Home > Nutrition > Nutrition Counter Culture – Part II

Nutrition Counter Culture – Part II

In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Sadly, little more than hilarious British satire remains to document the dawn of the universe.  Even still, I’d go far as to suggest that the Hitchhiker’s Guide got it right given what I know about things that have happened hence.  To paraphrase Douglas Adams

About 12,000 years ago, human beings began to stop collecting from the bounty of nature at large and decided rather to plant, tend and harvest their food.  This, the dawn of agriculture and civilization, was a bad move.

The Reenlightenment Blog

Agriculture lead to food surpluses and allowed for people to put down “roots” in a fixed geographic space.  Villages, towns, cities, states, countries all arose out of this ability.  This ultimately resulted in expansion of written communication, learning, industrialization, and technology.  These advantages, and they are advantages, have a cost.  Our current system has the ability to support many thousands of times as many people in at least moderate comfort than it did 12,000 years ago.  Our improved knowledge has helped us to conquer many diseases and develop life saving drugs.  It even produced fancy machines that allow me to write articles and spread them to…well, no one, but someone COULD read them.

So with all those advantages, why was agriculture a bad idea?  Agriculture is killing us.  The resultant civilization isn’t doing anything for our health either.  The high population density that our civilization requires and drives increases the prevalence of communicable diseases.  In fact, one could look at a hospital as a microcosm of civilization.  Hospitals are repositories of great knowledge and technology as well as disease and “superbugs.”

What made agriculture and it’s attendant issues possible is the annual plant.  Annuals are plants that have a one year life cycle, or less.  Some plants live a few growing seasons, and others (perennials) live for many years.  The annual, with it’s brief existence, is forced to do it’s all to produce seed and plant another generation the next spring.  A result of this is the seeds are well protected and carry a lot of food for the plant that they will produce.  This is critical to agriculture as the seed does not spoil easily and they are energy dense allowing agriculturists to store these calories away long after the harvest.  These seeds are the part of wheat, corn, barley, rye, beans, peas, and other plants that are eaten.

Over time the agriculturists determined that they could select particular plants with the most desirable traits, such as larger seeds, leading to what we know as modern grains.  Aside from grains it should be noted this same selective breeding has been done with most every modern plant.  Taking the tomato as an example; the heirloom varieties one can grow or find at the farmer’s market are dramatically different in flavor and structure than the tomato available at the supermarket and these varieties are only decades old as opposed to 1000’s of years.  If you were to find the wild variety of any common food (an apple for instance) you will not find it at all pleasant to eat.  I think this is an important point to make, as many people are prone to think of fruits and vegetables as “natural.”  As we know and eat them they are almost as man made as your car and probably took more petroleum to be made than your car.  That is a discussion for another time however.

So that is the very short version of how we came to consume annuals (primarily grains and legumes).  As I mentioned in Part I, the paleo diet excludes grains and legumes, and the reason is the same as why they have been the choice of agriculture and civilization for thousands of years, STORAGE!  Grains and legumes in a dry state are very stable and not prone to spoilage.  This is critical to the seed so that it does not sprout prematurely and if eaten gives the grain a chance of passing through undigested with a chance for becoming a plant.  The seed protection mechanisms, which are a wide variety of chemicals, are contained largely in the bran of the seed.  These chemicals, such as Phytates and Lectins.  Phytates are antinutrients and can lead to micronutrient deficiencies such as Pellagra.  Lectins are proteins found in some seeds and have the ability to bind to and damage a wide variety of human tissues.  It is even theorized that lectins may cause leptin resistance.  Leptin is a hormone in the human body which circulates in levels proportional to the amount of adipose tissue (fat) in the body.  This hormone helps to regulate hunger.  Lectins may interfere with the bodies ability to respond to Leptin resulting in uncontrolled hunger despite large amounts of fat.  While of no particular nutritional significance, one infamous Lectin is Ricin, which is derived from the seed of the Castor plant and is used as a biological warfare agent.

So all those healthy whole grains you hear about are, in short, non-existent.  Sadly I am just not enough of an expert to explain to you the many reasons, increasing in number each day, why grains and legumes should not be part of your diet.  For that reason here are some people smarter than me.












Categories: Nutrition
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