Saturday, April 27, 2013

Rapid PT Food Pyramid: The 7 Deadly Foods (Foods to Avoid)

UPDATED - 27 April 2013: I have updated the list of chemical additives that you should avoid.

This is the first of four posts that describe my Rapid PT Food Pyramid. This pyramid is the synthesis of everything that I've learned over the past four years. It combines perspectives from the Paleo, Primal, and traditional diet philosophies, as well as some of my other investigations (e.g., sports performance, optimal nutrition). Following this generalized diet outline should help you easily maintain a more ideal body weight, enjoy more energy, and possibly eliminate some/most of your current health problems (of course, the diet and lifestyle history of you and your family can limit how much you can reset your health).

My food pyramid is divided into four sections: Avoid, Minimal, Optional, and Foundational. It's basically designed so that the foods found at the bottom of the pyramid (Foundational) are eaten the most; those found at the top (Avoid) are eaten the least.

The Foods You Should AVOID
The Avoid section contains all the foods that you just shouldn't eat if you want to be healthy and fit (except for your cheat meals). It contains seven foods: Wheat, soy, gluten grains, refined sugar, chemical additives, high omega-6 oils, and trans fats. I like to call this group The 7 Deadly Foods because, from an evolutionary point-of-view, they are new to the human diet and (I believe) cause most of the diseases that plague Western societies.

Click here for larger image.
The main reason that I chose these seven foods is because they are associated with the negative consequences of the agricultural, industrial, and green revolutions. I will talk about these consequences in greater detail in a later post.  

Originally, when humans were hunter-gatherers, they ate a variety of meats, eggs, vegetables, and fruits. These early diets produced strong, healthy people.

About 10,000 years ago, a few humans in the Fertile Crescent started to cultivate wheat (and other grains), ushering in agriculture. While grains provided a storable form of food, it came at the expense of poor health and disease because it was a food that the human body was unfamiliar with. Although it took a while, grain-eating humans eventually adapted genetically to grains and figured out how to make them more nutritious and less toxic (through fermentation, sprouting, and soaking), allowing human health in these populations to eventually recover.

For thousands of years, human health wasn't too affected by older species of wheat (einkorn, emmer, and durum) because these species of wheat contained little gluten and were properly prepared. Then came the Green Revolution in the 1950s. A higher-yielding dwarf wheat was created to eliminate the many famines experienced at that time. This modern dwarf wheat slowly replaced the wheat traditionally grown and consumed for thousands of years.

Since then, wheat has been further modified to continue to increase its yield and baking qualities. An unfortunate consequence of all this modification was the creation of a wheat that now produces fewer nutrients and more gluten, starch, and lectin. Together, these three ingredients of modern wheat can cause: (1)
  • Autoimmune disease
  • A less robust gut barrier
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain syndromes
  • Increased appetite and hunger
  • Insulin resistance
  • Gut irritation
  • Leptin resistance
  • Poor nutrient absorption
To avoid these problems, just say no to wheat. While giving up bread can be hard (because it's engineered to be so delicious), there is nothing wheat can provide that you can't get from more nutrient-dense, less toxic foods like quality meats, eggs, vegetables, and fruit.

It's hard to limit all the evils of soy to a single paragraph, so I'll just summarize a list of its worst offenses: (2)
  • Allergens (soy is one of the top 8 allergens)
  • Goitrogens (damages the thyroid; slows metabolism)
  • Lectins (causes red blood cells to clump together and may cause immune system reactions [autoimmune reactions])
  • Oligosaccharides (sugars that cause bloating and flatulence)
  • Oxalates (prevents proper absorption of calcium and has been linked to kidney stones and a painful disease known as vulvodynia)
  • Phytates (impairs absorption of minerals such as zinc, iron, and calcium)
  • Isoflavones (plant estrogens that act like hormones and negatively affect the reproductive and nervous systems)
  • Protease Inhibitors (interferes with the digestive enzymes protease and trypsin, which can lead to gastric distress, poor protein digestion, and an overworked pancreas)
  • Saponins (binds to bile, which can lower cholesterol and damage the intestinal lining)
Just by looking at this impressive list of anti-nutrients and toxins, it seems that soy really, really doesn't want to be eaten. In fact, these anti-nutrients and toxins are so difficult to eliminate that even modern processing techniques--heavy chemicals, incredible pressures, and high temperatures--can't completely neutralize them all. (2) This means that anything that comes from soy will likely have some of these undesirable components.

