Although people may be living longer, most need more visits to their doctor because of chronic physical and mental illnesses. Of the various factors in our modern lifestyle that contribute to this, the types and volumes of indulgent foods we eat are the main culprits. We know that eating too much junk food, fast food and sugar is the major contributor to ill health. However, it is the hidden effects of eating certain plant foods that greatly contributes to chronic illness when our immune system is scarred. The now popular paleo diet assists health because it restricts certain plant foods.
The paleo diet in theory is basically about eating foods that we have evolved to consume. Over hundreds of thousands of years, our bodies have evolved to eat cooked flesh foods and plants. Cooking eliminates harmful microbes and toxic chemicals. When we are healthy we can eat a small number of plants in their raw state (salads, nuts and seeds). Our immune system (with the help of the liver) has evolved to identify and neutralise certain toxic and poisonous chemicals (phyto-toxins) in these plants. But if our immune system develops scarring, it often loses the ability to identify these plant toxins, and when we continue to eat these plants we experience chronic illness.
Ideally, as we age and develop immune scarring (as occurs in coeliac disease for example), we should develop our own Signature Diet to maintain good health. However this requires self-testing and personal food trials, and many of us would rather follow a ‘join-the-club-diet’ because it seems easier. This is where the paleo diet has benefit. In general it is a good starting point.
The greatest health reward of eating a paleo diet is the removal of grains. But this is where some confusion starts because the hard-core factions of the paleo movement define grains according to the definitions of agronomy, not botany. Agronomy is the modern science and technology of producing and using plants for food, fuel, fibre, and land reclamation. Agronomy encompasses work in the areas of plant genetics, plant physiology, meteorology, and soil science. Agronomists define grains as small hard, dry seeds with or without hulls or fruit layers harvested for human and animal consumption. Agronomists call the plants that produce grain seeds ‘grain crops’. Botany on the other hand, is the science of plant life and is a branch of biology. Botany originated in prehistory as herbalism with the efforts of early humans to identify—and later cultivate—edible, medicinal and poisonous plants.
According to botany, a seed is the embryonic part of a plant that is covered in a shell or ‘seed coat’ called an achene—a fruit ‘coat’ that contains the seed. There are two types; those where the ‘fruit coat’ does not adhere to the seed (eg. in quinoa) and those where it is fused with the seed (eg. wheat, rice). All the seeds of cereal grains have their ‘fruit-coat’ fused to the seed. The important thing to understand is that it is the seed coats that contain the phyto-toxins that the plant uses to defend itself from being eaten—chemicals such as gluten. It is healthier not to eat the toxic seed coats, but the toxic coats of cereal grains cannot be remove from their seed. The toxic ‘seed coat’ of achene seeds, such as quinoa, can be removed with washing.
According to agronomy, grains include cereals, achene seeds that look like cereal seeds and legume seeds. According to botany, cereal is the seed of a grassy plant: barley, corn (maize), millet, oats, rice, rye, sorghum, teff, triticale, wheat. Achenes are the pseudo-cereals: such as amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa. Legumes are simple dry fruits that look like cereal grains: such as beans, peas, chickpeas, soybeans, and lentils.
If you strictly adhere to the theories of a paleo diet, you may be losing out on a variety of foods that your healthy body may be able to easily tolerate. From my case studies I have found that when a person’s immune system first begins to scar, in general, the cereal grains are the first to become problem foods. In general, grains with gluten are usually the first to cause chronic health problems, then with further immune scarring, corn and rice with their phyto-toxins become culprits. With further immune scarring, there is little predictability as to which plants become problem foods—it becomes an individual thing. Any plants from lettuce to legumes can cause chronic ill-health is different people.
And so, my advice is to take up a paleo-based diet for a while, but only remove gluten or all cereal grains, and keep eating seeds like quinoa and legumes. If necessary, you can eliminate legumes and pseudo-cereals later as part of your self-testing.
I have helped thousands of people complete their own personal food trials to map out what foods agree and disagree with them to create their Signature Diet. You can discover all about immune scarring and how to test for your Signature Diet at our upcoming workshop. Discover what foods are right for you to live a healthier, happier life!