Why We Should Abstain from Grain
In 2003, the Human Genome Project revealed that in the majority of cases, our genes are not to blame for the diseases we see in modern times. The “central dogma” (their words not mine) of the Genome project can be summed up as the following: Genes control protein production and the proteins created by our genes make up our cells, tissues, organs and ultimately our entire bodies. Thus, genes control life.
In order for this to be true, the genome project needed to find at least 100,000 genes to encode our DNA, one gene for each of the 100,000 plus forms of protein that create the human body. This was considered the holy grail of human molecular biology for nearly a century. This scientific assumption is why, historically speaking, our past family histories have often been referenced when discussing presently occurring medical issues. The belief was that our genes controlled the protein building blocks that our bodies are composed of, and thus proteins controlled health. The science, however, did not prove this to be correct. The results of the genome project revealed that there are only 20,000-25,000 genes, each of which contains information for assembling or producing the various proteins that make up our bodies. There seems to more involved than a simple one to one connection between our genes and our proteins. (link to the NIH page “How do genes direct the production of proteins“)
Genetic researchers now agree that the coded information in DNA is transferred to the RNA in each cell’s nucleus. In turn, the nucleus acts as a central information processor which works with ribosomes to read this sequence and translate the transcripted code to create an amino acid. The process of transcription and translation is known as gene expression.
So, it is the process of gene expression, not the individual gene, which creates and controls life. Importantly, and contrary to popular belief, the results of the inherited genetics at the core of gene expression are not set in stone. It is now clear that our genetic programming is modified through gene expression as we interact with the natural (or not-so-natural) world. How we interact with our environment alters the expression of our genes! Gene expression allows the world we live in to modify the program presented by our genetic makeup. In many ways, life is an equation where the genetic intent is modified by the environment we are exposed to, which results in gene expression, which alters the kind of life we live.
GENES + ENVIRONMENT= GENE EXPRESSION AND QUALITY OF LIFE
We are not at the mercy of our genes. In fact, this equation allows for a large amount of control over our destiny. If we can deliberately alter our environments (internal as well as external), we can significantly alter the course of gene expression and how our lives progress!
We do not inherit very many diseases. For example, cancer is a genetic disease, but it is difficult to inherit. This might be a surprise to many people since the medical establishment pushes the idea of genes “causing” cancer. However, according to the World Health Organization, “the proportion of cancers caused by gene [defect] is low, [at best] less than 5% for breast cancer and less for most other cancer types”. This finding is in sharp contrast to the information fed to us by mainstream health authorities and big drug companies. The amazing thing is that this data also means we have much more control than was expected over what happens to our level of health and vitality. The same is true for many other disease states, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. So, given the most up-to-date research, we know that disease risk is not written in our genes.
But, why are modern humans plagued with so many diseases? Very little of the explanation is in our genes. Rather, it is what our genetics are subjected to that lays the groundwork for gene expressions which result in many diseases. The two key inputs into how our genes express themselves are food and our environment. We are now very aware of some of the environmental issues which contribute to diseases. However, as will be discussed in this post, some of the food we have been told is “healthy” for us is not just unhealthy. It can actually cause significant health issues!
Diseases of Affluence
Diseases of affluence is a term sometimes given to selected diseases and other health conditions which are commonly thought to result from increasing wealth in a society. Our modern diet and a sedentary lifestyle can arguably be blamed for current levels of obesity, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, colorectal cancer, depression, and diseases related to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The prevalence of these diseases of affluence has vastly increased since the end of World War II. In large part, this is directly related to the distribution of manufactured/packaged foods. They are often loaded with the toxic disease-promoting substances discouraged by this blog. It’s not programmed into our genes to be sick. Our bodies and genes are programmed to be strong, healthy and actually quite amazing! It is what we put in our mouths, and the signals our environments give us, that promote the expression of so many modern diseases and degeneration.
The Effect of Carbohydrates in the Environment
In our previous post, “All About Insulin”, the chronic consumption of excessive amounts of carbohydrates can be shown to fuel many diseases in modern humans. Take the example of diabetes. Insulin’s main role is to regulate blood sugar levels. When too much sugar is present in the blood, (blood sugar is also called glucose), insulin stores available fatty acids as body fat. Remember that all dietary carbohydrates eventually become sugar in the blood. If glucose/sugar levels are constantly elevated, our cells become resistant to insulin. They become overloaded and can’t “hear” the signals sent by insulin anymore. As a result, the pancreas starts to make even more insulin that bombards the cells, and a nasty cycle begins. This new epidemic in westernized countries is called “metabolic syndrome”, and it comes from eating too many carbohydrates.
