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Ponder This: Grains, Robots, and Zombies!

by Sean Croxton

Class is in session!

‘Tis the season to lie in bed and get my read on! These past three or four weeks I’ve had my head in the books. I read Deep Nutrition by Cate Shanahan M.D. three times and can’t wait to read it again. That book is a masterpiece, in my opinion. When I was sick as a dog in the Bay Area, I read Robb Wolf’s Paleo Solution and reread Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint. Then I moved on to Genetic Nutritioneering by Jeffrey Bland. And now, I’m just about done with Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudus. My mind is literally spinning with all of this great information!

In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell states, “…researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.” In other words, to be a true expert you have to spend at least 10,000 hours studying your craft. If I had to guess, I would figure that I’ve put in about 6343 hours. I’ve got a long way to go.

Despite all of those hours, I’m always amazed by how new pieces of information can make me rethink what I once believed to be true. I could probably write a bunch of separate blogs about each of the ideas and concepts running through my brain right now. Actually, I will. But today I’ll try to keep it brief and let you in on what I’m pondering.

Here goes!

As nutritionists, we’ve been taught to believe that glucose is the primary source of fuel by all of the body’s cells. This is extremely hard for me to believe. If it were true, the Ice Age would have been the end for us all. Carbs don’t grow on ice. Try telling an Eskimo that he needs more carbs! In fact, the only cells in the body that actually require glucose are our red blood cells and some areas of the brain. The rest of the body, including the heart, liver, kidneys, and majority of the brain, runs more efficiently on ketones. In other words, the vast majority of our bodies run better on fats! This makes a ton of sense when you consider that for the last 90-95% of human history carbs were hard to come by. Grains are a relatively new food (if you wanna call them that). Even the fruits our ancestors sparingly consumed were nowhere near as sweet and sugary as they are today. Just why on Earth our Creator (God, Mother Nature, the aliens, whoever!) would put us on a planet with so few sources of dietary glucose while at the same time making glucose the supposed primary source of cellular energy really makes little sense to me.

This brings to mind the ridiculous (in my opinion) idea that low-carb diets are causing adrenal exhaustion. The foundation on which this stands is shaky to say the least. The idea is that since so few carbs are coming in, the adrenals have to keep cranking out adrenaline and cortisol in order to keep blood sugar propped up. If this were the case, our meat-eating, low-carbing ancestors would have been royally screwed. Their adrenals must have been a mess! Consequently, they must have had horrendous thyroid function, chronic fatigue, insomnia, and major libido issues. That doesn’t sound a whole lot like the “superhuman” natives written about by the explorers and missionaries, and of course, Weston Price.

At the same time, I do agree that the adrenals can be negatively impacted by low-carbing it. But the impact is transitory. Since we’re a grain- and sugar-addicted society, our metabolisms have shifted away from fat-burning and morphed into fat-storing and sugar-burning by way of insulin and leptin resistance. If you’ve ever tried to switch from a high-carb to a low-carb diet, you were probably hit with a big can of SUCK! You were irritated. You craved sugar. You were tired and listless. Part of that was due to grain and sugar withdrawal. But you were also going through a shift in metabolism. And this shift does not happen overnight. It can take several days, even weeks to switch over to using fat (ketones) as your primary energy source. In the meantime, your body is freaking out wondering where in the hell the glucose went. This is stressful and will crank up the adrenals. But again, it’s transitory. Once the metabolic shift occurs, the adrenals calm down. Actually, the adrenals will be better off since they no longer have to deal with your frequent blood sugar swings from having cereal bars for breakfast, Subway for lunch, and pasta for dinner.

I say the proof is in the pudding! I’ve switched a lot of clients over to low-carb diets and haven’t seen a single one come up with worsened Adrenal Stress Index scores upon retesting. All I see are a lot of people feeling a whole lot better and losing a whole lot of weight once they make it through the SUCK phase.

Speaking of carbs, I’m beginning to rethink grains. Not just gluten-containing grains, but ALL grains. Yes, gluten is a major problem, but why are lectins getting a free pass? Lectins are a component of all grains and they’re not broken down by the normal digestive process. These guys not only damage the gut lining, but once they make it into the bloodstream (they get through intact), they are recognized as foreign invaders and the immune system mounts a defense against them. In the long run this can create autoimmune issues. Not good! Again, lectins are in ALL grains.