To eliminate these anti-nutrients and toxins from your diet, avoid all unfermented soy (e.g., soy sauce, tofu, natto, tempeh, soy milk, soy formula, and soy cheese). Avoiding soy products will be difficult because food manufacturers are so good at hiding soy in your prepared foods. Check food labels for soy oil, protein, and lecithin, as well as textured vegetable protein (TVP), textured plant protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), vegetable protein concentrate, MSG (monosodium glutamate), vegetable oil, natural flavor, and mono-diglyceride.

Gluten Grains
For people suffering from celiac disease, gluten can be deadly. In these individuals, gluten can do so much damage to their digestive system that their intestines become "leaky," preventing proper nutrient absorption and allowing undigested (or partially digested) dietary proteins into their blood stream. Once inside the body, these proteins can appear like hormones or cause a destructive immune response. Consequently, someone who eats gluten and is unaware that they have celiacs disease has very high odds of dying prematurely. (1)

But those with celiac disease aren't the only ones who suffer from exposure to gluten. It is estimated that 10-30 percent of the general population is gluten sensitive, and this number is rising every year. When these sensitive individuals are exposed to gluten, they can experience gut irritation, an aggressive immune response, or impaired nutrient absorption; some simply suffer from fatigue or have no obvious symptoms.

Everyone sensitive to gluten has to avoid any food that contains gluten. That means that anything that contains wheat, kamut, spelt, barley, rye, malts, triticale, or oats has to be removed from their diet before they can experience any relief.

Because wheat and gluten products are used in so many prepared foods, avoiding gluten can be as hard as avoiding soy. You have to look at food labels and avoid wheat products like bran, malt, brewer's yeast, farina, semolina, hydrolyzed protein, and hydrolyzed starch.

If you want to eat a grain that is relatively non-toxic, eat cooked white rice (I don't suggest brown rice because it contains phytates and needs to be fermented before use).

Refined Sugar and Fructose
Highly refined sweeteners--like sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and corn sugar--contain no nutrients, provide nothing but easily-digestible calories, and can make overeating (and becoming overweight) way too easy. For some reason, the human brain has a hard time controlling appetite when highly-refined carbohydrates are consumed.

Refined fructose is especially damaging to the body. Because most of the cells in the human body can't use fructose directly, excessive consumption of any sweetener that contains refined fructose can harm the liver, which has to convert almost all fructose into glycogen or fatty acids before it can be used by the body.

And whole fruits are NOT lumped into this group just because they contain fructose. While fruits do contain fructose, they also contain water, fiber, and other nutrients, which limits how fast the sugar in fruit can be absorbed. Studies have also shown that even high intakes of fruit (around three pounds per day) does not have a negative affect on health. (3) So, if you do not experience weight change when eating fruit (which happens with some people), then feel free to eat at least 3-5 servings of fruit per day.

For those who need to use sweeteners, don't use artificial sweeteners to replace refined sweeteners. Instead, switch to using small amounts of raw honey or real maple syrup (not the fake maple syrup that has maple syrup "flavor," chemical preservatives, and HFCS, corn syrup, or corn sugar in it).

Chemical Additives
Any food that has to appear to stay fresh while waiting for customer purchase is usually loaded with natural and artificial chemical additives. These additives include taste enhancers, preservatives, food dyes, and artificial sweeteners. None of these additives are required for your health (many are known or suspected to be harmful); they are only added to help food manufacturers sell their foodstuffs.

I'm not going to go into every chemical additive that you should avoid (that would make for a pretty long post). Instead, I'll list the top 16 additives that I think you should avoid (for an explanation why, read this blog post):
  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • Artificial Colorings
  • Artificial or Natural Flavors
  • Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)
  • Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)
  • Gluten
  • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
  • Refined Fructose Sweeteners
  • Partially/Fully Hydrogenated Oils
  • Potassium Bromate
  • Sodium Benzoate
  • Sodium Silicoaluminate
  • Vitamin and Mineral Enrichment
  • Sulfites
  • THBQ
You don't have to just avoid these 16. It's good idea to avoid all foods that contain or require chemical additives. Humans didn't evolve eating these additives, so who knows what they are doing to your body. Remember: Real food doesn't have chemical additives.

High Omega-6 Oils
Omega-3 (n-3) and Omega-6 (n-6) are both essential fatty acids (you need them in very small amounts to live). Generally, n-3 is anti-inflammatory and n-6 is pro-inflammatory. To be healthy, you only need to consume about 1.6 grams of each of these essential fats everyday. It has also been established that an n-6:n-3 ratio of less than 4:1 is considered healthy (a ratio of 1:1 is more ideal).

