Kurt G. Harris MD

PāNu means paleonutrition. The "paleo" here signifies "old" and not necessarily paleolithic. The PāNu approach to nutrition is grounded on clinical medicine and basic sciences disciplined by knowledge of evolutionary biology and paleoanthropology. The best evidence from multiple disciplines supports eating a pastoral (animal-based) diet rather than a grain-based agricultural one, while avoiding what I call the neolithic agents of disease - wheat, excess fructose and excess linoleic acid.

Support PāNu

PāNu is ad-free, completely independent and has no outside sponsorship. If you value PāNu, now you can support it. Read this for more information.

In addition to buying from the book list, you can also support PāNu by making all of your Amazon purchases for any item through the Amazon Portal below

Amazon Portal

« 12 Steps update Mar 2010 | Main | Diabetes I vs II and diet »

The argument against cereal grains II


So to refresh your memory, here is a drawing of a wheat seed (Genus Triticum) that I have lifted from Wikipedia.

I covered some of this at a general level in Part I, but perhaps its well to repeat some of it for emphasis now.

It’s hard to beat up on wheat too much, after all.

To relate the anatomical parts to food, wheat germ is the embryo – the dormant baby-in-waiting of the next generation of this annual grass. Found in the germ is wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), which is a defensive secondary compound known as a “lectin”. WGA binds to such a wide variety of proteins in our bodies that it is used in biological science and laboratory medicine for exactly that purpose – to label proteins. When eaten, WGA has effects (bad effects) on the gut and gut permeability separate from those caused by gluten proteins. Once it leaks through or around the gut barriers, it also seems to diminish leptin sensitivity and bind insulin receptors – both effects that can help make you fat.

The bran is the relatively indigestible hull of the seed, which is supposed to be good for us for exactly that reason, I am told. I don’t doubt we evolved to get a small amount of fiber along with the veggies, primordial fruit and odd tubers we have eaten along our evolutionary path, but I still can’t see the need to refine the inedible parts of plants and eat them on purpose – especially inasmuch as the hulls of grass seeds will have the highest concentrations of the lectins that plants have evolved to be herbivore defenses. As we are not herbivores, nor even descended from them, (even vegetarian-leaning omnivorous chimps do not eat grass seeds) I think it is best to not eat like them. I recommend avoiding wheat bran. Sawdust would be both cheaper and safer. Don’t laugh - some whole wheat breads have been “fortified” with cellulose.

Finally we get to the largest part of the seed by volume, the endosperm. The endosperm plays egg to the seeds embryo, with the endosperm analogous to the yolk and white of a bird egg.

Sidebar: The eggs of birds are the perfect food. Not so the “egg” of a grass plant. Why not? The egg of a vertebrate contains all the proteins, vitamins and minerals necessary to grow a baby vertebrate from a handful of cells to the point where it can peck or bite it’s way out of the shell, and start eating on its own. So that makes it a pretty reliable source of nutrients for vertebrate predators like us. Not so the egg of a grass seed. Besides the antinutrient issue, the complement of amino acids and fat soluble vitamins in the endosperm is not enough to grow or feed a human without supplementation from other sources.

The endosperm stores carbohydrate and a dizzying variety of proteins to be used as the sources of energy and structural growth for the embryo during its germination, when the embryo must grow into enough of a plant to be able to collect energy and nutrients from the environment, and stand on its own plant feet. It is worth reminding ourselves that this assemblage of protein and carbohydrate is meant to serve the structural and fuel needs of the baby plant, and is in no way a gift from the plant to feed us.

Picture a kernel of wheat, along with its mates, attached to the tip of a slender blade of grass whose sole purpose was to stick the seed up high enough for the wind to blow it somewhere and have the whole cycle start over again. Can you see how plants that evolved mechanisms to protect the tiny germ and its vulnerable, metabolically costly bundle of proteins and starch (the endosperm) would have a better chance of survival?

Shall I remind you of the dictum: “Favor food that is defenseless when dead”.

The corollary of this might be “beware food that appears defenseless while alive”.

So the endosperm represents an investment by the grass, a lifetimes’ worth of plant 401-K meant to be passed on to the next plant generation. The hull therefore contains an array of molecules known as secondary compounds, including lectins and other antinutrients, such that, should an opportunistic animal eat the seed, the animal will be induced, to use the vernacular – to have the shits. This state of affairs will give the seed a fighting chance for the seed to be shat out before digestion occurs, and might also serve as a learning opportunity for the animal, to the mutual benefit of both organisms in the future.

Basically there is one class of animal that has fought the evolutionary arms race with grass seeds enough to be evolved to eat a fair amount of them. These animals are called birds.

A lot of people think herbivores are seed eaters. Not really. Herbivores that are ruminants are turning cellulose in the grass stems into fatty acids and are not getting the lion’s share of their nutrition from the seed. See 6s and 3s and the logic of grain avoidance to see why even vegetarian herbivores like cattle are not designed to eat predominantly seeds.

So back to the endosperm. We’ve got a picture of the endosperm as this succulent rich storage depot of protein and starch that the plant has invested its whole life into creating for the benefit of the next generation of the plant.

Sometime in the past (10,000 or 25,000 years ago – who cares exactly – our argument is based first on current medical science, not paleo re-enactment, remember?) after millions of years of no significant caloric contribution from grass seeds in the hominin diet, and only birds being really adapted at all, some homo sapiens hanging around the Levant (middle east) figure out that some of the local grass seeds can be ground up with stone tools, and after soaking with water and cooking, can serve as a source of starch and protein.

