The Oldest Profession: Quinoa, Millet, and Emmer and Einkorn Wheat

I thought I’d bring some information up from the comments so it can be visible to people doing searches.

In the book we speak of “safe starches” whose safety is well attested: rice, sweet potatoes, yams, potatoes, taro, tapioca, sago. We also speak of the high toxicity of grains and legumes. But a variety of less popular foods were left unmentioned. These include quinoa and millet.

Mark asked about quinoa and I gave this view of it:

Well, quinoa is not a grain or legume and so does not fall in our excluded foods, but we haven’t been including it in our “safe starches” list either, mainly due to caution and unfamiliarity on our part.

Quinoa does contain saponins (http://pmid.us/18452959) even after being debittered (http://pmid.us/11829658), and needs proper handling including washing before cooking. With proper handling it seems to be relatively safe. A Pubmed search on “quinoa toxicity” yields nothing; “quinoa saponins” yields 22 hits.

Quinoa does have a lot of protein (12-18% per Wikipedia), which makes me suspicious. Plant proteins are behind nearly all the toxicity effects of grains and legumes, and I prefer to avoid plant protein. It’s possible there are undiscovered toxicity effects.

There was a debate in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in Nov 1999 about quinoa. (See http://pmid.us/10570670 and http://pmid.us/10570669.) One writer notes that the Celiac Sprue Association classed quinoa as “unsafe” because some celiac patients have had bad reactions to it. This does not mean that quinoa would cause problems to someone with a healthy bowel, but there is a lack of evidence either way.

Off the cuff, tentative view? Quinoa seems to be quite a bit safer than grains, and since “the dose makes the poison” it can probably be eaten in moderation as a way to diversify the diet. However, its safety is not as well proven as, say, rice or sweet potatoes or taro, and personally I wouldn’t make it my primary starch source.

This is the basic problem: we just don’t know. We know about the toxicity of wheat because billions of people have made it their primary calorie source and we can see that after 60 years of eating it, people have much worse health than those who made rice their primary calorie source. Then, because wheat is so important, scientists have studied it and identified most of its toxins.

With quinoa, we lack that kind of usage and there has been little scientific study.

Since the Perfect Health Diet only calls for around 400 starch calories a day, it’s not too arduous to confine one’s self to only those starches known to be safe. At least, that’s my view.

Becky then asked about millet. I replied:

Millet is a grain and so it is guilty until proven innocent. Grains in general are very rich in toxins, so odds are millet is no exception.

That said, it is an ancestral variety which may not have undergone a lot of modification by breeding. Dr. Davis has presented some evidence that the biggest problem with wheat may be that it has twice been hybridized, expanding its genome from 14 chromosomes in its ancestral form (einkorn wheat) to 28 chromosomes (emmer wheat) through hybridization with goat grass, later to 42 chromosomes through another hybridization with Triticum grass to create modern wheat. This means wheat has toxins from three separate species, which may explain why it is the most toxic grain.

Dr William Davis has reported that some people who cannot tolerate modern wheat can tolerate einkorn: see here and here.

I recommend avoiding millet and other grains except rice, whose safety is well-attested. Since we only need about 400 carb calories a day, it’s not too difficult to confine one’s self to known-to-be-safe carbs.

But, daredevils, drunkards, and other risk-lovers may find millet worth the risk!

I was fascinated by Dr Davis’s report that ancestral wheat varieties may be much safer than current strains. It makes sense: tripling the number of plant toxins through hybridization must increase toxicity.

It appears that the progress of agriculture through hybridization and breeding has caused our food to become progressively more toxic. And this toxification of food was not an innovation of modern industrial agriculture, but was already underway in the early Neolithic.

So next time you’re tempted to criticize Big Pharma and Big Agriculture for placing mammon ahead of safety, remember that Natufian farmers were doing the same thing! Perhaps the oldest profession was not prostitution, but genetic engineering of food.

Leave a comment ?

42 Comments.

  1. I’m also uncertain about quinoa. But whereas millet, oats, maize, rye, wheat and barley (the most toxic grains) are all monocots, quinoa (along with buckwheat and amaranth) are dicots.

    A number of people who don’t tolerate other grains seem to be able to eat quinoa without a problem, but I still view it as a “transition” food. It’s good for those going from a grain-based diet to a grain-free diet when they still need that grain texture/taste.

