9 Steps To Perfect Health – #1: Don’t Eat Toxins

January 28, 2011 in Food & Nutrition, Perfect Health | 103 comments


doughnutImagine a world where:

  • diabetes, heart diseases, autoimmunity and other modern diseases are rare or don’t exist at all
  • we are naturally lean and fit
  • we are fertile throughout our childbearing years
  • we sleep peacefully and deeply
  • we age gracefully without degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis

While this might sound like pure fantasy today, anthropological evidence suggests that this is exactly how human beings lived for the vast majority of our evolutionary history.

Today, most people accept diseases like obesity, diabetes, infertility and Alzheimer’s as “normal”. But while these diseases may now be common, they’re anything but normal. Humans evolved roughly 2.5 million years ago, and for roughly 84,000 generations we were naturally free of the modern diseases which kill millions of people each year and make countless others miserable. In fact, the world I asked you to imagine above – which may seem preposterous and unattainable today – was the natural human state for our entire history on this planet up until a couple hundred years ago.

What was responsible for the change? What transformed us from naturally healthy and vital people free of degenerative disease into a world of sick, fat, infertile and unhappy people?

In a word? The modern lifestyle. And though there are several aspects of our current lifestyle that contribute to disease, the widespread consumption of food toxins is by far the greatest offender. Specifically, the following four dietary toxins are to blame:

  • Cereal grains (especially refined flour)
  • Omega-6 industrial seed oils (corn, cottonseed, safflower, soybean, etc.)
  • Sugar (especially high-fructose corn syrup)
  • Processed soy (soy milk, soy protein, soy flour, etc.)

What is a toxin?

At the simplest level, a toxin is something capable of causing disease or damaging tissue when it enters the body. When most people hear the word “toxin”, they think of chemicals like pesticides, heavy metals or other industrial pollutants. But even beneficial nutrients like water, which are necessary to sustain life, are toxic at high doses.

In their book The Perfect Health Diet, Paul & Shou-Ching Jaminet apply the economic principle of declining marginal benefits to toxins:

It implies that the first bit eaten of any toxin has low toxicity. Each additional bit is slightly more toxic than the bit before. At higher doses, the toxicity of each bit continues to increase, so that the toxin is increasingly poisonous.

This is important to understand as we discuss the role of dietary toxins in contributing to modern disease. Most of us won’t get sick from eating a small amount of sugar, cereal grain, soy and industrial seed oil. But if we eat those nutrients (or rather anti-nutrients) in excessive quantities, our risk of developing modern diseases rises significantly.

That’s exactly what’s happening today. These four food toxins – refined cereal grains, industrial seed oils, sugar and processed soy – comprise the bulk of the modern diet. Bread, pastries, muffins, crackers, cookies, soda, fruit juice, fast food and other convenience foods are all loaded with these toxins. And when the majority of what most people eat on a daily basis is toxic, it’s not hard to understand why our health is failing.

Let’s look at each of these food toxins in more detail.

Cereal grains: the unhealthiest “health food” on the planet?

The major cereal grains – wheat, corn, rice, barley, sorghum, oats, rye and millet – have become the staple crops of the modern human diet. They’ve also become the “poster children” of the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet promoted by organizations like the American Heart Association (AHA) and American Diabetes Association (ADA). If you say the phrase “whole grains” to most people, the first word that probably comes to their mind is “healthy”.

But the fact is that most animals, including our closest relative (the chimpanzee) aren’t adapted to eating cereal grains and don’t eat them in large quantities. And humans have only been eating them for the past 10,000 years (a tiny blip of time on the scale of evolution). Why?

Because plants like cereal grains are always competing against predators (like us) for survival. Unlike animals, plants can’t run away from us when we decide to eat them. They had to evolve other mechanisms for protecting themselves. These include:

  • producing toxins that damage the lining of the gut;
  • producing toxins that bind essential minerals, making them unavailable to the body; and,
  • producing toxins that inhibit digestion and absorption of other essential nutrients, including protein.

One of these toxic compounds is the protein gluten, which is present in wheat and many of the other most commonly eaten cereal grains. In short, gluten damages the intestine and makes it leaky. And researchers now believe that a leaky gut is one of the major predisposing factors for conditions like obesity, diabetes and autoimmune disease.

Celiac disease (CD) – a condition of severe gluten intolerance – has been well known for decades. Celiacs have a dramatic and, in some cases, potentially fatal immune response to even the smallest amounts of gluten.

But celiac disease is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to intolerance to wheat and other gluten containing grains. Celiac disease is characterized by antibodies to two components of the gluten compound: alpha-gliadin, and transglutaminase. But we now know that people can and do react to several other components of wheat and gluten. The diagram below shows how wheat and gluten are broken down in the body:

diagram of components of wheat

Current laboratory testing for gluten intolerance only tests for alpha-gliadin and transglutaminase, the two components of gluten implicated in celiac disease (highlighted in red in the diagram). But as you can see, wheat contains several other components including lectins like wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), other epitopes of the gliadin protein like beta-gliadin, gamma-gliadin and omega-gliadin, another protein called glutenin, an opioid peptide called gluteomorphin, and a compound called daminated gliadin produced by the industrial processing or digestion of gluten.

So here’s the thing. Studies now clearly show that people can react negatively to all of these components of wheat – not just the alpha-gliadin and transglutaminase that celiacs react to. And the worst part of this is that up until about 2 weeks ago, no commercial labs were testing for sensitivity to these other subfractions of wheat.

This means, of course, that it’s extremely likely that far more people are intolerant to wheat and gluten than conventional wisdom would tell us. In fact, that’s exactly what the latest research shows. Dr. Kenneth Fine, a pioneer in gluten intolerance research, has demonstrated that 1 in 3 Americans are gluten intolerant, and that 8 in 10 have the genes that predispose them to developing gluten intolerance.

This is nothing short of a public health catastrophe in a nation where the #1 source of calories is refined flour. But while most are at least aware of the dangers of sugar, trans-fat and other unhealthy foods, fewer than 1 in 8 people with celiac disease are aware of their condition. A 1999 paper in the British Medical Journal illustrated this well:

Graphic depicting incidence of undiagnosed celiac disease

Patients with clinically obvious celiac disease (observable inflammation and destruction of the gut tissue) comprise only 12.5% of the total population of people with CD. 87.5% of those with celiac have no obvious gut symptoms. For every symptomatic patient with CD, there are 8 patients with CD and no gastrointestinal symptoms.

But does that mean patients with CD without gut symptoms are healthy? Not at all. It was long believed that the pathological manifestations of CD were limited to the gastrointestinal tract. But research over the past few decades has revealed that gluten intolerance can affect almost every other tissue and system in the body, including:

  • brain;
  • endocrine system;
  • stomach and liver;
  • nucleus of cells;
  • blood vessels; and,
  • smooth muscle,

just to name a few!

This explains why CD and gluten intolerance are associated with several different diseases, including type 1 diabetes, thyroid disorders, osteoporosis, neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia, psychiatric illness, ADHD, rheumatoid arthritis, migraine, obesity and more. The table below from the same 1999 BMJ paper depicts the increased incidence of other diseases in patients with CD:

table showing associations of other diseases with celiac disease

As you can see, up to 17% of people with CD have an “undefined neurological disorder”. But even that alarmingly high statistic only accounts for people with diagnosed CD. We know that only 1 in 8 people with CD are diagnosed. We also know that those with CD represent only a small fraction of the population of people with gluten intolerance. With this in mind, it’s not hard to imagine that the number of people with gluten intolerance that have “undefined neurological disorders” (and other associated conditions on the list above) could be significantly higher than current research suggests.

Finally, we also now know that when you are gluten intolerant – which 33% (if not more) of you are – you will also “cross-react” with other foods that have a similar “molecular signature” to gluten and its components. Unfortunately, the list of these foods (shown below) contains all grains, which is why some medical practitioners (myself included) recommend not just a gluten-free diet, but an entirely grain-free diet. As you can see, it also contains other foods like dairy (alpha & beta casein, casomorphin, milk butyrophilin) and coffee (which is a very common cross-reactant).

  • alpha-caesin
  • beta-caesin
  • casomorphin
  • milk butyrophilin
  • cow’s milk
  • american cheese
  • chocolate
  • coffee
  • all cereal grains
  • quinoa
  • amaranth
  • buckwheat
  • tapioca
  • rice
  • potato
  • corn
  • sesame

Industrial seed oils: unnatural and unfit for human consumption

Industrial seed oils (corn, cottonseed, soybean, safflower, sunflower, etc.) have not been a part of the human diet up until relatively recently, when misguided groups like the AHA and the ADA started promoting them as “heart-healthy” alternatives to saturated fat.