This is not to say that carbohydrates serve no purpose because they do. The key here is that in our environment they are being treated as an essential source of fuel when they are in fact not “essential” at all! It is technically a much better choice to burn fat for fuel, (the body actually prefers it), and not sugar. But, for several biological reasons we can’t burn both at the same time. So, we are either burning blood sugar for fuel or we are burning fat. This needs repeating: you can’t use both sugar and fat at the same time as a fuel source and if you try, one (usually sugar) will be converted into body fats intended for fuel at a later date.
This is where cereal grains come in to focus, because they are a primary source of dietary carbohydrates/sugars and carbohydrates are what promote insulin secretion. Over-secretion of insulin is a major factor in the promotion of a variety of diseases. Cereal grains are also a major source of something called anti-nutrients. Anti-nutrients also create a variety of negative health consequences.
Cereal Grains in Health and Disease
The major cereal grains (rice, corn, wheat, oats, millet, barley, sorghum, and rye) have become the main sources of our dietary energy. They’ve also become the “poster children” of the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet promoted by medical organizations like the American Heart Association (AHA) and American Diabetes Association (ADA). As a result, when you mention the words “whole grains” to the majority of people they generally consider them to be a “healthy choice”. But, are they?
Historically, wheat became a popular crop largely because it could survive in harsh climates. It appears in the agricultural record around 9,000 years ago. It has become a significant food source and many experts still believe that, should disaster strike, very few nations could survive long without wheat as a necessary food staple. That being said, necessity does not mean that we would thrive on “our daily bread”. It appears that we have not made a complete evolutionary adaptation to grains as a major food source. In fact, most animals, including our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, such as chimpanzees, aren’t adapted to eating cereal grains at all. Chimps fed a grain-based diet get the same diseases of affluence that we do. Humans have been eating cereal grains for approximately 10, 000 years. But, that is a very small amount of time to make such an adaptation when measured on the scale of evolution.
Defense Mechanisms in the Plant world.
It is worth noting that because a plant species doesn’t run away from us, we can’t assume that it wants to be eaten. Remember that plants, including cereal grains, are living things. They are always competing against each other and predators for survival, not as individuals but as an entire species. The list of predators these species must react to includes hungry humans. You will never see a herd of sunflowers fleeing in panic from marauding farmers. However, they and many of their veggie cousins, have developed ways to survive. To deal with us, plants, in general, have had to evolve other mechanisms for protecting themselves. Some strategies are truly creative. For instance, sometimes they reverse the negatives of predation by using their adversaries to procreate. Think of birds and the seeds they spread via their somewhat annoying (to humans) toilet habits. But plants also react to predation in less benign ways. Some of these mechanisms act quickly with lethal effect. Some, however, act slowly with a more insidious but equally harmful effect over time.
- generating toxins that damage the lining of our the guts;
- generating toxins that bind essential minerals, thus making them unavailable for use in our bodies; and,
- generating toxins that inhibit digestion and absorption of other essential nutrients, including protein.
The following is a look at three major grain-related toxins.
Gluten: The most researched grain toxin
Gluten is contained in wheat as well as in many of the other common cereal grains. There are many excellent books and resources about the negative effects of gluten on human bodies. In short, gluten damages the intestine and makes it leaky. Many scientists have researched this ever growing topic and it is becoming clear that a leaky gut is one of the major predisposing reasons for conditions like arthritis, digestive distress, and various autoimmune diseases.
What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
The phrase “Leaky Gut Syndrome” refers to a condition of “Hyperpermeable Intestines.” It means the intestinal lining has become more porous, with more holes appearing that are larger in size. As a result of a more permeable lining, the gut begins to fail. Larger, improperly digested food molecules and other “bad stuff” that the gut normally doesn’t allow to escape, (yeasts, toxins, and many other forms of waste) are able to pass freely through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream. This sets the stage for the body to replace strong and healthy connective tissue with weak improperly formed tissues that become inflamed. The process can accelerate quickly since we are constantly rebuilding our bodies using the nutrients we consume. If the new proteins that we use to replace old/damaged proteins promote an immune response, we can develop an autoimmune condition. A clear example of the consequence of this scenario is Celiac disease (CD), a state of severe gluten intolerance that has been researched for decades. People with CD have dramatic, sometimes fatal, immune reactions to even tiny amounts of gluten.
