep into the Upper Paleolithic era, and 13,000 years before the end of the Paleolithic era and the beginning of domesticated grains, agriculture and civilization.

A paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences details the new discoveries of Paleolithic-era flour residues on 30,000-year-old grinding stones found in Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic. The grain residues are from a wild species of cattail and the grains of a grass called Brachypodium, which both offer a nutritional package comparable to wheat and barley.

Archeologists published a paper in the December, 2009, issue of Science unveiling their discovery in Mozambique of stone tools with thousands of wild grain residues on them dated to 105,000 years ago -- during the Middle Paleolithic. The grain was sorghum, and an ancestor of modern sorghum used even today in porridges, breads and beer.

Some Paleo diet advocates claim that while there is evidence of sorghum processing, there is no evidence that the practice was widespread or that the grain was sprouted and cooked in a way that made it nutritionally usable -- in fact, the dating shows usage of the grain well before the development of pottery. 

This is true: There is no evidence of widespread use or cooking. It's also true that there is no evidence against it. We simply don't know. 

It's easy to imagine how Paleolithic man might have processed grains for food. Essene bread, for example, is made by sprouting grains, mashing, forming into flat patties and cooking them on rocks in the sun, or on hot rocks from a fire. It's easy to sprout grains -- in fact, it's hard to keep them from sprouting without airtight containers or water-proof roofs.

Before the development of pottery, gourds were used for cooking and food storage and carrying. By filling a gourd with water and dropping rocks into it from a fire, the water boils. Into that boiling water, the addition of meat, vegetation and grains would make the most nutritious meal and the most efficient use of available foods. It would enable the removal nutrition from the marrow and creases of bones, soften root vegetables, improve the digestibility of foods like leaves. In other words, such cooking methods would not only be necessary to benefit from grains, but from a wide variety of other foods as well. 

Other early neolithic methods for cooking grains, which we know about from ancient writing including the Old Testament, include cooking primitive bread on hot rocks in the sun and were methods available to Paleolithic people. 

It's also interesting to speculate on fermentation of grains, something practiced by nearly all traditional cultures. If Paleolithic people gathered excess grains and carried them, the question is not whether they fermented them, but how they could have prevented them from fermenting.

None of these technologies -- sun-cooking, hot-rock frying and gourd-based boiling -- would leave a trace for archaeologists after 100,000 years. 

The Paleo Diet belief that grain was consumed only as a cultivated crop, rather than wild, also fails the history test.

The grain we now call wild rice was a central part of the diets and cultures of Ojibwa peoples in Canada and North America, and an important food of the Algonquin, Dakota, Winnebago, Sioux, Fox and many other tribes through trade. There was even a tribe called the Menominee, or "Wild Rice People."

Native American and First Nation gatherers of this grain did so by canoe in a method prescribed by tribal law for at least 600 years when they were hunter-gatherers. The cereal crop was instrumental in enabling the Ojibwa people to surve incredibly harsh Northeastern winters, the annual success of which shocked early French explorers. 

Today, most wild rice you can buy in the store is grown in paddies in California. However, the Ojibwa still harvest wild rice in canoes, and you can buy it from them on the Internet.

So now we can say it: Archeology has proved that grains were part of the Paleolithic diet. The anti-grain stance of modern Paleo dieters is based on incomplete archeology.

And it's time for Paleo diet fans cave-man up, admit the error and to start eating healthy, whole ancient grains.



Industrial food supply massively contaminated with 'superbugs.'

Consumer Reports tested a ground turkey from a wide range of retail stores and found that 90% is contaminated with "superbugs" -- antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

In addition to that highly dangerous bacteria, 90 percent of turkey tested "contained at least one of five strains of bacteria, including fecal bacteria and types that cause food poisoning, such as salmonella and staphylococcus aureus." 

Turkey labeled with "no antibiotics," "organic," or "raised without antibiotics" also contained bacteria, but those were less likely to be antibiotic-­resistant superbugs.

Earlier this month, the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System released a report that found more than half of samples of ground turkey, pork chops and ground beef bought in US supermarkets contained antibiotic-resistant superbugs

The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System is a group jointly formed by the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The study percentage of contaminated samples is alarming in part because it's a huge increase over the past -- the problem is growing fast. 

The contamination of the food supply with disease-causing bacteria that can't be treated with our strongest antibiotics is caused by the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock to make them bigger and also to enable them to survive in cramped, unhealthy conditions without dying of the diseases that spread in such an environment. (Almost 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used in animal agriculture.)

The bottom line is that consumers buy meat based on price, and antibiotics makes it cheaper. 

The take-away: Overwhelming marketing, packaging and propaganda has convinced everyone that highly industrialized food is clean and safe and that it's been tested and approved.

The truth is the opposite: Industrialized food is generally filthy, dangerous and, by the way, environmentally damaging and there is no big government agency testing or inspecting your food before you get it.

Also: Cheap food isn't cheap. Consumers pay far more in other ways than they save at the checkout counter. 

Both the safety and cheapness of industrial foods are delusions.

The Spartan Diet rejects all industrialized food, opting instead for post-industrially produced food and wild fish, game and fowl.

Screen Shot 2013-05-02 at 6.51.20 AM.png

New Discoveries

Excess protein linked to development of Parkinson's disease

New concern raised over nanoparticles in food: 

Phthalates, found in most plastic containers, have anti-androgenic effects and may disrupt fat and carb metabolism. 

Binge drinking appears to cause inflammation in the brain region that oversees metabolic signaling


  Roasted tomatoes, onions and garlic. 

Roasted tomatoes, onions and garlic. 