In a process of cultural and biological co-evolution, after a few thousand years some of the grasses have been artificially selected to the point where they cannot really reproduce that well naturally without their human cultivators, but the fundamental mechanical operation is the same:

The seed is mechanically crushed, and whether the bran and germ are left in the mix (whole wheat) or separated out (white four) the endosperm contents are made accessible to further processing to make them just edible enough by humans that it enables the founding of what we now call civilization.

So refer back to the pencil illustration. Civilization was founded quite specifically on the bit of the drawing labeled “endosperm”. That is where the nutrition lives, and where two of the three Neolithic agents also are found.

What’s so special (good or bad) about the endosperm of grass seeds like Triticum?

Firstly, to serve as the “egg” and storage depot for the germ, it has to be stable over time without rotting, as the seed may not find itself in a favorable germinating environment for a while. The lectins in the hull discourage consumption by everything from bacteria to molds and herbivores and work so well that grass seeds can still germinate after years of dormancy if supplied with the right conditions. It is this quality – storage of protein and carbohydrate at room temperature- that allowed food to be grown in surplus and stored for later without spoiling. It is this quality – the molecules that make it stable and resistant to rot and predation- that also leads to diseases of civilization as a result of leaky gut, autoimmune diseases via molecular mimicry, and direct effects of lectins like WGA.

As a storage depot to feed the growing grass embryo, the endosperm has a relatively complete complement of proteins and nutrients – not a complete set of amino acids if you are a human, but complete for the plant. So there is a fair amount of protein and carbohydrate in a single package, even if, as we discussed in the sidebar, it is not enough to sustain a healthy life for a vertebrate by itself long-term. So that is good, in the “selfish gene” sense, in that it allows greater fecundity on a population basis. But that is bad, from an individual health perspective, as these seeds have just enough nutrition to keep you alive, but being designed to grow plants, are not ideal sources of nutrition for us.

The fat content in the endosperm is biased heavily toward n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids – the ratio of 6:3 is an order of magnitude or more higher than found in animal cell membranes. Why is this? I am no botanist, but the predominance of PUFA in plants generally must relate to their needs to store energy. As plants are in most circumstances “cold-blooded”, it would not do to store lipids as saturated fat. Higher energy density with sat fat would be useless if the fat were so solid that it could not be mobilized or accessed.

Sidebar: Of course the exception that proves the rule is tropical plants like coconut and palm, which have indeed evolved the capacity to store fat as saturated. They are still cold-blooded but evolved in warm enough environments to get away with it. In fact, by eating coconut you can avoid excess unsaturates (PUFA) even better than by eating pastured butter (even if you get few n-3s).

So that accounts for the fact that depots of lipid in seeds tend to be PUFA heavy with varying amounts of non-saturated MUFA tossed in. Why this tends to be mostly n-6 rather than n-3 I can only speculate. (Experts on this feel free to chime in) The important point is that if the plant intends to burn it as fuel or beta-oxidize it into two carbon Acetyl-coA units as building blocks for other molecules, the plant does not care that if we eat the seeds or extract the oil it will give us a surfeit of n-6.

That grass-seed endosperm contains concentrations of oils that can be extracted was first good for industry in making industrial oils, paints and lubricants (like the linseed oil that the “food” industry likes to call “flaxseed oil”) for the industrial economy. Then is was good for the post-industrial “food” industry that marketed seed oils that were fobbed off as food, first as a cheap substitute for lard after catalytic hydrogenation (Crisco was so-called because the name is a contraction of “crystallized cottonseed oil”…. As Dave Barry says, I am not making this up) and then as a “healthy” substitute for butter in the wake of that homicidal fraud Ancel Keys and the saturophobia he spawned that we are fighting to this day. That these oils have come to dominate modern lipid consumption to the point where n-6 PUFA alone as a percentage of calories is around 10%, is bad. It is bad because it is totally outside of our evolutionary experience.

Our cells are more or less passively composed with a ratio of n-6 to n-3 based on the ratio of PUFA that we eat. Having never been exposed to artificially extracted n-6 oils in large quantities until less than 100 years ago, we have not had time to evolve a mechanism to regulate the 6:3 ratio at the level of the cell membrane to compensate for this. The result is that excess pro-inflammatory hormone like molecules, with n-6 derived arachidonic acid as a precursor, are produced. This 6:3 imbalance has been linked to increased cancer promotion, disturbed immune function, increased blood clot formation, increased death from coronary atherosclerosis, increased incidence of mental illness, etc. These consequences of artificially extracting and eating the oils found in endosperm of seeds are all bad. Pubmed "Lands" for details.

But the altered 6:3 ratio is only part of the story. Whether “bad” 6s or “good” 3s, there are consequences to consuming a large percentage of dietary calories from PUFA. PUFA are polyunsaturated. This means, unlike saturated fat that has no unsaturated positions, they are unsaturated at two positions. Each site that has a double bond that is not “saturated” with hydrogen atoms, has the potential to react with other molecules, including oxygen. Eating PUFA can therefore lead to consumption of lipids that react with other molecules in your body in ways that cause damage. Excess PUFA can cause damage to the liver, may damage gut integrity and contribute to leaky gut with all of those consequences, and may contribute either directly or via activation of inflammatory cytokines to atherosclerosis with resulting coronary artery disease and strokes.

