Sunday, July 1, 2012

Study: Autralopithecus Diet "Almost Exclusively" Plant Food – Researcher Says "Humans Are Basically Grass-Eaters"

Australopithecus Sediba Preferred Forest Foods, Fossil Teeth Suggest -

New research on the diet of Australopithecus Sediba has revealed another beautiful fact undermining the ugly Paleo DietTM theory.  This recently discovered  possible human ancestor that lived about 2 million years ago appears to have eaten an "almost exclusively" plant-food diet:
"Almost two million years after their last meals, two members of a prehuman species in southern Africa left traces in their teeth of what they had eaten then, as well as over a lifetime of foraging. Scientists were surprised to find that these hominins apparently lived almost exclusively on a diet of leaves, fruits, wood and bark." 
This NYT article discussing the research contains an interesting comment from Benjamin H. Passey, a geochemist at Johns Hopkins University, who conducted the tests determining the high ratio of carbon isotopes indicating a diet mostly of plant foods:

"“One thing people probably don’t realize is that humans are basically grass eaters,” Dr. Passey said in a statement. “We eat grass in the form of the grains we use to make breads, noodles, cereals and beers, and we eat animals that eat grass. So when did our addiction to grass begin? At what point in our evolutionary history did we start making use of grasses? We are simply trying to find out where in the human chain that begins.”"[Emphasis added]

It doesn't look like anyone presenting at the upcoming 2012 Ancestral Health Symposium will be discussing the reality that humans evolved as primarily plant- and probably, grass-product eaters.  In fact, it looks like someone there considers plants "A Little Shop of Horrors."  Sigh. 
Science like this shows that so-called "Paleo diet" advocates are way off track if they still think that grains, i.e. seeds of grasses, are only a recent addition to the diet of humans.  The idea that an almost purely carnivorous species with no experience eating grass seeds just suddenly adopted a grain-based diet only 10K years ago, after more than 2 millions of years completely grain-free, simply strains credulity.

Put otherwise, the agricultural revolution must have been preceded by a long, increasingly symbiotic relationship between human ancestors and seed-bearing grasses. Although ancestral humans did  consume variable quantities of meat, meat-consumption probably did not provide the key to human brain expansion or significantly alter human physiology from its baseline adaptation to a plant-based diet. 

This new research reminds me of my June 19, 2011 post entitled "Gathering Wild Grains,"  wherein I wrote

"Put this together with evidence that Paranthropus boisei, a human relative dating to 1.4 to 1.9 million years ago,  grazed on grass [2].  Paranthropus and humans both descended from Australopithecus, but the Paranthropus went extinct.  To several scientists working with this information, this new data on Paranthropus suggests a reinterpretation of previously collected data on Australopithecine diet, i.e. that Australopithecus may also have eaten grasses.

"Perhaps we can start to put together a plausible path for the incorporation of cereal grains--grass seeds--into human diets.  Perhaps human ancestors used grasses as food more than 2 million years ago. Human evolution might look something like this: the grass-eaters went extinct, but the grass-seed eaters thrived."
-->I am now even more confident that a grain-based, legume-enhanced diet is likely more ancestral than the Paleo DietTM .  To celebrate, I am going to eat a big bowl of grass seeds and fruits, topped with legume milk, as soon as I finish this post.


Bixy said...

Are you for real? You take the diet of our ancestors from 2 million years ago, then claim because at that time we were primarily plant eaters, we should still in fact eschew meat products?

What parts of the following 2 million years of evolution do you think not apply?

a) the fact we started scavenging meat, particularly bone marrow as we learned how to crack open bones
b) we learned how to utilise tools to hunt animals
c) we learned how to cook our food, enabling a far greater quantity of calories to be absorbed (notice I said absorbed, not consumed), thus increasing the quality of our diet and enabling a reduction in gut length in order to allow our brains to become larger
d) all of the above

But heck, why stop at 2 million years? Go back to when we were single cell organisms and base your diet on algae!

Here's a tip for ya Don. Read Catching Fire by renowned Primatologist Richard Wrangham, or even check out the Expensive Tissue Hypothesis. Who knows, you might actually learn something and stop peddling vegan rubbish.