Celiac disease is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to intolerance to wheat and other grains which contain gluten. CD is clinically diagnosed when antibodies to two components of gluten are found: alpha-gliadin, and transglutaminase. Recently, even more components have been discovered in wheat and gluten. They are significant for this discussion since we now know that people can and do have an immune reaction to several of them.
Additional components that promote an immune response include wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), beta-gliadin, gamma-gliadin and omega-gliadin, and another protein called glutenin. There is even an opioid peptide called gluteomorphin! This is one of the reasons you will hear people say “I just LOVE my bread!” This opioid peptide really can be addictive and it really helps explain why baking bread just smells so enticing, (to the point of addiction), even for someone who strictly abstains from grain.
Studies are currently finding that people can react negatively to all of the components above. However, the identification of someone with Celiac disease rests on a test for alpha-gliadin and transglutaminase. Several of the proteins that have also proven themselves toxic and immune-stimulating are ignored. This explains why some countries don’t pay for celiac tests. They are considered inconclusive. It’s not because CD doesn’t exist. It is because they don’t test for enough of the immuno-reactive compounds to be consistently conclusive.
Not so “Healthy” Whole Grains
It is safe to say that most people know that sugar is bad for them. Many also know the perils of vegetable oils and how unhealthy they are. But, when it comes to “healthy whole grains” most people have little idea of how damaging they can be.
A Mayo Clinic study, published online July 31, 2010, in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, found that 29 out of 35 people with celiac disease had no idea they were reacting to gluten! That’s 82% of the group affected!! These results were based on blood tests of 7,798 individuals ages 6 and older who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2009 to 2010.
A similar result was found in a study from 1999 in the British Medical Journal. In this report, patients with clinically obvious celiac disease (observable inflammation and destruction of the gut tissue) represented only 12.5% of the entire population of people with CD. Eighty-seven point five of those who were affected by this condition had no obvious gut symptoms. So, for each symptomatic patient with CD, there are 8 patients with CD and no gastrointestinal symptoms at all.
These two reports are important to consider. First, they are two independent analyses that came to very similar conclusions. Second, if our bodies are made of the nutrients which we consume then we really are what we eat! So, if we are unknowingly eating and absorbing proteins that promote an inflammatory immune response then they become a major factor in health and aging. This bears repeating: our bodies are composed largely of the protein we eat. If our bodies attack themselves because of what we ingest, it has significant implications for health and disease. This is a major explanation for why so many people develop autoimmune diseases. No amount of incredibly expensive and dangerous immunosuppressive medication will fix a problem which we continue to actively exacerbate every time we eat. On the other hand, avoiding immuno-reactive proteins can be a simple solution. It is also a lot easier on your wallet and the wallets of your fellow taxpayers to avoid the problem rather than correct it (sorry big pharma!)
Phytic acid is the stored form of phosphorus. It is considered an anti-nutrient because it interferes with the ability to absorb nutrients in the foods we eat. Phytates bind to several minerals which then become indigestible.
Seeds, including nuts, edible seeds, beans/legumes, and grains, store phosphorus as phytic acid. When phytic acid is bound to a mineral in the seed, the result is called a phytate. Phytates do carry out an essential role in plants. They are an energy source for seeds when they are sprouting. When a seed sprouts, phytase enzymes break down the stored phytates. This process provides energy for the growth of the plant.
So, phytates are not all bad and in fact we are always eating them. Some of them have potent health promoting properties, but as we discussed in the section on the corner stones of a non-toxic diet, the effect of a poison is almost always determined by the dosage consumed. Most of the phytates we eat (between 37-66%) are destroyed in the stomach and small intestines. Typically, our bodies regulate phytate levels effectively by adjusting uptake in the digestive system. However, phytic acid can still cause negative health consequences if consumption exceeds the body’s ability to excrete it. Phytic acid can bind minerals in the digestive tract prior to their absorption. They can negatively influence digestive enzymes. Phytates may also reduce the digestibility of starches, proteins, and fats.
Remember, the poison is in the dosage. If you have an excessive amount of a given mineral, the binding action of phytates can actually help to achieve appropriate levels inside of our bodies. But on the flip side, if you have an excess dosage of phytates in your diet, you can end up with blood deficiencies like anemia as minerals become unusable.