New Discoveries

New research reveals how antibiotics produce changes in the microbial and metabolic patterns of the gut. 

Bees need good gut microbes to stay healthy, too: 

The diet of actual Paleolithic man was higher in carbs and lower in fat than modern #PaleoDiet fans: 

Food labeled and sold as organic often isn’t 

Tomatoes may protect from depression 

Saturated fats tied to falling sperm counts in Danes: study


Oh, cheer up and eat some cherry tomatoes!
Oh, cheer up and eat some cherry tomatoes!

New Discoveries

Ancient human gut microbes don't resemble modern humans' at all. 

Obesity is now leading cause of new recruits being rejected by U.S. Army 

Altered gut microbiota in humans is associated with symptomatic atherosclerosis and stroke. 

Americans are living sicker longer 

When it comes to fruits and vegetables that lower cancer risk, color is a great indicator: 

Food allergies are on the rise, possibly due to pesticides and the chlorine used to disinfect drinking water. 

Antibiotic use in infants causes changes in the gut microbiome that persist for at least 8 weeks. 

Scientists have discovered that there are just three distinctive bacterial community types that divide up the world. 

The sperm count of French men fell by a third between 1989 and 2005, a study suggests. 

Gut bacteria may affect cardiovascular risk: 

Chlorine in tap water linked to increase in number of people developing food allergies: 

People exposed to more chemicals used to chlorinate water and kill crop pests also more likely to have food allergies. 

Company invents way to use microwaves to sterilize bread. Now bread in America may become even more industrial: 

3,500-year-old brewery found. 

Even one soft-drink a day can increase mens risk of prostate cancer: 

A sample of raw supermarket pork found that 69 percent is contaminated: 

New startup company to use honey to fight infections: 

Human gut 'selects and nurtures' beneficial microbes: 

Targeting inflammation 'may treat Alzheimer's. They're talking about drugs, but anti-inflammatory foods should help: 

Fatty, sugary diets may cause changes to the brain that fuel overconsumption of those same foods: 

New study confirms link between triclosan and allergies: 

Industrial diet may increase mental illness risk: 

How to avoid triclosan: 

Cosmetics ingredient Triclosan linked to increased allergy development in children.


 The color of fruit can tell you how well it protects against cancer.

The color of fruit can tell you how well it protects against cancer.

African Passion Fruits!

We found these beauties at a roadside produce stand in Nairobi, Kenya. 

 Passion fruit!

Passion fruit!

Recent Discoveries

Americans consume nearly as many calories from alcohol as they do from soda. 

Triclosan found in human breast milk, blood plasma.

Babies act like little sponges for chemicals, soaking up the good — and the bad. 

Drinking soda raises stroke risk for women.

Green tea appears to ward off some cancers in women. 

Obese teen boys have up to 50 percent less testosterone than lean boys. 

Your fat needs more sleep, too. 

Hospital employees are less healthy than the general workforce and cost more in healthcare spending. 

Exercise makes you crave money less. 

Kids exposed to more mercury in the womb were more likely to have ADHD in study. 

A diet high in sugar can disrupt the memory and learning functions of the brain. 

Oleocanthal, a compound found in virgin olive oil, has a similar anti-inflammatory action as ibuprofen. 

The rise in inflammatory diseases seems partly due to losing contact with the microbes our immune systems evolved with. 

Overweight teens get mental health boost from even small amounts of exercise. 

Tobacco contains highly toxic compounds not regulated by law. 

Zinc deficiency can develop with age, leading to a decline of the immune system and increased inflammation. 

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements could slow a key biological process linked to aging. Or you could try food. 

 Greek salad.

Greek salad.

Spartan Wine at Estate Theodorakakos

We discovered a wonderful organic winery here in Sparta the same way we’ve discovered great food and wine producers all over California: by taste. 

We have been exploring organic local wines while in Sparta (it’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it). One of the wineries really stood out for us based purely on the quality of the wine. The winery is called Estate Theodorakakos, and it’s located just outside Sparta. 

Our friend Kostas arranged a tour of the winery and joined us in the tour. 

The vigneron and winemaker, Georgios Theodorakakos, personally gave the tour and answered all of our questions, with Kostas translating everything. 

The winery is family owned, and it started more than a century ago. Although the vineyard always avoided pesticides and herbicides, they didn’t get an organic certification (called “biological” in Europe) until 1996. 

The Laconia region (the area around Sparta) has been a grape-growing and wine-making region for at least 4,000 years, predating the foundation of Ancient Sparta by more than a millennium. 

Centuries ago, the area was famous for producing Malvasia, one of the most prized wines in Mediaeval Europe. (Today, Malvasia is a modern internationally used group of grape varieties originating in the Peloponnese.)

Tragically, the Ottomans suppressed winemaking with punitive taxation when they ruled Greece from 15th century until 1821. Laconia’s vineyards mostly died off and Byzantine-era Greek winemaking methods were lost.

One of the most exciting things about Estate Theodorakakos is that they focus on local grape varieties, some of which are cultivated only in this area, including Kydonitsa and Mavroudi. 

Kydonitsa, a widely use variety in ancient times, was actually discovered growing wild in Laconia, and rehabilitated at Estate Theodorakakos. 

The winery uses other ancient Greek varieties, including Monemvasia, Thrapsa, Assyrtiko, Roditis and Agiorgitiko. 

Most American wine drinkers have never heard of any of these grape varieties. So the fact that you can buy Estate Theodorakakos wines in the United States is something everyone should take advantage of. These are what Estate Theodorakakos labels look like for wines exported outside of Greece. 

Estate Theodorakakos wines are also sold in the UK, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Japan and China.