Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Legumes and Potatoes are Certainly P-A-L-E-O

Tubers are as Ancient as Bipedalism

The Paleolithic Age started ~2.6 mya and extended to only 12,000 years ago. The last Homo neanderthalensis existed up to ~25,000 years ago, and in fact their DNA exists in nearly all of us. One of our ancient human ancestors, Australopithecine boisei (formerly known as Paranthropus boisei), did not eat the stiff and hard textured nuts that their tough jaws and mean bite alluded to, but instead appeared to consume a diet rich in soft sedge tubers (including tigernuts) that grew buried in the soft land near waterways and shorelines. He had nickname, Nutcracker man. And lived with great longevity from 2.4 mya to 1.4 mya, impressively longer (that I'm aware of) than any other hominin ancestor that humans have had. Nutcracker man indeed started our human evolution with increasingly larger brain sizes during his 1 million year reign and likely planted the seeds for yet even larger brain sizes in 'subsequent prototypes' in Homo.

The moors, peatlands, and marshlands of Scotland and northern Europe were very similiar to the Paleo 'nutriscape' and terrain during the transition from Ice Ages to mega C4 sedge and grasslands. I suspect our ancestors consumed a pretty heady diet of plant fiber and starch because sedge tubers/corms/rhizomes (including tiger nuts), cattail bulbs, water chestnuts, wild carrots, yams, and other starchy roots were common underground storage organs (USOs).  Tubers like tigernuts and other underground sedge roots had a different, more evolved form of photosynthesis that required less molecules of water and selected during the shift in weather from moist and aquatic to dry grasslands. The final electron donor switched from water which had become intermittently scarce to sugar/starch molecules. During intermittent freezing and warm periods, sugar and starch additionally served another role as a buffer from cold trauma and frost.

Tigernuts and sedges were offspring of the new C4 photosynthetic plants and grew plentifully. Papyrus is also an example of a sedge. C4 plants and roots produced a radiation signal that was found in great amounts in C13/C14 isotope density studies from enamel and Nutcracker remains from 1-2 mya. Being sweet, starchy and high in protein, it was no wonder that our ancient ancestor found sedge tubers and tigernuts so delightful to exploit.

In the Paleolithic Age, both Homo and Australopithecine fed themselves well enough to not only survive the Ice Ages, predators, pathogens and newly discovered bipedalism, but also to grow a higher capacity cranium. One of the leading theories for this is digestible carbohydrates. Without complex carbohydrates and high fiber starches from USOs it is unlikely that fruit and honey alone would have exploded the process of encephalization. For tens of millions of years our primate cousins had failed to forge larger brains as frugivores. What changed? Researchers Brown et al reviewed the diet of our primal forefathers and noted they likely consumed "high carbohydrate sources including plants particularly those with underground storage organs (USOs) such as reed mace (Typha), common reed (Phragmites), water chestnut (Trapa natans) and yellow water lily (Nuphar lutea). USOs have repeatedly been implicated in hominin evolution and particularly encephalisation and bipedalism in the Africa [83], [72], [84]–[85] although this has been challenged [86]."

USOs provide valuable nutrients for brain fuel: zinc, magnesium, carbohydrates, sucrose, vitamin C (one serving, almost 50% of RDA), and protein. In terms of the brain-gut evolution, digging for tubers also tied our ancestors to the ground in more ways than the descent from the arboreal heavens to terra firma living and bipedalism. SBO probiotics (soil-based organisms) clung to every new bite of dirt-covered tubers. For tree hugging primates, the new terrain brought not only fresh and novel food, but also broad exposures to a whole new world of micro-organisms. Remember, diet (dirt lol) is the biggest driver of the microbiota and evolution of the gut. Transformation of gut and brain occurred simultaneously I believe. Our herbivore colon shrunk as our brains exponentially expanded... or even doubled: gut and cranium.

