Does The Paleo Solution "Grains" chapter make a solid case against gluten?

by 60 · October 17, 2010 at 02:27 AM

Short question: Would a beginner understand Robb's chapter on grains and be able to explain why gluten is bad? (Using direct quotes only from the book as a resource.)

Loooooong question:

I'm specifically questioning the grains chapter because that is the content most contrary to conventional wisdom. I'd like to be able to recommend the book to friends and family but after finishing the chapter I had a "What just happened?" moment. The full chapter is available here: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2010/09/19/paleo-diet-solution/

I was expecting a clear explanation on the evils of gluten, similar to what Robb delivers in his podcast, but instead I felt like I was reading something that was hacked to pieces by an editor. Can anyone find direct quotes from the chapter explaining why gluten specifically is "evil"? There's plenty of talk about lectins but where does he make the specific gluten/lectin connection? From the chapter I understand why lectins are bad and they need to be avoided in some gluten-free foods as well. But what's the argument against gluten? Or do I have the reading comprehension of a caveman?

Here are some additional quotes that are bugging me:

"Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye oats, and barley." pg 84

What are rye oats? Is there a comma missing? A sidebar mentions that oats don't contain gluten but do contain similar proteins.

"...wheat, rye, barley, and millet, which are the gluten-containing grains..." pg 88 (The version posted online doesn't include "millet" in that sentence. But millet is still included in the online chapter under "Celiac")

"...gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and millet." pg 90

"Millet is similar to oats, in that it contains a protein only a few amino acids different from gliadin (the main problem in gluten)" (I don't see this sentence in the book, it's added to the online version.)

What the what? Gluten is found in "rye oats"? Gluten is not found in oats but oats contain similar proteins? Gluten is found in millet? Or millet just has similar proteins?

"celiac...is an autoimmune disease caused by gluten"

"celiac is an autoimmune disease caused by lectins" pg 90

Huh? If you didn't have a background in the paleo diet would this make sense to you?

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3 Replies

20469 · October 15, 2010 at 11:13 PM

You are right, it's just hard to read for some reason. Not everyone has the supreme talent of making complex stuff easy to understand. It's a very specific talent. In some ways, his writing there is not quite dumbed down enough and in otherways, it's still too complicated. Plus it kinda meanders all over the place. I would not say it's badly written but it's not really good either. It's almost like he is trying to be both simple and complicated at the same time and not quite making it with either. In many ways, I can sympathize with him every time someone asks me why I don't eat grains or why I think saturated fat is good for you (especially that last one). And I am stuck trying to come up with a 3 sentence reply that they can understand that actually sound reasonable instead of psycho. It's just not that easy to do! Seems like the tough compromise is you can either be accurate or you can be simple and easy to understand, but it's very hard to be both.

1510 · October 16, 2010 at 03:51 PM

I'm pretty sure that it's supposed to be "rye, oats" and that was a typo. I do know that one problem with oats, which are by themselves gluten-free, is that they are often processed in facilities that process gluten grains, so gluten can contaminate the oats processed there. Usually, that small level of contamination would only really be a problem for people who are celiac.

But, if I understand Robb correctly, I think a whole separate issue is that gluten is one kind of lectin and Robb is hypothesizing that the problems people have with glutens is a problem they'll have with many lectin-based grains. Millet is also a gluten-free grain, but it has high levels of lectins. This is the first I'm hearing that celiac is caused by lectins, not just gluten. You're right that Robb is not really providing enough explanation about how he's making the jump from associating problems caused by gluten, which are well-established, to be part of a larger scope of problems caused by lectins, which are less well-established. It gets even more confusing when you consider that lectins are in almost everything, but Robb is only advocating for the elimination of certain lectin-based foods.

From your question, it seems like you understand it the other way around - that Robb's made a good case for abstaining from lectins, but not a good case for abstaining from gluten. I think part of the argument for that is just the general overlap between foods containing gluten and food containing dangerous levels of lectin. Practically, it's easier to seek out gluten-free foods in the supermarket and at restaurants than to ask for low-lectin foods.

This probably isn't the best text for a newbie. But you could also encourage a newbie to experiment and come to his own conclusions. Go gluten free for 3 weeks. Then, in 24 hour period, eat lots of pasta and muffins and bread. See what the results are. Then go the same with lectins. Even if you find the best explanation in all the world, it doesn't compare to having taken the time do your own experiment and knowing that this bit of scientific knowledge does indeed fit for you and your body.

803 · October 17, 2010 at 02:27 AM

Looks like poor editing, though Robb is guilty of this kind of thing verbally as well: On Jimmy Moore's podcast he said that his problem with saturated fat is that "grain-fed meat has very high amounts of short-chain palmitic acid." And he goes on to talk about the problems with palmitic acid. (Though he says it doesn't seem to be a problem in a low-carb diet.)

But in episode 40 of his own podcast he says the problem with grain-fed meat has to do with two other short-chain acids and he doesn't even mention palmitic: "What I'm trying to do is minimize folks' intake of short-chain omega 6 fats so if we don't have a grass-fed source of protein then it's typically going to be pretty heavy in arachidonic acid and linoleic acid."

The listener is left to wonder if he's changed his mind, or if he's accidentally neglected to mention palmitic acid. And you start to question - despite his impressive overall knowledge - whether he's actually on top of this topic.

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