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Food Allergies and Food Intolerances Reveal The True Human Diet

Eight foods account for over 90% of food allergies in the United States.


There are four types of allergic hypersensitivity, unhelpfully called Type I through Type IV. When we think of ‘allergies’, we generally think of Type I reactions, which involve mast cells and result in symptoms like asthma, hives, and anaphylaxis. Indeed, type I allergies are the subject of this article.

(Note that immunoglobulins will only bond to proteins under normal circumstances. This is why allergies to fruit or vegetables are rare, and why most allergies are to foods high in protein.)

Until recently, the medical community basically refused to acknowledge the other three types of hypersensitivity, despite their presence in every undergraduate microbiology textbook. (If you’ve ever had poison oak or poison ivy, you’ve had a Type IV reaction.) Fortunately, this is slowly changing, and IgG-mediated Type III hypersensitivity is slowly being accepted and tests developed.

You can read this page from the microbiology textbook “Through The Microscope” for a detailed breakdown of all four types of allergic hypersensititivy.

On a hunch, I decided to find out when each of these eight foods was first eaten by humans.

  • Dairy – First unequivocal evidence for consumption c. 7000 years ago in Europe, although since it’s associated with modern pastoralists like the Maasai, it may be somewhat older.
  • Soy – First domesticated in China c. 5000 years ago, first grown outside southeast Asia c. 2000 years ago. First grown in Europe and America in the 18th century.
  • Gluten (wheat and related grains) – Grains were first domesticated in the Middle East, c. 12000 years ago…but agriculture didn’t spread beyond the Middle East until c. 5000 years ago.
  • Peanut – First domesticated c. 7600 years ago in Peru. Confined to South and Central America until the 16th century, when European traders spread them around the world. (Note that the peanut is actually a legume, like the soybean.)
  • Shellfish – c. 160,000 years ago, South Africa. (Link.)
  • Fish – c. 160,000 years ago, South Africa. (Ibid.)
  • Tree nut – All common tree nut allergies are, without exception, to trees not native to Africa (walnuts, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts), and modern humans didn’t leave Africa until c. 60,000 years ago. Allergies to native African nuts, such as kola nuts (found in Coca-Cola), and palm nuts (from which palm oil is made), are rare.
  • Egg – Always prized, but rarely available until domestication of fowl c. 9500 years ago in Asia. Domestic egg production arrived in Egypt c. 3500 years ago, and Greece c. 2800 years ago.

Here’s a fact you can annoy your friends with: of the commonly eaten ‘nuts’, only chestnuts, hazelnuts, and filberts are true botanical nuts. Like ‘vegetable’, ‘nut’ is a culinary term in common usage.

Next we look at intolerance. Food intolerance is much more prevalent than food allergy, and stem either from an inability to digest or an immune reaction in the gut. Here are the two most common—and they’re both already on the list!

  • Dairy (lactose intolerance) – While approximately 5% of Europeans are lactose intolerant, the figure rises to 75% for Africans and 100% for Native Americans. (Link.) (Note, however, that butter, being essentially pure butterfat with minor impurities, is well-tolerated by everyone without frank allergy.)
  • Gluten – known as celiac disease in its severest forms. Prevalence of anti-gluten/anti-gliadin antibodies is approximately 1% in the USA, and substantially higher for relatives of sufferers. (Note that wheat most likely has adverse health effects for everyone, not just the frankly celiac. More references here.)

Conclusion: Neolithic Foods Are The Most Allergenic

In general, the more recently a food was added to the human diet, the more likely it is that we will be allergic to it or intolerant of it. The most common adult allergies and intolerances are to dairy, gluten grains, and legumes like peanuts and soy: Neolithic foods that we’ve only eaten for a few thousand years. Non-African tree nuts, fish, and shellfish are Middle Paleolithic, but still a relatively recent addition (proto-humans split from chimps and bonobos 6-7 million years ago.) The only exception is eggs, and egg allergy almost exclusively affects children—most of whom outgrow it by age seven.

More importantly: what foods aren’t on the list?
Meat, vegetables, root starches, and fruits.