So you really have two reasons to keep total PUFA low:

1)   Total PUFA of any kind is bad. The EM2 is less than 4%

2)   You need to keep your dietary intake in the range of the EM2, which is around a ratio of 1:2 to 4:1 of n-6:n-3.

If you try to accomplish #2 via megadoses of fish oil to balance eating “healthy oils” like flax and even olive, to get to a 4:1 ratio you will be consuming well over 10% of calories as PUFA, which totally blows out goal #1. We want less than 4%. Hence we first eat ruminants and fish, favor ghee butter coconut and cream as sources of fat, go easy on the nuts, and never eat or cook with extracted plant oils other than coconut.


Don’t cook with non-coconut plant oils, don’t eat fried food in restaurants and don’t eat “food” that comes in a box. Ever.

It is better to eat potatoes, corn and white rice than vegetable oil.

It is better to eat potatoes, corn and white rice than vegetable oil.

That is so important to emphasize I have repeated it.

So my recommendation is to focus on goal one of low total PUFA first, as it accomplishes all of goal #1 and most of goal #2, then add 1- 2 TEASPOONS  of Cod Liver Oil or equivalent. This will give one to two grams of DHA and EPA to optimize your ratio wihout blowing goal #1.

Sidebar Quiz: Although it has corn and wheat as the carbohydrate source, what snack food in a bag is actually still fried in coconut oil rather than industrial vegetable oils?

Answer: Bugles

I have built this indictment of grass seeds on wheat, but I’ve tried to show generally how the endosperm of seeds, sitting at the nexus of technology-wielding man looking for things to eat and the development of diseases of civilization, is the source of two of the three Neolithic agents in the PaNu scheme:


Linoleic Acid

By extension, many of the same arguments can be made for other cereal grains. In some cases, like corn, the oil argument is stronger (we don’t see commercially available wheat oil much, but corn oil is everywhere), the antinutrient argument real but weaker. For legumes, the arguments are about the same on the oil front and mildly weaker on the poison issue (unless you get anaphylaxis with peanuts) Legumes is lower in the “eliminate” scheme of the 12 steps simply because legume consumption in north America is less ubiquitous than wheat flour.

Most seed and legumes will come out somewhere between corn and gluten grains like wheat.

Not worth the effort.


Refs: Healthy Intakes of n-3 and n-6. Lands, WE et al.

Reader Comments (42)

Thank you Dr. Harris for another terrific article. I appreciate the time and energy you took to explain the important message you are trying to get across. I especially like the way you provide us with all the science and then break it down into easy to comprehend simple steps.

About cooking only with ghee, butter, animal fat and coconut oil, since a lot of recipes call for the oils we are trying to avoid, I'm assuming just switching the grain/seed oil with one of the above (say butter) will work out just fine with regards to the final result. I have a couple of books I think follow this approach (Barry Groves, Mary Enig, Nourishing Traditions...). I'm going to give them a lot more attention. I welcome any other cookbook or recipe sources suggestions. I enjoy cooking and I'm feeding a husband and two toddlers whose main concern is a delicious meal.

Thanks again for this wonderful blog....my favorite to visit each morning.

Denise G

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDenise G

Amazing post, Dr. Harris. Definitely one to pass on to as many people as possible and plant the (rather more healthy ;) ) seed of doubt regarding current nutritional 'wisdom' in their minds.

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlexandra

Whoa. Awesome.

I'll be swapping out olive oil cooking for cooking with butter and I'm attempting to transition to 2 meals a day with some coconut oil in the morning coffee. That should put my ratios on the right track.

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJacob A.

Great article, as usual!

Regarding nuts: I do find them to be an important source of nutrients (thiamine is one) that aren't plentiful in my paleoesque diet.* Not all nuts are created equal, however; I make a high-fat low-fiber low-PUFA raw nut mix of macadamias, skinless almonds, cashews and brazilnuts and eat only a small handful each day.

  • I'm not convinced of the necessity of identified "nutrients," and certainly not convinced of the RDA guidelines... That being said, the nut mix seems to cause no problems and is appealing and convenient. As soon as I mixed it up, the family abandoned the old brown, fibrous high-PUFA nut mix. "I can't believe I was eating that, it doesn't even look like food." Out of the mouths of babes...
March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJM

"Don’t cook with non-coconut plant oils, don’t eat fried food in restaurants and don’t eat “food” that comes in a box. Ever."

So olive oil is out too?

KGH: Out for cooking - oxidizes and expensive to cook with anyway

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarc

Thanks again for a great post, Dr. H.

@ Marc

"So olive oil is out, too?"

Taubes refers to the possible variance among gene-groups in regard to different food sources, and I think that is something to take into consideration with some foodstuffs.

I don't know if olive oil is a good nutrient for my particular gene pool, since none of my predecessors came from the areas where olive oil originated. On that basis, as well as the expense issue and the fact that I think it tastes like crap, I've cut it completely.

I use butter (direct and clarified) almost exclusively, since about 4,000 years worth of my personal ancestors have used that, and as far as I'm concerned, nothing tastes better. ;-)


Olive oil is a dietary fad that was recommended as part of the largely imaginary "mediterranean" diet because is is heavy in MUFA (monounsaturates) and has no saturated fat.

Now that we know that SFA (saturated fat) is healthy after all, and Keys lied about it, we can get all the MUFA we need by eating animal fats, which often contain nearly as much MUFA as SFA.

