Along with bacon worship the other thing that stands out most in the superficial public persona of Paleo is the avoidance of all grains. When people first read that they think, “Oh, that means avoid bread!” Actually it goes way deeper than that. Even on many diets that list themselves as healthy they will tell people to avoid refined grains and to go with whole grains. So ditch the fluffy white loaf of sandwich bread, pick up a hearty whole grain bread and you are good to go! At least that’s the case according to much of the conventional wisdom out there. Paleo takes it far further than that.
This isn’t even a question of just avoiding wheat or other gluten containing breads, although Paleo people will be the first to tell you to about the dangers of gluten too. “Grains” are basically any major cereal product that was developed during the agricultural revolution. So wheat is obviously a big one there. However add to the list things like rice, corn, barley, oats, rye, quinoa (yes even the beloved quinoa). There are some grains that have had marginal domestication, like amaranth, that are still on the list. Any and all forms of said products should be avoided.
What is the reason for the avoidance of these foods? The same reason as avoiding legumes: poor nutrient density compared to vegetables and meats and a plethora of potential anti-nutrients and toxins. Some Paleo people take a more moderated approach towards the topic. They tend to shun the label “paleo” and instead go for the label “ancestral.” That’s true of other products as well. However if you are going to stay true to the Paleo diet then avoiding all of these foods is required.
I have a comparable reaction to the claims made by Paleo adherents to grains as I do to beans and legumes. If you read their direct writings it will have you conclude that eating grains of any sort will have your gut leaking like a sieve, your body being ravaged by autoimmune disorders like MS and your body robbed of precious nutrients due to the poor absorption of said nutrients. Yet again humans have been eating grains, wild and domesticated, for millennia. In fact if you read Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steele, it was the domestication of cereal crops that let civilization explode across the planet. Paleo people will say, “Yeah, but our health deteriorated dramatically during that time.” There may be some truth to that, but the consumption of grains weren’t the only things that had changed during that period.
As with the other “don’ts” that are listed for this diet (and every other diet that I’ll be trying), it is truly up to the individual to determine whether grains are working well for their body or not. In the spirit of the experiment that will be me doing just that for the next three months.