    I’m a bit more favorable towards buckwheat. It’s a dicot in the polygonaceae family, which also includes rhubarb and sorrel. It contains all eight essential amino acids, so it’s close to being a “complete” protein. When eaten in the form of sourdough crepes (as suggested by Stephan), it seems very well tolerated by most people.

    Is it necessary? No. Is it harmful? Probably not. And it does make some tasty pancakes, which are great carriers for butter, cream and berries!

    • Hei, is it better to use whole buckwheat flour (it is a little bitter and dark colour) the ordinary buckwheat flour is more white and sweeter) what you think ;)?

  2. Thanks for the info. I did not know that wheat has toxins from 3 separate species. Well, another good reason for us to avoid wheat.

    When you speak of rice as a safe starch, did you mean refined white rice? I assumed that after removing the bran, there will be hardly any anti nutrients and toxins like lectins and phytates left.

  3. You seems not to place much importance on glycemic index or load. Is it because of the limited amount of carbs in your suggested diet? Or is it because the rice is likely to be eaten with fatty foods, which would tend to lower its glycemic effect?

    • Hi Daniel – Yes, I mean white rice. Brown rice has a few toxins.

      Poisonguy – The first, mainly. The main goal is to prevent excursions of blood glucose to 160 mg/dl or higher — preferably keeping levels below 140 mg/dl. Once carbs go below 600 calories per day I don’t think glycemic load or index matters a lot. In practical terms, our safe starches have enough bulk that people aren’t generally going to want to eat a huge amount in a period of time so short that their body can’t dispose of it — especially since, with reduced liver glycogen, they’ll generally have rapid disposal pathways avaialble.

      If glycemic load does matter at our recommended carb intake range, it will be for people with damaged metabolisms. In those cases we suggest varying the diet toward a ketogenic style with 200 carb calories and lots of coconut oil. Once again, that should make glycemic index/load insignificant as a factor.

      Rather than distort diet, we’d recommend exercise to those who are concerned about small glycemic loads. By increasing muscle glycogen storage opportunities and enhancing insulin sensitivity, regular exercise will make those glycemic loads even easier to handle.

  4. You mentioned einkorn and it’s low toxicity levels. I’ve found that to be true but we cannot necessarily recommend it to people with the celiac sprue or gluten sensitivities. Every person is different and seems to respond differently.

    However, as was mentioned, the nutritional benefits of einkorn along with it’s low glycemic impact are reasons many choose einkorn to be a desirable substitute to modern wheat.

    As was suggested by Chris, buckwheat is an option to consider for non-wheat eaters, in addition to quinoa.

  5. Hi Stan,

    Nice to hear from you and learn about your interesting site! Thanks,

    Paul

  6. Speaking of starchy tubers, how about yucca/manioc/cassava? I like it a lot, and it has a different taste than the others. Whole Foods has it occasionally out here in California. A 50g serving has approximately 20g (80 calories) of carbohydrate.

  7. Yes, I think we mention that positively in the book. I’m not up on preparation though, it’s not something we eat, but it is popular in many parts of the world.

  8. Fabulous website. I’m currently reading all the back issues and have order your book.It won’t be here until the first week of December (boo hoo)and I have a few questions. If these are answered in the book, just tell me and I’ll wait till I get it.

    1) Any type of white rice, does this include jasmine or basmati? I haven’t eaten potatoes and rice for a long time and I’m feeling a little giddy at the thought. lol
    2) Does sprouting legumes help diminish toxicity?
    3) You mentioned vegetable sources of protein as being bad. Most fruits and vegetable have protein. So are they all implicated or just high protein sources like soy. What about algae? And do I count the protein grams of dark leafy greens, etc?
    4)Are the juices from grasses(wheat, kamut, barley greens, etc.) toxic as well? Micro-greens (sunflower sprouts, buckwheat, brassicas)?

    Thanks. I’m feeling a bit gobsmacked by the sheer volume of stuff I didn’t know. I’m looking forward to getting the book.