Now I can hear the Weston A. Price folks (I love you all!) admonishing me for such blasphemy. The wonderful people Dr. Price visited in the Loetschental Valley did eat whole rye bread. Absolutely true. But that was a long time ago. And those folks more than likely were birthed by healthy mothers, were breast fed, and had the proper nourishment to build strong intestinal barriers. Times have changed. There is no doubt that we live in an immuno-compromised society. Eighty-percent of the immune system resides in the gut. That would mean that we as modern people have some pretty jacked up digestive systems. We don’t have as much room for error as the people Price observed. One of the tests I run in my Functional Diagnostic Nutrition practice is an Intestinal Barrier Function Screen, which gives me a huge window into the gut. I haven’t seen a normal one in the three years I’ve been running them.

Again, none of this stuff is set in stone. It’s just what I’ve been pondering lately. I’ll let my research play itself out and see where it takes me. Any and all of your comments are appreciated. Let’s learn together!

Perfect segue! I was going to write a dedicated blog about this next topic, but I figure a couple paragraphs here will suffice. It’s about what I call Zombies. You may have heard me use the term “Paul Chek Robots” at one point or another on Facebook. These are the peeps who repeat everything Paul says without taking the time to ponder what they think themselves. I’m as guilty as the next robot. If you watch my old YouTube videos, you’re hearing Paul Chek. I would memorize parts of his You Are What You Eat CD-series (great info, by the way) and just repeat them in front of my webcam. In fact, I’ve been a Bill Wolcott robot. Reed Davis robot. Josh Rubin robot. I’ve even run into some Sean Croxton robots. Weird!

Learning is a process. It happens in stages. For most people, one of those stages consists of putting all of our eggs in one basket or one person. This can be an awesome experience until you run into another “guru” saying something completely different. At this point, you go through a state of confusion and don’t know what to think about anything. It can be quite frustrating. I’ve been there. I still go through it. Haven’t you been reading this blog! For example, Ray Peat says fish oil is bad. Weston A. Price and just about everyone else says it’s good. Who’s right? Well, it’s really up to you. This is where you do your due diligence and see what argument YOU resonate with. You also see what works for you. This is the art of being a true student of the nutrition game. No one is 100% correct about everything. There are no health and wellness Yodas out there with all of the answers. You just keep chopping away at those 10,000 hours and see where it takes you. It’s a fun, confusing journey. Just keep your mind open and everything will work itself out. But the worst thing to be is a Zombie. Like Timothy Leary said, “Question authority and think for yourself.” Sometimes you’ll be wrong. Sometimes you’ll be right. It’s all part of the game. I’m 6343 hours deep and I’m still going through it.

Never stop learning.

Damn, this blog was long! Thanks for reading!


Sean Croxton



19 thoughts on “Ponder This: Grains, Robots, and Zombies!

  1. Naief Medina

    Wow! Awesome Stuff! Personally, I have come to the conclusion that my job as a coach to my clients is to help them find what works for THEM. Can’t wait for the UW youtube if it is more of this stuff.

  2. maxkon

    Great blog. Don’t forget that the native people were also getting a lot more exercise than most people these days. That meant they burnt off all the glucose from the carbs like rye bread pretty quick. However if you eat some carbs, and then just sit around you never give your body a chance to run on ketones.
    Even though you say following a guru is bad, you’re still my favorite. Been following you for 2 years now. I like how you can admit you’re wrong. And how you present different opinions on some things, you give us reason to think, and you give sources so we can check it out if we want more info. Kinda like a reader’s digest for health and wellness.

  3. Mae

    I loved this post. It’s important to chew on our information 🙂 And I mean CHEW. I have been consulting with a nutritionist for 2.5 years, and we often talk about how individual the chemistry is in each member of my family (even though we are under one roof). There is no one size fits all, but we can do our best to learn so we can find the right fit for ourselves and loved ones. The journey started 2.5 years ago…it’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as hours go! Love it though…keep on keeping on!!!

  4. Austin Robinson

    What do you think about Price’s mentioning of the Dinka in addition to the inhabitants of the Loetschental Valley ?They ate grains and apparently the san/bushmen are also adopting maize “gruels”. I agree grains may not be optimal. However they are surely better than the SAD version. as well as more cost effective for families and individuals on a budget. Thanks for the post

  5. Ahmed

    Awesome article Sean. I agree up to a certain extent about low carb and the adrenals, sans the extremists.

    I read Matt Stone too, and there are a lot of carnivores (near 0 carb, just meat/organs) that start having serious problems after a couple months.

    On the contrary, cruise across the paleo/primal forums, and their are a lot of people feeling amazing.

    But like you said, just gotta listen to your body. Everyone’s different!