The graph below shows how dramatically seed oil consumption has risen over the past several decades:

pufaconsumption

Throughout 4-5 million years of hominid evolution, diets were abundant in seafood and other sources of omega-3 long chain fatty acids (EPA & DHA), but relatively low in omega-6 seed oils.

Anthropological research suggests that our hunter-gatherer ancestors consumed omega-6 and omega-3 fats in a ratio of roughly 1:1. It also indicates that both ancient and modern hunter-gatherers were free of the modern inflammatory diseases, like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, that are the primary causes of death and morbidity today.

At the onset of the industrial revolution (about 140 years ago), there was a marked shift in the ratio of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids in the diet. Consumption of n-6 fats increased at the expense of n-3 fats. This change was due to both the advent of the modern vegetable oil industry and the increased use of cereal grains as feed for domestic livestock (which in turn altered the fatty acid profile of meat that humans consumed).

The following chart lists the omega-6 and omega-3 content of various vegetable oils and foods:

efa content of oils

Vegetable oil consumption rose dramatically between the beginning and end of the 20th century, and this had an entirely predictable effect on the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in the American diet. Between 1935 and 1939, the ratio of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids was reported to be 8.4:1. From 1935 to 1985, this ratio increased to 10.3:1 (a 23% increase). Other calculations put the ratio as high as 12.4:1 in 1985. Today, estimates of the ratio range from an average of 10:1 to 20:1, with a ratio as high as 25:1 in some individuals.

In fact, Americans now get almost 20% of their calories from a single food source – soybean oil – with almost 9% of all calories from the omega-6 fat linoleic acid (LA) alone! (PDF)

This reveals that our average intake of n-6 fatty acids is between 10 and 25 times higher than evolutionary norms. The consequences of this dramatic shift cannot be underestimated.

So what are the consequences to human health of an n-6:n-3 ratio that is up to 25 times higher than it should be?

The short answer is that elevated n-6 intakes are associated with an increase in all inflammatory diseases – which is to say virtually all diseases. The list includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • cardiovascular disease
  • type 2 diabetes
  • obesity
  • metabolic syndrome
  • irritable bowel syndrome & inflammatory bowel disease
  • macular degeneration
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • asthma
  • cancer
  • psychiatric disorders
  • autoimmune diseases

The relationship between intake n-6 fats and cardiovascular mortality is particularly striking. The following chart, from an article entitled Eicosanoids and Ischemic Heart Disease by Stephan Guyenet, clearly illustrates the correlation between a rising intake of n-6 and increased mortality from heart disease:

landis graph of hufa and mortality

As you can see, the USA is right up there at the top with the highest intake of n-6 fat and the greatest risk of death from heart disease.

On the other hand, several clinical studies have shown that decreasing the n-6:n-3 ratio protects against chronic, degenerative diseases. One study showed that replacing corn oil with olive oil and canola oil to reach an n-6:n-3 ratio of 4:1 led to a 70% decrease in total mortality. That is no small difference.

Joseph Hibbeln, a researcher at the National Institute of Health (NIH) who has published several papers on n-3 and n-6 intakes, didn’t mince words when he commented on the rising intake of n-6 in a recent paper:

The increases in world LA consumption over the past century may be considered a very large uncontrolled experiment that may have contributed to increased societal burdens of aggression, depression and cardiovascular mortality.

And those are just the conditions we have the strongest evidence for. It’s likely that the increase in n-6 consumption has played an equally significant role in the rise of nearly every inflammatory disease. Since it is now known that inflammation is involved in nearly all diseases, including obesity and metabolic syndrome, it’s hard to overstate the negative effects of too much omega-6 fat.

Sugar: the sweetest way to wreck your health

About 20 years ago, Nancy Appleton, PhD, began researching all of the ways in which sugar destroys our health. Over the years the list has continuously expanded, and now includes 141 points. Here’s just a small sampling (the entire list can be found on her blog).

  • Sugar feeds cancer cells and has been connected with the development of cancer of the breast, ovaries, prostate, rectum, pancreas, lung, gallbladder and stomach.
  • Sugar can increase fasting levels of glucose and can cause reactive hypoglycemia.
  • Sugar can cause many problems with the gastrointestinal tract, including an acidic digestive tract, indigestion, malabsorption in patients with functional bowel disease, increased risk of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
  • Sugar can interfere with your absorption of protein.
  • Sugar can cause food allergies.
  • Sugar contributes to obesity.

But not all sugar is created alike. White table sugar (sucrose) is composed of two sugars: glucose and fructose. Glucose is an important nutrient in our bodies and is healthy, as long as it’s consumed in moderation. Fructose is a different story.

Fructose is found primarily in fruits and vegetables, and sweeteners like sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A recent USDA report found that the average American eats 152 pounds of sugar each year, including almost 64 pounds of HFCS.

Unlike glucose, which is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and taken up by the cells, fructose is shunted directly to the liver where it is converted to fat. Excess fructose consumption causes a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is directly linked to both diabetes and obesity.

A 2009 study showed that shifting 25% of dietary calories from glucose to fructose caused a 4-fold increase in abdominal fat. Abdominal fat is an independent predictor of insulin sensitivity, impaired glucose tolerance, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides and several other metabolic diseases.

In a widely popular talk on YouTube, Dr. Robert H. Lustig explains that fructose has all of the qualities of a poison. It causes damage, provides no benefit and is sent directly to the liver to be detoxified so that it doesn’t harm the body.

For more on the toxic effects of fructose, see The Perfect Health Diet and Robert Lustig’s YouTube talk: Sugar, The Bitter Truth.

Soy: another toxin promoted as a health food

Like cereal grains, soy is another toxin often promoted as a health food. It’s now ubiquitous in the modern diet, present in just about every packaged and processed food in the form of soy protein isolate, soy flour, soy lecithin and soybean oil.

For this reason, most people are unaware of how much soy they consume. You don’t have to be a tofu-loving hippie to eat a lot of soy. In fact, the average American – who is most definitely not a tofu-loving hippie – gets up to 9% of total calories from soybean oil alone.

Whenever I mention the dangers of soy in my public talks, someone always protests that soy can’t be unhealthy because it’s been consumed safely in Asia for thousands of years. There are several reasons why this isn’t a valid argument.

First, the soy products consumed traditionally in Asia were typically fermented and unprocessed – including tempeh, miso, natto and tamari. This is important because the fermentation process partially neutralizes the toxins in soybeans.

Second, Asians consumed soy foods as a condiment, not as a replacement for animal foods. The average consumption of soy foods in China is 10 grams (about 2 teaspoons) per day and is 30 to 60 grams in Japan. These are not large amounts of soy.

Contrast this with the U.S. and other western countries, where almost all of the soy consumed is highly processed and unfermented, and eaten in much larger amounts than in Asia.

How does soy impact our health? The following is just a partial list:

  • Soy contains trypsin inhibitors that inhibit protein digestion and affect pancreatic function;
  • Soy contains phytic acid, which reduces absorption of minerals like calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc;
  • Soy increases our requirement for vitamin D, which 50% of American are already deficient in;
  • Soy phytoestrogens disrupt endocrine function and have the potential to cause infertility and to promote breast cancer in adult women.
  • Vitamin B12 analogs in soy are not absorbed and actually increase the body’s requirement for B12;
  • Processing of soy protein results in the formation of toxic lysinoalanine and highly carcinogenic nitrosamines;
  • Free glutamic acid or MSG, a potent neurotoxin, is formed during soy food processing and additional amounts are added to many soy foods to mask soy’s unpleasant taste; and,
  • Soy can stimulate the growth of estrogen-dependent tumors and cause thyroid problems, especially in women.

Perhaps most alarmingly, a study at the Harvard Public School of Health in 2008 found that men who consumed the equivalent of one cup of soy milk per day had a 50% lower sperm count than men who didn’t eat soy.

In 1992, the Swiss Health Service estimated that women consuming the equivalent of two cups of soy milk per day provides the estrogenic equivalent of one birth control pill. That means women eating cereal with soy milk and drinking a soy latte each day are effectively getting the same estrogen effect as if they were taking a birth control pill.

This effect is even more dramatic in infants fed soy formula. Babies fed soy-based formula have 13,000 to 22,000 times more estrogen compounds in their blood than babies fed milk-based formula. Infants exclusively fed soy formula receive the estrogenic equivalent (based on body weight) of at least five birth control pills per day.

Click here for a complete list of studies demonstrating the harmful effects of soy products.

{ 103 comments }

tooearly January 28, 2011 at 10:24 am

lots of interesting and perhaps ultimately solid speculation here but speculation it is

Cynthia Gatlin April 11, 2011 at 5:28 pm

I am 57. When I was a baby, I was allergic to wheat. When I was older my mother gave it to me thinking it was okay. I have been ‘sick’ with IBS, lethergy, depression, and finally panic attacks. A good doctor finally listened to me and had me tested. I have Hashitmoto’s thyroiditis from eating wheat when I was allergic! My digestive tract is in a terrible state and I only hope that diet changes and nutrician will heal me. Good grief!! Listen to this information! I wish I had known this in my 40s before I ruined my health!