We know that vegetables and fruits have essentially no protein, and are therefore unlikely to trigger allergies. Root starches are very low in protein. But meat isn’t just full of protein: meat is protein! (And fat.)

So why isn’t meat on the list?
Because that’s what humans are supposed to eat!

How many people do you know who are allergic to red meat? Most likely zero. That’s because red meat has been a major component of the human diet since long before we were human: even chimpanzees, from which we diverged 6-7 million years ago, hunt, kill, and eat colobus monkeys! Any human who had an allergy to red meat was selected out of the gene pool long ago.

“I estimate that in some years, the 45 chimpanzees of the main study community at Gombe kill and consume more than 1500 pounds of prey animals of all species.” [That’s over 33 pounds of meat per year, per chimp. And if you have a strong stomach, you can watch this video of chimps hunting and eating a colobus monkey.]
“When we ask the question “when did meat become an important part of the human diet ?,” we must therefore look well before the evolutionary split between apes and humans in our own family tree.”The Predatory Behavior and Ecology of Wild Chimpanzees, Dr. Craig B. Stanford, Department of Anthropology, USC

And that’s why grass-fed red meat forms the backbone of a paleo diet.

Live in freedom, live in beauty.


Am I informing you, enraging you, or making you laugh? Got a question? Talk to me! Leave a comment.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy “How Glaciers Might Have Made Us Human” and “That’s Not Food! Reflections on Restaurant Eating”. If you’re interested in the paleo diet but aren’t sure what it’s about, try my motivational guide “Eat Like A Predator”. And if you’ve read several articles and are still here, odds are good you’ll also enjoy my novel The Gnoll Credo.


Permalink: Food Allergies and Food Intolerances Reveal The True Human Diet
  • Bodhi

    Thanks for another educational blog post. I knew people had allergies to shellfish, but I didn’t realize that fish were a problem for so many people. I guess that shoots another hole in the “Aquatic Ape Theory”. Why are we hairless anyways? I guess you can answer that question for me on another blog post. I also didn’t know that only the three nuts you listed above were “true” nuts. I knew that cashews were the seed of a fruit but I didn’t know that about pecans, walnuts, and etc. You didn’t list nightshades in your article and they seem to be a problem for a lot of people, myself included. I know they are a New World plant and were not included in the human diet until recently.

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  • Chris

    I’ve always enjoyed your posts, and wait to read them every Tuesday. Thanks for all the information!

    I am curious about one point in this article though. Dairy. All of the studies (including the link to WikiPedia) use pasteurized dairy – and from experience I’ve seen people who are lactose intolerent have no reaction to raw dairy. Any thoughts?

  • tracker

    I think we may tolerate raw dairy better, despite whatever the commercial milk industry would have us believe. Most of my ancestors came from Europe, but I have Native American in my family tree too, so milk, the kind you buy at the store, typically would upset my stomach if I drank very much. It’s not pleasant, so I’ve never been a big consumer of milk, until recently that is.

    We started getting milk from a local dairy (cows are grass fed) and it’s raw, and amazingly enough, it doesn’t bother me. I’ve heard similar stories from other people.

    Anyway, very interesting article. I had never thought about food allergies in that way. It sure does make sense though.

  • Emily

    I know a person allergic to cow protein. And cow dairy, so literally she can’t eat anything from a cow. How has she not been “eliminated” from the gene pool?

  • Bodhi:

    I've never been a fan of aquatic ape theory. Taphonomic analysis can find tiny scratch marks on 2.6 million year old bones, but it can't find unequivocal evidence that shellfish were smashed open with rocks?  Color me skeptical.

    As far as nightshades, they're out there as an allergen…but they're not one of the Big Eight.  Everything else is small potatoes (ha, ha) by comparison to them.  And I'm not sure they're a true allergy…just a chemical reaction to the solanine.  What reaction do you get?

    Chris, tracker:

    Lactose intolerance is lactose intolerance, and it doesn't matter if it's raw or pasteurized.  Casein allergy is the usual true milk allergy (very few people have whey issues AFAIK) and it may be that anti-inflammatory antibodies in raw milk get denatured in pasteurization.  There also may be an A1 vs. A2 beta casein issue…but this is all sort of guesswork on my part, as I'm not an expert on dairy chemistry.  You might ask your raw milk source what kind of cow it is, and whether they know if it's A1 or A2.