  6. ian

    this one site i found on gut healht has a few tests you can take, if you eat beats and your bowel movement or urine turns red, its a sign that your deigestive enzymes are not strong enough, they recomend femented foods to help strengthen digestion-

    speakin of learning and growing, you are the first nutritionis to shape my views, not from my belief, but from living what you taught and feeling good, but a second i person i enjoy reading and learning from is a raw vegan, who happens to hold a phd in the way blood operated in our body,

  7. Jan

    I’m very interested to see where this will lead you (us).
    I heard about Winston A. Price just resently and just finished the book “Eat Fat, Lose Fat” by Mary Enig end Sally Fallon. For the past 6 months I have been consuming coconut oil (you brought that to my attention in your video on youtube) and I’ve now switched from margerine to real butter. Also (for the winter) I take cod liver oil (pure fish oil 1000 mg. in the summer).
    I totally agree with you that losing weight will not be accomplished by not eating.
    However, as you say “the proof is in the pudding”, I’m still not 100% convinced that I will be losing weight by eating more fat.
    We will find out in time though…

    Loved your video’s,

    Jan Postma

  8. Geny

    I’ve learned so much this year alone about healing, nutrition, lifestyle changes, and really ME inside out. The wheel started cranking when I got to know you, Sean. It’s true that in the end, we have to decide for ourselves what works best for us individually, which resonates the most. Even now, I’m still learning and experimenting with food that can trigger me to change moods, digestion, and overall, how I feel. We never stop learning, and we’re never out of school. And Deep Nutrition is a very good book. Thanks for this awesome blog and for recommending good books! I hope to finish Deep Nutrition before the new year 🙂

  9. Anna D

    Thank you Sean! Awesome post! I have been very suspicious of all the grains myself lately especially after reading Barry Groves ‘Trick and Treat’. I am loving every post you write here. You are really good at this and your enthusiasm is so catchy! Looking forward to the next piece of news!!!

  10. Kim

    You make lots of great points, Sean. I admire your continuous thirst for more information. You’ll hit that 10,000 hours in no time, brother.

    One of the things I like about Jimmy Moore is he constantly says that we must figure out what works for us. I also like that he, like you, has guests on the radio show that have differing points of view. We must all take in the multitude of alternative information, digest it and figure out what works for us.

    Personally, I’m a nutrition blog addict – I read countless different blogs daily (from Paleo, to WAP-friendly, to low-carb, to alternative wellness). On many issues, there are differing points of view, but I like the mental challenge of working through the information and figuring out what will work for me and what fits into my belief systems. I’m trying to read a lot of books, too. I just bought Deep Nutrition on your recommendation. Just need to find time to read it (hard with a 1 year old).

    Keep on blogging, Sean. I’ve been enjoying hearing your voice in this new modality.

  11. matthew

    What level of fitness have you achieved on this type of diet? I for one would like to see some performance results.

    I agree with you as far as the grain damage; but guys like Micheal Arnstein (The Fruitarian), Tim Van Orden and Harley Johnstone (as well as ALL of Dr. Doug Graham’s 80/10/10 All-Stars) are getting actual, factual results where they are excelling in their athletic fields (cycling, stair and snowshoe racing, marathon/ultra marathon running, etc.)

    I would personally rather see some long term results first, whilst doing what both heart and head (logic) agrees with, period.

  12. Elyze

    Sorry to see Super Banana’s comment taken down.

    Nevertheless, this blog post is in error on a few counts.

    It’s very odd to hear arguments about glucose not being the primary fuel source for humans. It is. It always has been evolutionarily. Glucose is the primary fuel source for all living things, for the most part. We are certainly not the exception to this.

    The fact that the brain requires it should set off alarm bells for most of us, but apparently not all of us. Also to say something like “the rest of the body runs more efficiently on ketones” is quite troubling for two reasons:
    1. What was probably intended to be said was that the body runs more efficiently on FATTY ACIDS. The reason for this is simple: More ATP per atom of carbon can be obtained by oxidizing fats for energy than either glucose or amino acids. So this IS true. And this is why…the body’s major fuel source is indeed fat. But there is a difference between primary, and major.
    2. How ridiculous is it to say that ketones are preferred in the rest of the body when having just stated a few words earlier that…red blood cells are powered by glucose. Last time I checked….in order to get nutrients, oxygen, remove waste, etc, from EVERY SINGLE type of tissue in the human body…we require red blood cells.

    It’s just a very poorly thought out argument. I’m sorry for all those that listen to this and then become themselves…”robots” as Sean puts it.