JD January 28, 2011 at 10:38 am

Very good follow up.

Keep the good work Chris

Olivier January 28, 2011 at 10:55 am

I think the ideal world you’re mentioning is a bit intellectually dishonest: you’re certainly right to say that until recently it was very rare to find people with osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s and other age related diseases. You may also add cancer to the list. Yes, those ancient people lived healthily until they died.
But, maybe, just maybe, that’s because the life expectancy was hovering around 30. It’s only at the beginning of the 20th century that the modern world pushed the life expectancy beyond 40.The only thing that evolution gave us is the ability to reproduce and support the next generation(s) sufficiently so that they can in turn reproduce. Not the ability to live beyond that point.
I’m an avid reader of your column, I find your insights interesting, and I also intend to live healthily beyond my “purely genetic” time, but the “good old times” aren’t what you depict.

Rodney January 28, 2011 at 10:59 am

Hi Chris,

In the grains section I am not seeing the list referenced by this sentence…

“Unfortunately, the list of these foods (shown below)”

Is it just me (typically, yes), or is the list missing?

Nice summary! I look forward to the rest of the series.

Chris Kresser January 28, 2011 at 11:00 am

If you remove infant mortality and deaths from injury and trauma from the life expectancy equation, Paleolithic people reached ages comparable to civilized people up until very recently, but they did so without any of the modern, degenerative diseases that plague us today.

Infant mortality and death from injury and trauma haven’t gone down because of positive changes in our diet. They’ve gone down because of improvements in sanitation and emergency medical care.

Read this article for more: http://donmatesz.blogspot.com/2010/02/paleo-life-expectancy.html#_jmp0_

Chris Kresser January 28, 2011 at 11:14 am

Rodney: Darn! I forgot to add it. Will do that right now.

Dave January 28, 2011 at 11:38 am

Great article!
So what should be eaten? It seems like an impossible task trying to find foods that don’t contain these toxins.

Olivier January 28, 2011 at 11:53 am

You’re right, Chris, I read my facts too quickly. This link is interesting and makes sense.
I still believe that some of the perception of the generality of age-related diseases is also bound to the fact that our age pyramid is fast inverting and generally, we are pushing the boundaries of ageing. I am looking forward to seeing more evidence that support your speculations, but ultimately, seeing more awareness about how the quality of our diet impacts our health… And there a long way to undo what those last 40 years have done to us…

Dana January 28, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Life expectancy is an average, Olivier. It’s not an absolute number for how long every single person in the population lived. All a life expectancy of 40 tells us is that a lot of babies died and a lot of adults had accidents.

Traditional cultures teach respect of elders for a reason: elders existed in traditional cultures. (Still do. Not all traditional cultures have died out.)

You want to talk about poor life expectancy, check out how much ours dropped in the West (and here I include the Fertile Crescent since that’s where we started, for all intents and purposes) after the introduction of grain agriculture. Only in the 20th century had we returned to anything like a pre-agricultural life expectancy, not to mention pre-agricultural *average height.* In Greece and Turkey, they still haven’t recovered the latter.

It’s amazing what the field of paleopathology will teach you.

Rebecca January 28, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Interesting article with lots of good information, but you need references…LOTS of them…and please don’t refer me to an article on someone’s BLOG (the above reference to lifespan) for additional information! That’s almost worse than my undergrads handing in work from Wikipedia!

Shelly Stroud January 28, 2011 at 12:43 pm

In reading about the glucose/fructose, i see you mention that the fructose is also coming straight from fruits and veggies… So are we not to eat those or are there certain ones best for consumption? I have just recently diagnosed myself with celiac disease. I am going next week to start the process of being tested for it, so Ia m trying very hard to really be informed and take control of my health! I am soooo tired of feeling poorly when I thought I was eating well before hand.. I have been off of gluten for about three weeks now, and I cannot believe the difference in the way I feel!! I am beyond excited and want ALL the info I can get my hands on now!! Thanks so much for what you do! Without people like you, we would have only the “publicized” crap of info that they CLaim is healthy living!!!

Daniel January 28, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Hi Chris

Thanks for your amazing article. I agree with most of your arguments in this post. We should avoid toxins to avoid modern diseases.

Can you explain why excess linoleic acid is bad for us? Is it because linoleic acid is the metabolic precursor of arachidonic acid and inflammatory eicosanoids are derived from arachidonic acid?

Kimberly January 28, 2011 at 1:01 pm

I must say that I found this to be a very impressive and well written article. Through my own research I have come to many of the same conclusions yet when I have posed these sorts of conclusions to others (many of whom suffer from Celiac Disease) I am met with a great deal of disbelief.

The only correction I would make here is that current archaeological evidence shows that human were consuming and processing a grass similar to wheat for the past 30k years. Here is a link that quotes the research:

http://www.physorg.com/news/2010-10-prehistoric-ate-flatbread-years.html

Keep up the good work.

Kimberly

Wood January 28, 2011 at 1:08 pm

“Humans evolved roughly 2.5 million years ago, and for roughly 84,000 generations we were naturally free of the modern diseases” – why are you so sure about it?

Chris Kresser January 28, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Shelley: you don’t need to worry about the fructose in fruits and vegetables when consumed in moderation. 2-3 servings/day of fruit are fine for most people (unless they have serious metabolic disease).

smgj January 28, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Very interesting – for me, especially the part on grain. I’ve read some articles that claim that slow-rising sourdough (typically 24hours with older sourdough culture as starter) may neutralize the harmfull gluten for many of us. Even to such a degree that some diagnosed celiacs are able to eat such bread. Do you have any thoughts/comments to that claim?

Mike January 28, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Dave: have some meat! Liver is especially nutrient rich, with pretty much nothing in it that can hurt you. If you’re concerned about the omega-6 content of grain-fed meat, you can eat grass-fed meat.

One thing Chris did not mention is that foods with a high saturated fat content tend to have less omega-6 just because they have less total polyunsaturated fat. That means even grain-fed beef is much lower in omega-6 than vegetable oil.

Chris Kresser January 28, 2011 at 1:46 pm

smgj: as I pointed out in the article, there are many components of wheat/gluten that people can be sensitive to. If someone reacts to lectins or gluteomorphins, I don’t think fermentation will prevent that reaction (even though it does seem to help in cases of intolerance to gliadin).

Glenn January 28, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Thanks Chris. A great article and I actually like your extension of the word “toxin” to include what has heretofore been known as food. Its somewhat debatable whether its a good idea, but at least you were first to do it for these 4 “food” groups.

Also, thanks for carefully handling the wording in the “Industrial Seed Oils” section. I feel this is so important. The problem is the “industrial” and the “excessive consumption”, and not the Lenoleic Acid, or omega-6. So many writers act as if there is something toxic about omega-6, because they have an ax to grind: either they are selling fish oil, or, like the Weston A. Price Foundation, they are promoting animal fats.

One point that I’d like to make, to clarify the “vegetable oil” issue is to point out the insidious ways the “oils” enter our bodies, lest the reader think that the only way they intake “vegetable oil” is by buying if in a bottle off the shelf of their grocer. Your graph is great at showing the expanding use of the oils, but I believe the reader should know that the chart doesn’t represent their use of the liquid oil, alone, but is heavily influenced by how much we now depend on commercial foods, from crackers (and all boxed bakery items), to potato and corn chips, to restaurant foods, to fast foods. Even the healthy looking hummus I buy occasionally has “canola oil” on the label.

My personal rules are to just not buy anything with ingredients on the label if I can help it, and if I do, to avoid the item if it mentions any kind of grain/nut oils (and of course sugar and soy per your other “toxics”).

I would offer that absolutely no tests have been done to prove that a gross imbalance of omega-6 to omega-3 is unhealthy, if those ingested fatty acids were themselves healthy. And that is why I like to keep the “industrial seed oils” as the toxic substance that you define, so you can safely be accurate in this assessment of the situation. Its probably the adulteration of the oils, by excessive heat processing, by oxidation on the shelf before use, or by intentional hydrogenation that seems to be causing the problem.