Before we had industrially manufactured pesticides, plants came packaged with pesticides of their own called lectins. Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins which are commonly present in plants. Just as they protect plant species from large predators like humans, lectins support other immunological processes within plants. They help protect against pathogens, parasites, and more. Lectins are fairly sticky molecules. This stickiness makes them effective at binding with their associated sugars. However, they are unwelcome in our sensitive digestive systems. When lectins get involved with digestion, their binding powers can sometimes cause them to attach to the intestinal lining of the gut and cause a lot of trouble.
Given their omnipresence in the natural world, lectin ingestion by humans has been largely unavoidable. Much to the advantage of the plants involved, lectins are also difficult to digest and they don’t break down easily once they enter the digestive systems. Typical human digestive enzymes simply will not do the job. This is one of the reasons that our ancestors developed ways to “predigest” lectins using a variety of methods for food preparation. For example, take a look at the traditional recipes for making tortillas. In order to make them properly, and thus avoid over exposure to lectins, there is an extensive process of soaking and fermentation. This is a far cry from the way they are made today by large food manufacturing companies.
Recognize here that foods containing lectins often make up the primary nutrient source in many modern diets. The dose makes the poison, and we are consuming huge volumes of improperly prepared grains. These grains can have a massive impact on the percentage of nutrients we are actually able to digest from the foods we consume.
Since we cannot properly digest lectins, we often create antibodies to them. Most of us have antibodies to some of the dietary lectins that we have previously ingested. When their presence creates changes in the immune system or gut bacteria, some of these foods become intolerable to certain individuals. These gut changes can be brought about by habitual consumption of any of the anti-nutrients discussed in this blog post.
For example, have you ever wondered why you never see raw red kidney beans on store shelves? It’s due to phyto-haemag-glutinin. This is a powerful lectin that can cause a condition called “red kidney bean poisoning”. The poisoning is triggered by the consumption of improperly prepared kidney beans. Consuming as little as four or five raw beans can cause symptoms. Raw kidney beans can contain somewhere between 20,000 to 70,000 lectin units! Keep in mind the difference between raw and fully cooked beans, which usually contain between 200 and 400 units.
How do lectins affect our bodies?
Like gluten, lectins damage the intestinal wall. Remember the childhood jingle “Beans, beans the musical fruit! The more you eat, the more you toot!” This gastro-intestinal (and sometimes social) misfortune happens because lectins can injure the intestinal lining. As food goes through the digestive system, it produces a minute level of damage to the lining of the G.I. tract. These small injuries add up to big trouble over time, especially when combined with the natural byproducts of digestion. Normally the body mends bowel damage quickly. But, when the nutrient binding talents of lectins get involved they can blunt this swift renewal. If our bodies can’t restore a healthy repair process, the protective role of our intestinal lining will not be as dependable. With our natural gut defenses compromised, the gut can become “leaky,” allowing various molecules to pass back and forth between the gut wall and the blood stream. This can lead to a large number of health problems, most notably autoimmune diseases. Additionally, this impaired gut lining means that we may not absorb other important things, such as vitamins and minerals.
When a large enough volume of lectins is eaten, the distress can prompt the body to empty any contents in the gut directly into the bowels, often before proper digestion has occurred. This can cause a variety of digestive complaints from vomiting, to cramping, and diarrhea. Lectins can also promote a general immune response. When you consume lectins in larger doses (or smaller relative to previous exposure) they upset the gut wall. This damage can cause a much wider immune system reaction as the body’s defenses mobilize to attack what it sees as foreign intruders. The symptoms caused by lectin irritation can include: skin rashes, joint pain, and other inflammatory symptoms.
There are many other ailments and diseases that have already been linked to leaky gut, and the list just keeps growing. We were not designed to digest these anti-nutrients, and eating them is causing our health to suffer!
If someone is experiencing the symptoms of Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome their body is telling them that their gut lining has become damaged by anti-nutrients. It also may be that they are, or have become, sensitive to anti-nutrients. With a higher degree of turnover in gut lining cells, the damage caused by lectins may lead to a greater population of immature replacement immune cells that are not yet programmed to react/defend properly. If you keep eating foods that contain lectins, these young cells add plenty of easily accessed spots for new lectins to attach.