  9. Hi Julia,

    1) Yes, they’re all fine.
    2) Yes, but personally I won’t eat them in any form.
    3) Quantity and species matter. The grains and legumes have a lot of starchy seeds to protect from mammals, so they make a lot of toxins. Most fruits and vegetables have much lower levels; fruits actually want to be eaten, so they have very low toxin levels apart from the seeds, and vegetable toxins might even be beneficial in low doses.

    Algae are probably beneficial, but I’m not that knowledgeable about them. Traditional Pacific cultures ate some kinds of algae, search on limu.

    I wouldn’t count plant proteins at all for calories, just for toxin content.

    4) I would assume that if the foods are toxic the juices are as well, but I don’t have direct knowledge. Grasses are mostly unsafe, most of those microgreens are safe if cooked.

  10. Dr. Jaminet,

    thanks for the nice article.

    what do you think about coix?

    it looks like barley but it is of a different genus. has no gluten. it’s also crunchier.

    it’s used mainly in TCM for it’s mildly diuretic some other functions.

    those in Asian market are always husked. but i still soak/ferment it with brown rice.
    (easier, cause i mixed them together).

    regards,

  11. Hi Pam,

    It’s a grass, therefore likely to be toxic, but I know little to nothing specifically about it.

    It’s been investigated as a cancer preventative. The fact that it kills cancer cells is a negative in my view, unless you have gastointestinal cancers, since in general anything toxic to cancer cells is also toxic to normal cells.

    However, there are some papers saying it has antiinflammatory properties. It has hormonal properties in vitro, decreasing testosterone and increasing luteinizing hormone (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19107733).

    I guess I would limit it to medicinal use, and don’t feel qualified to judge under what circumstances medicinal use would be appropriate.

    Best, Paul

  12. Dr. Jaminet

    thanks for the thoughtful reply.
    i am interested in coix since i read there’re some study on its anti-colon cancer property (i have a personal interest in colon caner due to family reason)

    you’re right that dosage makes the medicine dosage also makes the the poison.

    although we probably don’t eat it enough to make any difference anyway (< 1 oz/day)

    regards,

  13. Do you have an opinion on the safety of wild rice? It was eaten by Native Americans in the upper midwest and Canada. However it is a grass, and contains 4 g protein/100g. Wikipedia link:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_rice

    Thanks!
    Dennis

  14. Congratulations on your very nice blog and great book.

    I was wondering if you could please provide me the references to the following statement: “… the biggest problem with wheat may be that it has twice been hybridized, expanding its genome from 14 chromosomes in its ancestral form (einkorn wheat) to 28 chromosomes (emmer wheat) through hybridization with goat grass, later to 42 chromosomes through another hybridization with Triticum grass to create modern wheat”.

    I ask this, because I’m a nutrition researcher and grains are one of my favourite topics.

    Thank you
    Best wishes
    Pedro

  15. Hi Dennis,

    Since wild rice is not directly related to either standard rice or other grasses, it’s hard to say. There’s not a lot of experience with people eating it either. I think on general principles we should avoid it until more data comes in.

    Hi Pedro,

    I got that from Dr. William Davis, see the links in the text. However, you prompted me to do a quick search, and it appears to be inaccurate.

    According to this paper, http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/content/24/7/1506.long, wheat is tetraploid, and the major genomic expansion occurred due to the union of two diploid species between 250,000 and 1.3 million years ago:

    Tetraploid forms of current domesticated wheats are derived from a wild tetraploid progenitor, identified as the wild emmer Triticum turgidum ssp. dicoccoides (referred to as dicoccoides). This species has an allotetraploid genome (AABB) resulting from spontaneous amphiploidization between the diploid wild wheat Triticum urartu (AA genome, Dvorak et al. 1993, 1998) and an unidentified diploid Aegilops species (BB genome), the closest current relative of which is Ae. speltoides (Dvorak and Zhang 1990; Daud and Gustafson 1996; Khlestkina and Salina 2001). Molecular data suggest that dicoccoides is a recent allopolyploid, originating between 0.25 and 1.3 MYA (Mori et al. 1995; Huang et al. 2002; Dvorak and Akhunov 2005).

    Thanks for the tip.