Jane said...


I studied zoology at Oxford, where the course was heavily biased towards evolution and 'animal kingdom' studies, and I drew the conclusion from what I learned that humans are primarily grain eaters.

The problem with the idea that we are meat eaters is that we have no mechanism for excretion of excess iron. You will know all about this. All we can do is limit absorption, by down-regulating iron transporters, and this is not good because they are also used by manganese.

Obviously, humans are able to thrive on a meat diet IF they eat the whole animal, and can get their manganese somehow. You have suggested the Inuit got theirs from shellfish. According to Stefansson, the Inuit were very fond of tea

'..There was a little tea, but not nearly enough to see the Eskimos through the winter - this was the only element of the white man's dietary of which they were really fond and the lack of which would worry them. ..'

..which is very high in manganese. Stefansson drank tea and coffee, also high in manganese, during his meat-only experiment.

Vegaia said...

If the Paleo Diet fad was so healthy and responsible for brain growth, then why didn't the Neanderthals survive and thrive? They had 300,000 years in Europe following the diet to make themselves into "Einsteins!" Speaking of Albert Einstein, this is what he had to say on the subject of health and survival: "Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet." &

Low Carb vs. Plant-Based

Don said...


Apparently you missed my review of Catching Fire posted 9/1/11:

Wrangham actually points out that meat consumption can't adequately account for human brain expansion.

I am also very familiar with the expensive tissue hypothesis. It also only proposes that the simultaneous expansion of the brain and contraction of the gut required a diet with a higher caloric concentration than a chimp-like diet. The fact that literally billions of modern humans form normal brains on diets containing little or no animal tissue proves that meat is not the only route to the required caloric concentration. As shown by Wrangham, cooked starches are actually a more reliable source of sufficiently concentrated calories.

The brain prefers glucose, and consumes 2/3 of daily glucose oxidation. Meat does not supply glucose, so I don't know why anyone should fixate on meat as the optimal food for supporting brain expansion.

So, to answer your question, I don't think your items (a) or (b) had much impact on basic human nutritional physiology.

As for the relevance of species existing 2 million years ago: These are the species that mark the divergence of the specifically human lineage from the common ancestor of humans and great apes. They will tell us how the transition occurred to the modern human lineage. The fact is, the research is showing that we transitioned from a woodland habitat to a grassland habitat. Somewhere in there the ancestors learned how to use grass as a food source, and eventually by 10K years ago or so, we had co-evolved with grasses to the point that we became a symbiotic pair.

Modern humans are completely dependent on grass seeds for food, whether they eat grains directly or choose, I believe foolishly, to base their diets on meat. More than 99% of all meat, poultry, and fish consumed in America is from grain-fed animals.

Don said...


I had already made the same conclusion about iron:

However, I was not aware of the link to manganese. It helps explain why heavy meat-eaters seem to love coffee and tea, in addition to the fact that tea and I believe also coffee reduce iron absorption.

Don said...

Back to grain fed animals. David Pimental of Cornell University has done all the math and determined that if we stopped feeding grains to animals, we would have available for human consumption only about 29 grams of animal protein per day (from all sources), compared to the current 75 g. That would be only about 4 ounces of meat, fish, or poultry, with no eggs or dairy; or one cup of milk, one ounce of cheese, or one egg substituted for one of the ounces of meat, fish, or poultry.

That would supply only 200 to 500 kcal per day.

In other words, a meat-based diet is impossible without feeding animals grains.

And that is simply a waste of agricultural resourcss.

Don said...

Don said...


Furthermore, the evolutionary evidence is only part of the evidence in favor of a plant-based diet. In addition, we have anatomical, physiological, metabolic, epidemiological, and clinical evidence all pointing to humans being plant-eaters. Of course I can't address all of it in this comment.

I have already read Catching Fire and the original Aiello and Wheeler paper on the Expensive Tissue Hypothesis.

Which by the way has been refuted:

Have you watched this?