That being said, there is also no reason, considering our diet since our origin as a species, to WANT to consume much greater than twice the omega-6 as omega-3. And the only way I see of doing this is the same way as avoiding all the toxins you have identified here: read labels and know what the different terms on them mean, and then totally AVOID ALL commercial vegetable oils. If one wants to eat vegetable oils, as in preparing their own salad dressings or mayonnaise, they can buy organic, cold pressed vegetable oils and keep them and the resultant dressings refrigerated, and not suffer at all from the omega-6 that is contained in moderate amounts of these dressings. And if one wants to have a balance of essential oils in the dressings, they can chose (from your chart) canola, walnut, and/or flax seed oils and get a dressing holding both omega-6 and omega-3 oils. Not on your chart, but with a ratio similar to canola oil is hemp seed oil, which I use often because it is available refrigerated from most health food stores.

I love your long list of diseases that are definitely caused by the heavy current use of industrially produced omega-6 oils, and can’t fault a single item on that list. I just wish you would have not introduced it as “caused by elevated n-6″, but had identified the link as PROBABLY the increased use of adulterated seed oils. As I said, no one has ever increased the use of healthy, omega-6 oils to where they outweigh the omega-3 oils by even 10 to 1 and then tested to see if the same modern diseases occur. I would ask that you continue to be careful in the terms you use so that people do not start blaming omega-6 for their health problems. That is exactly what certain industries, including the drug industry, want. “Omega-6″ is a nebulous term. No one now realizes that it means “salad oil” or “that oil in all the commercial pastries I eat that used to be just butter or lard”. But supplement providers and healthy salad oil producers have a hard time printing the “omega-6″ amounts on their labels right now, thanks to the bashing that this essential oils has gotten from the press.

Our bodies need healthy omega-6 oils. The whole, omega-6, or Lenoleic Acid (not its components) in each of the 100 trillion cell walls of our bodies is what provides oxygen to each cell for metabolism. As I understand the problem, once you ingest a lot of commercial, adulterated omega-6 though, it replaces the healthy omega-6 in the cell walls and retards the oxygen entry. Once this progresses past a 35% reduction for a period of time, the cell always turns cancerous. Likewise, it is the esterified cholesterol, carrying adulterated omega-6, that damages arterial walls. Cholesterol has always been a part of a healthy body before introduction of industrial seed oils. Its in every cell, and 25% of it is functioning in the human brain. It is not the problem. The adulterated oil is.

For more on these issues, I can only direct interested parties to:

http://www.brianpeskin.com/BP.com/reports/CAMB-Fish-Oil-Fallacies-Report.pdf

Best of health to all.

mark January 28, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Hi,

I see potato listed in the list of cross-reactant foods for CD. Is this list ordered from most to least reactive? I’m enjoying my peeled potatoes mixed with sweet potatoes! (200cals per day per Perfect Health Diet) :)

Chris Kresser January 28, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Mark: that list isn’t conclusive, i.e. just because a food is on that list, doesn’t mean you’re reacting to it.

mark January 28, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Gotcha, thanks!

Katie @ wellness mama January 28, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Thanks for pointing out all the components of grains that can cause a reaction. That would explain why a lot of clients I have worked with show a definite improvement from removing all grains, but some don’t test for any gluten sensitivity in blood tests. Do you happen to know where these tests are available? Great article!

Chris Kresser January 28, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Cyrexlabs.com. Unfortunately you have to be licensed as LAc, D.O., M.D., N.D. or D.C. to order.

Harald January 28, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Chris, thanks for this article.
Allergies are caused by a “snapshot” of a traumatic unexpected biolgical conflict event, ie. if one happens to eat an orange, for example, while one experiences such an event, seeing, smelling or eating an orange from then on could cause an allergic reaction, because Nature wants to warn one: “don’t go there – you got hurt before while eating it. -
Omega 6 essential fatty acid supports inflammation, while omega 3 has anti-inflammatory properties. Both are ESSENTIAL, because the body needs inflammation to support healing and needs something to shut the inflammation down again when healing is complete. Too much omega 6 in the system tends to cause chronic inflammation, hence the prevalence of this condition.
We should nourish ourselves with “species specific food”.
A Dr. Schnitzer in Germany, a dentist, has found out, that we are frugivores (seed eaters) by studying the make-up of our teeth.
I have personally changed my eating habits to incorporate his ideas and found, that I needed to add supplemental omega 3 to my raw grain and fruit regimen. I must say, that I do feel a lot better after several years of eating this food in the mornings. -
The prevalence of ever increasing cancer cases would indicate to me, that people are eating too much ‘industry manipulated food’.
Cancer is a last ditch P-R-O-G-R-A-M we are all born with, which includes a healing phase upon resolution of the above mentioned biological conflict. Read about that here: http://learninggnm.com .
Cheers, Harald.

Harald January 28, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Chris, thanks for this article.
Allergies are caused by a “snapshot” of a traumatic unexpected biolgical conflict event, ie. if one happens to eat an orange, for example, while one experiences such an event, seeing, smelling or eating an orange from then on could cause an allergic reaction, because Nature wants to warn one: “don’t go there – you got hurt before while eating it. -
Omega 6 essential fatty acid supports inflammation, while omega 3 has anti-inflammatory properties. Both are ESSENTIAL, because the body needs inflammation to support healing and needs something to shut the inflammation down again when healing is complete. Too much omega 6 in the system tends to cause chronic inflammation, hence the prevalence of this condition.
We should nourish ourselves with “species specific food”.
A Dr. Schnitzer in Germany, a dentist, has found out, that we are frugivores (seed eaters) by studying the make-up of our teeth.
I have personally changed my eating habits to incorporate his ideas and found, that I needed to add supplemental omega 3 to my raw grain and fruit regimen. I must say, that I do feel a lot better after several years of eating this food in the mornings. -
The prevalence of ever increasing cancer cases would indicate to me, that people are eating too much ‘industry manipulated food’.
Cancer is a last ditch P-R-O-G-R-A-M we are all born with, which includes a healing phase upon resolution of the above mentioned biological conflict. Read about that here: http://learninggnm.com .
Cheers, Harald. PS. I pressed Submit Comment twice because my slow internet connection did not seem to function, sorry.

Diane @ Balanced Bites January 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm

@Dave- Quality animal foods, veggies & some fruit will do pretty well to feed you with this approach :)

Arpita Caird January 28, 2011 at 4:55 pm

What are the Omega 3 and 6 %’s in olive oil and coconut oil?

Harald January 28, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Arpita Caird.
Coconut oil is a saturated oil without having cholesterol and is comprised of lauric acid and capric acid. The ‘virgin oil’ process uses no chemical extraction but an expeller extraction method, so it is as close to perfect, especially for cooking with, as possible.

Cheers, Harald.

Andrew Day January 28, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Chris, I would love a more in-depth article on cross reactivity.

Claire January 28, 2011 at 10:44 pm

Thanks again for a great article!!

lauren January 28, 2011 at 11:36 pm

hi. i’m wondering if you have references for the gluten/grain portion of your article…

Eric W. January 29, 2011 at 12:51 am

Hi Chris Kresser. You write “In fact, Americans now get almost 20% of their calories from a single food source – soybean oil”, but I can’t see any support for that in the PDF you link.

In fact there is a table showing that ‘Fats and Oils’ contribute 23.9% to total calories in the US food supply, which doesn’t seem plausibly consistent with 20% coming from soybean oil alone.

Unless I’m missing something.

Cheers.

megan January 29, 2011 at 4:20 am

I don’t see a citation for Dr. Kharrazin?

Blessings.

Brenda January 29, 2011 at 6:42 am

I like the way you pulled together the information in this article. I found it quite helpful. My husband and I have weaned ourselves off many harmful foods you have mentioned, and are still coming off a few that are remaining. I notice that the cleaner the diet gets, the more obvious bodily reactions to unhealthful foods become. These reactions become further motivation to clean up the diet, since greater awareness of the unhealthy effects of these foods produces a lesser willingness to bother with them.
Thank you Chris, for providing helpful articles like these.

Glenn January 29, 2011 at 6:57 am

I find the “more obvious bodily reactions to unhealthful foods” to be true in my case also, Brenda. Such a good point!

Especially when I hardly ever notice positive reactions to supplements I take. I always feel like I am taking them more on “faith” than practical results. So its quite nice to have a fairly clean internal environment such that ingesting a “nasty” once in a while really makes you feel polluted. Its quite the incentive to get back on track. And who knows, maybe what its all saying is a healthy person on good food just doesn’t need supplements that much. I’m continually daring myself to get off another supplement here and there.

Thanks for the great observation.

Chris Kresser January 29, 2011 at 10:39 am

Andrew: I’m planning a whole series summarizing the latest research on gluten intolerance. Cross-reactivity will be part of that.

Megan: more citations coming up in the series I mentioned to Andrew.

Ana January 29, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Hi,
I have an 8-year-old son who’s allergic to dairy product and he’s been on soy since he was a baby. He drinks a little less than a cup of organic soy milk a day now, but of course it used to be much more than that. (Soy seems to be so prevalent in everything nowadays anyway).

