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 toxicity of grains and undercooked 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 ( even after being debittered (, 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 and 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 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.

Beef Tartare Gratinée Letterman

I had an email from a 15-year-old who says that adults laugh when she tells them they should eat a high-fat diet.

Don’t worry, Abby, they laughed at Julia Child too!

(Via Kristen, the Food Renegade.)

Drugs: Often Unsafe at any Dose

If you have impaired health, go see a doctor.  Use them first for diagnosis; doctors can do lots of tests to help clarify your condition, and they have tremendous clinical experience and great insight into many conditions. But be wary of their drugs. Do your own independent and critical evaluation of any drug recommendation.

The most helpful drugs are of two kinds:

  • Bio-identical replacements for deficient human compounds. Think insulin for diabetes, or thyroid hormone for hypothyroidism.
  • Antibiotics for conditions in which the causal pathogen is known or strongly suspected. The trouble here is that in many chronic diseases, the pathogens which cause the disease are not known. Choosing the wrong antibiotics may do more harm than good.

Most other drugs are designed to ameliorate some disease symptom, at the cost of introducing new health problems elsewhere. Over time, these negative effects often prove far more damaging than the drug’s benefits.

I explained why a few posts ago:

Much pharmacological research in recent decades has been devoted to “targeting” individual proteins or genes, and seeing if these interventions produce beneficial results in some disease or other….

The human body is the result of a long evolutionary history. Our ancestral genome reached its current size, about 20,000 genes, prior to the Cambrian explosion. For over 500 million years, the thrust of evolution has been to make the gene-protein network as sophisticated as possible, as densely networked with subtle interactions between as many molecules as possible. Every gene has an important role to play in that network, and directly influences perhaps a hundred partners. Thus, targeting a single gene will not only deprive the body of that gene’s function; it will also deprive that gene’s hundred partners of the benefits of its interactions, and thus impair their function, which will have ramifications upon their partners, until the whole genome has been affected. Thus, all interventions in the human body have systemic effects. It is not possible to confine effects to a single “target.”…

If the human body is a highly-optimized densely-networked system, then we must be skeptical toward the “black-box” school of medicine – especially in its new, reductionist, human-gene-targeting form. If evolution has optimized the human gene network to maximize human health, then targeting human genes and proteins is sure to sabotage health, probably in unexpected and insidious ways.

Then, responding to my very next post, Joe D gave us some neat information indicating that the drugs used to treat depression may increase mortality by 30%.

Now Jenny Ruhl, the excellent author of Blood Sugar 101 and proprietor of Diabetes Update, points out that some diabetes drugs are backfiring spectacularly, inducing crippling bone failures and cancer:

A long term study of  Actos [PAJ: pioglitazone] discovered that there is a clear dose and time-related increase in bladder cancer among those who take it.…

Today’s newer generation of drugs target specific genes and cell receptors. The TZD drugs, Actos and Avandia, target the PPAR-gamma transcription factor which regulates genes that affect how lipids are stored….

PPAR-gamma, for example, transforms the bone stem cells that should turn into new bone into new fat cells. This is why after a decade on the drug many people start experiencing broken bones in their arms and legs (the areas where PPAR-gamma is most active) and why once bones begin to break there is no cure. A decade of rebuilding has been subverted and the weakened structure of the bone cannot be fixed.

Jenny observes that the drug approval process, which evaluates for safety over short time periods and efficacy against a specific disease, doesn’t evaluate long-term safety issues:

And this points to the huge problem with the drug regulation process. There is no requirement–none, zilch–that a company applying for permission to market a new drug investigate what OTHER physiological processes are affected by the drugs’s mechanism. All the drug company has to show is that it achieves what they are selling it to do. In the case of Actos and Avandia, that means causing a very modest drop in A1c–about .5%….

Many of these life-ruining side effects happen so slowly they don’t show up for five to ten years–and then it takes a lot of work to link the side effect to the drug….

That is why evidence a that a drug is raising the incidence of cancer rarely appears until a drug is almost at the end of its 14 year patent period. It has taken more than 12 years to notice the link between bladder cancer and Actos. It took nine years after its approval for anyone to notice the signal suggesting that Diovan raises cancer incidence by about 8%.

And that’s why it won’t be until another nine years or more that the public will learn that any drug that inhibits DPP-4 is turning off an immune system mechanism essential to fighting melanoma, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer and lung cancer. Details HERE.

Visit Jenny’s blog to see why Metformin is the only diabetes drug known to be safe, and her recommended changes to the drug approval process. In my view, Jenny’s proposed changes would radically downsize the pharmaceutical industry. Few drugs would pass her filter.


The most powerful and effective way to improve health is through diet and nutrition. Put off drugs until you’ve fixed your diet, and there’s a good chance you won’t need drugs at all.

Depression Is Deadlier Than Coronary Heart Disease

I thought this was a remarkable statistic:

Those with coronary heart disease alone were 67% more likely to die of all causes, while those who were depressed, but otherwise healthy, were twice as likely to do so as those who had neither condition.

But those who were both depressed and had heart disease were almost five times as likely to die as their mentally and physically healthy peers. [1]

If you are severely depressed, or have any other mental health condition, do not just live with it. Your condition may reflect some defect with diet or nutrition that may lead to long-term harm if not remedied. Or it may be caused by an infection which, if not treated, will progress.

One trouble with infections is that all infectious pathogens have evolved ways to disable the immune system, so any one infection makes you more vulnerable to subsequent infections. This is why people with chronic diseases and the elderly generally have many chronic infections at the same time. Each infection is debilitating; but as the number and severity of infections grows, the body weakens. Eventually, pathogens will induce some acute condition like pneumonia that enables them to spread to new hosts, and their first host will die.

I suspect that depressions of infectious etiology are more deadly than coronary heart disease because they imply a more advanced infection. Generally, to infect the brain pathogens have to first infect the vasculature; the vascular infection enables them to cross the blood-brain barrier. One can have a vascular infection (and coronary heart disease) without a brain infection, but as a rule one will not have a brain infection without vascular infection.

The drugs that doctors use for mental health conditions generally moderate symptoms but do not cure. By all means, see the doctors, but don’t expect a cure from psychoactive drugs. So what should you do?

I believe that the best treatment for depression, as our last post suggests, is a ketogenic variant of a healthy diet, good nutrition, and (if an infection is present) appropriate antibiotics. It is wise to start with diet and nutrition first, since diet alone may cure many conditions and a good diet is entirely safe. A healthy diet can greatly enhance mood. Antibiotics have the potential to backfire, so are the last line of defense; but in severe infections will be necessary for a cure.


[1] Depression and heart disease combo more lethal than either one alone, study suggests. ScienceDaily. September 16, 2010. Nabi H et al. Effects of depressive symptoms and coronary heart disease and their interactive associations on mortality in middle-aged adults: the Whitehall II cohort study. Heart. 2010 Sep 15. [Epub ahead of print]