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZale

"I'm feeding a husband and two toddlers whose main concern is a delicious meal."

And therein lies the problem. Taste over fuel. It's not that you can't cook some darn tasty stuff with just paleo, it's that food is fuel FIRST. Would you wash your car with something that you knew would wear off the paint prematurely? Likewise don't eat anything that you know is going to have a detrimental effect on your body, or your families bodies.

We have to stop looking at food as entertainment for our mouths first, and fuel second.


Coffe with whole cream entertains my mouth. I think we learn to enjoy animal fat instead of sugar, is all.

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave, RN

"We have to stop looking at food as entertainment for our mouths first, and fuel second."

I disagree. Compare the type of food you would get at a high-end restaurant vs. a fast food joint. By and large the high-end restaurant will use more animal fats, feature good proteins prominently, and not rely on poor carbs as filler. When I moved to a more paleo diet, I found the food I made actually tasted better than before, because I was now using flavorful fats and eating nutrient dense, flavor-packed foods. Compare a nice ribeye steak from a grass fed cow to a mass produced boneless, skinless chicken breast or a loaf of wonder bread. I don't think there's an argument there as to which is better for you, tastier, and more entertaining for your palate.


The OP is correct as far as people consider sweetness to be entertaining. I agree that we just need to learn to appreciate fat as mouth entertainment instead.

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRoger C.

Bugles!!!!!!? Hooray!!!

Joking really. I rarely eat snack "foods" anymore, maybe a potato chip or two at a christmas party, but with all the meats and cheeses lying around, why bother.

Someone mentioned "recipes". Give up the idea of recipes. Just learn cooking methods, and you can make anything. Most of the stuff we should be eating can (probably should) be eaten raw. I'm sure our proto-hominid ancestors probably had the eyes and liver in their mouths while the carcass was still warm.

Add heat and eat, there's your recipe.

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe other Kurt

Hi Kurt,

Nice post. I wanted to add another class of animals that are adapted to seed eating: rodents. I think it's interesting that rats produce 30X more phytase in their small intestine than humans. They're designed to eat raw grass seeds. They also seem to be more resistant to the adverse effects of PUFA imbalance, although it still makes them sick. Rodents can eat whole, dry raw grains and do OK, whereas humans obviously can't. I think this has led to a lot of confusion in the field of diet and nutrition since rodents are one of our main animal models.

When you put a rodent in a cage with food in its face all day and no running wheel, it does best on an ultra low-fat diet that's based on whole grains/legumes with added roughage and micronutrients (plus a little bit of meat). When I say "best", I don't actually mean best, I just mean better than they do on higher fat more refined diets. When you look at the natural diet of a rodent, the low-fat chow diet matches it more accurately than other commercial diets (particularly for mice). So this leads to the conclusion that fat is harmful, etc, and it gets extrapolated to humans even though we evolved eating a very different diet.

By the way, the reason most plants don't use n-3 as a fat storage form probably is just due to stability. n-3 is less chemically stable than n-6. It's the difference between deep frying with corn oil and flax oil. I wouldn't recommend either, but at least corn oil won't turn into paint base halfway through the fry.


Hey, Stephan thanks for weighing in. I should have mentioned rodents. Who doesn't think of rats as going along with granaries? It's like a candy store for them. But aren't wild rats (Norvegicus) really omnivores with a fair amount of insects in their diet? And aren't the vegan diets in the laboratory therefore all rather artificial?

I do remember you mentioning the phytase issue before -that is pretty convincing evidence of adaptation to phytate-laden food. Do birds do the same?

I suspected the predominance of n-6 might relate to stability. Do you have any good references for that? I guess I need a plant metabolism text or two.

I was also surprised to learn that some plants can do thermogenesis more efficiently than animals with special organelles.

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephan

Give up recipes? Why? Not everyone wants to eat campground food (or caveman-re-enactment food), and nobody needs to.

Learning to cook properly -- and yes, that involves recipes, not just a small handful of techniques unless you're a culinary school grad -- and expanding one's repertoire beyond meat-on-stick-over-fire is the best thing anyone contemplating this approach can do for themselves.

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn


Olive oil is a dietary fad that was recommended as part of the largely imaginary "mediterranean" diet because is is heavy in MUFA (monounsaturates) and has no saturated fat."

The article above was great and I have a great deal of respect for the paleo way of eating, but please do not be so dismissive of olive oil as to call it a fad. It has been a central part of my culture to the point of being considered sacred for thousands of years, and it is an integral of our diet. It's benefits not only contribute to the maintenance of good health, but can restore severely damaged health - it was even prescribed by doctor's as a tonic in the wake of the German occupation in WWII that left hundreds of thousands dead or sick from starvation.


The current popularity of olive oil is a fad. I am not dismissing it as a food, I am just saying paying $10 for a bottle of is kind of stupid, and the reasons for its current popularity are unfounded.

As far as the "tonic" part, well there is a pretty long history of all manner of substances being considered "tonics".

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterana

I may have been misunderstood. I enjoy reading cookbooks for inspiration and yes recipes and techniques. And while I eat to live, as probably the most of people visiting this site do, the sad truth is the majority of people out there live to eat. And from what I'm learning, many of them don't want to change that philosophy.

I'm trying to convert them strategically.

