Friday, August 19, 2016

Whole Grains and Jane

Forgive my back-to-back posts, it's just that I have some free time between classes. I have been sitting on a lot of good stories, and hope to get them all out before school starts back up in September. One class left!

Jane Karlsson has been a vocal proponent of whole grains since the early days of the paleo diet craze. She was in communication with a blogger, Anthony Colpo, who turned a chain of emails into a blog post in 2010, in an attempt to discredit Jane...six years later, the paleo movement is starting to soften their stance on grains, with much credit due to Jane's insistence that we need grains.

Jane has desperately been trying to turn the tide away from anti-grain, as she saw that it was counterproductive to the shift away from SAD refined foods.

Here's the whole sordid conversation between Jane and Anthony, read if you like. In this blog post, I am going to extract Jane's comments for us to read. Since this blog post was published in 2010, Mr. Colpo went on to write a book: Whole Grains, Empty Promises: The Surprising Truth About the World's Most Overrated 'Health' Food.  It would appear he learned nothing from his conversation with Jane.

Here's a blog that Richard Nikoley wrote at Free the Animal last year: Did The Paleo Diet Get It Wrong On Grains?  Read the comments! Surely you will recognize many of the names.

Richard describes Jane Karlsson here:

Jane Karlson, an Oxford PhD—who’s solidly a “Duck Dodgers” collaborator for a while now—has been studying the interactions of iron, manganese, and copper for 30 years. My layman take is that while iron is essential, manganese and copper act as a sort of yin-yang deal, with the former being an inhibitor and the later, a catalyst. Nature works in mysterious ways, with negative feedbacks being far more dominant than positive ones (the critical mistake global-warming alarmists make). This is the paradigm in which we evolved.

Bottom line: she thinks all refined white flours are bad, whether enriched or not, and whole ground grains (use stone or ceramic so as not to create too much heat) are fabulous, super-food-esque.

The Colpo Convo

Here are the quotes of Jane's from her 2010 exchange with Colpo. I am leaving out Colpo's if you like, but the real gems are in Jane's thoughtful emails to the man who hates grain.

Dear Mr Colpo,

If you think Loren Cordain is wrong, as I do, why do you eat white rice? Whole grains contain enough minerals to activate enzymes that deal with the so-called toxins. Look up 'The activation of intestinal peptidases by manganese', and ask yourself how likely it is that whole grains would cause coeliac disease. White flour has had nearly all its manganese removed. White rice, over half.

These same minerals activate enzymes of carbohydrate metabolism (that's why the plant puts them there), and they also prevent iron-induced oxidative stress. I expect you are tired of hearing how IP6 from whole grains and legumes protects against iron overload, but you may not have heard that manganese does the same thing.

So does copper. Ignorance about copper explains why people think saturated fat causes heart disease: rats given copper do not develop heart disease on a high-saturated-fat diet.

The problem is that Cordain has had too much work on his plate. Digging out all the information he needs to exonerate whole grains and legumes takes a lifetime. I know, I've spent a lifetime (well, 30 years) doing it.

Regards, Jane Karlsson PhD, Oxford, UK

Hi Anthony,
Many thanks for your reply.

Coeliac disease is thought to be caused by failure of 'oral tolerance', in which the immune system is instructed not to react to food proteins. See this paper for the role of regulatory T cells in coeliacs.

Immune cells use a lot of glutamine for fuel, like gut cells do. Glutamine is made by glutamine synthetase, which is activated by magnesium and manganese. Therefore, deficiencies of Mg and Mn are expected to cause problems with the immune system and gut. These two metals also activate intestinal peptidases.

'.. your dismissive description of "so-called toxins" indicates an unwillingness to acknowledge the very real and well-documented anti-nutrient content of grains and legumes.'

Most of the antinutrients are proteins, and should be broken down in the gut. All food contains things you could call antinutrients. Beef, for instance, has enormous quantities of highly-available iron and zinc, and hardly any copper or manganese. That means, beef contains 'antinutrients'. If you want to eat a lot of beef, eat it with beans and brown rice. Then it won't contain any antinutrients. Phytate, I should add, binds zinc better than copper, and iron better than manganese.

'Vitamin D deficiency is common ..' What do you mean by vitamin D deficiency? Do you mean, low blood vitamin D levels? This is indeed common, and is probably caused by mineral deficiency. Ask me if you want details.

'As for your statement "Digging out all the information he needs to exonerate whole grains and legumes takes a lifetime", are you aware that Cordain actually wrote a paper highlighting the adverse affects of grains, much of it devoted to the effects of whole grains?'

Yes, indeed I am. What I meant was, if Cordain read some more, he would realise the literature actually exonerates whole grains and legumes.

