January 21, 2015

It doesn't matter if gluten is bad for you.

This post was penned by our former Wholesale guru, Chase Besuden.  Chase is a dyed in the wool nutrition geek as well as being a really knowledgeable weight lifter, and his agony about people living in ignorance comes through clearly in this piece.  Enjoy!

Unless you've been living under a rock, you must have heard how bad gluten is for you.

While there may be validity to that argument, it actually doesn’t matter if gluten is bad for you; you still shouldn't seek it out as a food source. Here's a practical take on why you shouldn't eat grains or legumes based on nutrient density, not gut irritation or evolution.

It’s certainly not what most people think: “Our stomachs/bodies were not evolved to eat grains, so we shouldn’t eat them.” While this may be true, it is not dispositive and is not the strongest reason to not eat these foods .

There are many instances in history when a species has found a new source of food and thrived on it, so simply saying that a species was not evolved to eat a particular food does not mean it is bad, and in some instances it is the opposite.

Rather than dealing with what we *think*, let’s focus on what we know; we’ll start with nutrient density.

This video on nutrient density was given by Dr. Mat Lalonde at the 2012 Ancestral Health Symposium. While undoubtedly everyone has biases (including myself), when it comes to nutrition, it’s best to take advice from people who are actual scientists.

Dr. Lalonde has a PhD. in organic chemistry from Harvard, and isn't trying to sell you a 30 day weight loss program, meal replacements, diet books, fitness DVDs or any other semi-useful gimmickry.

The next time you have a free hour that you would otherwise spend watching Netflix reruns for the 9th time, watch the whole video or one of many other Dr. Lalonde's interviews available free on the internet, such as his Super Human Radio interview.

Wait, you don't have time? Ok, I'll break it down for you in the same amount of time it takes to make your buttered coffee in the morning.

The focus of Dr. Lalonde's presentation is the nutrient density of different foods by group. As you’ll see in the graphic below, even if you completely discount both the omnipresent evolution argument in the Paleosphere and the “gluten causes inflammation/anti-inflammatory” argument(s), there is still no reason to consume grains, wheat, or gluten (unless they have been fermented into the form of a very, very, tasty Ballast Point IPA. Remember what I said about biases?)

Dr. Lalonde points out that food rating ranking systems are everywhere. In fact, one he makes light of is the ANDI ranking system, which you can find posted in Whole Foods Markets. The ANDI ranking system is on a 1000 point scale and kale comes in with a perfect score of 1000.

Surprisingly, (to hopefully everyone reading), cooked chicken breast comes in at 27/1000 and ground beef 20/1000! These respective scores are obviously ridiculous and an example of the lack of availability of even semi-accurate nutrition/health information for many consumers.

The ANDI score does not factor in any essential minerals including sodium, chloride, potassium, sulfur, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, boron, or chromium. It also does not factor in essential fatty acids including DHA, EPA, and AA or any essential amino acids.

Dissatisfied with ANDI, Dr. Lalonde created his own food ranking system based on the USDA recommended daily amounts (RDAs) of essential vitamins and minerals. It is important to note that the essential fatty acid (EFA) information was not available because he used USDA nutrient data which does not include EFA data, so any foods containing DHA, EPA, AA etc. would score even higher than they do on the slides/charts below.

Why do people think grains/legumes are healthy in the first place?

One potential answer is their nutrient density in raw form. On the chart below, you can see that grains & legumes in raw form actually rank pretty high. Again, these nutrient density scores are based on the RDAs of essential vitamins and minerals recommended by the USDA.

The problem is that grains and most legumes are inedible in their raw form. In other words, WHO GIVES A SHIT? Do I care what the nutrient density of my wood office desk is? Or the nutrient density of a cardboard Paleo Treats box? The answer is “NO” because I can’t eat them.

So why do people tout the nutrient density of raw grains?

As you can see above, once you cook grains/legumes their average nutrient density score goes down significantly; grains from 1.5 to -6.2 and legumes from 3.9 to -2.8. These scores DO NOT include essential fatty acids or essential amino acids, so grains in actuality are much much lower ranked than foods that contain these.

From a nutrition standpoint, is there really any reason to eat grains/legumes?

The short answer is no.

When it comes to nutrition, especially in the US aka the obesity capital of the world, almost everyone should be focused on getting the most nutrients per calorie or at the least avoiding nutrient sparse, calorie dense food. Obviously, for serious athletes, people in impoverished nations, and a host of others, this is either impractical or impossible.

However, for most people who just happen to stumble onto the ANDI ranking chart while shopping at Whole Foods, eating healthier, more nutrient dense food is little more than making an informed choice.

This was only a brief introduction to the topic of nutrient density and as with any nutrition or diet information, it is always best to do your own research and make your diet decisions based on ACTUAL science, personal preference, and practicality. It is also important to understand that there is a wealth of inaccurate, misleading, and even downright false information out there when it comes to nutrition.

