I am reading two fantastic books right now. Cure Tooth Decay by Ramiel Nagel and A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tony Sandage. Both of these books focus on what our ancestors ate (and both are fantastic so far). According to these two authors and at least one person on the internet grains have been a part of our diet for a long, long time. So, what does this mean for the paleo diet? Is it a fraud? Not necessarily. Though our paleolithic ancestors most likely ate grain, they ate it in a far, far different way than we eat it now.
Grain helped humans shift from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a more settled way of life. Something that allowed people, for the first time, to have free time. This fostered all kinds of advances in society and technology like writing and even bureaucracy (lol). The catch here is that grain was always consumed sprouted and fermented. Beer was a staple foodstuff even being used as currency. According to ancient documents the workers who built the pyramids in Egypt were paid with beer and sometimes bread. That has nothing to do with paleolithic humans, but it’s a really interesting factoid.
Sprouting and fermenting grains unlocks the nutrients they contain which are otherwise unavailable to our bodies. Whole grains are the worst offenders in this case as they contain all of the phytic acid and lectins. This includes nuts. So that paleo nut butter? You’re not getting everything that the nutrition label says it has to offer. You’re not even really eating it the way a paleolithic person would have eaten it.
Luckily, sprouting and fermenting grain is super easy, it just takes some time. In my opinion grains that have been sprouted/fermented taste much better so I am quite happy to ferment them or sprout them. I haven’t combined the two methods yet, but I will. I’m also very strongly considering investing in a grain mill.
All of that being said, I am of the opinion that the paleo diet is another fad diet. I say that with an immense amount of respect for the diet itself because it helped me turn hypothyroidism around and improve my health in general. There are merits to “eating like a caveman” for sure, but I think it’s a bit hasty to cut out all grains for the rest of your life because a diet that claims to be what our ancestors ate told you to. The important thing to know is how to properly prepare grains to gain the most benefit from them and the least harm.
It just goes to show you: in this day and age you really, really, have to sift through all of the information available to find the truth. Yes, humans were hunter-gatherers exclusively for a long, long time. But the cultivation of grain increased our intellect and gave us a more stable life. Are grains the villain they’ve been made out to be? Absolutely, in the form that we are consuming them. But once they are properly prepared, grains are not the enemy.