The studies you want don't exist, but that doesn't mean the information doesn't exist, it does. It just takes time to find and assimilate it all.

I greatly appreciate the time and trouble you have taken to answer my email.


Hi Anthony,
OK, let's end this now. I was just trying to help. I've spent all this time reading the literature, and I keep hoping I'll find someone who can benefit from it. I'll go on looking.

BTW, I've read as much of your cholesterol book as I can get online, and it's excellent. Did you know homocysteine metabolism requires copper?


Hi Anthony,

I entirely agree, iron is the problem, and the data on copper and Hcy are mixed.

'.. your beliefs about grains are way off base - they are based on popular prejudice and health authority hyperbole rather than scientific fact.'

No, they aren't. They are based on full time reading of the literature for 25 years. In fact I tried very hard to influence the health authorities myself, and failed. Now, they are coming round to my point of view. Not because of me, I hasten to add. Nobody has ever really listened to me. I regard that as a great compliment.

I agree with you, of course, that there are many papers showing adverse effects of components of whole grains. What I do not accept is that these papers show that whole grains are a bad food for humans.

You asked about the non-protein antinutrients, like B6 glucoside. I don't see what the problem is here. Yes, it inhibits B6 absorption, but not that much, and some or even most of it can be converted to B6 and utilised. And as for fibre inhibiting B6 absorption ... a measly 17%? You may not be aware that the micronutrient uptake systems in the gut are enormously flexible, and can be up- or down-regulated on several different levels. You have to try very hard if you want micronutrient deficiencies.

What you really need to watch out for is trace metal uptake, because an excess of one metal can inhibit absorption of another. For instance, absorption of manganese can be much lower if you have high iron stores, because iron/manganese transporters get down-regulated. This may not matter very much, because if you absorb less Mn you will excrete less. But if your diet is very high in iron, you could have problems. You'd never know, because nobody thinks Mn deficiency is important.

For example, one of my email correspondents has found that many of his patients on a paleo diet have problems with blood sugar, and also with cortisol. He was not aware that cortisol makes the liver release Mn, and that Mn is needed both for gluconeogenesis and for synthesis/secretion of insulin. These patients probably need to balance their iron/Mn ratio. It may be that phlebotomy is the best way to do this, but at the very least it suggests something is not quite right with the paleo diet.

It's possible that ancient people understood this. There is evidence that Neanderthals collected grain, and other evidence shows that people were using grinding stones long before agriculture began. I'm told the Maasai eat their meat together with herbs high in tannins, which inhibit iron absorption like phytate does.

About homocysteine. You will be aware that Hcy is a risk factor for Alzheimer's as well as heart disease, and may have seen the recent report of success with B vitamins from the Oxford group. But other trials have not succeeded, and what people really need to do is address the iron overload, and also zinc overload. Alzheimer brains have both, correlating with pathology, and a a very recent paper shows that the Amyloid Precursor Protein is a (copper-dependent?) ferroxidase responsible for iron export, and it's poisoned by zinc.

Have a look, it's pretty sensational:

Here in the UK, the top nutritionist Patrick Holford tells Alzheimer patients to take zinc supplements. This despite a report in Science in 1994 that a trial of zinc in Alzheimer patients made them so much worse it had to be stopped in a matter of days.



You are not respecting my time or wishes, so why should I respect yours? You do not have to read what I write.

'You do not see the striking contradiction within that statement?'  Now Anthony, you can't really mean this. You know perfectly well that feeding isolated components of foods is very different from feeding the whole food. I have a scientist friend who feeds his cat almost exclusively on liver. The cat has diabetes. Does that mean liver is a bad food for cats? No.

I repeat, nearly all the so-called antinutrients of grains are proteins, and should be broken down with no difficulty. Tell me about other antinutrients, and I will tell you why they are not a problem.

'The fact that a significant portion of the population is gluten sensitive and even celiac, the fact that under controlled clinical conditions wheat starch causes digestive disturbances in most subjects..'

What kind of subjects? Are they people who have eaten refined food all their lives? How can conclusions be drawn from this uncontrolled experiment? If you have a damaged digestive system you will have digestive problems. Even more so if you are given wheat starch without its micronutrients.

'You've got to be kidding. Despite plentiful food and calories, vitamin and mineral deficiencies are common among Western populations.'

Of course Western populations have deficiencies. They eat refined grains. If removing most of the micronutrients from grains doesn't count as trying very hard to get deficiencies, I don't know what does.