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDenise G

Nice post. BUT, as a botanist I feel the need to clarify a few things (this does not negate any of your points re: nutrition, but it irks me when grains are referred to as "seeds").
1. A "fruit" is essentially the ovary of a flower, sometimes including accessory structures. Seeds form within the ovary, which protects the seeds and may aid in dispersal.
2. "Seeds" are fertilized ovules.
3. Therefore anything with seeds in it (excluding gymnosperms) is botanically a fruit, such as apple, berries, cucumber (a hard-rinded berry called a pepo), acorn, coconut, maple seed (a winged fruit called a samara), etc. etc..Rhubarb is NOT a fruit, it is a stem, thus botanically a vegetable.
4. Plants in the grass family (corn, wheat, ,rice, oats, etc.) have evolved their own special kind of fruit, which is called a "grain" or more technically, a caryopsis. A caryopsis is a one-seeded indehiscent fruit (the seeds are retained within the fruit at maturity) in which the ovary wall is tightly fused to the seed. Thus, it seems like a seed but it is in fact a fruit (=ovary +seed). In comparison, sunflowers have one-seeded fruits in which the ovary is NOT fused to the seed, thus you can "shell" a sunflower fruit (this type of fruit is called an achene). The wall of the grass seed (seed coat) is quite thin & tightly fused to the ovary wall. Thus, when you polish rice or wheat you are removing the ovary and the thin seed wall (together called the "bran"), and the embryo (the "germ"). The "hull" is made up of loose bracts that surround the grass flower/fruit, and is removed through winnowing (separate chaff from wheat). The ovary should not technically be referred to as a hull (as it is in your drawing) but as the "bran" - the hull has already been removed from the fruit in your picture.
5. Quinoa and buckwheat are pseudograins (what you eat is the seed), & are not closely related to wheat, rice, corn, etc.
6. OK, I'll stop now! I could go on and on and on about this, until you all die from boredom ;-) Thanks for indulging me!!!!


Thanks for being gentle - now maybe you can comment on the predominance of n-6 fatty acids in plants when they store lipids. Are Stephan and I right?

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergmi

Great post that I'll be rereading a few more times to get all the details from.

As someone who recently tested positive for anti gliadin and tissue transglutaminase (AGA and anti tTg) antibodies, wheat, barley and rye have been 100% permanently eliminated from my diet.

I'm hoping my thyroid will be pleased and allow me to wean off my Armour in due time as well, now that I major stressor is out of the picture. My energy, skin and joint aches have improved so much in the past few months.

It's hard not to give unsolicited advice to all my family and friends with common symptoms about the evils of gluten grains.

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKelly A.

Dear Dr. Harris,

Wonderful post! Thank you!

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGwen J


Your comment is not "boring" - quite the opposite! I am now armed with some useful information to answer questions from my 5 1/2 year old son! :)

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGwen J

I cook almost everything I eat from scratch and bring a packed lunch to work. I can easily do without most vegetable oils since they lack flavor, but I do like unheated olive oil drizzled on vegetables and LOVE the irreplaceable aroma of toasted sesame oil on Asian dishes. I know sesame oil is loaded with n-6, but unlike other PUFA oils, sesame oil is stable and doesn't go rancid easily. Is it still as bad as the others? I can give up grains. legumes, sweeteners, and dairy, but Korean, Chinese, and Japanese food will never be the same without a teaspoon of sesame oil.

KGH: How oxidized does the word "toasted" sound to you?

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatricia

Fantastic post + info, Thanks Dr. Harris! This is really helping my very non-scientific mind understand more fully the chemistry behind grains/veg oil, etc. So helpful.

Denise- I would recommend any cookbook with classic French recipes (just try to ignore the desserts!). If you want to make more interesting food and not just throw some meat on the stove French recipes are a great resource. For me, the main value of learning French cooking techniques is in their sauces, stocks and preparations of braised meat and poached fish. You can adapt so many French recipes to be Panu.
Learn to make stock from Nourishing Traditions and you have a base for so many sauces that use lots of butter and/or cream. Experiment with different herb combinations, this is where you can have fun and variety - rosemary is a classic with beef, thyme with chicken, dill with seafood, but mix it up with marjoram, lavender, mint, basil. Mushrooms sauteed in butter and thyme is fantastic as a side to eggs or beef. With stock you also have a base to braise fatty cuts of meat in until they are tender and you have an instance sauce, just whisk in butter and herbs-voila! Bone stocks are essential in my house, for their flavor and healthfullness.
Cooking meat in liquid as in braising or poaching also minimizes exposure to acrymalides- which is thought to be carcinogenic.
You can definitely always sub butter/CO/animal fat in recipes calling for olive oil or other veg. oil. I cook anything in butter or CO, and more recently beef tallow.

Anyone know the stats on beef tallow? I am assuming it's a great choice for fat, but I guess I don't know for sure...

Ps.-personally I live to eat and eat to live and do not find them to be mutually exclusive!

KGH: Grass fed beef tallow is excellent.

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

re: "now maybe you can comment on the predominance of n-6 fatty acids in plants when they store lipids. Are Stephan and I right?"

I would be happy to comment, but i am unclear on what your & Stephan's stance is, or what you want me to comment on - could you point me to a place on your blog where you outline your position? thanks.

Gwen J.,
thanks for the nice comment, but BELIEVE me, I can go on and on once I get started talking about plants (or any living organism, when it comes down to it), the topic is endlessly fascinating to me.....