AG Brown et al, 2013
Site Distribution at the Edge of the Palaeolithic World: A Nutritional Niche Approach

This paper presents data from the English Channel area of Britain and Northern France on the spatial distribution of Lower to early Middle Palaeolithic pre-MIS5 interglacial sites which are used to test the contention that the pattern of the richest sites is a real archaeological distribution and not of taphonomic origin. These sites show a marked concentration in the middle-lower reaches of river valleys with most being upstream of, but close to, estimated interglacial tidal limits. A plant and animal database derived from Middle-Late Pleistocene sites in the region is used to estimate the potentially edible foods and their distribution in the typically undulating landscape of the region. This is then converted into the potential availability of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats) and selected micronutrients. The floodplain is shown to be the optimum location in the nutritional landscape (nutriscape). In addition to both absolute and seasonal macronutrient advantages the floodplains could have provided foods rich in key micronutrients, which are linked to better health, the maintenance of fertility and minimization of infant mortality. Such places may have been seen as ‘good (or healthy) places’ explaining the high number of artefacts accumulated by repeated visitation over long periods of time and possible occupation. The distribution of these sites reflects the richest aquatic and wetland successional habitats along valley floors. Such locations would have provided foods rich in a wide range of nutrients, importantly including those in short supply at these latitudes. When combined with other benefits, the high nutrient diversity made these locations the optimal niche in northwest European mixed temperate woodland environments. It is argued here that the use of these nutritionally advantageous locations as nodal or central points facilitated a healthy variant of the Palaeolithic diet which permitted habitation at the edge of these hominins’ range.

Paleo People Loved Legumes

Neanderthals probably didn't do a fantastic job with legumes and small grain grasses because now they are extinct. It took a few dozen thousands of years...a slow demise, if that one of the reasons for their demise. During the latter portion of the Paleolithic, smarter hominids came along and figured out how to soak and cook legumes and SGGs. Food processing easily removes toxins and transforms them toxic, hard bumps of plant seeds into edible and delicious sources of starch, fiber, fat and protein.

Wrangtham et al in 'The Evolution of Hominin Diets' (2009) discusses the use of legumes in the end of Paleolithic Age, before the advent of agriculture. Plant evidence doesn't survive time well. What was unearthed was corroborated at a variety of sites widely distributed throughout Europe and Eurasia.

Legumes may be questionably Paleo® but they are unquestionably bionic for the gut microbiota and fuels the most important populations throughout the entire length of gut. The special fibers in legumes are unequaled when it comes to the combination of both RS3 and non-starch polysaccharides. Instead of raising blood sugars, legumes are low glycemic index meaning they impact insulin minimally or in fact lower it. Legumes have no dearth of clinical human trials that demonstrate its value for significantly lowering cancer, inflammation, insulin resistance, blood sugars, and gastrointestinal disorders.

Wrangtham et al in 'The Evolution of Hominin Diets' (2009)
"The richest food plant assemblage of Mousterian date, at

Kebara Cave in Israel, is dominated by a legume seeds of a
range of species, the form of some of which might suggest
collection while underripe (Lev et al., 2005). Towards the endof the Paleolithic, legume finds are scattered across Europe,
for example the pea and bitter vetch at Öküzini, Turkey; lentil
at Konispol cave, Albania; and vetches and other legumes at
Santa Maira, Alacant, Spain (Baales et al., 2002). Another
rich example of pre-agricultural legume foragers comes from
Hallam Cemi in Turkish Anatolia (Savard et al., 2006).

New Environments and New Plant

Monocot stems and legume pods may have provided a significant mass of plant foods during the expansion into thel ower latitudes of Eurasia, where a vast array of yams and
legumes have emerged in the modern human food web as
domesticated plants. Moving further northwards still, these
kinds of resources diminish significantly, both in diversity
and in biomass availability. The quest for plant foods will
have presented an increasing challenge.
The cooler northern vegetation stands would have been
characterised by a range of open biomes including “arctic
steppe” (Cwynar and Ritchie, 1980; Zazula et al., 2003)
and closed vegetations characterised by woody dicots and
coniferous trees. Woody dicots are reasonably rich in edible
nuts, kernels, and fruits and, in certain families, edible roots
and tubers. As mentioned above, the lower the biological
productivity, the greater evolutionary pressure to protects eeds and storage organs from predation, and so it is generally
true that, especially as they move northwards, human
feeders are presented with a more complex “landscape of
toxicity” by dicots than tends to be the case with monocots,
particularly in the context of the seeds and tubers upon whicht he plant itself relies to cross the non-growing season. The  kind of transferable ecological 
knowledge that allowed feedersto move from one monocot to another in more southerly
biomes is not directly transferable to the dicots in northerly


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dr. BG a very timely post! I always wonder why very smart people can look at the same data and come away with such different viewpoints. I'd love to see a panel with you, Richard Noley and Tim Steele, vs the remaining dogmatic Paleo people like the one on Dave Asprey's recent interview. Assuming for a second that Paleo foods are the only ones we should be eating because 'we' have not had enough time to adapt to them, is that true for our guts? Considering how quickly new generations of bacteria are created, how long does it take for 'us' to become adapted to new foods?

