In Support of a Grain and Starch-free Diet

I frequently hear from clients, after I have advised them to stop eating starch-rich foods, cries such as: “No more grains?  No more bread, pasta, rice, or potato?  No more bananas or parsnips? Surely not? We have always eaten them.”

No, actually, we have NOT “always eaten them”.

As Homo Sapiens, we have been around for approximately 200,000 years.  During this time we were largely hunter- gatherers, eating a very low starch diet.  No Grains or potatoes.  We ate a hugely varied diet of dozens of different types of plant foods plus what we could hunt.  It was a diet with an enormous range of beneficial phytonutrients, a diet similar to the one being advocated to-day by people trying to avoid or overcome cancer.

The dates used here are obviously approximate, and the time periods varied on different part of the globe.  However, in general Paleo pathologists have found few signs of ill health in skeletal and related remains prior to our use of settled agriculture and the focus on growing and consuming high starch foods.

Only about 12,000 years ago (6% of our time on this planet) did we settle down to agriculture and a grain-based diet.  Skeletons and other remains dating since that time show multiple signs of ill health.

  • Prior to 12,000 years ago, the average hunter-gatherer height was 5 ft 6 in for men and 5 ft 3 in for women. By 4,000 AD, the respective heights were 5 ft 6 in and 5 ft 1 in.  Only much more recently have heights risen again.
  • With the increasing use of grains, the number of cavities in an average adult’s mouth increased from less than 1 to nearly 7. Signs of tooth loss and abscesses became rampant.
  • Enamel defects in children’s milk teeth suggest that the mothers were poorly nourished.
  • Two thirds of our population showed sign of arthritis and other degenerative diseases.
  • Anaemia quadrupled in frequency.
  • Mortality rates at every age increased, with the result than only 1% of people lived to 50, as compared to 5% before the use of grains. Twenty per cent of (grain-fed) babies died before the age of four.

To-day we rely heavily on three high-carbohydrate plants: wheat, rice and corn.  These provide more than fifty per cent of our daily calories.

Summary: For the past 6% of our existence, we have ‘experimented’ with a high starch diet.  It has clearly been a mistake for our health.  It is time we changed it. The current and growing emphasis on eliminating grains and significantly reducing the level of all other high-starch-rich in the diet is starting to look like a very good idea indeed.  It is a sensible attempt to return to a healthier way of eating, one that was successful for 94% or approximately 188,000 years of our existence.


NB: Data taken from The rise and fall of the third chimpanzee by Jared Diamond, 2002. Publisher: Vintage Books. ISBN 9780099913801.  Original published by Radius 1991