At any rate, after reading your article I feel I have done something terrible to him… What other options do you suggest for a child in his case? I tried other milks and he doesn’t like them. Thank you.

Chris Kresser January 29, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Homemade nut milk is the best alternative. Coconut milk is another choice, although it has a completely different texture and density than soy milk. Or just no “milk” at all.

Kids will adapt, and he’ll learn to like the alternatives if that’s all he has to choose from. I don’t say this to be harsh. I say it out of concern for his well-being.

You haven’t done anything terrible. We’re all doing the best we can with the information we have. It’s tough to be a parent with so much conflicting info out there.

Diane @ Balanced Bites January 29, 2011 at 12:40 pm

@Ana-

Additionally, do you feed him wheat products currently? It’s common that the wheat allergy is the root-cause of the dairy allergy. Chris can probably address this further for you as well… it’s a condition called Leaky Gut.

Joshua January 29, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Because plants like cereal grains are always competing against predators (like us) for survival. Unlike animals, plants can’t run away from us when we decide to eat them. They had to evolve other mechanisms for protecting themselves. These include:

You and I seem to have a really different understanding of the relationship between humans and cereal grains. I have been taught that the relationship is symbiotic, not predatory. Plants generally benefit from animals’ consumption of their seeds, hence fruits–a juicy, sweet shell specifically designed to entice an animal to eat it.

healthy quality of life-ist January 29, 2011 at 11:17 pm

i think you give the ancestors too much credit.
its foolish to assume they were happy as they were since we didn’t get where now we are because they were so self-satisfied that they became complacent and didn’t change.
and you fail to account for the idea that maybe some people don’t care about a long life devoid of things that make life wonderful.
i’d rather have all the beautiful things like rice, millet, cous-cous, tofu, and tempeh, on and on and on that you demonize, even if it means a shorter life.

Lasse January 30, 2011 at 9:38 am

If you claim that humans used to live perfectly healthy, you should probably also mention how long they did that on average (which is not long). If you average live expextancy is 40 years, you simply don’t have time to get all those diseases.

Chris Kresser January 30, 2011 at 10:03 am

Lasse: that’s a flawed argument and I’ve addressed it already in the comments section above:

“If you remove infant mortality and deaths from injury and trauma from the life expectancy equation, Paleolithic people reached ages comparable to civilized people up until very recently, but they did so without any of the modern, degenerative diseases that plague us today.

Infant mortality and death from injury and trauma haven’t gone down because of positive changes in our diet. They’ve gone down because of improvements in sanitation and emergency medical care.

Read this article for more: http://donmatesz.blogspot.com/2010/02/paleo-life-expectancy.html#_jmp0_“

Cathy January 30, 2011 at 11:54 am

I am curious to know what you, Chris, or anyone else thinks of the supplements like Vitamin D3 and Fish oils (which I know Chris does not favor, but my husband will not stop taking) which have a soy oil base.

My Husband is on synthroid and I am wondering how soy products interfere with the uptake of this medicine. He has no thyroid due to nodules/cancer so he is dependent on synthroid. I also believe he has undiagnosed autoimmune problems

Thank you for the great articles and the great, informative site!

Chris Kresser January 30, 2011 at 12:10 pm

The protein in soy is what most people have an immune reaction to, so from that perspective soy oil is probably not likely to provoke autoimmunity. However, soybean oil is extremely high in omega-6 linoleic acid, which is pro-inflammatory. Whether that is triggering him depends on how much of the oils he’s taking on a daily basis. I imagine the dose is very small, so I doubt it’s a huge factor.

Arpita Caird January 30, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Still wondering about the omega 3′s vs. 6′s of olive oil and coconut oil — thanks, Harald for your words about coconut oil, I think it’s quite wonderful stuff, I’m just wondering how it is in the omega department — or maybe it doesn’t have any?

Ana– homemade nut milk is really yummy! I especially like it from slightly sprouted almonds. Hemp seed milk is also really good. I think you’re son may like it. Especially if you have him sprout the almonds himself, and see the cute little sprouts starting, he may feel good having that relationship with his food, and feeling the life force present in the milk that he saw/sensed in the sprouted almonds.

Glenn January 30, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Arpita, here’s a handy site with the omega balance for some of the more exotic oils, but olive oil is included:

http://www.latourangelle.com/nutrition.php

The chart shows the number of grams of each type oil in 1 Tablespoon that weights 14 grams.

Flax seed, and the common commercial cooking oils are not shown, but you want to stay away from the cheap oils anyway if they aren’t cold pressed. I’m talking about corn, safflower, sunflower, and canola. These are mostly omega-6, and if they aren’t organic and cold pressed, they may have lost their ability to handle oxygen, or worse, be rancid.

Flax seed oil contains, in 1 Tbl: omega-9, 3 g; omega-6, 3 g; and omega-3, 8 g.

Coconut oil contains, in 1 Tbl: saturated fat, 13 g; omega-9, less than 1 g; omega-3 and omega-6 together, also less than 1 g.

Personally, I use a lot of hemp oil because I can buy it from the local health food store in dark bottles and it has been kept cold, so it has even less chance of becoming rancid. It has this composition: omega-9, 2 g; omega-6, 8 g; omega-3, 3 g, or about the same as walnut oil.

Best of luck. It doesn’t hurt to mix the oils. Olive is mostly mono-unsaturated, but some of the others are more heavily poly-unsaturated. The essential oils (parent omega-3 and parent omega-6) have many uses in the body that olive oil cannot perform, including being broken down into derivatives such as DHA, but also omega-6 is twice as effective as olive oil at bringing oxygen into the cells, and that is one of the main functions of the essential oils while they are still in the “parent” form (before being broken down into derivatives that are used in other ways).

Emily January 31, 2011 at 12:34 am

Calling food items “toxins” is rather extreme, considering that they have varying effects on different organisms. For example, gluten is toxic for me because I have Celiac disease, but it does not have a toxic effect on my friend, so it is not a toxin for him. Also, your application of “toxins” is incorrect. A toxin is a “poisonous substance produced by a biological organism such as a microbe, animal, plant or fungus” according to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (http://sis.nlm.nih.gov/enviro/iupacglossary/glossaryt.html#toxin), so substances like high-fructose corn syrup (which is synthesized by humans in a lab) would be a toxicant (or a “toxic,” if you prefer), not a toxin. Please check your facts and use reputable sources to avoid misleading people.

While I agree that the food we consume in our “modern lifestyle” is to blame for many of our health problems, it is largely the fault of the industrial food system altering the chemical structures of the foods we eat (i.e., growing wheat that contains more gluten protein) and changing the ways that they are prepared. Simply not eating these foods does not solve the problem. We need to fight to change the way that our food is processed, and at the very least push the FDA to step-up laws on labeling and regulation.

Hans Keer January 31, 2011 at 2:15 am

Totaly in line with our body of thought (http://www.cutthecarb.com/quick-start/) Chris. Well done!! I’ll put a link on our Facebook-page and Twitter-page.

Brent January 31, 2011 at 12:01 pm

I’ve found the discussion about the life expectancy of hominids very interesting. I always assumed that hominids had lower life expectancies than modern humans, but was surprised when I read the links that you shared that provide evidence that they lived much longer. So I decided to do a little more reading and found that there isn’t complete agreement among anthropologists. Here is one example:

“Never before in human history have the majority of individuals born survived through their 4th decade of life. Models of senescence positing life expectancies over 40 years among pre-modern and early modern humans are based on the premise that mortality hazards similar to those
observed among contemporary transitional populations existed in the past. However, such extended life expectancies were never reported for any population prior to the late 19th and 20th centuries, they have only come to characterize most populations during the 20th century.
Those hypothesizing such long life expectancies in prehistory and earlier are applying a model of »unilineal evolution« to human LH, life span, and senescence. Fossil, archaeological, and historical records do not support that such extended life spans ever occurred in prehistory.”

-Crews DE, Gerber LM. Reconstructing life history of hominids and humans. Coll. Anthropol. 27 (2003) 1: 7-22.

I think this is a good illustration of the issue I have with your article as a whole. You make dramatic and sweeping conclusions from single pieces of data. The data you share about celiac disease, omega-6, soy and fructose may be true, but that is only one part of the picture. Remember that evidence is not proof and correlation is not causation. Based on the evidence you have provided it is difficult to draw any conclusions (ie call things toxins). There are far more factors that play into these disease processes that are still not understood. For example, you’ve included a graph that shows that with increasing % of n-6 HUFA the rate of mortality from CHD also increases and then you say “it’s hard to overstate the negative effects of too much omega-6 fat” That is like me saying that people with undiagnosed type 1 diabetes drink more water than normal people so water consumption must cause diabetes. There is a correlation, but that doesn’t make it the cause. Or I could make a graph that shows that increasing levels of water consumption are associated with increasing mortality from hyponatremia, but that doesn’t prove that water is a “toxin.”