Have you read The China Study? In it you will find discussion of some of the metabolic, epidemiological, and clinical evidence, with plenty of references to peer-reviewed research.

Peter said...

^I love the China Study, and epidemiology. Epidemiology has an impeccable track record in getting it all right.

“In 1940, I confirmed De Langen’s results . . . by the observation that in North China, coronary disease, cholesterol [gall]stones and thrombosis were practically nonexistent among the poorer classes. They lived on a cereal-vegetable diet consisting of bread baked from yellow corn, millet, soybean flour and vegetables sautéed in peanut and sesame oil. Since cholesterol is present only in animal food, their serum cholesterol content was often in the range of 100 mg. per cent. These findings paralleled the observation of De Langen that coronary artery disease was frequent among Chinese who had emigrated to the Dutch East Indies and followed the high fat diet of the European colonists (Snapper 1963, 284)”.

Cornelis de Langen: Diet-Heart Theory, 1916

1) From the Framingham data:

“Under age 50 years these data suggest that having a very low cholesterol level improves longevity. After age 50 years the association of mortality with cholesterol values is confounded by people whose cholesterol levels are falling–perhaps due to diseases predisposing to death.”

2) Relationship of baseline serum cholesterol levels in 3 large cohorts of younger men to long-term coronary, cardiovascular, and all-cause mortality and to longevity.

“These results demonstrate a continuous, graded relationship of serum cholesterol level to long-term risk of CHD, CVD, and all-cause mortality, substantial absolute risk and absolute excess risk of CHD and CVD death for younger men with elevated serum cholesterol levels, and longer estimated life expectancy for younger men with favorable serum cholesterol levels”.

3) Ornish et al. demonstrated in an intervention trial that lowering LDL was associated with increased telomerase activity, which in turn is associated with longevity.

4) A meta-analysis of 108 randomized controlled trials of various lipid modifying interventions found that lowering LDL cholesterol significantly decreased the risk of coronary heart disease and all-cause mortality, whereas modifying HDL provided no benefit after controlling for LDL cholesterol.

nothing91 said...


"Are you for real?"

Just give Don a decade or so and he'll be back to pushing meat eating again. He flip-flops back and forth like it's cool, and convinces himself he's 100% correct each time. :-)

Bixy said...


We're omnivores. There is plenty of evidence in favour of eating plants. And just as much in favour of eating animals. Are you only going to focus on the section of evidence that suits your beliefs?

You may find evidence that we consumed seeds. Fantastic. Doesn't change the fact we consumed meat. Or are you going to dispute every single piece of evidence that points to meat consumption? Because that would be funny to watch.

Bixy said...


Yes, when his excessive legume and grain consumption slowly but surely leads to some side effect he's not able to resolve, he'll probably jump back on the omnivore bandwagon.

Till then, let him bumble on in blissful ignorance of the overwhelming evidence that he is wrong.

Don said...


1. "We're omnivores." No argument there.

2. "There is plenty of evidence in favour of eating plants. And just as much in favour of eating animals. "

Where is this evidence? I would like to see some evidence that eating animals prevents any common disease such as heart disease or cancer. I am always open to evidence. However, I have not seen you present any on this topic.

3. Nowhere did I deny that any particular human ancestor ate meat. I fully acknowledge that modern humans and ancestral hominins ate meat. But the fact that some human ancestors ate meat does not by any stretch of the imagnination prove that meat-eating is of benefit to human health.

Exactly where is this "overwhelming evidence" that I am wrong about what? You haven't shown me that I am wrong about anything yet, yet you claim there is overwhelming evidence that I am wrong.

I am guessing that you did not read the links I gave which showed that the expensive tissue hypothesis is seriously flawed at its foundation, namely that Aiello and Wheeler claimed that there is an inverse relationship between gut size and brain size, when in fact there is no such inverse relationship across species. It turns out that the human body save energy for the brain by being locomotively more efficient, i.e. bipedal.

By the way, I noticed that you failed to answer me whether you have watched the Mills video, or read the China Study by T. Colin Campbell (not Minger's misrepresentation of it).

Bixy said...


