Sally Fallon says yes
Fat, sick and tired people are turning away from modern, industrialized food and going “Paleo.” They’re seeing drastic results by cutting out highly processed “foods” and eating only the foods they perceive our Paleolithic ancestors would’ve eaten, which excludes dairy, grains, legumes, potatoes and salt.
Only one problem, says Founder of the Weston A. Price Foundation Sally Fallon, Paleolithic people did eat dairy, grains, legumes, potatoes and salt, and they were vitally important parts of their diet.
In a recent interview on Food Riot Radio, Fallon said the modern Paleo Diet’s emphasis on “lean” protein combined with the lack of dairy and carbohydrates – which the body converts to saturated fat – is “a recipe for serious illness” in the long run.
Fallon’s organization promotes a diet based on the findings of Dr. Weston A. Price, a dentist who traveled the globe in the 1920s and 30s studying the diets of isolated, healthy, primitive populations. He concluded that humans achieve “perfect physical form and perfect health generation after generation when they consume nutrient-dense, whole foods and the vital fat-soluble activators found exclusively in animal fats.”
What did Paleolithic people really eat?
“The Paleo diet is based on an erroneous supposition, which is that Paleolithic people’s didn’t eat grains, and nothing could be further from the truth,” Fallon said.
Defining them as people who did not have metal, Fallon said there are many examples of Paleolithic people who ate grains. She started with the North American Indians, whom she said arrived on the continent at least 30,000 years ago.
“The basis of the California Indian diet was wild grains,” she said. They figured out how to cultivate these wild grains, gather them using special baskets, grind them using stones, and it was a very important part of their diet.”
In the northern part of North America, Paleolithic natives ate wild rice, and in the South and on the East Coast, they ate corn, Fallon said. In Africa, they grew and tended sorghum and in Australia, Aborigines ate wild millet.
But the chemically hybridized, synthetically fertilized and highly industrialized wheat and corn of today hardly resemble the grains our ancient ancestors ate. In addition to growing in the wild – or at least being cultivated naturally – grains were prepared in such a way that made them digestible and released the maximum amount of nutrients.
Traditional methods of grain preparation included soaking, sprouting and souring.
“The aboriginal people put the grains in leeching baskets and let the streams run through them for two weeks,” Fallon said. “The Cherokees made Cherokee bread, which was cooked corn meal, wrapped in a corn husk and put aside for two weeks to let it ferment. In Southern Mexico they cooked the corn, wrapped it in banana leaves and put it aside for two weeks. It was called Pozole. The Africans made sorghum beer, which is extremely sour, definitely an acquired taste, but a staple in their diet.”
Fallon said it is also a myth that Paleolithic people did not have tubers, legumes or salt.
“South Americans had potatoes called wapato that grew in swampy areas, and they gathered them with their feet,” Fallon said. The aboriginal people had legumes that were quite toxic unless prepared with these methods. Take the South Seas – we had lots of Paleolithic people down there. Sweet potatoes and cassava were staples in the diet. Same in Africa.”
And all human beings, throughout history, have had salt, Fallon said. “It was the earliest form of trade. They got it from salt flats, evaporated sea water, mines, salt pits.”
“You’ll kill yourself on a no salt diet,” she added. “It’s the basis of cellular metabolism.”
Fallon said humans have been eating dairy for at least 30,000 years as well, and that “any anthropologist you talk to will tell you the groups that had dairy had an evolutionary advantage.”
They were taller, stronger, healthier and more robust, she said. “So why would you not do dairy?”
Fallon said she agrees with the Paleo crowd that “modern dairy makes people sick,” but says unpasteurized, unhomogenized, grass-fed dairy is a “complete, perfect food.”
“I think a lot of people in the Paleo diet movement are young, don’t have families, don’t have children growing up, and I can tell you there is nothing so comforting to a mother as to have raw milk in the fridge to give to her child.”
She calls it an “insurance policy” for children because it “makes up for so many other things that are wrong with the modern diet.”