    Best, Paul

  16. Thank you Paul.

    Here’s an interesting paper on the increase in epitopes implkicated in celiac disease in modern wheat varieties:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20664999

    Best wishes
    Pedro

  17. I’m just adding this comment in case anyone else finds this post on millet at this late date, as I did.

    Re: millet, I’ve been eating it in small quantities in some gluten free bread I made for my son, even though millet is a goitrogen, because I assumed that cooking millet makes it less goitrogenic. However, I’m finding some info that indicates that millet becomes MORE goitrogenic with cooking. Yikes! I’m not posting links because I can’t find any that have references. Just passing along the idea, and I’ll see if I can find some studies to back it up.

  18. Hi Steph,

    Thanks so much for passing along the information. Here are some published studies:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7714083
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2921306
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2459720
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6168683, also http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17897900

    Here’s a study linking anti-thyroid agents in the mother’s food during early pregnancy to autism: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17651757

    I’ll keep an eye on your blog (http://www.midlifemakeoveryear.blogspot.com/) to see if you find more.

    Best, Paul

  19. Thanks Steph for the info. I was just about to try the millet but decided to gooogle it first. I am sure glad I did. I am vegetarian so have been trying out new things. I have added couscous to my diet and have just bought quinois because of the protein value. However, I haven’t tried it as yet. I get my protein mainly from beans now I don’t know what to do. Anyone has any sugggestions?

  20. Hi, Paul – I don’t know if it’s clear to people or not but the wheat Dr Davis is talking about, the modern wheat, is only a foot or so tall. It’s vastly different from wheat we were growing and eating in this country 30 years ago. Even worse, since the breeders cut the stalk short to conserve energy for the head (where the dollars are), fields of wheat no long give a by-product of straw, which is very important in soil management. Even if it is hauled from the soil to become bedding for livestock, in an organic farming situation, it is eventually composted and returned to the land. With the modern wheat, the soil is mined for the business ‘farming it.’ The crop produces ZERO nutrient for the soil. Paul – You’ve read about Osawa curing cancer with a rice diet? (macrobiotics) No one was cured of cancer on a rice diet once the Green Revolution hybridized most of the rice in the world in the early 60s. the great rice cancer cures occurred in the late 50s. Nowadays, even members of macroibiotic teaching families die of cancer…

    • Hi Allan,

      Interesting about Ohsawa and his macrobiotic diet, I hadn’t heard that brown rice was curing cancer in the fifties. Will have to look into the evidence that there were cures. I know that phytate / IP6 has been suggested as an anti-cancer supplement, did older forms of rice have more phytate? Other changes could include lower minerals eg lower selenium, iodine, and other minerals.

      Thanks.

  21. I am just wondering. You are always writing about coconut oil, does this include coconut milk? I am drinking a lot of coconut milk is that Ok or should I start consuming coconut oil instead?

  22. Hi Paul, thanks to your diet i am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, paleo had too much protein in it hard to digest, and glucose deficiency is what i had.
    After eating my first potato in two years my body just explode saying yes!!! I need it so badly.
    After two years of suffering i tested positive for helicobacter pylori.
    My gut is severely damaged, i have allergies to corn, dairy, gluten.
    Now my question: i just bought some organic dehulled millet. It is like white rice, i mean, once the hull is left, you only have the starch, haven’t it?
    By the way millet is not a cereal per se. It’s a seed.
    With that said, can we consider as a safe starch?
    Thank you very much.

  23. Hi Paul and Shou-Chin,

    I’ve been walking around with this thought of making “buckwheat natto” – fermenting buckwheat with the natto bacillus, though I haven’t gotten around to it yet. I’ve been wondering what the result would be, if one tried baking a bread with it – if it would do something in the place of gluten.

    However, today I came across this study, but as I have no idea what it actually means – except for the line “Degradation of allergenic protein in buckwheat during fermentation”.

    I thought you might find it interesting.

  24. Yes, that’s the on.
    I can’t believe I forgot to include the link :roll:

  25. Does anyone have information on the Ethiopian grain named Teff?

  26. Both of these links are bad:

    “Dr William Davis has reported that some people who cannot tolerate modern wheat can tolerate einkorn: see here and here.”

  27. Hi Paul,

    So love your book/research!

    I’m very curious what your thoughts are on sprouted brown rice protein powder.

    Is it still toxic despite sprouting?

    Thank you!

  28. What are the thoughts on farrow? Good, bad, safe, not-unsafe?

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