I've read the china study. And the refutations. Even in the book, the highest correlation with mortality (can't remember if it was overall, or just heart disease specific) was wheat.

Personally, as soon as I eliminated grains from my diet, my ezcema that I hadn't been able to rid myself of for over 10 years disappeared within a few weeks. And on the few occasions since when I've consumed more than a trace amount of grains, it's reappeared and I got sick. Every single time.

So if you are able to consume grains, then good for you. But I am not alone. I know many people who can't tolerate them. And on a non-anecdotal level, gluten has been shown to be problematic for a large portion of the population, causing gut irritation, even if they show no outwards signs.

Which says to me that no, in fact, we are not necessarily adapted to a grass-seed based diet, even when prepared with sprouting or fermenting. Some people can do fine on grains, the majority, probably not.

If you had problems with a high fat diet, which was your reason to abandon a "paleo" diet, did it ever occur to you that maybe you're just not suited to a low carb diet?

Did you ever think that maybe you just need a balance of macronutrients, and that it's not actually the meat that caused your health problems? Low carb has been shown to cause inflammation, and maybe that was the cause of your health issues. I certainly function better on moderate carb, moderate fat, moderate protein, just as many people do.

I think you've thrown the baby out with the bath water.

Bixy said...

I'm only going to post one more reply.

You mention that " I would like to see some evidence that eating animals prevents any common disease such as heart disease or cancer. I am always open to evidence."

Since you have acknowledged that our ancestors ate meat and has clearly been a part of our diet for many millennia, I believe the onus is on you to prove that meat causes heart disease or cancer, not that I need to refute that it causes them.

Can you show me 1 randomized clinical trial (not an observational/epidemiological study) that shows a correlation between meat consumption and heart disease or cancer, that has convincingly accounted for confounding variables?

Don said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Don said...

By the way, what exactly is a "balance" of macronutrients?

Do you mean 33% fat, 33% carbs, andn 33% protein, exactly 'balanced'?

Or do you mean an intake of macronutrients suited to human metabolic needs, according to the best science currently available?

Which would mean 10-15% energy as protein, 15-20% fat, and 65-75% carbohydrate from unrefined sources.

Peter said...

The cause of atherosclerosis, William Roberts, American Journal of Cardiology, editor-in-chief

"Because humans get atherosclerosis, and atherosclerosis is a disease only of herbivores, humans also must be herbivores”

Are there really omnivores who get elevated serum cholesterol thanks to saturated fat and dietary cholesterol?

A Swedish IT blogger did a nice refutation of the whole Minger scam. Not that we even need any refutation, but this for those conspiracy theorists who think bloggers do better in sorting out data than Oxford professor Richard Peto


Wheat & China Study

Peter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter said...

"Can you show me 1 randomized clinical trial (not an observational/epidemiological study) that shows a correlation between meat consumption and heart disease or cancer, that has convincingly accounted for confounding variables?"

It would be very naive to assume we could find much in terms of etiology of coronary heart disease while relying on RCT's. It's the overall picture, metabolic ward studies, epidemiology, animal models, etc. RCT were made to study pills, not for complex diseases that take decades to manifest themselves.

However, I hope these will help.

How eating red meat can spur cancer progression

“Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, led by Ajit Varki, M.D., have shown a new mechanism for how human consumption of red meat and milk products could contribute to the increased risk of cancerous tumors. Their findings, which suggest that inflammation resulting from a molecule introduced through consumption of these foods could promote tumor growth, are published online this week in advance of print publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)”.–her111308.php

A tightly controlled metabolic ward study with human participants found NOC arising from heme iron in meat forms DNA adducts in the colon, a risk factor for cancer.

Numerous tightly controlled metabolic ward studies with human participants have confirmed that heme iron from meat significantly increases the production of cancerous N-nitroso compounds (NOC) in the digestive tract.…

3/4 of the world were relying on grains as their staple still few decades ago, the 3/4 of the world had vey low levels of diabetes, obesity, etc. Now we have people who have never set their foot outside their own hich town has come to a conclusion that grains are dangerous.