Don’t get me wrong, I think that Americans need to change the things they eat and the way they eat, but I think that you have to be careful when you start calling certain things toxins just because a graph shows there is a relationship between it and CHD. Things are always far more complex than you think.

Chris Kresser January 31, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Brent: look at my response to a previous comment about this, and read the article I linked to (with several references that contradict the one you posted).

Brent January 31, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I did read the article and I saw that there were contradictory arguments to the article I shared. That is exactly my point. How can you say one argument is right and the other isn’t? One or two articles does not equal absolute truth. You can’t just find one article that says “hominids lived into their 70′s” and think that is the final word on the subject. Good science involves a lot of back and forth, and my point was simply to show that there obviously isn’t a consensus on how long our ancestors lives.

Olivier January 31, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Thank you Brent for doing that piece of research I meant to do.

The linked article also mentioned modern hunter-gatherers, but unfortunately didn’t cite its sources on that either.

I’d be interested on getting statistically meaningful data on those modern tribes about the health of those that make it through old age.

What I’d like to add as well, is that, even if ancient humans did indeed live much better to old age, if they managed it, could you attribute that mainly to nutrition? Maybe there are other factors that civilization put into the mix. For instance, proximity and travel probably brought epidemia on a large scale and on a regular basis. What is the long term effect of those little/medium diseases we routinely catch? I’m also thinking of stress levels, exercise, sunlight exposure…

Of course, this doesn’t undermine the advice you provide, Chris and I’d like to make it clear that I am very grateful for your sharing of it.

But please allow us some degree skepticism on some little aspects of your healthy skepticism :)

Chris Kresser January 31, 2011 at 1:58 pm

I applaud your skepticism!

But keep in mind that we can completely discard the evolutionary argument and still reach an identical conclusion regarding the toxic nature of the four foods I listed. There is abundant modern clinical evidence supporting the damage that wheat, industrial seed oils, sugar and processed soy cause.

So regardless of whether you accept the evolutionary argument, the evidence suggests these foods should be minimized or avoided.

Brent January 31, 2011 at 2:57 pm

I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a skeptic. I just don’t see the evidence as being completely conclusive. It’s like you mentioned in a previous post about dietary cholesterol and its relationship to coronary artery disease. Initially it looked like there was a relationship but in the end it didn’t hold up. I think that it is too early to jump to conclusions on some of the things you mentioned. All that being said, I think moderation is needed in all aspects of the western diet, which would include your toxins. Thanks for the post.

Ralph Staubach January 31, 2011 at 3:36 pm

What I get tired of is all the articles out there about how this, that or the other thing are bad for you even when being promoted as healthy but they don’t give alternatives.

Ok, so say cereal is actually bad for you. What should I do about? I’m not going to start making eggs every morning. Fruit isn’t enough and will get expensive.

If you are going to do all this research to point out a problem with the way people are eating then you should provide a solution that adequately replaces they problem.

The amount of foods that have the ingredients you list in this article would mean that I would have to completely change the foods I buy and eat on a regular basis. You need to provide context and solutions, otherwise people just read this and say “oh well, what can I do…. “

Chris Kresser January 31, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Ralph: did you notice this is article #1 in a 9 part series?

slabman February 1, 2011 at 7:54 am

You’re all fat because you eat too much.

Jack Kronk February 1, 2011 at 8:54 am

Ralph / Brent and the like…

Chris is being quite cordial. But I’d like to poke at you a bit.

Your comments seem like childish attempts to be argumentative, almost grade schoolish. Or maybe you are in argumentative college philosophy class mode. It’s like you are just trying to troll around and argue with things so you can feel cool on the internet. either something is wrong with your brain or you just have an agenda. In any case, knock yourself out.

But if you do have something to say about an article that you don’t agree with, why not actually give some real backing to it. Here, Chris writes a very insightful and well articulated piece, and then you come along with some silly comment that holds no weight. I’d say that’s both ironic and hypocritical of you all at the same time.

As for me, I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

Thanks,
Jack K

Olivier February 1, 2011 at 12:31 pm

@Chris
You are right, indeed, I have been following your column for a while now and the evidence is clearly intriguing, regardless of the evolutionary aspects which you yourself relativised in one of your previous posts.

As a recent poster said, I’m definitely looking forward to your next articles on this matter and let me reiterate that I appreciate you sharing these insights to the ‘crowd’ (for better or for worse!)

Ralph Staubach February 1, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Chris,

I did notice that this is part 1 of the series as I read the introduction as well. I am not trying to be argumentative as Jack so kindly perceived my feedback but I don’t see where you are covering alternatives in any of the series.

The introduction points out all the things you should avoid or try to do, like sleep enough. What people need is a practical approach to eating and being healthy. As I pointed out previously it is near impossible to eliminate what you are suggesting in today’s world. I have yet to find any health expert that go to a grocery store to walk people through easy ways to shop healthy that are realistic.

It is a facet of today’s society that we are all in a hurry and to try and stop and read the labels of everything is not practical. I’ve tried….

I am a healthy individual and only through the process of learning on my own have I been able to do it. If someone really wants to change the way and what americans eat they should try and put their research into practice in an empathetic manner. I would love to see it.

Jack, As far as your comments go. I was simply stating my opinion about the article. I never used terms like “childish” or “grade shoolish” to try and insight an argument.

Chris Kresser February 1, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Ralph: it is nowhere near impossible to eliminate the foods I’ve listed. Humans lived for millions of years without them, and I assure you there are millions of people living on all continents of the world that do not eat them now. Myself and countless others who follow a “paleo diet” do not eat them, and we are here to tell you that it’s not only possible, but relatively simple: eat real food. Don’t eat things that come in a bag or a box, and don’t eat grains. If you follow that simple and highly practical advice, you’re most of the way there.

While I empathize with the difficulty of making dietary changes, and know how difficult that can be (especially in the face of so much conflicting information), I think it’s important to point out that difficulty is not impossibility – or anywhere near it in this case.

Harald February 1, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Dear Chris.
I admire your tenacity and your patience, but right now I feel the need to contribute in a way, which is counter to your thinking.
Grains were developed from grasses in an effort to provide a food source, that does not require taking a life. More over, Romans dragged grain mills along to their battles and they were quite successfull in the outcomes of those battles. They are also known for their road building, aquaduct building, their baths and generally for their highly developed society. -
Ralph, if you want to have an alternative to “prepared” food, please go to: http://www.dr-schnitzer.de/ .
This dentist has done a lot of research and has empirical findings, that support his conclusions and he is trying to educate everyone who wants to find the alternative to the present sad and unhealthy condition of the (western) societies. check it out.
Thanks again, Chris, I for one appreciate your efforts and your generous nature. May you continue to have the energy . . .

Sarah Berquist February 1, 2011 at 6:28 pm

SALLY. FALLON.

Glenn February 1, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Ralph,

I would like to continue along the lines of Chris’ answer to your Feb. 1 issues with avoiding his list of toxic foods. One of your original points (Jan. 31) was that Chris did not supply alternatives, and he has persisted in just stressing the 4 things that should be avoided. You also mentioned that you can’t read labels to the degree required to avoid all these substances, and that is a very good point.

So I would like to say that, if you follow Chris’ general guidelines and eat “real food”, not anything in a container that has labels, you will be on your way, and will save a lot of time in that you won’t HAVE labels to read. To give you examples of alternatives, well, you may not like it, but you are going to be eating green leafy veggies probably 3 times a day. So just accept that. Yes, even for breakfast. Its way better than sugary fruits, or cereals. And even if you eat eggs for the protein and fat content, the greens are necessary. So your alternatives are going to be meals that consists of mostly green leafy veggies and either meat or dairy. Its a sure bet there were no vegans in paleolithic times, but if you are so disposed, you know what the additional limits would be. For variety, as long as you don’t eat much of it, would be foods from the starchy veggie group, and also fruit and beans. But starches and fruits have to be minimized, because in my mind, and others, they really work as sugars in your body. Oh, and have a few nuts.

So forget about studying labels. Probably 98% of the time labels are going to be on food that you will have to shun once you read the label. So just go to the produce, meat and dairy sections, or local farmer’s market vendors, and select your foods there.

I think that its OK if good food is boring and eating it is just a simple repetitive task that you undertake just to get energy to live fully. Its modern salesmanship that has convinced many of us that a meal must be a thrill and an experience to write about. So I wouldn’t think of also providing recipes for these simple foods as the solution you ask for. The solution is to accept the fact that the choices of foods you will be eating is quite narrow compared to what is offered in the standard supermarket, but a bit wider and easier to come by than what our paleolithic ancestors had.

