4

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Were grain based cultures healthy at all?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created August 11, 2011 at 5:51 PM

when discussing paleo with vegan/vegetarian friends, they always retorted with the claim that aztecs/mayans thrived on grains yet were successful.

"The Aztecs, coming south from the deserts of New Mexico, had in the 14th century occupied sites in the valley of Mexico, an area rich in lakes, whose produce (fowl of many kinds, fish, frogs, water insects, algae) the newcomers adopted with enthusiasm. They flourished and established their dominion over a wide area...Sahagun tells us they feasted...on white tortillas, grains of maize, turkey eggs, turkeys, and all kinds of fruit. "

Also that Gladiators were vegan http://www.archaeology.org/0811/abstracts/gladiator.html

are these claims that cultures that thrived on grains were healthy, even true?

56c28e3654d4dd8a8abdb2c1f525202e

(1822)

on May 30, 2014
at 04:23 PM

Just the same there are cultures eating wheat and being healthy. In the Blue Zone book, where Okinawans are first, the Barbagia region and the island of Ikaria both eat wheat. In Barbagia they eat relatively little wheat, in the form of pane carasau, which certainly cuts down on total intake. Ikaria appears to have significant longevity advantages over surrounding islands but it is difficult to pinpoint any diet causation. There is always the problem of old wheat varieties/fermentation.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on May 30, 2014
at 12:53 PM

Welcome to Paleohacks! We've been having a spam epidemic, but your blog looks ok. I view paleo as hunt-and-gather behavior first and last. There are better and worse things to eat, but the greatest modern evil is sedentarism. People eat volumes of food far in excess of their inert metabolic needs.

E639bc85fd42430285596434a6515ad5

(2226)

on August 11, 2011
at 06:53 PM

Very true: the grain-heavy diets of some of the cultures that Weston Price studied were associated with famously good health. But aside from the care they took to prepare those grains properly, I think it's also important to point out the potentially large inherent differences between rye (or spelt, millet, barley, kamut, etc.), on the one hand, and modern GMO semi-dwarf wheat, on the other. We shouldn't lump all grains together, IMO, any more than we should lump all plant oils together. But UncleLongHair gave the correct answer to Andre's question — in a word: yes.

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3 Answers

6
9a5e2da94ad63ea3186dfa494e16a8d1

on August 11, 2011
at 06:08 PM

Oats were a staple of some primitive cultures in Scotland, and rye grain was a staple of some primitive cultures in the Swiss Alps. Both cultures were studied by Weston Price and he found their health to be excellent, in fact these and other cultures were the basis of his book and the Weston Price Foundation.

He has hypothesized that these grains were much more nutritious than what we buy in our stores because of the way they were growth, in rich soil, at certain altitudes, etc. and how they were prepared, primarily soaked and fermented, which makes them much more nutritious.

These people also got a lot more exercise, exposure to the elements, and led relatively stress-free lives.

Virtually every culture that we know about (which is to say, those that survived well enough to leave remnants) was based on some grain. Cultivation of grains is what made it possible for many of these cultures to exist in the first place. I suppose you could say that these people were all unhealthy and died at an early age. You could also say the same thing about hunter gatherer societies. We will probably never know.

I'm not defending grains in a modern diet, and I avoid them. But their role in history is unmistakeable.

E639bc85fd42430285596434a6515ad5

(2226)

on August 11, 2011
at 06:53 PM

Very true: the grain-heavy diets of some of the cultures that Weston Price studied were associated with famously good health. But aside from the care they took to prepare those grains properly, I think it's also important to point out the potentially large inherent differences between rye (or spelt, millet, barley, kamut, etc.), on the one hand, and modern GMO semi-dwarf wheat, on the other. We shouldn't lump all grains together, IMO, any more than we should lump all plant oils together. But UncleLongHair gave the correct answer to Andre's question — in a word: yes.

0
3491e51730101b18724dc57c86601173

(8395)

on May 30, 2014
at 03:18 PM

Your question implies the basic fallacy of all the vegan and vegetarian proponents. There is NO culture we know of that survived only on grains and vegetables. There was always meat or fish or bird eggs or if nothing else was available they ate insects. The so-called "grain based" cultures were cultures that ate grains WITH their meat and other vegetables. In other words, omnivores.

There is no evidence of any culture that survived without some source of animal protein. How much grain they included in their diets depended on the availability of other components. Many of the studies are deeply flawed. Any study of the Okinawan diet proximal to WWII is useless, it took decades for that island to recover from the devastation. Studies on the so-called Mediterranean diet of the Greeks and Turks were done during a religious season where these cultures traditionally ate less meat and fasted.

Let's take the Kitavans whom the vegans hold up ad paragons of grain-based culture. Kitava is an ISLAND. Do you think it's in any way possible they didn't eat fish and seafood??? And they eat pork, too. Researchers are find of claiming they don't eat significant portions of pork, but imagine what they would do with a slaughtered pig when there was tropical heat without no refrigeration, no canning, and no rich tradition of preserving the meat like the Italians did. They ATE IT, nose to tail, I guarantee you that.

Personally I think there is no such thing as a "grain based" culture. There are many traditional cultures who consumed grain alongside everything else.

56c28e3654d4dd8a8abdb2c1f525202e

(1822)

on May 30, 2014
at 04:23 PM

Just the same there are cultures eating wheat and being healthy. In the Blue Zone book, where Okinawans are first, the Barbagia region and the island of Ikaria both eat wheat. In Barbagia they eat relatively little wheat, in the form of pane carasau, which certainly cuts down on total intake. Ikaria appears to have significant longevity advantages over surrounding islands but it is difficult to pinpoint any diet causation. There is always the problem of old wheat varieties/fermentation.

0
Medium avatar

on May 30, 2014
at 10:48 AM

In my opinion this is a classic case of an argument being founded supposition. Anyone anti-paleo or primal diet will make the incorrect assumption the diet is nothing more than high protein and low carbohydrate eating plan, this is an unfair comparison to use and neglects the many important similarities to the healthy traditional diets below.

Okinawans - It seems Okinawans have a diet very rich in plants including highly nutritious sea vegetables. There is a common misconception that the average Okinawan lives on white rice, in fact most ‘average’ Okinawans eat sweet potato as their staple carbohydrate, which has a much lower glycaemic load than many grains and starchy vegetables. Okinawans eat fewer calories than most cultures and much smaller amounts of grains and rice than mainland Japan. For protein they eat good quality seafood and often pig meat which includes significant amounts of offal. They eat a diet low in sugar, refined foods and remain active throughout their long lives, the culture has a strong emphasis on community and spending time in the outdoors. Doesn't sound too dissimilar to my primal diet!

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Medium avatar

(10611)

on May 30, 2014
at 12:53 PM

Welcome to Paleohacks! We've been having a spam epidemic, but your blog looks ok. I view paleo as hunt-and-gather behavior first and last. There are better and worse things to eat, but the greatest modern evil is sedentarism. People eat volumes of food far in excess of their inert metabolic needs.

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