How can it have escaped you that the missing micronutrients are required for processing the macronutrients? Why do you think the plant goes to such a lot of trouble to put them there? The seed digests its macronutrients during germination using the same metabolic pathways we use. The same enzymes, activated by the same vitamins and minerals. And you think it's OK to eat white rice.

BTW, The Maasai use Acacia nilotica bark to flavour their meat soups, according to Timothy Johns. Look it up, it's very high in tannins.


It ends with Colpo saying, among other things:
Your entire pro-whole grain argument is built on nothing more than wishful thinking and willful evasion of the abundant evidence showing they are in no way the nutritional panacea that health authorities portray them to be.

Wishful thinking?

Maybe we can get Jane to pop in on the comments here. I think the "wishful thinking" belongs to the hordes of "paleo" gurus who thought that they would cure the world of modern disease by banning some whole food sources that humans rely on for micronutrients and gut health, ie. starches and whole grains.


I do not think for a second that the science on whole grains is settled. Please do not confuse "whole grains" with whole-grain Wonder bread, there's a lot of marketing hype around what and what isn't a whole grain. To me a whole grain is exactly as it sounds.  Grain, in it's whole form.

What do you think?  Is Jane simply a dreamer who has fallen for the Whole Grain Council's lies? Or a visionary who's onto something?



  1. Who the heck is Jane?! Well, I can see what I'll be reading this weekend in my never-ending quest to find the missing link to my chronic constipation issues. I'll be commenting Tuesday when back at the office, where the computer allows me access. Thanks, Tim.


  2. Jane sounds like a very sensible woman to me.


  3. Ironically, Colpo actually recommends phytic acid supplementation in his Cholesterol Con book. Putting phytic acid in a pill makes it OK, I guess

  4. Hi Tim!

    Been meaning to check in. It's interesting that you posted about whole grains. I just developed a new hypothesis that one of my digestive issues may be an intolerance to all foods from the grass family. It's often seemed that non-gluten grains were as tough on my insides as anything glutin-y.

    I have always tolerated quinoa pretty well, which is a seed, rather than a grain (as I'm sure you and all your readers know).

    Extrapolating from there--my last experiment with dairy and eggs did not end well, and I wonder if the fact that critters and chicks eat grass and/or grains ties in somehow.

    So, for a couple of weeks, I'm going to stay away from the millet and teff that I sometimes include, plus bamboo shoots and the odd other grass family foods that I never eat anyway to see what happens. This is not the Unifying Theory of Princess' Microbiome, because that does not exist, but it could be an important piece of the puzzle.

    Really limits the booze options... ;)

    1. Beans are grain...just sayin'. Lots of ways to get the magic of whole grains. Post coming tomorrow!

    2. Could not agree more! I have a Wonder Mill and I've recently made batches of lentil, quinoa, yellow pea, and soy flours. I'm on a baking kick again, and it's really fun to mix and match. I never make the same recipe twice.

    3. Nice. I've been eyeing the Wonder Mill, just have to convince Jackie that we have room for yet another large appliance, lol.

      Have you also been experimenting with yeasts and sourdough starters? Long, slow ferments make bread even tastier and healthier.

  5. TL;DR, but I read a long time ago what Dr. Weston Price wrote about *freshly ground* whole grains... that adding them to a diet of kids actually helped teeth repair cavities (or something like that, it's been a while). But I distinctly remember that he considered them quite healthy. But... note that "freshly ground whole grains" is not what we usually eat today. Once you grind them they begin to degrade; which really is not surprising given the same thing happens with nuts, fruits, etc.

    1. found....

      "That whole wheat could make up a substantial proportion of such a healing diet was consistent with Price’s clinical results, where he used rolls made from freshly ground whole wheat as part of his tooth decay reversal program, as well as his animal experiments, wherein he showed that refined but not whole wheat produced cavities in rats.

      Although Price didn’t study the Pathans of India himself, he had the following to say about them (p. 291):

      The most physically perfect people in northern India are probably the Pathans who live on dairy products largely in the form of soured curd, together with wheat and vegetables. The people are very tall and are free of tooth decay."

      "Price conducted a nutritional intervention in his patients consisting of the following: threefourths teaspoon each of high-vitamin butter oil and cod liver oil chased with four ounces of tomato or orange juice; stews made from green vegetables, carrots, meat, marrow, and the juices of broiled meat, which were rotated with organ meats and fish chowder; rolls made from freshly ground wheat with liberal quantities of highvitamin butter; cooked fruit; and two glasses of whole milk. This regimen reversed over 90 percent of active cavities, without the need for fillings, as shown by X-rays and in limited cases by silver nitrate staining."

    2. Thanks, Brad. When I first started this journey, I was surprised by the differences between WAPF and "Paleo." It made inuitive sense that whole grains were healthy, but the paleoistas were so damn convincing that grains were horrible.