Peter said...


how does your ex-wife feels about your new plant-based lifestyle?

superbootcamps george said...

Hi there,

Can we digest grains if they're not cooked?

If not, how are we adapted to eating them?
If so, why do we eat them exclusively cooked?

Sorry if I've asked questions you've answered before...


superbootcamps george said...

Is the information presented by Roberts a good example of logic?

Could we not also say that were the only animal that cooks its food therefore it must be cooking that causes athersclerosis?

I'm not I've given the best example, but I'm sure we could find more.

Peter said...

"Could we not also say that were the only animal that cooks its food therefore it must be cooking that causes athersclerosis?"

No, we can't say that, because cooking per se does not cause atherosclerosis.

In the Cornell-Oxford China-project there's was one cohort from Guizhui county. Over 250 000 people, and zero death from heart disease during the 3-year follow-up. People had mean serum cholesterol 127mg/dl and cooked their starches.

You should read Wranghams book Catching fire.

Don said...

"Can we digest grains if they're not cooked?" No

"If not, how are we adapted to eating them?" We learned to use fire and water to cook them; we are adapted to eating them cooked.

Where is the evidence that an organism can only be adapted to eating raw foods?

Really, cooking is a universal human attribute wherever people have to survive on local resources (outside of trendy raw foodist circles).

Humans are a cooking animal. As discussed by Wrangham in Catching Fire, evidence points in the direction of humans being thoroughly adapted to and dependent upon cooking (or some substitute, like fine grinding, blending, juicing, drying) to make whole foods (including meat) adequately digestible.

Ever try eating raw beef without grinding it? Its pretty hard work. Wrangham has calculated the the energy expenditure involved in attempting to chew raw meat adequately negates much of its value as a concentrated energy source.

In addition, raw meat is microbiologically unsafe, especially in a primitive circumstance without refrigeration. Even cooked meat can convey fatal microbial infections. This is why parasite infestation is pretty universal among hunter-gatherers.

So, if you want to maintain that we aren't adapted to grains because we have to cook them to make them digestible, you will also have to maintain that we aren't adapted to meat because we have to cook it to both make it adequately digestible and to make it safe.

The idea that we can be said to be adapted to grains because we have to cook them to make them digestible just does not hold water.

Don said...

"The idea that we can be said to be adapted to grains because we have to cook them to make them digestible just does not hold water."

Oops, I meant "The idea that we can't be said to be adapted to grains because we have to cook them to make them digestible just does not hold water.

Pentti said...

Don, I watched your lecture and have to say you seem like a calm, kind and spiritual person.

I transitioned along the lines of this farewell to paleo style at the turn of the year, quit alcohol and went vegan.

I have incorporated some milk products every now and then.

Today I am standing at 184cm and little over 60 kg with sub 5& bodyfat.

I run 5ks effortlessly in less than 20 min, do 20 clean pull-ups and close to hundred push-ups.

Every person who has seen me shirtless call me muscular, they would never believe I weigh 62kg.

Must be the extra toxins and water weight and intramuscular mucus and fat I've shed.

I eat tons of oatmeal, potatoes, rye-bread, wholewheat , rice and corn.

Cheers, Peter

Don said...

"Ecologic, case-control, cohort, and randomized, controlled studies have demonstrated the benefits of a low-fat, high-fiber diet for breast and prostate cancer survival. A plant-based diet, generally low in fat and high in fiber, may offer survival benefits for both breast and prostate cancer. Further research is required to establish effective interventions that promote healthy dietary choices that enhance cancer survival."

Don said...

"These results suggest that in postmenopausal women diagnosed with breast cancer, reduced dietary fat and increased fiber, vegetable, fruit, and other nutrient intakes associated with a plant-based, high-fiber diet improves overall survival after breast cancer diagnosis."

Don said...

"Current evidence justifies recommending that women of all ages follow a plant-based diet in which fat provides no more than 10% of calories, with the goals of preventing breast cancer and improving its prognosis in a low-cost, safe manner."

Don said...