More than 10,000 years ago, when humans consumed food from natural sources (e.g., meats, eggs, vegetables, and fruit), they would get small amounts of these fatty acids in a very balanced ratio (probably less than 2:1). (3) However, after the second industrial revolution, manufacturers found ways to extract edible oils from new sources: Vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Within 100 years, these new oils started to replace traditional oils like butter and lard. Unfortunately, unlike traditional oils, these new oils usually contain a boatload of omega-6 and very little omega-3.

Why should you be concerned with consuming excessive omega-6? Eating too much omega-6 (and not enough omega-3) causes body-wide inflammation and has been connected to heart disease, thrombotic stroke, arrhythmia, arthritis, osteoporosis, mood disorders, obesity, and cancer. (4)

Simply raising your omega-3 intake through supplementation is not the right way to fix this problem. It's best to lower your omega-6 intake. The easiest way to go about lowering your intake of omega-6 is to avoid vegetable, nut, and seed oils, as well as eating more fish.

Man-Made Trans Fats
Because unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, these oils have to be hydrogenated to make them hard. Man-made trans fats are created when these unsaturated oils (like soybean or canola oil) are hydrogenated. It seems that these artificially created trans fats are not processed in the human body like natural trans fats, making them unhealthy. (5)

Since the 1950s, trans fat consumption has been associated with heart disease. Lately, it has also been associated with Alzheimer's disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, liver dysfunction, infertility in women, and depression. (5)

If you want to avoid trans fats, just read food labels. If you see any oil in the ingredients list that has either partially or fully hydrogenated fat in it, avoid that food.

To make it easier to get the best possible PT score, your objective should always be to eat the most nutrient-dense, least toxic foods available. Anything that provides too little nutrition, or too many anti-nutrients or toxins, should be eliminated from your diet. For those eating the typical American diet, the best way to instantly improve the nutrients you are getting every day is to eliminate The 7 Deadly FoodsWheat, soy, gluten grains, sugar, chemical additives, high omega-6 oils, and trans fats.   

1. Braly, James and Hoggan, Ron. Dangerous Grains. New York : Penguin Group (USA), 2002.
2. Daniel, Kaayla T. The Whole Soy Story. Washington, D.C. : NewTrends Publishing, Inc., 2005.
3. Lindeberg, Staffan. Food and Western Disease. Ames, Iowa : John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2010.
4. n−3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, inflammation, and inflammatory diseases. Calder, Philil. 6, s.l. : American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (American Society for Nutrition), 2006, Vol. 83.
5. Trans Fat - History. [Online] [Cited: January 30, 2012.]


  1. Under chemical additives you list Astaxanthin- I thought this was a very potent antioxidant found in fish? My husband takes this as a supplement. Please advise.

  2. Cedar Widow,

    Thanks for the comment!

    This article is a bit old and I have to update it with the post I recently wrote listing the 16 chemical additives that you should avoid (which doesn't include astaxanthin). The list found in this post came from

    After doing a bit more research today, I couldn't find anything negative about astaxanthin and it seems that it is an excellent antioxidant that can help prevent UVA damage while you are exposed to sunlight. So your husband should keep taking it.

  3. Bryan, I just met you today at the gym. Good information here. I was a little surprised you include oats in your list of evils. Is this mainly for people who have severe reactions? I tend to eat oatmeal daily with fruit and walnuts and haven't seen any problems (admit that doesn't mean they won't occur in time). BTW, enjoyed the dialogue this AM. Scott

  4. Scott,
    I included oats because they may be processed with other gluten grains, which can create problems for those with a gluten sensitivity. For those who are not sensitive, oats are usually fine. That being said, they may still cause problems that you don't link to oats. You can try to exclude them from your diet for 30 days to see if you notice a difference (good or bad). If you don't notice any problems, then I wouldn't worry about eating them.

    Ditto on the talk this morning. And I apologize if I talked a bit too much. I love talking shop and when I get started it's hard to stop.


    1. Hi Bryan. I accidentally mistook your link for the Whole30 so deciding which plan to try. The one described in your blog seems the purest but I'm wondering if it's even realistic considering time, expense, and portion requirements, (unless I decided to juice the vegetables) Do you have suggested weekly meal plans with grocery lists? Are portions for men or women? Is there an updated plan?

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