Chris hasn’t gotten into fresh vs cooked or preserved foods, and preferred methods of cooking and preserving foods, so there’s another reason he might not give you “solutions” yet. The whole problem hasn’t even been described yet. Just some toxins to avoid. So lets all be patient and give Chris time to really get into the subject. Maybe he will still provide solutions.

Jack Kronk February 2, 2011 at 9:07 am

Ralph,

Here is what everyone is saying to you. Quit whining. Any excuse will work so long as you are making one. I live in a big city will all the food and drink trappings of modern life, and yet I have managed to almost completely cut out all of the garbage that we all have come to believe is normal and acceptable. Besides, let’s wait for the other eight parts of nine. And I never said you used those words. I am the one who used them to describe your comments.

Here, let’s a take a look.

“If you are going to do all this research to point out a problem with the way people are eating then you should provide a solution that adequately replaces they problem.

The amount of foods that have the ingredients you list in this article would mean that I would have to completely change the foods I buy and eat on a regular basis. You need to provide context and solutions, otherwise people just read this and say “oh well, what can I do…. “

Jack Kronk February 2, 2011 at 9:29 am

Harald,

Keep in mind that ‘grains’ in the roman times were likely very different than the grains of today, especially wheat. And even if not, we don’t know the effects the grains they ate had on their health. Maybe the other facets of their diets brought with it a sort of ‘protective’ element. What we do know, based on solid and conclusive evidence of recent studies regarding modern grains, is that it is absolutely certain that grains cause many people to have severe health problems.

Glenn, great points you make about shopping. I’ve gotten to a point now where I know what foods are not gonna ‘qualify’ before I even see the label. One thing I have found very interesting about eating “paleo” style is that I enjoy my food much more now. I look forward to eating, whereas before, I often was annoyed by having to make time for it. Now that I only eat real, whole, nutrient dense foods and do not fear healthy saturated fats, I love my new food choices, especially since I handle dairy just fine.

And if anybody wants to know ‘what to eat’ and is confused by all the ‘what not to eat’ articles, there is a wealth of information that Chris and several others have put out that have allowed me to build a rich and full diet.

For some more great info, look up Stephan Guyenet, Chris Masterjohn, Weston A Price, Kurt Harris, Mark Sisson. That should start you down the right path.

Cheers,
Jack Kronk

Ron Lavine February 2, 2011 at 10:07 am

Chris – I’m enjoying your article and find this one particularly inspiring.

One line of argument I don’t follow is the idea that plants developed toxins to protect themselves from being consumed. If this were a significant factor, wouldn’t it apply to all plants (that have consumable roots, stems, or leaves) not just grains?

Ron

Kristine February 2, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Ron, they did. Some of the toxins just act more instantaneously than others. “Consumable” is not black-and-white, either it sends you into convulsions and death, or it’s perfectly safe. Lots of plant foods are toxic in high doses, such as rhubarb leaves, potatoes that have turned green, vanilla beans, acki fruits and other tropical fruits that are toxic if not prepared correctly.

ben February 2, 2011 at 5:17 pm

On the omega-6 : 3 ratio chart, I’d add chia seeds, which I heard is healthier than flax despite perhaps a worse ratio?

http://thedailyreturn.typepad.com/blog/2010/01/better-than-flax-seed-chchchchia-.html

Also macadamia nut (oil) has a 1:1 ratio

Glenn February 2, 2011 at 7:13 pm

I agree the chart could use a few more oils that people commonly eat, Ben. I read your referenced article. I’ve also read that chia seeds are not really recommended for a Paleo diet because for one thing, they contain some substances thought to be “anti-nutrients”. Here’s more:

http://stephenson.typepad.com/train_with_nellie/2010/04/are-chia-seeds-ok-to-eat-on-the-paleo-diet.html

Back to the article you provided. Its a little wrong here and there, and very misleading at times. For example, it says olive oil has a ratio of 10 to 1, omega-6 to omega-3. Well, that might be true, but its insignificant because there is hardly any omega-6 or omega-3 in olive oil. Its mostly omega-9. Then it says “as a result, the Western diet is way out of whack on the EFA front. I assume that means the omega-6 to omega-3 suggested intake ratio.

Then it says “So ideally, we want to find EFA sources with more omega-3 than omega-6 in order to counteract the imbalance we find in most other foods. ” This needs to be clarified. It is the mistake that almost all “health” writers make. First of all, if you follow Chris’s guidelines in this article, and eat a Paleo diet, there will be no imbalance, so you don’t even need to worry. That’s because natural foods just don’t give you an imbalance of fatty acids, and if they did, it would be small and your body would handle it fine because its just healthy food. So when a “health” writer says “imbalance” of omega-6 to omega-3, he’s talking about the fact that Americans and other people in developed countries are now eating so much MANUFACTURED food that has been prepared with cheap vegetables oils that started with healthy omega-6 containing nuts and grains but got adulterated, oxidized, changed to trans-fats, etc. The “health” writer will then call these prostituted oils that are very unhealthy for your bodies “omega-6″. And he/she will point out quite accurately that the average American ingests possibly 20 to 40 times as much of these substances as they do foods containing omega-3. But the mistake that is almost always made next, is to guide you to believe that the way to fix the “imbalance” is to supplement with omega-3. This is just what the fish oil industry wants, and possibly has provided the fodder to the writer to load his canon with. This is not the solution. The solution is to cut out the junk food, and anything that says on the contents that it contains any of the common vegetable oils. Just as Chris has guided us to do in this news letter. Anything short of getting off the commercial oils is NOT going to bring the best of health, including trying to get more omega-3 oils. These will come naturally in your food if you eat a Paleo diet. All foods have these oils, even green leafy veggies. Not much, but enough so that if you eat nothing but good food, you’ll get your oils just as you get your vitamins and minerals.

Debbie February 2, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Great article. I cut out gluten grains, omega-6 oils, sugar and soy over two years ago, and I have felt great ever since! And not been sick once since then – even though for the preceding 15 years I had suffered 2-3 bad colds, bronchitis and pneumonia every single year. If only I could lose weight too! But alas, I still have a ton of weight to lose and can’t seem to drop an ounce. :-(

Jack Kronk February 3, 2011 at 9:27 am

Fantastic comment Glenn. Bravo :)

Debbie,

It sounds like you are at least taking steps in the right direction. Good on you for that. You may want to look into HIIT. Short bursts of high intensity training can sometimes kickstart you body into fat burning/muscle building mode. Chris wrote an article on here a few weeks back about the difference between long and ridiculous hours in the gym 4-5 times a week versus short, intense workouts a couple times a week. Also, you may want to closely count your calories, and use high quality fats like organic cream and butter (if you tolerate dairy well) and maybe some nuts like almonds/pecans (soaked/dehydrated is best). Remember, eating fat will not make you fat. It will satiate your appetite better and you will not desire as much food.

cheers,
Jack Kronk

Glenn February 3, 2011 at 10:08 am

Thanks Jack. I do try hard to clarify a few issues that I find are continually receiving misleading guidance!

Adam February 4, 2011 at 1:53 pm

There’s a whole lot of bad science in this article. Example:

“If you remove infant mortality and deaths from injury and trauma from the life expectancy equation, Paleolithic people reached ages comparable to civilized people up until very recently, but they did so without any of the modern, degenerative diseases that plague us today.”

There’s so much wrong with that assertion. First off, removing trauma-deaths from the life expectancy calculations of Paleolithic hominids is like removing touchdowns from footbal scoring statistics; Paleolithic people didn’t live long enough to contract our “modern, degenerative diseases.”

Secondly, our knowledge and records of Paleolithic times are scattershot at best; there isn’t remotely enough evidence to assert any kind of detailed statistical analysis like this. This is like pretending you’re able to take roll at the invention of the wheel.

I’m all for living a healthier lifestyle. I avoid all sugar and most meats, keep my portions reasonable, and exercise regularly. But you haven’t persuaded this skeptic of anything with this article.

Oh, and a link to an obviously agenda-driven blog does constitute “evidence.”

mary ann February 4, 2011 at 2:43 pm

is grapeseed oil ok?

R-01 February 4, 2011 at 4:15 pm

You sir are extremely misleading.

I had a good page and a half of repudiation typed up and ready to post with links and references. I also feel sorry for some of the people posting comments here and how far some people have been misled by articles such as this. I do appreciate that you responded to some of the dissenting comments, even if you stuck to what is false. I would encourage everyone to do your own research on eating in moderation, soy (and why it is not bad for you), what sugars you really consume, and what gluten really is (it is protein, it is not A protein, BIG difference).

Adam February 4, 2011 at 6:42 pm

Oops. Last sentence of my previous post should have read: “Oh, and a link to an obviously agenda-driven blog does NOT constitute ‘evidence.’”

