“F” in Reading Comprehension.

I have realized something really, really disturbing.

Outright lies are published on a daily basis.

This applies to government entities publishing research reviews. (See Dietary Guidelines for Americans here and the demolishment of DGA here. I also wrote about this issue in this post.)

It applies to well-respected scientists and study-conducting departments of revered universities. (See an open letter to the President of the American Physical Society here.)

It applies to the general news media most of all. This New York Times article, titled “New Evidence for Flour in Stone-Age Diet,” uses a dirty little trick I like to call “saying things that make no sense but acting like they lead to an inevitable conclusion so hopefully my reader is dumb enough to just believe everything I say.”

Not that I’ve ever used this trick.

In particular, the New York Times article states that, by evaluation of the PNAS paper, “new research indicates [early man’s] diet may have been more balanced after all.”

First, the statement makes assumptions about what comprises a “balanced diet.” This leading statement sets the tone for the conclusion the reader is nudged toward – that grain-eating is in some way “balanced.”

Then, the author says that “researchers had assumed people living in Europe thousands of years ago ate mainly meat because of bones left behind, and little evidence of plant food.”

Sounds like a reasonable scientific “assumption” to me. (For a more reasonably composed, less leading write-up on the PNAS paper, check this out.)

Next, the NYT author references the “grains” – cattails and ferns – that were found at these ancient sites. They “are rich in starch and would have provided a good source of carbohydrates and energy.” While there is proof elsewhere of actual starch consumption – this point is not debated – it’s worth noting that ground cattail has long been used for its medicinal properties.

At this point, if we dismiss qualifying words like “balanced,” and “good,” which color the message in the same way other articles referencing the same PNAS paper did, (Like this one, which concludes based on the PNAS paper that early man ate bread) we can conclude that early man ate some stuff. If you’d like to buy this, you can read all about how early man ate stuff. All kinds of stuff – but mostly protein.

Brilliant, right? The food – Cattail, roots and seeds specifically (PNAS chart viewable here, and in the pay-to-access paper) – may not have been eaten frequently in one region because, according to the paper, “the occurrence of this plant is only occasionally recorded in the area.” In another region, the PNAS quotes that the use of flour is “in accordance with the floral richness of the site.” Again – early man ate stuff that was available to eat. This, in my opinion, still counts as the “gatherer” section of “hunter-gatherer.”

Note: “Flour” can be anything ground up. It does not mean wheat flour, and it certainly does not mean bread as we know it today as this brilliant work of journalism nudges us to conclude in reference to the “Paleo Diet.”

Quoth Reuters:

The findings may also upset fans of the Paleolithic diet, which follows earlier research that assumes early humans ate a meat-centered diet.

Also known as the caveman diet, the regime frowns on carbohydrate-laden foods like bread and cereal, and modern-day adherents eat only lean meat, vegetables and fruit.”

I am upset. But not by this study. I’m upset because the emails I got from six people saying “SEE? I can eat bread and cereal!” were spurred by such horrendous journalism as this. Waste. Of. My. Time.

The NYT article I first mentioned links to the badly summarized paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences…or, at least, it appears to. Upon clicking the link, one finds this. It actually took me some time to actually find, then purchase, the referenced PNAS paper. Here it is, if you’d like to pay for it.

The PNAS paper isn’t electrifying. It indicates that inhabitants of the referenced sites ground up what now appears to be “organic residue, probably of vegetable origin.” These appear to be “mainly [narrow-leaf] cattail rhizomes.” Those grains not in “a poor state of preservation” were stated to possibly belong to Gramineae (basically, grasses)…and it pushes back the recorded likewise starch consumption about 10,000 years.

Not, in my opinion, a revelation – but nonetheless, in looking at one referenced site:

“The [starch grains] may be tentatively attributed to Botrychioum (moonworts), a fern that was widespread around the site and is characterized by a starch-rich root that is easy to grind.

We once again find proof that man ate what was available in his region. Not unlike what we do today, eh? – and, if we want to draw an erroneous connection from this finding to our current consumption of mass-produced grain products (wheat), we are still no healthier for it. But the paper intends to shed light on man’s use of tools and ground-up plant matter, not on the overall proportion of his diet or what kept him healthy and vital – and this paper certainly does not set out to prove that earlier man’s diet was bread-heavy as this article would have you believe.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put down my Coconut PaleoKit, go grind up some cattail and make myself a sammich.

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2 Comments to ““F” in Reading Comprehension.”

  1. Hey! I can eat bread and cereal!

    Kidding. Promise. 😉 Still working on getting all of that stuff out of my diet, but I’m sticking with what you told me to eat as the ultimate goal.

    Also, today I had my FIRST FULL CROSSFIT WOD!!!!!!!!!!! It was the “Avatar” WOD, which I will reproduce here in case you don’t (or Justin Bieber doesn’t) know it offhand:

    400m run
    4 rounds of 10 pull-ups and 20 squats
    500m row
    4 rounds of 10 kettlebell swings and 20 double-unders
    400m run
    4 rounds of 10 HPCs and 20 barbell jumps

    I only did 3 rounds, and I did jumping pull-ups, scaled weight, and fewer double-unders, AND I still finished last…but I did the WHOLE DAMN THING. (And then proceeded to almost fall over, lol.) I’m still coughing and not wanting to move much…but emotionally I feel like a million bucks. The longest journey begins with a single step, and that step just happened. I’m doing this. I’m DOING it! And I have a certain CaveGirl to thank for it. You rock, Liz. 😀

    • James – so proud! You ROCK! Crossfit is a long, fun, ever-changing journey and there’s no feeling of accomplishment like the one you get from sticking out a tough WOD! I can’t wait to hear more from you!
      And when you cook a Paleo meal you love, share it! I’ll put it up on the site!

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