When it comes to the ACTUAL science part, definitely check out more of Mat LaLonde or other real scientists (for example, not T. Colin Campbell).

As far as personal preference and practicality, that is obviously 100% up to you, but the next time you find yourself in a conversation about diet, nutrition, and/or Paleo, we hope the words “nutrient density” will be present!

Liked this article on why gluten doesn't matter?

Nik Hawks


Nik Hawks helps run the show at Paleo Treats. Fascinated by humans in all their strange glory, Nik is harnessed in and pulling hard in pursuit of excellence with the rest of the PT Crew. Enjoy!

Too much reading...
How about dessert?

Too Much Reading...How About Dessert?


Nik @ PT
Nik @ PT

January 21, 2015

Thanks Janis & Rick, appreciate your input. Janis, stoked that Paleo is working so well for you! Rick, you would LOVE talking with Chase; you guys both dig geeky science and heavy weights. Cheers, Nik

Rick Burrell
Rick Burrell

January 21, 2015

The following comments are from Mat “The Kraken” Lalonde, PhD (organic chemist)
“I view the gluten argument as a poor justification for the avoidance of grains, very much in the same way of the caveman argument. It’s a lazy, incomplete argument – a one-liner: gluten is death. It’s not true, but you can scare people with it and get people stop eating gluten.”

“It is true that gliadin-derived peptides make their to the gut incompletely digested. But there is a lot of digestion that occurs in the gut itself. It has been shown that in individuals without celiac disease, the gliadin-derived peptides are absorbed at the surface of the enterocytes and then fully digested. However, in patients with celiac disease, the peptides are not fully digested and they stimulate the release of zonulin by binding to a receptor called CXCR3. Zonulin then dissolves the tight junctions between the enterocytes and that increases intestinal permeability. There’s an ensuing cascade of events that results in the formation of a chimera between gliadin-derived peptides and an enzyme, transglutaminase, that was released to help repair the enterocytes and then that chimera is recognized as foreign by the immune system and it sets off an autoimmune disease. And the immune system mounts a response against the enterocytes because their the source of that transglutaminase.”

“Gluten is part of a family called prolamines. They’re found in all grains. And the autoimmune diseases that have been tested for the presence of the leaky gut all present with a leaky gut. So not all autoimmune diseases have been tested for the presence of leaky gut, but the ones that have been tested, all show that the leaky gut is present. So the avoidance of all grains is good advice for people with autoimmune disease, but why should normal people care?”

“It turns out that there’s a confounding factor. People are looking at this from a nutritionism standpoint. Gluten is just not something that you absorb in itself unless you are eating seitan, for example. When you eat grains, you’re getting gluten, you’re getting a variety of other antinutrients that are going to cause some gut dysfunction and compromise intestinal permeability and they are not population-specific. So they affect everyone, but it turns out that some individuals with autoimmune diseases are going to be hyper-responders. So those antinutrients are lectins. In the lectin family you’ve got wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), phytohemagglutinin, soybean agglutinin, peanut lectin, concanavalin a that are the most studied. Then you have phytic acids and phytates which inhibit digestive enzymes and impair mineral absorption. And then you have saponins, which also contribute to the leaky gut. None of those are population-specific. There might be hyper-responders in people with autoimmune disease, but they’re not population-specific. Gut dysfunction is going to impair digestion and absorption of nutrients which is going to cause low level systemic inflammation by allowing gram-negative bacteria into the bloodstream. That’s another precipitating factor for other autoimmune diseases. "

“The leaky gut is now being linked to various aspects of the metabolic syndrome. So we’ve got non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) that is directly linked to endotoxin translocation. That’s lipopolysaccharides from the gram-negative bacteria that are making their way to the liver and causing liver damage. And you also have hypercholesterolemia, because LDL particles can bind and neutralize the lipopolysaccharides. Lipopolysaccharide is something that is included in the membrane of gram-negative bacteria.”

“Add to that the fact that grains and legumes have poor nutrient density. I cannot think of a good reason to eat these foods, but I can imagine many mechanism by which the avoidance of grains and legumes would improve health and performance in almost everyone, but for a select few genetically gifted individuals. And the term genetically gifted is debatable here because tolerance of grains may not be a good thing given that grain agriculture is not sustainable.”


January 21, 2015

Eating for health and wellness has made it easy to choose nutrient dense foods. Back in our gluten, processed food consuming days we eat more and felt less satisfied and as a result gained weight. Eating a nutrient dense Paleo diet is so satisfying we just naturally consume the amount of whole great tasting foods our bodies need. We’ve had many people ask us why we are so restrictive with our food choices. Well, to us it is freeing, not restrictive. A nutrient dense eating style rewards you with energy and wellness throughout the day.

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