"In principal component analysis among 1,556 controls, two patterns emerged: a "vegetable-soy" pattern (tofu, cauliflower, beans, bean sprouts, green leafy vegetables) and a "meat-sweet" pattern (shrimp, chicken, beef, pork, candy, desserts). In adjusted unconditional logistic regression analyses including 1,446 cases and 1,549 controls with complete covariate data, risk was not associated with the vegetable-soy pattern. It was associated with the meat-sweet pattern (4th versus 1st quartile: odds ratio, 1.3; 95% confidence interval, 1.0-1.7; P(trend) = 0.03), but only in postmenopausal women, specifically among those with estrogen receptor-positive tumors (4th versus 1st quartile: odds ratio, 1.9; 95% confidence interval, 1.1-3.3; P(trend) = 0.03). Our findings indicate that a western diet increases breast cancer risk in postmenopausal Chinese women. "

Don said...

"In a combined index of the 3 patterns, women who were high consumers of Western and ethnic meat/starch and low consumers of the vegetables/soy diets showed the highest risk (OR: 2.19; 95% CI: 1.40, 3.42; P for trend = 0.0005). SHBG concentrations were 23% lower in women with a high intake of the meat/starch pattern and a low intake of the vegetables/soy pattern than in those with a low intake of the meat/starch pattern and a high intake of the vegetables/soy pattern (P for trend = 0.069).

Our results suggest that a diet characterized by a low intake of meat/starches and a high intake of legumes is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer in Asian Americans."

Jane said...


Thanks for the link to your post on iron. I remember seeing it, and noting your suggestion that iron = yang. Have a look at this abstract and see if you think manganese = yin.

See also if you think manganese might have played an important role in the evolution of our large brains.

'It has been suggested that transition metals such as iron and manganese produce oxidative injury to the dopaminergic nigrostriatal system. which may play a critical role in the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease. Intranigral infusion of ferrous citrate (0 to 8.4 nmol, i.n.) acutely increased lipid peroxidation in the substantia nigra and dopamine turnover in the caudate nucleus. Subsequently, it caused a severe depletion of dopamine levels in the rat caudate nucleus. In contrast to iron's pro-oxidant effect, manganese (up to 30 nmol, i.n.) causes neither lipid peroxidation nor nigral injury/dopamine depletion. Manganese (1.05 to 4.2 nmol, i.n.) dose-dependently protected nigral neurons from iron-induced oxidative injury and dopamine depletion. Manganese also suppressed acute increase in dopamine turnover and contralateral turning behaviour induced by iron. In brain homogenates manganese (0 to 10 microM) concentration-dependently inhibited propagation of lipid peroxidation caused by iron (0 to 5 microM). Without the contribution of manganese-superoxide dismutase manganese was still effective in sodium azide and/or heat-pretreated brain homogenates. Surprisingly, iron but not manganese, catalysed the Fenton reaction or the conversion of hydrogen peroxide to hydroxyl radicals. The results indicate that iron and manganese are two transition metals mediating opposite effects in the nigrostriatal system, as pro-oxidant and antioxidant, respectively. ...

superbootcamps george said...

Thanks for your replies Dom and Peter, much appreciated.

i'll check out the book you both recommended.

It's certainly an interesting field we're in, so much information to digest and absorb (pun intended).

Keep up the good work,

Anand Srivastava said...

What about the low nutrient status of grains. The negligible electrolyte content. The inaccessibility of most nutrients unless soaked -> ground -> fermented and cooked. Do people do the complete steps to make them useful.

Would people go to these limits unless forced by low availability of calories, in foods that are easier to get.

Don said...


From that abstract, at least within the system discusses, yes, manganese is functioning as a yin factor i.e. antioxidation, reducing or countering a fire-like phenomenon, thus more like water.

At Linus Pauling INstitute:

"Iron supplementation (60 mg/day for four months) was associated with decreased blood manganese levels and decreased MnSOD activity in white blood cells, indicating a reduction in manganese nutritional status"

Which means a high iron availability diet suppresses manganese status, thus acc to the abstract you cited, increasing oxidative damage to the brain.