Earlier in the comments we talked about why plant lipid are predominantly n-6 rather than n-3.

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergmi

Gwen J,
Here is a fun fruit fact that invariably makes my students cringe in horror: when you eat an orange you are in fact eating juicy ovary hairs. Of course they all immediately think of human ovaries and human hair, thus the cringe-response. Of course I serve them orange slices before i tell them. ha ha ha!

here is an extra cringe-factor for the paleo crowd: juicy ovary hairs filled with fructose.....

March 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergmi


The current popularity of olive oil is a fad. I am not dismissing it as a food, I am just saying paying $10 for a bottle of is kind of stupid, and the reasons for its current popularity are unfounded.

As far as the "tonic" part, well there is a pretty long history of all manner of substances being considered "tonics".'

Yes, but in the case of this particular "substance" there are countless studies that clearly indicate its positive effects on blood pressure, inflammation and cholesterol to name just three things. (No need to point out the shaky foundations of the cholesterol-heart disease hypothesis - I am talking about how it increases HDL cholesterol, high levels of which have been strongly linked to lower risk of heart disease).

Whether $10 is too much to pay for a bottle depends on the size of the bottle :-)

While it is obvious that our diets should approximate the diets we evolved eating, surely it is not impossible that a naturally occurring fruit could provide certain health benefuis?


You already know what I think. Olive oil is not medicine and the MUFA in it is not fundamentally different from the MUFA in lard or beef fat. I do not agree that these supposed health effects are as well established as you claim.

And, no I don't believe there are magic fruit. Maybe magic eggs and butter, though.

March 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterana

Thank you Hannah! I can't wait to go food shopping today! I really loved all the tips you gave me. And I always enjoy reading your posts.

As much as I've always cooked a lot, before dipping into Panu, my dishes were mainly chicken, fish, turkey, stir fries, eggs, ground beef, every vegetable imaginable....with lots of olive oil of course (the typical "healthy" recommendations). I know little about beef tarrow, lard and organ meats. But I'm interested in learning.

Thanks again for taking the time. It sounds like you've been cooking this way for awhile.

Best wishes.

March 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDenise G

I just read an article about how the researcher Patrick McGovern, who has studied the history of fermented beverages, believes that alcohol could have played as or more of a significant role in the human grain selection experiment than straight consumption.

March 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTeddy

Doc - phenomenal site, thanks for the many great posts!

My question actually has to do with vasectomy. Possibly a non sequitur, but I actually believe that it relates to the broader Paleo theme of addressing and minimizing causal factors driving systemic inflammation and autoimmune issues, so please hear me out (and since we’re discussing the sexual organs of plants here, it may be not quite so far off topic!).

I recently cancelled a scheduled procedure at the last minute. I had no problem facing the procedure itself, or the potential post-operative risks. What had started to really, deeply concern me was my research into the potential autoimmune effects of vasectomy. To boil down my understanding of the issue: in a healthy male the sperm never cross the body/testes barrier so are never exposed to the immune system; after a vasectomy and the eventual rupture of the epididymis, the sperm then become ‘visible’ to the body for the first time; since the body sees their protein as a foreign agent, it mounts an immune response to break down the sperm, which are eventually absorbed. As a result, something like 70-80% of vasectomized men eventually show antibodies to their own sperm.

All well and good so far, but this gets to the point where I’m wondering if the dietary paradigm has any relevance. As far as I can tell from a layman’s perspective, this is not unlike the process that takes place when wheat gluten enters the body. The gluten protein is read as “other”, which triggers an immune response. It seems pretty obvious that there is a dosage response – i.e. the higher and more sustained the gluten loads, the more likely an individual is to experience (or eventually develop) negative effects; likewise a reduction in dosage can be expected to ameliorate the adverse effects. Sustained significant exposure to gluten = systemic inflammation and adverse autoimmune effects.

So could sustained exposure to sperm, which has been established to trigger an immune response in vasectomized males, potentially achieve the same effects as a high-gluten diet? The urologist appeared quite sanguine about the body's adaptation to developing sperm antibodies - but wouldn't there be a dosage response here as well? And wouldn't it potentially operate the same way as for gluten? In other words, just because the body develops immunity and antibodies to deal with the "invader", it doesn't necessarily follow that the sustained presence of the invader is a good thing - not if the result is a continuous state of immune arousal.

Imagine my horror at contemplating the possibility, after spending two years eliminating all gluten and most Neolithic agents from my diet in an attempt to minimize systemic inflammation and avoid the many autoimmune-related diseases of civilization, that I could spend the rest of my life with a powerful inflammation generator permanently mounted on my body!

I realize this question doesn’t completely fall within the nutrition domain addressed in this blog, but the Paleo community in general – and this site in particular – seem to be the only sources reliably addressing the autoimmune/inflammatory foundations of so many modern diseases. I’d love to hear whether you think there might be a valid analogy to be made, or if I'm way off base in my reasoning. Thanks!

March 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrett

Hi Kurt, good stuff. One thing I'd like to get into really quickly is the wholesale misunderstanding of ruminant nutrition. If more people realized they are NOT feeding themselves with grasses the more people will understand why we need meat. Ruminants do not digest grasses or seeds. Bacteria and protozoa do. Then the ruminant digests them.

That's why the o3 o6 ratio may be bad in grain fed meat but there is so little of it a dolop of CLO will put you back in balance. See bacteria don't tend to like polyunsaturates and they work their ass off to saturate them. Then when the bacteria(not the grass or grain) is digested by the ruminant those fatty acids are incorporated in the tissues.

