8

votes

Why did Humans Start Eating Grains?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created June 13, 2011 at 5:56 PM

For many of us who go on a Paleo diet, binging on grains leaves us feeling horrible the next day. I wonder, then, why did early humans adopt this food in the first place?

I understand that after the agricultural revolution, a growing and dense population demanded a calorically-dense and plentiful food. However, this wasn't a problem before the agricultural revolution.

Many Paleos describe the Paleolithic Era as a time of plenty - people were healthy and free and game animals were everywhere. If they're right then humans had no reason begin cultivating grains. Any thoughts?

34b560c8b9ce660d7839fb7e29d7be89

on June 18, 2011
at 09:02 AM

I agree with Neane. I think that if you took HG's from even a few hundred years ago they'd get sick eating modern processed food. But if they ate neolithic food from a thousand or a several hundred years ago they'd probably only get mildly nauseated. After getting over the initial illness the desire for modern foods we are all familar with would take over. Not to mention the convenience factor.

510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20898)

on June 14, 2011
at 02:59 PM

Maybe my terminology was bad. Don't think of getting "high" as depicted in Reefer Madness, but there is a definite opiate response that gives you a low-level happiness that you can become addicted to. I know how sad I feel if I try to go a whole day without coffee, I'm clearly addicted to caffeine an I'm getting some kind of high/happiness out of it that's above and beyond just enjoying the drink. The "Wheat High" is analogous to the "Runner's High" since they stimulate the same receptors.

6869a1f2294b3a717a53645589a91d18

(1689)

on June 14, 2011
at 01:40 PM

>"a growing and dense population demanded a calorically-dense and plentiful food." The increase in caloric availability CAUSES the growth in population density. This growth capacity is the nature of life..

6869a1f2294b3a717a53645589a91d18

(1689)

on June 14, 2011
at 01:40 PM

>"a growing and dense population demanded a calorically-dense and plentiful food." The increase in caloric availability CAUSES the growth in population density. This growth capacity is the nature of life...

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on June 14, 2011
at 02:52 AM

@miked: You said they make you high. I haven't see that yet. I certainly don't get high when I eat wheat.

510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20898)

on June 14, 2011
at 01:52 AM

Well I said grains act like opiates, you didn't believe me. Rose linked to a paper which you didn't believe. I found five links that said similar things and you didn't believe that. What would you like?

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on June 14, 2011
at 01:29 AM

@miked: Do any of those address what I said? If so, I would appreciate if you don't expect me to read 5 random links you apparently found in 2 minutes of googling.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on June 14, 2011
at 01:29 AM

Do any of those address what I said? If so, I would appreciate if you don't expect me to read 5 random links you apparently found in 2 minutes of googling.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 13, 2011
at 11:30 PM

Excellent answer David.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 13, 2011
at 11:30 PM

Excellent book.

Af1d286f0fd5c3949f59b4edf4d892f5

(18452)

on June 13, 2011
at 09:19 PM

beer!!!!!!!!!!!

8a4ce6a9e1ab27616920b828df08b259

(354)

on June 13, 2011
at 09:04 PM

They didn't get as sick as we would because the grains were different, they processed them to disable the phytates, and if they were sick, they ignored the symptoms, or didn't have any obvious symptoms and kept surviving (not THRIVING) and made us into the weaker humans we are today.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 08:36 PM

Hence, surviving being about survival, to maintain balance.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 08:34 PM

PS-excellent answer, David. Spot-on!

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 08:34 PM

Not all did. Some survived to pass on the "hereditary genetic diseases" we all enjoy today!

510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20898)

on June 13, 2011
at 08:14 PM

Here you go, five quick ones I found in 2 minutes of googling: http://www.trackyourplaque.com/blog/2009/12/this-is-your-brain-on-wheat.html http://www.trackyourplaque.com/blog/2010/07/this-is-your-brain-on-wheat-ii.html http://drbganimalpharm.blogspot.com/2008/05/wheat-would-you-give-your-kids-crack.html http://drbganimalpharm.blogspot.com/2008/05/wheat-would-you-give-your-kids-crack.html http://www.disinfo.com/2010/10/the-addictive-opioids-in-wheat-and-dairy-foods/

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on June 13, 2011
at 08:02 PM

@miked: More the chronic exposure? Can you point to my subjective experience of being addicted to wheat or any other grains? For me, deciding that wheat is bad for me and trying to quit it (which the people here would usually condone) is no different than deciding that red meat is bad for me and trying to quit it (which the people here would usually NOT condone): They're both just things that even though they taste good, I could choose to avoid them if I think they're unhealthy. Saying we started eating grains because they made us high is pretty outrageous. I've never gotten high off wheat.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on June 13, 2011
at 07:59 PM

No, it's not eerie at all. That's simply what happens when one part of you wants to quit and another part of you doesn't want to. It tastes good (one part), but you think it's bad for you (the other part). This isn't remarkable at all. Whether wheat is good or bad for you, deciding to give up something that tastes good is gonna cause an inner conflict. The fact that trying to give it up causes that inner conflict proves absolutely nothing about whether it's bad for you (which the word "addiction" implies).