      Wheat Belly works because it gets rid of refined, processed grains. I do not think Davis was wise to ban all forms of grain, whole or not.

    3. I once tried to tell Davis about copper deficiency and heart disease. I looked up copper on his blog and found nothing. He is a heart doctor and does not know that copper deficiency causes heart disease! He does not want to know either. He deleted my comment.

    4. This is interesting about copper. I've now read this concept a couple times over the last week in a couple different places, I think over at Jaminets when I was helping a friend figure out how to get her cholesterol down. Interesting. Will enjoy looking into it more, especially as some people seem to restrict copper intake.

  6. I love Jane! I wish I could download her brain :-)

    1. She is fun to stalk on the internet. I think she's made more comments around that Tatertot and Gemma combined. I hate reading the Carbsane blog, but go there just to see what Jane's saying, ie.

    2. How can I contact Jane? Her research is amazing.

  7. Someone ought to tell Anthony that arrogance and intelligence are not the same thing.

  8. Hi Tim and Gemma and all the other nice people,

    I once tried to comment here and the computer wouldn't let me. Let's see if it works this time.

    1. Good news Jane,

      It looks like the computer has allowed you to comment on a post about you. In the past, I've found that an occasional positive sentence or two about potatoes keeps my comments from getting "lost":-) Now that the technical issues are sorted out, I look forward to reading more from you here.


      PS Potato.

    2. Great! Glad you could make it. I apologize for the glitchy comment section. I hear from lots of people they cannot leave comments, I have no idea why it happens. Maybe it's gotten better, I see some people commenting recently that used to have trouble.

    3. Don't apologise Tim, it isn't you, it's some very determined gremlins. They wouldn't let me comment on Guyenet's blog for a whole year. Stephan wasn't doing anything. And the same thing happened on Carbsane's blog.

    4. It's so much better now Tim! Guess that's what happens when you write a book. :-)

  9. Quality, whole grains are good food. A few years ago when I dropped 100 pounds, my staple starches were potatoes, yams, oats and whole wheat pasta and sprouted grain breads. When I removed these foods from my diet my digestion was adversely affected, and my weight loss stalled out completely (to be fair, there wasn't that much left to lose). I didn't realize how important those foods were until I stopped eating them.

    When I was a kid my mother used to grind her own flour and make this hearty bread from whole wheat. She also made rye and buckwheat pancakes...wish I could say I was always happy to eat it, but she definitely knew it was good for us.

    Today I avoid refined breads like the plague. Even some of our local artisan bakers use enriched thanks! Now that I've been making my own sourdough bread I've stopped buying it in the store...something about that freshly ground whole grain flour I get from our local mill just does a body good. There are some good whole grains breads out there...but even stuff like Dave's Killer Bread is way too sweet for me...the amount of salt and sugar in some "natural" whole grain breads make me wonder about the people who make it sometimes. Can't tell if it bread or cake.

    The flour I'm using now comes from a mill that uses care in how they grind the flour so it retains nutrients. I can taste the difference and I know it's good for me...but I still catch some part of my mind saying "you're eating too many carbs"! But like the potato hack, so long as the fat stays very low...the amount of carbs doesn't seem to matter so much (and perhaps, not at all).

    1. My weight loss journey was similar, I was doing good when I just quit eating refined flours, oils, and sugars. Then to "kick it up a notch" I stopped eating most fruit and all grains and tubers. Funny how we can be convinced that a whole, real food is somehow the cause poor health, and then drown ourselves in coconut oil and bacon.

      Dave's Killer Bread has a good ingredient list, but it lasts for weeks on the counter and is even sold alongside Wonder bread. How can something so wholesome last so long? Real bread has a very short shelf-life unless pumped full of preservatives.

      I know what you mean about the carbs. I still find myself doing it, too, but usually after my third Fudgsicle.

    2. Nuthin' wrong with coconut oil or bacon!

      I had a long conversation with a local baker about how certain breads lasted a long time and others did not. The ciabatta would last a few days, while the rye would last almost two weeks. Inadvertently, I accused her of using preservatives. I got a passionate, informed reply about how she would never use preservatives and that it was the acidity of the ingredients for f the whole grain breads that contributed to their longevity on the counter. I was schooled that day. So that's another advantage to whole grains. Plus, adding things like honey are likely to add to the longevity.

    3. Fair enough Wilbur..but if you're going for fat loss...might want to avoid having both bacon and coco oil together (or just have a little bit).

