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 remarks...read 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
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"...um, 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.
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?
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: http://www.alzforum.org/new/detail.asp?id=2562
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.
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?