Geeky science behind the Paleo Diet

Alright, so, I’ve been somewhat blindly following the Peleo Diet for something like six weeks now. I did some reading for a couple weeks and it sounded good so I decided to do it. The reading I did didn’t give me enough facts to cure my geeky curiosity and even though I’ve been blindly following the diet, with good results, I still wanted to know more.

Dr. Loren Cordain has some absolutely wonderful resources on his website that fully detail the science behind the Paleo diet. The problem is they are scientific papers and they are very dense reading. They use a lot of big words and you really have to work to understand what the paper is saying. They are certainly not an enjoyable read. I doubt people in the scientific community would even want to read these papers.

My goal with this post is to give good information on the Paleo Diet without using too much scientific jargon. Since I DO want to go into the science I’m not going to avoid all the jargon. So, without further ado…

First off, eating Paleo means eating “real foods”. Real foods like meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts are nutrient rich. They have a ton of vitamins and minerals, especially if eaten raw. It’s not really about calorie avoidance. It’s more about putting healthy things into your body.

The quality of the foods you eat is important too. The higher the quality the better you’ll feel. If you can buy organic, locally grown produce and grass fed meat, the quality is amazing. You can actually taste the quality in good produce. Since taste is an important part of eating, things tasting good is very important.

The Paleo Diet avoids certain foods. Grain of any kind is one of the foods you avoid on the Paleo Diet. This means no breads, cereals, pasta, rice or anything else that contains gluten. Corn is also a grain and you should avoid corn. This is where the science kicks in and I’ll go into in depth detail why you should avoid grains.

It has been proven that grains provoke an inflammatory response in the gut. I’m going to pause here and tell a personal story. When I was in junior high I ate cereal for breakfast every morning. Within an hour of eating breakfast, shortly after getting to school, my stomach would start giving me serious problems. I felt sick and had to go to the nurses’ station multiple times. Eventually the school nurse decided my parents needed to be informed. She told my dad and he set up a doctor’s appointment for me. When I went to the doctor and explained the details of my feeling ill the doctor declared I had “hateith schoolitis”. I’ll never forget that day.

Now, you can imagine my chagrin when the doctor told my dad who was a very stern man who worked very hard for his money that I had “hateith schoolitis”. My dad, to his credit, took it in stride and told me once we were back in the car “that’s why I hate doctors”.  I never complained again about my upset stomach but it was obvious to me that eating cereal was causing me stomach issues.

It turns out I was right. Grains contain lectins which are a specialized defense mechanism in plants. Lectins are a specialized protein that are found in very high concentration in grains and also in dairy. I was probably eating a bowl of Wheaties every morning and lectins are especially high in wheat. Combining that with the lectins in the milk was probably the issue.

Lectins are a very hardy protein that is resistant to stomach acid. Since they are resistant to stomach acid, they don’t break down and float around your digestive tract largely intact. Lectins actually disrupt your intestinal membrane and damage cells which leads to eventual cell death.  They actually destroy the cells that line your intestines and create microperforations in your intestinal lining. Once these microperforations are created, intact or nearly intact proteins, bacteria and various other foreign substances cross into your bloodstream. When your immune system notices the foreign substances in your blood, it causes an immune response. This immune response brings on various “auto-immune” conditions with no apparent reason.

In the most serious of cases this condition is diagnosed as celiacs. The important thing to note here however is that it’s not just celiac sufferers who experience this condition, everyone does to some degree.

One of the reasons why grains have become such a major food source over the last 10,000 years is because they pack a huge amount of carbohydrates in a very small package. These grains are easily processed by the body and turned into glucose. Glucose is sugar. Eating any grain causes a blood sugar spike in your body. The body’s response to a blood sugar spike is to produce insulin, the higher the spike the higher the insulin in the body.

Carbohydrates are great for fueling activity. The problem is most of us are not active. If there is no activity to fuel with the carbohydrates the body must look for another use for the glucose.  What the body does is store it as fat. When you constantly overdose your body with insulin, your cells become desensitized to it and eventually stops responding.  When your cells stop responding your body tells the pancreas it needs to produce more insulin. This turns into a vicious circle and your body keeps storing fat because it’s in a negative feedback loop and you don’t burn the fat you’ve stored.

A diet high in grains is a net acid producing diet. This causes bone de-mineralization and systematic inflammation. It’s been proven that it’s much better to be on a more alkaline diet as this preserves muscle mass.

As grains are high in carbohydrates and carbohydrates are sugar, grains are low in actual nutrition and high in calories. If you compare grains to any vegetable, which you can do on, you’ll find that the vegetables far outdo the grains in vitamins and minerals.

In addition to lectins, grains contain gluten and phytate. Gluten is a composite of gliadin and glutenin. The body produces anti-gliadin IgA as a means of warding off gliadin. This is another good indicator your body just does not like grains.

Alright, I think that’s enough geeky goodness for now. If I find some more interesting stuff, I’ll write another article.

I found an excellent article on grains here:

2 thoughts on “Geeky science behind the Paleo Diet

    • Hey Nate!

      Thanks for stopping by man!

      Yeah, there were a couple topics I just touched on that probably need a lot more in depth posts. This post mainly addressed grains. Thanks for the awesome link!


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