87045f8a1619c15c66b00c533b00df87

(114)

on June 13, 2011
at 07:15 PM

Yes, but if people would get sick when they tried grains for the first time, why did these grain-based civilizations develop in the first place?

510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20898)

on June 13, 2011
at 07:10 PM

UncleLongHair, it's more the chronic exposure with wheat than the huge spike with something like heroin.

9a5e2da94ad63ea3186dfa494e16a8d1

(15833)

on June 13, 2011
at 06:56 PM

Dude I never got a buzz off of wheat.

3aea514b680d01bfd7573d74517946a7

(11996)

on June 13, 2011
at 06:51 PM

You've probably read this paper, miked, since your theory is very close to Wadley and Martin's, but others may not have seen it. Pretty interesting stuff: http://disweb.dis.unimelb.edu.au/staff/gwadley/msc/WadleyMartinAgriculture.html

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on June 13, 2011
at 06:38 PM

bitchin' link .

  • 87045f8a1619c15c66b00c533b00df87

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16 Answers

best answer

2
D1c02d4fc5125a670cf419dbb3e18ba7

on June 14, 2011
at 12:32 AM

I think this is a great question (+1). I will take a slightly different route from the other good answers already posted

Chris Masterjohn has just written an article for WAPF which somewhat touches upon this. Check it out - http://www.westonaprice.org/blogs/cmasterjohn/2011/06/12/understanding-weston-price-on-primitive-wisdom-ancient-doesnt-cut-it/

Here is another related (older) article from Peter at Hyperlipid regarding the Kitavins. Population growth limited by available resources, yet continued maintenance of a healthy population - go figure! http://high-fat-nutrition.blogspot.com/2007/06/living-on-isolated-island-of-kitava.html

Also, I think as has been discussed here, fecundity vs optimal health are two related, but clearly distinct, topics. 10,000 years later we are still reproducing. Epigenetics will perhaps have the last say.

11
1d9af5db8833413037be3ac48964714f

on June 13, 2011
at 06:38 PM

There are lots of reasons. An important one is this: Grain allows storage of food over months or years and relatively higher concentrations of people under one central ruler or religious ideology. That means that grain-based civilizations can conquer and expand into areas previously inhabited by hunter-gatherers. Eventually, the HGs are pushed out or assimilated.

87045f8a1619c15c66b00c533b00df87

(114)

on June 13, 2011
at 07:15 PM

Yes, but if people would get sick when they tried grains for the first time, why did these grain-based civilizations develop in the first place?

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 08:34 PM

Not all did. Some survived to pass on the "hereditary genetic diseases" we all enjoy today!

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 08:34 PM

PS-excellent answer, David. Spot-on!

8a4ce6a9e1ab27616920b828df08b259

(354)

on June 13, 2011
at 09:04 PM

They didn't get as sick as we would because the grains were different, they processed them to disable the phytates, and if they were sick, they ignored the symptoms, or didn't have any obvious symptoms and kept surviving (not THRIVING) and made us into the weaker humans we are today.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 13, 2011
at 11:30 PM

Excellent answer David.

34b560c8b9ce660d7839fb7e29d7be89

on June 18, 2011
at 09:02 AM

I agree with Neane. I think that if you took HG's from even a few hundred years ago they'd get sick eating modern processed food. But if they ate neolithic food from a thousand or a several hundred years ago they'd probably only get mildly nauseated. After getting over the initial illness the desire for modern foods we are all familar with would take over. Not to mention the convenience factor.

10
9e2180e7bfd688eb52d4f0c536172024

(2004)

on June 13, 2011
at 06:24 PM

You can also make alcohol with them.

Af1d286f0fd5c3949f59b4edf4d892f5

(18452)

on June 13, 2011
at 09:19 PM

beer!!!!!!!!!!!

6
510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20898)

on June 13, 2011
at 06:04 PM

Grains (particularly gluten containing grains) stimulate the opiate receptors. So we started eating grains because they made us high. And they were so addictive that we started agriculture so that we could always have them.