Dr. B G said...

If we look to Darwin and his finches on the Galapagos islands, adaptation to new foods takes only a few generations or less. AMY1, apoE2 and E3 and other gene variants are other clues to higher intakes of complex carbohydrates and agri adaptation. Except for white/brown rice and monoculture, non-heirloom potatoes, most examples of complex carb starches tend to be low GI and high in fiber (bran, spectrum of arabinoxylan, pectins, xylan, hemicellulose, lignins, oligosaccharides, etc).

Having dysbiosis/SIBO and FODMAP/fiber intolerance is rather not evolutionary!

Dr. B G said...

Eating less RS is probably a warm adaptation as well -- RS protects from cold so the cold adapted foods have more.

FUT2 which is a SNP linked to secretion of more carbs (fucose) in our mucus lining likely is an adaptation for less fiber as well as our gut's adapted to feeding its inhabitants different or less fiber at the end of the Paleolithic and transitioned to more grain/legume /maize based sources of microbial fuel... but it is all conjecture just like this post lol.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dr. BG, you crack me up.

Stone-aged man said...

Ok, this is going to be a question from left field, but what about the relationship between cannabis and gut health? We know that the cannabinoids found in weed have incredible anti inflammatory properties, amongst many other beneficial effects. But we also know that cannabis slows down gut motility, and could this slowing of gut motility backfire if you have something like SIBO? Considering how popular weed is getting nation and worldwide, I'm beginning to wonder how this will fit in with a paleo/primal/gut health lifestyle. It's a topic that nobody has addressed very well (probably with good reason - few good studies, illegality, etc.), but it's one that seems to be increasingly pressing, and oddly silenced within the paleo/primal/gut health community. Love your work Dr. BG! Keep it up!

Dr. B G said...

Weed is a double edged tool - it might calm the gut (second brain) however it typically leads to binge feeding which maims the gut if it includes sugar, junk and fat emulsifiers

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. BG, Richard, and Tim
I want to thank all three of you for your work--I greatly appreciate what you are doing. I am writing to report on results.
I have (or mainly, had) what I think was SIBO. Usual causes: antibiotics, birth control pills when younger, one serious illness with a week of morphine, probably low stomach acid. Symptoms: gas and bloating, pain--but no lower GI symptoms. Also, mild rosacea.
I have been following Dr BG's protocol for about 7 months--about 2 months of 4 tablespoons of potato starch/day, rotating recommended probiotics, walking, fermented foods. Then I branched out, following everyone's suggestions, into other fibers: acacia, glucomannan, baobab etc. Recently I've added inulin, the most troublesome so far, in tiny increments.
Results: gradually diminishing symtoms (Yes!) and greater overall digestive comfort. Onions, garlic and beans have completely stopped bothering me. Rosacea is greatly diminished, though I'm still sensitive to sun.
One question: I am still reactive to certain fodmaps such as pears, apples. Dr BG, you have mentioned charcoal, and charcoal certainly takes away the symptoms. But is it good to take for its own sake? Does it do more than simply mask bloating?
And one observation: I too have had vivid dreams. It occurs to me that dreams have been important in many (maybe most?) traditional societies, as well as more recently--for instance in psychoanalysis. But not so much lately--is it possible that modern diet is suppressing what used to be normal dreaming?
Again--thank you!

Dr. B G said...


I love your story of gut recovery! That's awesome. I appreciate your kind words. Give me a buzz, on email if click on my name

Lori Miller said...

The anthropologists whose works I've read (Leakey, Walker, Fagan, etc.) point to meat eating as the source of energy for our larger brains, based on a great deal of evidence: guts becoming shorter like those of carnivores, rapid spread into other territories, increasing sociality, cut marks on animal bones, isotope evidence, etc. And our ancestors had already been eating tubers for millions of years.

I don't see it mentioned in the article, but the starchy potatoes most of us know are native to Central America, where they were traditionally processed to remove toxins. Roots such as those that the Hadza eat are a great deal more fibrous.