      I forgot that I also started avoiding most fruits as well...and to make up for things I ate fat like there was no tomorrow. I put coconut oil on everything and used to eat so much olive oil with my based chicken breasts that I swear it looked like soup (used to dip and have it swimming in the stuff). Since my carbs stayed low I wasn't gaining any fat...but once I hit 175-180 lbs I couldn't seem to lose anymore bodyfat. Don't think I was getting a lot of vitamins and essential nutrients in all that fat.

      It took me a few months to get used to having chicken without a ton of a few dashes of balsamic vinegar and I'm good...I keep fat very low (or use none at all) now that I'm eating a lot more carbs...and I feel amazing.

      I do not miss that low carb time I went 2 weeks at a max of 20 grams of carbs a day. I felt like a zombie...until I finally went to the store and bought bananas, dates and prunes and went home and scarfed them...must have been at least 300 grams...but within minutes my mind cleared and I felt amazing. I know it works for some people, but it didn't work so well for me.

      I have a friend whose now on a strict low carb bandwagon and I told her about about the potato hack the other day. I explained the satiety factor, keeping fats low and basically eating a few pounds of spuds a day. She didn't seem to believe me but I told her it caused me to drop body fat faster than anything else I've ever done before...but I still don't think she was convinced.

      And the sad part is...she's from another country and used to make her own whole wheat pitas and at potatoes almost everyday...she was fit and healthy and not overweight at all. Someone at her gym got her to go low carb...and I've tried to tell her...don't give up those potatoes...but it's like talking to a wall. Ah well. :)

    4. For whatever reason, sourdough bread lasts longer than fast raised wheat bread. That's why in the olden days they'd bake several very large loaves once every two weeks.

  10. Lots to digest here. Must come back and read again later. Thanks for raising awareness.

  11. Microelements are essential for the growth, repair and regeneration of organisms (plants and animals). Obtaining some of them is quite costly for the plant, so it makes sense that seeds and grains get a "lunch packet" full of valuable metals when leaving the maternal organism. That's why: "eat grains and seeds". (or tubers, lol)

    Here you can see why copper matters:

    "The Metals in the Biological Periodic System of the Elements: Concepts and Conjectures" (2016)

    "insight into the complex biological mechanisms of metal regulation and selectivity. It turned out that each metal ion is controlled in a characteristic range of concentrations that is determined by the affinities of metal ions for their ligands. Thus, in the series Mg, Ca, Mn, Fe, Co, Ni, Zn, Cu, the binding strength (affinity) increases and accordingly, the free metal ion concentrations-metal ions not bound to proteins-decreases. In principle, this series conforms to the Irving-Williams series for divalent metal ions."

  12. "six years later, the paleo movement is starting to soften their stance on grains", where do you see that?

    1. I see "Paleo" morphing into a euphemism for "real food." Many of the early Paleo bloggers and writers are now endorsing a plant-based diet that includes grains as well as meat, but heaviest on plants. For instance, Plant Paleo

      I think the "real food" movement is much more appropriate than simply banishing foods and food groups because they are thought not to have been eaten during a certain geological age on Earth. More appropriate is the banishment of man-made, artificial and refined products, ie. colors, flavors, oils, and emulsifiers.

      Individual responses to real foods needs to trump generalized advice, in every case. Gluten, for instance, can be as problematic to some as peanuts and shellfish to others.

    2. Thanks
      would yo know where the Jaminets stand now, and maybe you get poul and jane to blog here about it.
      Thank You

    3. Paul Jaminet seems to have given up the chase for the perfect diet and has started a biotech company called Angiex,where he is searching for a cancer cure.

      Last I heard, he liked rice and that was all.

    4. Mrs. Jaminet is probably the mover behind that startup, since it looks like she's still a practicing scientist.

      Of course, one can pursue the Perfect Diet and the cure for cancer at the same time! It's not either/or!

  13. I'm being very unfair in the comment above. Jaminet's company is working on just one transmembrane protein as a possible targeted drug delivery vehicle to tumors. Again, this sounds like Mrs. Jaminet's area of expertise. It's hardly "The Cure for Cancer".

    But then, who cares if I'm being unfair? I'm just a hairy troglodyte scratching my a** in my parents' basement.

    1. Haha, yes, I was bitter, too. They are probably all smoking big cigars paid for by an NIH grant while sending resumes to Bayer and GlaxoSmithKlein.

      I'd imagine that Paul found he could not turn the PHD into an empire, the paid retreats seems to have fizzled, and the biggest complaints about the PHD were "too many supplements" and "made me gain weight." I tried it and found it a very awkward way to eat, and no way I was taking all those supps (Lithium!?). And it caused a permanent 10 pound weight gain, as it should, when coming off LC Paleo.