Here is an excerpt from chapter 1 of the Wheat Belly Total Health book, a discussion of the striking deterioration in health that developed in humans when we first made the dietary error of consuming grains, not recognizing a dietary expedient as a bad choice that resulted in long-term risk for chronic disease.
What happened to those first humans, hungry and desperate, who figured out how to make this one component of grasses—the seed—edible? Incredibly, anthropologists have known this for years. The first humans to consume the grassy food of the ibex and aurochs experienced explosive tooth decay, shrinkage of the maxillary bone and mandible resulting in tooth crowding, iron deficiency and scurvy, along with reduction of bone diameter and length resulting in as much as a loss of five inches in height for males, three inches in females (Roberts 2005; Cohen 2007; Cordain 1999).
The deterioration of dental health is especially interesting, as dental decay was uncommon prior to the consumption of the seeds of grasses, affecting less than 1% of all teeth recovered, despite the lack of toothbrushes, toothpaste, fluoridated water, dental floss, and dentists. Without any notion of dental hygiene aside from a twig to pick the fibers of wild boar from between the teeth, dental decay was simply not a problem that beset many members of our species prior to the consumption of grains. The notion of toothless savages is all wrong; they enjoyed sturdy, intact teeth for their entire lives. Only when humans began to resort to the seeds of grasses for calories did mouths of rotten and crooked teeth appear in children and adults, decay evident in 16-49% of all teeth recovered, along with evidence of tooth loss and abscess, making tooth decay as commonplace as bad hair among humans of the agricultural Neolithic age (Cohen 2007).
In short, consuming the seeds of grasses that began 10,000 years ago may have allowed us to survive another day, week, or month during times when foods we instinctively consumed over the preceding 2.5 million years fell into short supply. But this expedient represents a dietary pattern that comprises only 0.4%—less than one-half of 1%— of our time on earth. This change in dietary fortunes was accompanied by a substantial health price. From the standpoint of oral health, humans remained in the Dental Dark Ages from their first taste of porridge all the way up until recent times. History is rich with descriptions of toothaches, oral abscesses, stumbling and painful efforts to extract tainted teeth. Remember George Washington and his mouthful of wooden false teeth? It wasn’t until the twentieth century that modern dental hygiene was born and we finally managed to keep most of our teeth through adulthood.
Fast forward to the 21st century: Modern wheat now comprises 20% of all calories consumed by humans; the seeds of wheat, corn, and rice combined comprise 50% (World Health Organization). Yes, the seeds of grasses provide half of all human calories. We have become a grass seed-consuming species, a development enthusiastically applauded by agencies such as the USDA who advise us that increasing our consumption to 60% of calories or higher is a laudable dietary goal. It’s also a situation celebrated by all those people who trade grain on an international scale, since the seeds of grasses have the advantages of prolonged shelf life (months to years) that allow transoceanic shipment, ease of storage and extended shelf lives without refrigeration, and worldwide demand, all the traits desirable in a commoditized version of food, allowing such financial manipulations as buying and selling futures, hedges, and complex derivative instruments, the tools of mega-commerce. (Can’t do that with blueberries or Atlantic salmon.)
Examine the anatomy of a member of the species Homo sapiens and you cannot escape the conclusion that you are not a ruminant, have none of the adaptive digestive traits of such creatures, and can only consume the seeds of grasses—the food of desperation—by accepting compromises in health. But the seeds of grasses can be used to feed the masses cheaply, quickly, and on a massive scale, all while generating lots of profits for those who control the flow of these commoditized foods.
Shown above in the photograph, by the way, is a human adult skull dating from around 100,000 years before present recovered from the Fertile Crescent in what is now modern Israel. Note the full mouth of straight, intact teeth. (I snapped the photograph of this skull housed in the London Museum of Natural History.)