    No. The body doesn’t prefer to burn ketones for energy. It CAN do this…and you know when it does this? When in a state of starvation. And there are side effects to it. Just look up ketoacidosis if you do not think prolonged ketosis is harmful.

    Now, it is true that fat is a major fuel source. But let’s think about something really quick. Fat is only good, so long as it is not producing ketone byproducts.
    Ketones leave the body in an acidic state. The longer you stay in ketosis, the higher your risk of negative effects.
    Fats are great, so long as they are burning cleanly. Same with proteins. With proteins (amino acid catabolism) this process is NEVER a clean process because when you break down amino acids for energy (which the body never wants to do unless…you guessed it…it’s starved), the byproduct is ammonia, and then uric acid. With fats however, there are times when they can burn cleanly, and times when they create toxic byproducts.

    From any nutritional textbook or biochemistry textbook, one can figure out very quickly this simple fact: fats require carbs in order to burn properly.

    Here’s a direct quote for instance from a standard nutrition textbook:

    “In addition to its role in energy production, the citric acid cycle provides compounds that leave the cycle and enter biosynthetic pathways. This results in a slowing of the cycle, as eventually not enough oxaloacetate is formed to combine with the acetyl-CoA entering the cycle. Cells are able to compensate for this by synthesizing additional oxaloacetate. One potential source of this additional oxaloacetate is pyruvate. Thus, as fatty acids create acetyl-CoA, carbohydrates (e.g., glucose) are needed to keep the concentration of pyruvate high enough to resupply oxaloacetate to the citric acid cycle. Overall, the entire pathway for fatty acid oxidation works better when carbohydrate is available.”

    This is copy pasted from the online version of the book. Mine I have in my hand here actually says:
    We could say that “fats burn in a fire of carbohydrate,” since the entire pathway for fatty acid oxidation works better when carbohydrate is available.

    Now, in addition to all this…here’s the funny thing. Glucose is SO important as a fuel source, that the body has found ways of producing it from a whole variety of sources. Yes. It will produce glucose even from protein if it is forced to do so. This is called REDUNDANCY.

    In nature…REDUNDANCY is almost always synonymous with being IMPORTANT or VITAL. The more redundant something is, the more vital. In the brain, we have COUNTLESS redundant arteries that supply the same area from different outlets. Why? Because if one gets blocked up, the other supply line can compensate. Redundancy.

    The argument that begins “tell an eskimo they need their carbs…etc etc” is a really bad way to start off. Tell a person living in a tropical rainforest that they need animal fat and carcass and they’ll look at you just the same as the aforementioned eskimo.

    Let’s stick to science and reason, not extrapolating to the general public based on what eskimos do. If I lived in the cold, wintery north I would have to make do with what I had as well. I would eat as they do. And I would get the results they get. Average lifespan of 50 years, harsh life, etc.

    Anyone here who read this blog post and is convinced by it…I hope you do more research. Ask yourself when you are researching also: “Am I searching for truth, or am I searching for reasons to justify what I do.”

    Peace and health.

  13. tone

    @elyze – thanks for the factual information, but you lost me at ‘standard nutrition textbook’……

  14. Peter

    I am now a strong believer that a long term ketogenic diet is adrenal suicide; maybe not for all, but for some. I was on low carb for 2 years. During the first year I felt great, yet I quickly went downhill in the matter of a couple of days. My digestion sucked. Every time I went to the bathroom I would have diarrhea and blood. Every time I ate I would just get hungrier and hungrier, literally no matter how much I ate. I was craving more carbs on a daily basis. I was tired every second of the day, yawning all the time. I suspected adrenal fatigue at this point, started taking Vitamin B, C, adaptogenic herbs, and continued with my low carb diet because it supposedly was supposed to keep the adrenals healthy.
    It certainly did not, my problems kept getting worse and worse and worse until I finally added carbs back in. Yes, boatloads of refined carbs like pasta and sugar. Within a day my digestion was pretty much normal and I was not hungry every minute of the day, despite the fact that carbs “make blood sugar go crazy”. Although my energy wasn’t the best it kept getting better and better with each day.
    I’m now eating a more balanced diet of about 150 carbs (yes, even the deathly grains) a day with ample protein and fat.
    The suggestion that the low carb diet is universally healthy is pure garbage. I now don’t believe in saying that an entire macronutrient is intrinsically evil. Moderation is definitely the key to healthy living. We’re living in the 21st century, not the paleolithic era. It is going to be convenient to eat fast food sometimes. We are going to want to have cake and ice cream once in a while.
    People are too extreme. One piece of cake is not going to screw up your adrenals for the next 3 weeks. Common sense, people!

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