She says it is possible for Paleo dieters to get all the nutrition they need without dairy, but it requires going to great – and potentially undesirable – lengths.
“Do you want to be making bone broth all the time?” she asked. “The North American Indians that didn’t have milk actually never drank water. They always drank bone broth to get their calcium. Do you want to be like the Eskimos and eat fermented fish, where the bones have gotten soft? That’s how they got their calcium.”
Mark Sisson, author of Mark’s Daily Apple and several books on the “Primal Diet” (similar to the Paleo Diet), says he’s undecided on raw milk.
He cites Paleo guru Loren Cordain’s concerns about cancer as well as his own about lactose intolerance, casein intolerance and insulin spikes as potential reasons to avoid dairy.
Fallon insists that none of these issues should persist as long as the milk is raw and “has got all the fat in it” to slow the sugar absorption.
The real problem
Fallon said she “certainly understands” why people want to cut out grains and diary, and why for short periods of time they feel much better by doing so, but for the long run, she doesn’t think it is the “optimal diet.”
The real problem with grains and dairy, she said, is that people’s guts are damaged.
“We now have the third generation of children growing up on a modern diets – low cholesterol, low saturated fats – and their guts are not being formed properly, so they can’t digest grains,” she said. “And of course we’re not preparing the grains properly, so all of a sudden grains have become a huge problem.”
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t eat grains, she said. “It just means we should eat properly when we’re pregnant and nursing, feed babies properly as they grow, and introduce grains slowly and prepared properly.”
Fallon acknowledges that for many people, it’s too late for that. That’s where the GAPS – Gut and Psychology Syndrome – Diet comes in. Fallon says GAPS gets people off all of the “offending foods,” which include grains and dairy, and puts people on a diet similar to the Paleo Diet – only with much more of a focus on saturated fats, cod liver oil and bone broth – until the gut is healed. “It’s never meant to be forever without grains or dairy.”
Fallon said fellow WAP board member, Dr. Thomas Cowan, puts a lot of his patients on the GAPS Diet.
“He finds that in many cases people feel a lot better until something changes around the two-year mark when they suddenly lose energy, and that’s when he puts them back on grains,” she said. “So it seems to me that there’s something we don’t know about grains that makes them necessary for the human diet.”
“A very good argument against this no grain diet is that we have a stomach that has enterocytes that produce disaccharidase to digest carbohydrates,” Fallon added. “Our whole small intestine is designed to digest grains and potatoes and tubers and so forth. Now if that breaks down you have to stop eating them for a while. But the design of the human body is to eat these things.”
Like dairy, Fallon says you can live without grains, “but why would you want to?” By soaking grains, you get a huge increase in B vitamins, she said. You can get enough vitamin B by eating liver and organ meats, “but you don’t always have liver, and no one wants to eat liver every day.”
Grains are also a readily available source of minerals, which are liberated during the soaking process, and saturated fat, she said.
Fat, fat, fat
Paleo diet supporters argue that mankind has been eating grain for only the last 10,000 years – since the advent of agriculture – which represents less than 1 percent of the 2.5 million years they believe human beings have existed.
If human beings have gone without grain for more than 99 percent of their existence, why is it necessary or helpful to consume them now, one Food Riot Radio listener asked.
Fallon said she believed humans had been eating grains for at least 30,000 years, but even if they hadn’t, “so, what?” It’s unclear how far grain, tuber and dairy consumption dates back, but Paleolithic people – again, defined as those who didn’t have metal – all over the world thrived on them.
“The key thing in human nutrition is to get adequate saturated fats,” Fallon said. “Every cell in our bodies is surrounded by a membrane composed mostly of saturated fats. Our brains are mostly saturated fat.”
Because it’s not always possible to get enough saturated fat from meat, grain is – and almost always has been – an important supplement for most human beings, she said.
“And I must say that the Paleo diet – which does not emphasize saturated fats, with mostly lean meats, no grains and no potatoes – is just a recipe for serious illness if you stay on it too long.”
To hear Food Riot Radio’s full interview with Sally Fallon, click here.