Having changed my diet because of GI problems, I can tell you that a low-carb diet (no starchy foods or fruit) stopped my problems dead in their tracks. Potatoes leave me starving within a few hours. As for beans--enjoy your flatulence!

Dr. B G said...


You must have missed my carnivory posts and don't know me or my LC-ish style. Google 'meat made us smart dr BG animal pharm'

My goal is to look at ancestral diets in an honest way with archaeological data and background. That is wonderful that diet changes reversed the ravages caused by modern diets and lifestyles. The same happened for me but one point my insulin sensitivity and hormones were optimal and ketosis caused me problems -- adrenal, thyroid and brain fog. Some people report gut and immunity issues when there are not enough fermentable fibers or RS3 in the diet to support the 100 trillion partners in our gut that we've co-evolved with.

Yes many tubers were/are toxic. Cassava still is (it's also a plant that uses both C4 and C3 photosynthesis to fix carbon curiously). Requires massive amounts of processing and fermentation to convert to edible forms.

Ur right i lumped ancient tubers with potatoes/Solanum. I consider it Paleo because we were eating it's cousins which have identical or similar nutritional profiles. In monte verde in South America, a well preserved Paleo village that was encased near a peat bog near a waterway was discovered. It had the first evidence of 13,000 year old wild potatoes Solanum maglia besides hearths, tools, seeds, nuts and berries.

Dr. B G said...

That's great.

The evolution of cooking and hearths did many things for our human ancestors. In addition to making food and meat more easy to chew and enjoyable, they killed parasites.

Tigernuts thrive in moist soil by creeks and waterways which become infested with liver flukes and parasites unfortunately. The same for water chestnuts and lily bulbs in Asia. No one eats these raw because of parasites once people got smart.

Take my word, parasites aren't fun. These cause intestinal permeability, SIBO, chronic inflammation, cancers and autoimmune disorders.

Anonymous said...

Tiger nuts actually kind of sort of even support the aquatic ape theory if 'aquatic' means 'marshes' and not just oceans. Omega 3 from oysters or omega 3 from sedges, is there a huge difference? This is really amazing idea. Is Tigernut man and Nutcracker man the same species?

Dr. B G said...

Yes same species A boisei and they underwent tremendous physical changes during the one million years. But they went extinct. Obviously eating Tigernuts didn't solve all of their problems or led to eexcessively narrow resource allocation compared to competing species.


I agree. What doesn't kill u makes u stronger. Or modern caveat: can give you CFS

Even the lack of gluten exposure can cause celiac like symptoms. There was a Swedish epidemic of celiac in the 90s and this is attributed to two combined factors: lack of breastmilk and late intro of dietary gluten. Gluten is a toxin much like the LPS of childhood viral and bacterial infections. Perhaps there is a window of opportunity for priming and protection? So many of lack this critical 'imprinting' on the gut exposures and immune system -- then perhaps modern toxins are much more toxic?

Love all of your deep insights and thoughts. Thanks!!

Maria said...

I have Hashimoto's, what would you do to reverse it and what is your take on iodine regarding Hashi's? I am still very young (21 yo) and I would love to put the disease into remission so I can improve the quality of my life.

Dr. B G said...


Click on my name. Yes great story, thx.

Ed said...

Dr B G, any thoughts on legume preparation? Soaking, grinding, fermenting, cooking? The more the better?

Dr. B G said...


Fermenting for 1-3 days will exponentially increase the microbial presence. Even after cooking the spores of some and the dead microbes still confer health benefits. DNA, membrane bits, cell coat parts -- they all give us health benefits.

I don't know about grinding. The other methods are great too. Sometimes when I ferment past 3 days they start sprouting, which is fine and probably more nutritious to some extent since some of the nutrients and protein become more bioavailable and transformed.

More lentils and legumes are great if your gut has shifted and doesn't have intolerance, bloat, gas or crmaps! Like all new things, go low, go slow. They are carby. I don't eat excessive amounts unless I'm majorly working out/moving.

Tiger Nuts said...

Hey Guys,

Great article and comments, and if you would like to actually try some of these amazing Tubers that are called Tiger Nuts you can find them at or check the store locator on the same site.


The Nuts at

Dr. B G said...

Thanks Mr Nuts!!