That study does also provide some interesting fodder for speculation about the effect of minerals on brain evolution, development and health. Given the processes described, it would seem likely that human encephalization required a diet with a relatively low iron availability with some regularly available good source(s) of manganese.

Again, the Linus Pauling Institute lists fruits, nuts, whole grains, and legumes as the richest dietary sources of manganese. (same link as above), again suggesting that the diet that fueled human brain expansion was low but adequate in iron and high in plant foods rich in manganese, perhaps including grains and legumes.

Don said...


Wild grains are among the easiest foods to get (they never run away or fight back) and have a high caloric return on energy invested in gathering.

"in one to two hours a forager could collect enough wild grain to feed himself for a day, just collecting it off the ground by the handful. Eight hours of collecting could supply him with grain for a whole week. A smart forager would quickly come up with ways to make the work easier and more efficient."

In three weeks a family could gather enough wild grain to feed the whole family for a year. This abundance would certainly drive innovation and leave plenty of time for food processing. Add some water, soak over night (almost no energy investment), then pound/grind with stones (adding more minerals) in the morning.

I have done this type of thing myself and find it quite easy, certainly much easier than hunting a 1500 pound animal that can run 30 mph, run me down even if injured, and kick my cranium to pieces. I don't really see why hunting bison, hauling its carcass, butchering it, then protecting its highly perishable flesh from other predators and spoilage, is considered an easier path to dinner than gathering grains, soaking/fermenting them for a day or two, then pounding and/or cooking (the last step also being necessary to process the bison).

Grains are not low nutrient density. In fact, they are more abundant in brain-specific minerals than meat, without the hazards involved (injury during hunting or infection eating). See the table on this topic in this paper:

Moreover, if you eat an amount of whole grain adequate to supply your energy requirements, you will ingest more than enough protein and essential amino acids. Most grains are about 10% energy from protein, so 3000 kcal of grain supplies 75 g of protein, and if you care to do the analysis, more than enough of all the essential amino acids:

The idea that these nutrients are "not available" to humans is certainly incorrect, since we easily adapt to phytate, which also has numerous health benefits

and in any case, soaking or souring the raw seeds will inactivate 90-95% of this blocker (and souring also predigests the protein, including gluten).

Well fermented wheat is even tolerable by celiac disease patients since fermentation reduces gluten from 80K ppm to 8 (yes, eight) ppm:

"A 60-day diet of baked goods made from hydrolyzed wheat flour, manufactured with sourdough lactobacilli and fungal proteases, was not toxic to patients with CD."

The air is full of yeasts that will do the fermentative trick, I know because I have made sourdough starters from scratch, capturing wild yeasts in a mash of raw cereal grain.

Before the industrial age, people had plenty of time to process grains in the traditional fashion, which most likely started in prehistory (soak, sour, grind or cook). After you gather your full year's supply of basic food, what else do you need to spend time on?

Don said...

"In this work, we used a new mixture of selected sourdough lactobacilli and fungal proteases to eliminate the toxicity of wheat flour during long-time fermentation....Food processing by selected sourdough lactobacilli and fungal proteases may be considered an efficient approach to eliminate gluten toxicity."

This type of research shows that all this hoopla about gluten has arisen only because we have abandoned the traditional way of processing wheat, which, as I have said, probably originated in prehistory.

Baker's yeast applied in making wheat bread degrades ALL of phytate in a 24 hour period of fermentation:

Baker's yeast (used to make conventional yeasted bread) also degrades gluten given adequate time:;jsessionid=2AF94AE3DDE98D6BDFD90D71DC5849A1

gunther gatherer said...

Don, can you offer some tips or procedures on how to ferment whole wheat so it's practically gluten free? Where do you get the culture for the proper fermentation and how long should the grain sit? Thanks.

Don said...


Looking at the paper

they report using lactobacilli and fungi (yeasts) for fermentation. They fermented the wheat for 48 hours at 37 degrees C (98.6 F), then dried out the sourdough, pulverized it to recreate the flour state, then made the final bread with baker's yeast.

