Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Great Paleolithic Bread Controversy - Is this the beginning of the end?


Some of you may have seen the "big news" a couple weeks ago when a study was released that seemed to peg the first bread at around 30,000 years old. Like almost all Yahoo! news items related to nutrition, I wanted to comment on it immediately after reading it but I have been too busy to get this blog up and running so it has had to wait until now. I've been trying to avoid the commentary on other paleo/primal blogs so my thoughts wouldn't be influenced by others. On the other hand, I'm fairly certain the paleo community will echo my thoughts and then some. They have probably thoroughly picked this study apart and moved on by now.

To be honest, I was a bit surprised to see this news report get a feature on Yahoo!. Maybe it's a statement to the rising popularity of the paleo movement, but I just didn't think your average American would care that bread existed around 30,000 years ago. Most people would probably think bread has always existed. So what's the big deal?

According to the article, starch grains were found on 30,000 year old grinding stones discovered at archeological sites in Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic. The findings indicate that our Paleolithic ancestors ground down plant roots similar to potatoes to make flour, which was then used to make a flat, cracker-like bread. The article goes on to note that "The findings may also upset fans of the Paleolithic diet, which follows earlier research that assumes early humans ate a meat-centered diet." Uh-oh, did they just throw a wrench in the Paleo machine? Is this the beginning of the end of Paleo?

Not at all.

Indeed, one of the arguments that is often touted in favor of the Paleo diet is that bread and cereal grains have only been part of our diet for the last 20,000 years while humans (Homo Sapiens) and our ancestors of the genus Homo have been around for about 2.3 million years. Given proper environmental pressure, it takes about 40,000 years for a genetic adaptation to occur, so paleo followers argue that there has not been enough time for humans to adapt to eating cereal grains. While it was the adoption of agriculture and departure from the hunter gatherer lifestyle about 20,000 years ago that allowed for civilization, invention and the modern conveniences we have today, it was also the start a gradual decay in global health.

And now, we find out that there was bread 10,000 years earlier. So what?!

Really, this doesn't change anything. 20,000 or 30,000 years makes no difference. It's still a small fraction of the time we've been living on this planet and it's still not enough time for any genetic adaptation that would make us immune to any negative effects caused by the grains in the 30,000 year old bread, of which cereal grains were not present.

Secondly, the article would like you to believe that bread is bread, and flour is flour, but it's not. Flour made from starchy root tubers is not the same as flour made from cereal grains. Cereal grains can damage the intestinal lining and cause leaky gut. Starchy tubers do not. Also, no one ever said paleo man only ate meat and didn't eat root tubers. I'm sure he ate whatever was edible at the time and root tubers were probably available for a couple months of the year. But he didn't sit around grinding flour all day. After he had assured himself of a nutrient dense meal of animal protein and fat, maybe he did play around with some potato bread. It doesn't change that fact that starchy foods tend to be fairly void of nutritional content and would not have been a primary source of calories in an optimum foraging strategy.

Finally, moving back the discovery of bread flour 10,000 years, be it from starchy tubers or cereal grain, does not change the circumstances in which we live in TODAY. Cereal grains still cause damage to the intestines leading to leaky gut and auto-immune disease. Celiac and gluten sensitivity are becoming more and more common, not the other way around. High-carbohydrate foods like bread still get broken down into sugar, increasing insulin levels which lead to a host of adverse health effects. Removal of grains with the adoption of a paleo diet has been effective in reducing and reversing the diseases of civilization including cardiovascular and auto-immune disease.

Nothing has changed.

Now, I'm going to go eat a big hunk of meat and some veggies.

For more an in-depth and entertaining view of the Paleo diet, pick up Robb Wolf's book, the Paleo Solution.


  1. Addicts! They need a justification for their next fix. LOL!

    I can't wait to hear more from you Josh!