The impacts of dietary lectins only last for as long as they are in the body. To reduce these symptoms, simply stop eating them and replace their caloric/energy value with a variety of fruits and vegetables. Keep in mind that excessive amounts of a given type of food are not good. Remember, the poison is in the dosage so eat a broad array of foods. Eating foods with beneficial bacteria (e.g., fermented foods) will help restore the damage caused by eating excessive amounts of anti-nutrient, so be sure to include these as well.
Lectins and grains.
Unrefined grains generally sport the claim that they are more nutritious than refined grains. However, they also provide more lectins and other anti-nutrients since they are unprocessed. This cancels out much of the nutritional benefit of “healthy whole grains”.
This was unlikely to have been a problem for our ancestors when they grew and harvested their own grains. Why? Before the invention of modern agriculture, grains were a minor and very seasonal crop. The work involved in raising, harvesting and processing them was prohibitive. In our modern world, we can take a quick walk to the grocery store and buy the equivalent to an entire season’s worth of whole grain pasta, bread, rice, quinoa, kamut, amaranth, oats, barley and various forms of (yikes!) chips. In ancient times, these foods would have taken months to cultivate and process but we can get them within minutes! Of course, this is a good example of the poison being in the dosage! The average North American diet contains huge doses of grain-based foods. Bread, pasta, rice, cereals, etc. are everywhere, especially in processed foods. The effects of this availability have become a public health crisis.
Our ancestors found solutions to the problem of lectins. Fermenting, soaking, sprouting or cooking will decrease lectins and free up the good nutrients. They were aware that foods differed from year to year and crop to crop and they altered how harvests were processed. Without knowing the scientific details, they managed to effectively deal with the harmful effects of lectins.
In summary, grain, cereal, dairy, and legumes (especially peanuts and soybeans) are everywhere. Lectins are most commonly associated with reports of digestive complaints. Legumes are the most abundant sources of lectins in most diets.
How can we reduce or neutralize anti-nutrients?
Your best bet is just to avoid them completely and load up on nutrient dense meats and vegetables. However, in the event that we suffer a disruption in the normally available food supply in the future, please make note of the following grain preparation methods.
Fermenting. Fermentation allows beneficial bacteria to digest and convert many harmful substances. This is probably why the healthiest populations of grain/legume eaters are consumers of fermented soy products like tofu, miso, tempeh, tamari and natto. Anti-nutrient content in foods like cabbage can be neutralized using fermentation. Cultures with a history of grain eating have traditionally used some form of fermentation to treat grains. If you’ve had sourdough bread or beer, you’ve experienced fermented grains.
Not all lectins are completely destroyed by these methods, and some particularly stubborn lectins in beans remain no matter how lengthy the treatment. Thus, these techniques don’t totally reduce the negative effects for everyone.
Soaking and cooking
Soaking and/or cooking is the typical method of preparing beans and grains. If you want to consume them, soak beans and legumes overnight. Make sure you toss that anti-nutrient laden water out by draining and discarding it. Rinse the beans again before cooking.
Sprouting seeds, grains or beans reduce their lectin content. Generally, the longer the duration of sprouting, the more lectins are deactivated. In some cases, lectin reduction is enhanced by sprouting (for example alfalfa sprouts). The lectins in many grains and beans are in the seed coat. As germination occurs, the coat is metabolized – eliminating lectins. This is why bread like the brand “Ezekiel 4:9” are a much, much better choice. The brand name itself refers to a Biblical quote about how to traditionally prepare bread.
Heat: Heating foods can destroy small amounts of phytic acid. Note: too much heat can also destroy the enzyme that breaks down phytate (phytase) while at the same time decreasing the vitamin C of cooked food.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C seems to reduce phytic acid content in food. In one study, adding 50 mg of vitamin C counteracted the phytic acid load of a meal. In another study, 80 mg of vitamin C counteracted 25 mg of phytic acid.
Processing: Milling grains and removing the bran reduces phytic acid content. Regrettably, milling also reduces the content of many of the minerals!
Animal Protein and Phytic Acid
Since animal protein helps promote proper digestion through the stimulation of stomach acid secretion, it may also enhance absorption of zinc, iron, and copper. This could theoretically cancel out some of the negative effects of phytic acid. As a result, adding moderate amounts of animal protein may increase the absorption of these minerals in the body.
Again, avoid them if possible but if you must consume grains take the list above into consideration.
When did we start eating grains?