So in summation ruminants are not truly herbivores...they would better be classified as microbiovores.

One of the bloggers really need to get into this. You, Eades, Richard etc. Ruminant nutrition is ultra important because it IS the basis of human nutrition.


Well a herbivore is an eater of plants. Both hindgut fermentation and foregut fermentation use bacteria. A ruminant is a foregut fermenter and it is foregut fermenters that have the ability to do the assembly and saturation, etc at more fundamental level. That is why they have better ratios than hindgut fermenters like pigs or horses, etc.

March 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFlampton

Its like Christmas when a new post pops up! Two at once was just too much to handle!! Great job on this one Doc. It is a great, easy to understand reference for folks.

Thanks again!

KGH: A pagan christmas! Glad to to help out.

March 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBen Wheeler

according to dr lands graphs given by stephan of wholehealthsource in posts "eicosanoids and ischemic heart disease" its omega-6 that should be targeted for 4% or less, not necessarily total pufa (n-6 + n-3 < 4%). intake of n-6 at 4% plus n-3 at 1% to 4% (total pufa 4% to 8%) would put you at the edge of the inuit/japanese "safe zone".

it may also be helpful to some readers to emphasize that lard isn't ideal (pasture fed or not). some plaeo/WAP bloggers seem to pat them self on the back for liberal use of lard to make healthy french fries.



I never recommend Lard. 4% is better than 8%. I get about 1.5% n-3 and 2.5%-3% n-6. I prefer that to Eskimo ratios with a total of 8%. Stephan does not recommend large doses of fish oil, either.

March 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterL

I've checked out an article at http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/03/13/richard-johnson-interview.aspx where a scientist (Dr. Richard Johnson) says that gout (high uric acid) is associated with insulin resistance and is primarily caused by fructose consumption. I have mild gout in my right big toe and I think right forefinger. He states that by reducing uric acid levels even by using drugs like allopurinol will help with insulin reistance. I have been using a low carb diet but having difficulty losing bodyfat. Do you know anything about this and do u think using allopurinol short term would help? He has written a book entitled The Sugar Fix: The High-Fructose Fallout That Is Making You Fat and Sick

KGH: Google "missing chapter from good calories bad calories" or search "gout" here.

March 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTezzab4

Ana,I also feel that that olive oil got too much praise when we first discovered that Italians and more importantly the French(French Paradox)people were healthier than us Americans. Due to our fear of saturated fat we "had" to believe that their high fat diet benefits must of been caused by their high intake of olive oil. We completely eliminated the cheese and dairy that are eaten in abundance over there.

Now what happened over here is that we Americans started to drizzle olive oil over our foods,making salad dressings and cooking with it instead of the normal stuff we were using like corn oil etc. This is a great step in right direction IMO.


Cooking with olive oil is definitely inferior to using animal fats or coconut fat. Olive oil is about 11% PUFA, nearly all of which is n-6. MUFA is less oxidizable than PUFA but why use a MUFA heavy oil to cook with?

There is no diet that would not be superior in every respect by substituting pastured butter for olive oil on an equicaloric basis. I'd like to encourage enthusiasm for butter over olive oil.

March 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterwolf

Hi Dr Harris:

Our family has been eating a paleo like diet for about 7 years now, the kids eating a slightly less strict version. I try to make most of their snacks for school to avoid HFCS and industrial oils. If the germ and gluten are the worst part of wheat, would small amounts of unbleached white flour or corn starch be OK? Are these not technically just glucose in the end? How much gluten would be left in white flour? Perhaps cake and pastery flour would be even better since it has the lowest amount of gluten. I also use corn sugar to slightly sweeten baked goods. This is basiclaly corn starch that has been hydrolyzed to produce 100% glucose powder. As you mentioned starch and glucose are hardly neolithic foods. There is evidence suggesting that fructose in our diets may be the real culprit and not glucose (if not over eaten). Here is a lecture given by Robert Lustig on the dangers of fructose consumption, which I found very compelling.


Thanks so much for the exellent information on this blog.


Hi Olga - that is about the 100th link to Lustig's video on this blog : )

As far as gluten - gluten is about 80% of the protein in the endosperm. If you eat wheat flour, it's got starch and gluten as it is basically ground up endosperm with or without the hull and germ. You are correct that if you eat only wheat starch, this is more starch than gluten, but certainly there is still some gluten protein in it that would be better avoided, especially for kids younger than the age at which Type I DM presents. The starch is not extracted with laboratory purification, it is an industrial food process using water - so there is still gluten and there are other proteins (globulins, etc.) that may also be immunogenic.

I don't see an immune issue with corn starch, but it will have some phytic acid and other seed antinutrients even if it is safer than wheat starch.

So I'd rather see you give your kids yams or sweet potatoes (that have a bit of fructose)of white potatoes fried in animal fat or coconut than wheat starch.

March 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOlga

I see nothing wrong with developing a paleo-gastronomy or paleo-cusine. I would love to see a paleo cooking show for example. I'm not thinking about "candy ciggarettes" but the development of a genuine paleo food culture that apeals to health and pleasure.