You can do this with whole wheat flour or soaked and mashed whole wheat berries. You can get the culture from the air around you. I have done it. This blog has a procedure similar to what I have used:

As the culture gains strength over time (i.e. as you use it) its enzyme content increases and it takes less and less time to produce the desired effect. But when I used such a culture, I usually let the dough ferment 9-12 hours (overnight) for the first rise, then 1-3 hours for the second. This won't be practically gluten free but the gluten will be greatly reduced.

But, the longer you ferment, the less suitable the dough will be for bread, as the destruction of the gluten makes the dough incapable of holding gas and rising. So to make a bread from fermented gluten free wheat (at least 48 hours of fermentation) you would need to use a procedure as in that paper (dry the fermented mash, turn it to flour, add structuring agents e.g. gums such as xanthan, etc.)

Or, just soak raw whole wheat berries for 24 hours, mash or grind them to a paste, add the culture, ferment 48 hours, then cook as porridge.

In history, most European people did not use wheat as much as barley and rye (much lower in gluten) and oats, millets and buckwheat (no gluten). The rich used wheat, the rest used millet or barley or buckwheat.

In Africa, people used millet and sorghum, the latter being the grain found to be used by humans at least 100K years ago. These are probably the most ancestral grain species, given current evidence.

gunther gatherer said...

That's great info, Don. Many thanks. I have an EasiYo yogurt maker that has the right volume to ferment grains.

Now that I don't eat dairy any more, I was wondering what to do with the thing. So now I can experiment with wheat berries.

I don't care so much for grinding it into flour or even leavening the bread with yeast. My goal is to make a "brick" style bread of gluten free whole wheat.

Jane said...

Don, thanks for your comments about manganese and iron. I totally agree, of course.

About gluten: you know the Hunza did not ferment their wheat? Apparently gluten was not a problem for them. It has a lot of proline, which means it should difficult to break down, but there are suggestions in the literature that at least some of the peptidases which break proline bonds require metals and especially manganese. So it could be that the problem with gluten only arises with white flour.

...Since the intestinal enzymes that hydrolyze other peptides such as glycylglycine and prolylglycine are also activated by Mn [2 refs], it becomes clear that there are in intestinal mucosa several metal-containing proteases. ..

Don said...


You're welcome, glad it is helpful. Great idea to repurpose the yogurt fermenter to grain fermentation.


Very interesting study on the manganese dependent enzymes. That does raise the question whether gluten 'toxicity' is dependent on manganese status/intake.

When researchers test gluten for its effect on the gut wall cells, they use cell cultures and pure gluten, which lacks the manganese. An interesting experiment would test the effect of whole wheat digestate (instead of isolated gluten) on gut wall cells.

cwaiand said...

Charles Grashow said...

aspiringsteph said...

Another paleo to vegan girl, here! The primitive nutrition series was the eye opener for me. ;) and of course, this blog is really resourceful as well. Thanks to y'all! This blog is beyond amazing

Jack LaBear said...

your telling Gunther that he could make "practically gluten free" (8ppm?) bread by some sourdough fermentation followed by baker's yeast was a bit disingenuous.
From your reference, the lactobacilli were special strains (Lactobacillus alimentarius 15 M, L. brevis 14G,
L. sanfranciscensis 7A, and L. hilgardii 51B ... were previously
selected based on their capacity to hydrolyze gliadins (10). L. sanfranciscensis
LS3, LS10, LS19, LS23, LS38, and LS47 ... were selected based
on their peptidase systems, with particular reference to activities towards Prorich
peptide). These were no doubt screened by modern microbiological techniques. Oh, and by the way, they were cultured in MRS broth (Oxoid, Basingstoke, Hampshire, United Kingdom). The first ingredient of this broth is peptones.
"Peptones are derived from animal milk or meat digested by proteolytic digestion" All you "evolutionists" out there take note;-)
Furthermore, the fungal proteases used were not from bakers yeast, but rather from the following strains of fungi: Aspergillus oryzae and Aspergillus niger, again probably concentrated by some high tech method as supplied by BIO-CAT Inc, who also make a number of products "designed to treat septic tanks and cesspools".