The first evidence of a significant domesticated crop appears around 11,500 years ago in the fertile crescent area of the middle-east. At this point, our ancestors were cultivating an early forerunner of wheat called emmer. Other grains started to crop up, (no pun intended), individually in what is now China (rice – around 10,000 years ago), and in Central America (corn – around 9,000 years ago). That’s why it is common to hear researchers say that humans have been consuming grains for about 10,000 years.
Before we started to farm we were hunter-gatherers. As hunter-gatherers, we ate a combination of the following: land mammals (including organs, fat and marrow), cooked tubers, seafood (fish, mammals, shellfish, seaweed), eggs, nuts, fruit, honey, “vegetables” (stems, leaves, etc.), mushrooms, reptiles, birds and insects. The quantity of each food differed broadly between populations. Another major factor in what foods we ate was the seasons. Certain foods would not have been available during variations in the climate. This is a fairly complete list of what we have been consuming since we first became human, and probably even before then. That means that for a total of 1.5 million years or so, we have been eating from a list of foods which until around 10, 000 years ago did not include grains. That is the blink of an eye from an evolutionary standpoint. There simply has not been enough time for our species to fully adapt to grains, especially considering how toxic they are when consumed in large amounts.
It is interesting to note how the central texts of many of the worlds’ religions see the adoption of grains into our diets as a mistake. A quote from the King James bible illustrates the attitude of the early Christian/Hebrew faiths; “In the sweat of thy face shalt, thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground.” – Genesis 3:19 In other words, leave the freedom of a nomadic life behind … and you will be a slave to this life shortening beige food-like-substance! From the Han Dynasty Daoist (4th century A.D.) we have a similar statement, “Now, the people of ancient times, they reached old age because they remained in leisure and never ate any grains.” It seems that even the Old Testament, and 4th century Taoists, had a clearer understanding of the dangers of grain consumption than is generally accepted in modern societies.
China’s historians, in particular, can reference what are arguably the longest running historical/cultural records in history. Taoism is considered to be the original belief system of the Chinese people. Those who followed the Dao (Tao) were decidedly “anti-grain”. You heard that right, the original people of China were anti-grain. There is a phrase in Chinese, “Bi Gu” (辟穀), which means to avoid grains. Though the interpretation of this phrase can mean other actions like fasting, in general, it is also an early written record advising people to avoid grains if they want a longer healthier life. It should be noted that early Taoists did not advise that people avoid yams or other sources of starch, just grains. As you will see on our page about carbohydrates, mental and physical health can benefit from consuming certain forms of starch, but not grains. Why? Because relying on grains did not just lead to health problems in the form of rotten teeth and other signs of malnutrition. It also left one reliant on government/community/society controlled food sources. If we want an energetic body, and a liberated mind, we must truly be free in every sense of the word.
This is a significant reason for why the ancient longevity-focused Taoist recluses suggested that we avoid grains altogether. Historically speaking, we only started to consume them out of necessity and not for nutrition. Chinese texts often refer to the “Five Grains”, literally: rice, glutinous millet, panicle millet, wheat, and soybeans. All of these foods require significant cultivation, farming practices, and converted land. When we discuss the “original” diet of pre-agricultural people, we are discussing the wild, uncultivated foods of the Daoist adepts such as pine resin, nuts, wild game meat, medicinal mushrooms, and herbs, as well as minerals.
As “civilized living” evolved from loose-knit horticultural hunter/gatherers to hierarchical agriculture settlements, the accumulated wisdom, from plant/animal husbandry to medical knowledge, would form part of the basis for an authority literally rooted in the peasants struggle against the earth. The Daoist mountain sages are often described as “abstaining from grain” (bi gu) as part of their training and progression in the Dao. As we have already discussed, cultivated cereal grains are a relatively recent addition to the human diet and represent a radical departure from the foods to which we are genetically adapted. The “abstention from grain” of Taoist mountain sages should be seen as a fundamental technique of retaining health, longevity & mental focus.
Withdrawing to a mountain, then as now, would involve an incredible amount of training and preparation. If we use the hierarchy of needs established by Abraham Maslow, the first concern for such an individual, particularly in periods of famine and strife, would be food. This “uncivilized” existence basically puts the person back in the same situation as before the advent of agriculture. He/she would resume the life of a wandering hunter-gatherer. To be able to abstain from commercially manufactured and taxed food, which was essentially grains, and to thrive resuming the life we were built to live, would mean freedom from the rules of civilization and government.
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