March 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWarren

Kurt, Stephan's comment: "I suspected the predominance of n-6 might relate to stability. " is correct. omega 3 fatty acids are found in the polar lipids of the chloroplasts, where they help to maintain the fluidity of the thylakoid membranes. Thus the green parts of the plant will tend to have omega 3, but it would not make sense to use this as a storage molecule as it is unstable.

KGH: Thanks for confirming. Why does flax have so much ALA (n-3), then? (Great to have a botanist on hand)

March 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergmi

"Flax is unusual among crop plants in its very high level of seed linolenic acid. This appears to be due at least in part to the presence in this species of two genes encoding very similar enzymes capable of desaturating linoleic acid. These genes have additive effects, and lines carrying a mutation in a single gene have intermediate levels of linolenic acid" [from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1203359/]

of course n-3 fatty acids are present in many seeds in some amount, just not as the predominant fatty acid. the percentage of n-3 fatty acids increases with decreasing temperatures at seed set [http://crop.scijournals.org/cgi/reprint/47/6/2445]


So evolved to germinate in cold climates, I guess. Explains why rapeseed grows so well in Canada that they call it "canola". The same reason cold water fish have more n-3s.
You might leave an email with your comment next time so I can contact you if I have more botany questions : )

March 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergmi

Denise wrote:
"I welcome any other cookbook or recipe sources suggestions. I enjoy cooking and I'm feeding a husband and two toddlers whose main concern is a delicious meal."

Hi Denise,

some good ressources:

Healthy Urban Kitchen (check the website - good infos and a blog )

Paleo Cookbook

Lots of recipes on Mark's Daily Apples - Mark Sisson's website

March 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

Yeah, I am guessing high levels of n-3 are correlated with cold climates. On the other end of the spectrum, think of coconut, which has predominantly saturated fatty acids & is tropical....

Feel free to email me with any botany questions.

KGH: Thanks!

March 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergmi

YOU are WRONG. Dr. Henry Harpending has PROVEN we are NOT genetically the same anymore as Paleolithic Man. We are very different.

In fact we are more different from people who lived 11,000 years ago than they were from Paleolithic Man- and they were quite different too.


You need to work on your reading comprehension. Where is the part in the essay that says we are genetically identical to humans from ANY period or that such would be required for grains to be unhealthy? Have you read all (or any) the references in part I? The ones that talk about gluten and autoimmunity - you know, the ones that require no grounding in any evolutionary argument whatever?

Of course we are not genetically THE SAME. Who the hell said we were? But important parts of our metabolism are not much different than organisms that diverged from millions of years ago, once you understand something about metabolism. We have hormones and structural proteins that are 100% conserved over tens of millions of years and more.

Birds and some rodents are evolved to eat some grains. We are not. Even in the middle east and mediterranean, the prevalence of celiac disease is nearly at least 0.5 to 1.0 %, not mcuh different than more northerly countries where grains have been consumed for far less time. If less than 10,000 years were enough for us to adapt to them, the frequency of celiac would be much lower.

If you are trying to make some kind of actual argument that we are indeed adapted to gluten grains and excess linoleic acid, than make the argument and maybe I'll pay attention to it.

So make a real argument or go away. Really.

BTW, an email address is required to post. Stick to the rules.

PS. I've read the book (10.000 year explosion) and there is nothing in it that disproves a thing I have said


Paleolithic Ashley is a Troll who has already been banned from Mark's forum. A total nut case who loves screaming with caps lock. Its as if writing PROVEN in big ass letters immediately disproves all the literature and clinical experience. How immature and self-conscious can you get?

Go back to your low-fat vegan diet you troll. There isn't enough grass-fed beef for all of us anyways.


I figured she was a vegan troll. I usually hit delete when they sound that stupid.

March 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBen Wheeler

Dr Harris,
I really appreciate this post, and all the time and attention you have previously given to us 'out here'.

As an older dude who bought into Pritikin and the low fat madness back in the 70s, I really get angry/frustrated about how many millions are having their health compromised or destroyed by corporist statist industrial food. It was not until reading "Life Without Bread" by Allan and Lutz several years ago that I realized I was slowly committing suicide by diet, which led to PaNu eventually.

The only suggestion I would dare make, would be to further refine the description of Keys as being not just guilty of homicide, but of genocide.

KGH: He and George McGovern have killed more than Pol Pot. Well intentioned socialists.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJimS

Hi Dr. Harris, I'm a "freshman" to the paleo world & consider this blog a great source of information. I have only one question and that is what is your opinion on the health benefits of the more "exotic" grains such as quinoa, amaranth, millet, buckwheat.? Are they healthier to eat or would they fall under the same category as wheat, rye, barley grains?

Thanks & great Job.


I am not an expert on these grains, but I view these non-gluten grains as roughly equivalent to white rice. Just don't make them the foundation of your diet.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShameer

Andrea, hi and thanks for the references. I will look into them and revisit MDA.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDenise G

Your blog is incredibly informative. I only subscribed a couple of days ago and I have learned so much. Thank you for taking the time to right such high quality content.

I just finished reading good calories bad calories and was left with the impression that eating a small amount of grains was ok as long as they were not refined. Now I feel silly for posting recipes for whole grain hot cereal as 'healthy'. I thought I was doing something good by eliminating store bought cereal.
Where does quinoa fit into this?

I find the link to autoimmune diseases fascinating. Could the proteins in grains lead to conditions like psoriasis and arthritic psoriasis?

March 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZibi
Comments for this entry have been disabled. Additional comments may not be added to this entry at this time.