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

doughnutNote: This is the second article in an ongoing series called 9 Steps To Perfect Health. Make sure to check out the other articles when you’re finished with this one:

Imagine 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:


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.

Related posts:

  1. 9 Steps to Perfect Health: Introduction Follow these 9 steps to prevent disease and promote perfect health....
  2. Ten steps to preventing heart disease naturally Follow these ten steps to dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease....
  3. How to Save Your Family’s Life: 30 Ways to Prevent Modern Disease Following these 30 nutrition and lifestyle principles will dramatically reduce your risk for all modern...
  4. How toxins are making us fat and diabetic We're more toxic than ever before, and recent evidence has linked exposure to toxins with...
  5. How too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 is making us sick We’re consuming up to 25 times more omega-6 fat than we need, and too much...

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  1. Brent’s avatar

    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.

  2. Chris Kresser’s avatar

    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).

  3. Brent’s avatar

    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.

  4. Olivier’s avatar

    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 :)

  5. Chris Kresser’s avatar

    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.

  6. Brent’s avatar

    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.

  7. Ralph Staubach’s avatar

    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…. “

  8. Chris Kresser’s avatar

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

  9. slabman’s avatar

    You’re all fat because you eat too much.

  10. Jack Kronk’s avatar

    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.

    Jack K

  11. Olivier’s avatar

    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!)

  12. Ralph Staubach’s avatar


    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.

  13. Chris Kresser’s avatar

    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.

  14. Harald’s avatar

    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 . . .

  15. Sarah Berquist’s avatar


  16. Glenn’s avatar


    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.

  17. Jack Kronk’s avatar


    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…. “

  18. Jack Kronk’s avatar


    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.

    Jack Kronk

  19. Ron Lavine’s avatar

    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?


  20. Kristine’s avatar

    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.

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