Barbara February 5, 2011 at 10:13 am

I find all this stuff about how long people lived in the past is just silly. It’s one thing to die young from trauma or infection, and another to just die young. Infant mortality totally skews the total mortality rates as well. We do know from the Bible and other ancient sources (records left by Romans and Greeks in history) that people in general lived to 70, and in many cases into their 80s as a matter of course. All the fooling around with medicines and ‘interventions’ has not lengthened this life span much at all.

Once we get over infant death, and getting killed in a hunt or being injured and not having antibiotics, it’s natural for humans to live long lives.

Ron Lavine February 6, 2011 at 4:27 pm

It can be very difficult to evaluate evidence backing various sides of a debate. It’s true that if a website is “self-serving”, one might wish to downgrade the evidence presented on the site.

Unfortunately, there’s “self-serving” information available on several different sides of the argument. If something is the “accepted wisdom” it can be harder to discern the self-serving nature of the evidence mounted in its favor.

That’s why The Healthy Skeptic is performing such an important service.

And it doesn’t have to be perfect in order to continue serving that purpose. I’ve found it easy over the years to debunk stuff. But sooner or later you have to decide that you stand for something – even if by standing for that thing you leave yourself open to others doing the debunking.

Keep up the good work, Chris.

Glenn February 6, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Good declaration in support of pro-active and positive assertions, Ron Lavine. Definitely, someone has to step up and support something before there can even be a subject for a debunker to make a case against!. I am heartily thankful that Chris has this information coming out and has allowed a forum to develop with respect to each newsletter.

And also, not all replies are going to be debunking. And not all debunking is bad. Some replies may be augmentative, qualifying, or otherwise additions to what Chris provides. And statements that present a conflicting view can be just as helpful to the reader as those initiated by Chris. I’m happy to read it all.

Low Carb Compatible February 6, 2011 at 10:29 pm

Despite the detractors, I find this article (and the follow-on series) to be very informative. Please continue, we’re reading (and learning)!

I’ve linked to your series over at our blog, http://lowcarbocompatbile.com under the ‘educational resources’ section. Cheers!

Low Carb Compatible February 6, 2011 at 10:30 pm

(oops, make that http://lowcarbcompatible.com — I’d correct the typo, if I could)

Jack Kronk February 7, 2011 at 10:35 am

Glenn,

I agree with this way of thinking. Sometimes if a reader posts something completely incorrect, whether they meant to or not, it can cause other readers (or Chris himself) to step up and ‘correct’ it for all, allowing us all to learn in the process. Sometimes I throw stuff out there to create additional discussion. I’m sure many people do the same. Lots of times the articles simply serve as a great way to insight fantastic discussions on the comments board.

But then again, comments like the ones from ‘Adam’ and ‘R-01′ are ridiculous. I don’t see any sound thinking there at all. The beauty is that you let people post whatever they want, so long as it does not directly violate the board rules, and then let people discern from it what they will.

-Jack K

Glenn February 7, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Hi Jack,

I agree, there’s beauty in the open forum. It encourages the knowledge pool to grow, and actually probably helps Chris improve the material he’s currently working on sometimes!

I think of the NPR show “All things Considered”. Worst thing about it is the title. How long could they keep that title if THEY had a forum?

Glenn

Olivier February 7, 2011 at 3:48 pm

@Barbara
I think nobody doubts the fact that we have the genetic material, in the good conditions, to naturally live above 80. I, personally, had a great grand mother who didn’t see a doctor until the age of 93 and lived an active life until then (she was, for instance, cycling regularly beyond the age of 85).
What can be questionable is the amount of data which irrevocably proves that a majority of our hunter-gatherers ancestors routinely lived healthy lives to 80-ish. Modern day evidence (from existing hunter-gatherer tribes around the world) shows that the living conditions of those people are such that few get the opportunity to get to old age. When they do, though, they seem not to be affected by some our modern diseases, hence some assumptions being made it could come from our diet differences (my point being that there are many other factors that differentiate our life styles…)
I’m not certain the bible could be taken as a reliable factual source, but that’s certainly beside the point :)

Vin Kutty February 22, 2011 at 2:08 pm

This just showed up in my inbox – a pro-high fructose corn syrup webinar sponsored by the corn lobby. Wow! Where do I begin…?

http://bit.ly/hUp3BK

Lori Smart February 24, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Thank you, Cris! My husband is type 1 diabetic, and I have eternally fought with issues involving my immune system and Candida. We’ve both found that living grain, soy and sugar free is VERY easy! Fresh organic produce, local grass/pasture fed meats, eggs and dairy are not only easy to find, they taste WAY better. We save a fortune on our groceries (no processed foods, we cook all our meals at home) and we’re both becoming healthier than ever. This series of articles is really helping us, and the sceptics that tell us how ‘leaving out whole food groups will harm you’, to understand WHY this way of life is helping us. Looking forward to the rest of the series!

Ron Lavine February 24, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Chris: Do you differentiate between a “toxin” and a potential allergen? On a related note, what about a GI-related toxin vs a respiratory or skin-related allergen?

Debbie February 24, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Hi Chris,
I notice “American cheese” was on the list of toxins. I love pecorino which is Italian sheep’s cheese. And I almost jumped for joy but I’d still need you to explain the difference, that is, between American and other; and why the other is safer to consume.

Thank you.

Debbie February 24, 2011 at 2:08 pm

oops…one more question. Does cacao nibs fall under the same category as chocolate?

Thank you.

dawn February 24, 2011 at 9:42 pm

If the preservation of grains is to produce toxins, doesn’t that logic apply also to vegetables?

Gonzalo March 14, 2011 at 10:10 pm

My family and I are primarily on a gluten free diet. My wife brought up a good question because are children are not fully gluten free (rice, and oats): If grain products are toxins, why are they promoted as a staple in any and all dietary guides available to the general public. We are apprehensive to put our children on a pure grain free diet for those reasons. As you we are also Healthy Skeptics that would love an answer.

Thank you

Diane @ Balanced Bites March 14, 2011 at 10:14 pm

@Gonzalo- the food guide pyramid is developed by the US Department of Agriculture. Their primary goal is to promote and expand the agricultural endeavors of the country, not to keep your family healthy. It’s all about money… follow the money. Think about who promotes these concepts of grains being healthy, who creates the commercials, the products that are touted as “health” foods and consider how highly processed most of them are versus whole, natural foods like meat, eggs, vegetables and fruit. Food for though, no? I wrote about this in a post here: http://balancedbites.com/2010/09/weve-been-fed-a-pyramid-built-of-processed-food-bricks.html

Best.
Diane

Jen March 15, 2011 at 9:18 am

I just read the article “The western diet and lifestyle and diseases of civilization”. Wondering what your thoughts are and if you might be covering this as a blog post soon.

http://www.dovepress.com/the-western-diet-and-lifestyle-and-diseases-of-civilization-peer-reviewed-article-RRCC

Chris Kresser March 15, 2011 at 9:50 am

I think it’s an excellent paper, and I’m happy to see them reversing their previous stance on saturated fat.

Anonymous March 30, 2011 at 9:38 pm

You say that fructose is the enemy… does that mean we shouldn’t eat fruit?? Fruit is the only natural raw thing in the wild that we would’ve snacked on. It looks pretty to us, it can be eaten raw and it tastes good – it’s obviously our primary food source??

Please explain if you think I am wrong. Preferably email me on

Anonymous April 1, 2011 at 7:45 am

Fruit was not our primary food source because in most places its seasonal.
Fruit is a con job. The plants “goal” is to have you deposit the seeds a few miles away with a source of fertilizer.
Its as concerned with your health as you are with the condition of a u haul trailer once the job is done.
Furthermore, modern fruits have been bred to be sweeter, which means more fructose.

Matthew Norgren April 4, 2011 at 5:40 pm

I’m still confused. So if I don’t think I’m gluten intolerant, is it prudent to give up coffee and milk along with grains anyway? I know Chris advocates self experimentation and seeing how you tolerate things, but I don’t even know what I’m looking for.

Kyle B Johnson April 16, 2011 at 1:39 am

Chris,
Just so you know, transglutaminase is not a component of wheat. It is a protein expressed in the human body that interacts with gliadin. In celiacs, auto-antibodies (antibodies made against your own proteins) are directed against transglutaminase.
Kyle

Daina White April 20, 2011 at 12:37 am

I eat gluten free, but if I were to go more Paleo, and avoid most grains, how should I deal with carbohydrate cravings? Sure I eat fruit, and I guess I should start eating more things like sweet potatoes, but I do love my gluten free oats, amaranth and millet, and quinoa. I actually think oats might be causing me bloating, so by avoiding them, by restricting carbs, I notice that’s all I can think about. I crave it. What do you suggest for carb cravings? Does your PaleoDetox program help the transition?

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