I watch a lot of bad TV (it's a way for me to relax after thinking hard all day at work - so don't judge me), two shows that I used to watch were A&E's "Intervention", and MTV's (I think) "Dr. Drew's Celebrity Rehab". It's interesting to watch them because they deal with both sides of the drug addiction - trying to convince someone they have a problem and need rehab, and then watching the rehab process. After watching a number of these shows you can easily see a pattern of behavior in addicts. What's really interesting is that is see these same patterns in people when both trying to convince them to give up grains and then what happens to them as they're going through withdrawal. It's eerie how similar it is to drug addiction.

510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20898)

on June 13, 2011
at 08:14 PM

Here you go, five quick ones I found in 2 minutes of googling: http://www.trackyourplaque.com/blog/2009/12/this-is-your-brain-on-wheat.html http://www.trackyourplaque.com/blog/2010/07/this-is-your-brain-on-wheat-ii.html http://drbganimalpharm.blogspot.com/2008/05/wheat-would-you-give-your-kids-crack.html http://drbganimalpharm.blogspot.com/2008/05/wheat-would-you-give-your-kids-crack.html http://www.disinfo.com/2010/10/the-addictive-opioids-in-wheat-and-dairy-foods/

510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20898)

on June 13, 2011
at 07:10 PM

UncleLongHair, it's more the chronic exposure with wheat than the huge spike with something like heroin.

510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20898)

on June 14, 2011
at 01:52 AM

Well I said grains act like opiates, you didn't believe me. Rose linked to a paper which you didn't believe. I found five links that said similar things and you didn't believe that. What would you like?

3aea514b680d01bfd7573d74517946a7

(11996)

on June 13, 2011
at 06:51 PM

You've probably read this paper, miked, since your theory is very close to Wadley and Martin's, but others may not have seen it. Pretty interesting stuff: http://disweb.dis.unimelb.edu.au/staff/gwadley/msc/WadleyMartinAgriculture.html

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on June 14, 2011
at 01:29 AM

@miked: Do any of those address what I said? If so, I would appreciate if you don't expect me to read 5 random links you apparently found in 2 minutes of googling.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on June 14, 2011
at 01:29 AM

Do any of those address what I said? If so, I would appreciate if you don't expect me to read 5 random links you apparently found in 2 minutes of googling.

510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20898)

on June 14, 2011
at 02:59 PM

Maybe my terminology was bad. Don't think of getting "high" as depicted in Reefer Madness, but there is a definite opiate response that gives you a low-level happiness that you can become addicted to. I know how sad I feel if I try to go a whole day without coffee, I'm clearly addicted to caffeine an I'm getting some kind of high/happiness out of it that's above and beyond just enjoying the drink. The "Wheat High" is analogous to the "Runner's High" since they stimulate the same receptors.

9a5e2da94ad63ea3186dfa494e16a8d1

(15833)

on June 13, 2011
at 06:56 PM

Dude I never got a buzz off of wheat.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on June 13, 2011
at 07:59 PM

No, it's not eerie at all. That's simply what happens when one part of you wants to quit and another part of you doesn't want to. It tastes good (one part), but you think it's bad for you (the other part). This isn't remarkable at all. Whether wheat is good or bad for you, deciding to give up something that tastes good is gonna cause an inner conflict. The fact that trying to give it up causes that inner conflict proves absolutely nothing about whether it's bad for you (which the word "addiction" implies).

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on June 13, 2011
at 08:02 PM

@miked: More the chronic exposure? Can you point to my subjective experience of being addicted to wheat or any other grains? For me, deciding that wheat is bad for me and trying to quit it (which the people here would usually condone) is no different than deciding that red meat is bad for me and trying to quit it (which the people here would usually NOT condone): They're both just things that even though they taste good, I could choose to avoid them if I think they're unhealthy. Saying we started eating grains because they made us high is pretty outrageous. I've never gotten high off wheat.

6f2c00fcbf48c69f0ea212239b3e1178

on June 14, 2011
at 02:52 AM

@miked: You said they make you high. I haven't see that yet. I certainly don't get high when I eat wheat.

4
E7be2ce38158357f5dacae07b43d1b29

on June 13, 2011
at 06:31 PM

They store well.

I was thinking about this earlier - a lot of the things that store well aren't very good for us. Someone mentioning peanut butter elsewhere started the thought. It seems like most of the things that are best for us are highly perishable! Quite a conundrum.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 08:36 PM

Hence, surviving being about survival, to maintain balance.

3
5e36f73c3f95eb4ea13a009f4936449f

(8280)

on June 14, 2011
at 04:47 PM

Well, there's a couple assumptions here that don't necessarily pan out. 1) That everyone feels like crap the day after eating grains (I don't for example) and 2) That game animals were plenty during paleolithic times.

Speaking to the game animals, yes there were tons around. Doesn't mean they were easy to hunt, nor that there were tons around during the deep winter. Grains don't run away from you, and you can store them for the lean times.

2
Da8e709acde269e8b8bfbc09d1737841

(1906)

on June 13, 2011
at 08:20 PM

The paleolithic era may have been an era of plenty, but for how long? As human populations expanded, we arguably hunted several large game animals to extinction, or near extinction. When those food sources were no longer adequate to sustain the population, we obviously had to look elsewhere.

We can argue today that we can manage livestock to some degree, such that our meat sources are sustainable. But how did paleolithic man manage sustainable agriculture, let alone sustainable hunting practices, without curbing population growth? They didn't.

1
77ecc37f89dbe8f783179323916bd8e6

(5002)

on June 14, 2011
at 04:17 AM

I think the best way to answer this Q is to think about in terms of group competition - i.e., evolution on the level of group selection. The non-grain-eaters must stay in tribes of about 150 or less (see Robin Dunbar on where this number comes from). The grain-eaters, in contrast, are able to establish much larger groups, which also requires the development of more sophisticated forms of social organization (and perhaps the evolution of enhanced social cognition), which in turn will translate into more effective war capabilities. Thus when Group <150 faces the more organized and sophisticated Group >>150, the latter wins, and this keeps happening until the Group <150s are nearly wiped out wherever Group >>150s exist.

1
8a4ce6a9e1ab27616920b828df08b259

(354)

on June 13, 2011
at 08:59 PM

Have you seen those 'Ancient Aliens' shows? Bear with me, I'm not a believer in that stuff, but it's SO interesting. (I do totally love alien movies, though.) According to the people on that show, these aliens basically started civilization for whatever reason, and there are all these carvings and murals and stuff showing "aliens" giving humans technology and knowledge, etc. What if aliens gave us this knowledge of agriculture? Or, I don't know... sometime in the future, we come up with a way to travel back in time, and we introduce it to our ancestors? They're not "wands of power" the aliens are handing to the humans, but stalks of wheat. Way unlikely, but fun to think about at any rate.

I'm afraid I'm going to get down-voted for my response, but it's just something I've sort of daydreamed about. :/

And the grains back then were different from what we've got going on today, and people probably soaked and sprouted those grains to make them edible, so they didn't have as big of an irritating effect that grains do now. And no, eating a piece of wonderbread isn't going to outright get you HIGH, but it does have a sort of calming, relieving effect. Ever notice how much in a daze people are when they're eating that crap? Or do you remember when you zoned out eating something with gluten in it? It's obviously not like heroin; it's very, very subtle..but it's still chemically addicting, not just psychologically because you 'know you shouldn't eat it'. There are many reasons why we FIRST started eating grains, and one reason we KEPT eating grains is because they're addicting.

1
9a5e2da94ad63ea3186dfa494e16a8d1

on June 13, 2011
at 07:03 PM

People made whatever food they could in order to survive. Ancient people weren't worried about insulin response and irritable bowel syndrome, they were worried about survival. If they could figure out how to grow and/or harvest grains, they had a stable food supply.

There are a LOT of people in the world that eat grains every day and don't feel bad. I wouldn't assume that, because you feel bad when you eat them, that all human kind has had the same response.

Most cultures only became cultures because of a stable source of food that was based on grains. Wheat, barley, rice, corn, and other grains were all staples of many cultures. There are no examples (that I'm aware of) of hunter-gatherer cultures that developed significant technology, governance, etc. When you think of the great cultures of humankind such as the Babylonians, Mayans, etc. throughout history, they all had grains as a source of food.

1
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 06:35 PM

I found a pretty good article about the topic The Natural History of Wheat.

I suspect the reason would be directly related to the creation of stationary communities but that is based on my recall of old college classes in ancient societies.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on June 13, 2011
at 06:38 PM

bitchin' link .

0
D8195c5ae6c967027a3133d74969d0e1

on June 14, 2011
at 01:23 PM

Besides the advantage to storage - it's cheap and filling (at least for a little while) - as a former vegetarian - there are many uses that seem to satisfy the protein - even if it's a lie!!! I think as far as feeding the world is concerned - cheap - travels and stores - a seemingly good alternative to trying to feed the world meat!

0
9ac8a7b68cf079b22de42b703e466e64

(787)

on June 14, 2011
at 07:32 AM

read guns, germs and steel. it'll explain the agricultural shift from nomadic hunter gatherers to singularly based farmers

0
15e684f6f716f88c99f641098a6e06ca

(922)

on June 13, 2011
at 11:50 PM

They needed something to eat while creating (and then worshipping at) their ancient temples:

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/06/gobekli-tepe/mann-text/1

0
C61399790c6531a0af344ab0c40048f1

on June 13, 2011
at 07:06 PM

Also worth reading Against The Grain by Richard Manning.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 13, 2011
at 11:30 PM

Excellent book.

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