    What sort of symptoms do you get from pasteurized vs. raw milk?  Allergic, or digestive issues?


    Mutations happen all the time, and most are bad: there are a lot more ways to screw up development and survival than to enhance it.  Now that medical technology lets everyone survive, humans are accumulating deleterious mutations at an amazing rate.

    I actually looked around for research on red meat allergies, and apparently it's almost completely unknown except in Australia, where being bitten by a certain type of tick carries a non-zero risk of triggering an allergy red meat.  And even then it's extremely rare.  Pork or chicken is far more common…and even those allergies are insignificant compared to the Big Eight.

    Is this person allergic to other things?  Because there are a lot of people with leaky, damaged guts (typically starting with undiagnosed celiac) who become allergic to all sorts of stuff as a result of that.


  • Bodhi

    ” What reaction do you get?”

    I get canker sore if I eat too many tomatoes. If I eat tomatoes and chilies on a consistent basis I develop blisters on my index and middle finger that look like small canker sores. I really haven’t notice any reaction to peeled potatoes.

  • Bodhi:

    Sounds like a Type III allergy: it is theorized that canker sores are an autoimmune reaction, though no one has yet figured them out completely. (They’re more prevalent in celiacs.) Interesting that you only get them from peppers and tomatoes, not potatoes, which means it probably has nothing to do with solanine. (Which is a glycoalkaloid, anyway, not a protein).


  • Bodhi

    Thanks for the follow up. Cutting out wheat has been the most beneficial aspect of the Primal Diet for me. I’m following Sisson’s Primal Blueprint for the most part. My 20% comes in the way of heavy cream, potatoes, and corn chips.

  • Ravi


    I commented on your last post about this – “evidence” of dairy consumption is sadly lacking in the historical record – but upon investigation, *many* (not all) populations are very tolerant of and even highly benefit from dairy products with little or no difficulty- that there are examples of populations (africans you point out) that are less efficient in producing lactase after childhood – SIMPLY DOES NOT automatically jam dairy into a “neolithic” foodstuff! Perhaps they (with the excepting massai) did not find the need to capture and keep mammels for nutritional benefit in their environment? It’s a big world – paleolithic eating must have been pretty damn diverse, don’t you think?

    If you are to use the allergy/food intolerance model as a frame for what to or not to eat – then you would have to seriously consider a whole host of confounding variables in modern diet and life – developed sensitivities due to years of processed food consumption, interactive or stimulated sensitivities (as grains damaging the gut – leaky gut – and resulting rheumatoid arthritis and other auto-immune reactions), sensitivities/allergic reactions caused by early life introduction to foodstuffs NOT appropriate to humans (soy milk, and the like) – all these things trigger sometimes life-long reactions that do not really indicate that certain foodstuffs reacted to were necessarily totally non-paleo.

    I don’t disagree with all your classifications, i just think that this particular frame is only an adjunct to the judging whole picture.

    I posit that there are many – certainly many european – populations, that not only thrive on dairy with little or no lactose intolerance (and BTW – lactose intolerance as defined is NOT an allergy – there are allergies to dairy – but grain consumption is highly suspect in producing those reactions…) You can even argue that access to the nutritional benefits of dairy helped many populations survive harsher climates – consider the Lapp people in norther europe (and their progenitors) who herd WILD reindeer for their dairy products have done this many eons ago with no surviving evidence?

    The evidence i would consider in this case is the hugely beneficial effects of especially goats milk and the almost universal keeping of goats in the still-nomadic and pastoral populations surviving today- they hardly could all be descendants of middle-eastern fertile crescent animal domesticators from only 7000 years ago now, could they?

    Anyway – 2 of my 3 part arguments is here: Dairy IS Paleo, http://daiasolgaia.com/?p=1302

    your posts are great BTW – provocative and fun to read–

  • Chuckster

    Hum, so you say fruits and vegetables have essentially no protein.

    Yet I get 50 grams of protein a day from nothing but fruits and vegetables.

  • Ravi:

    Dairy is a very cultural thing AFAIK, and one of the obvious adaptations that some ethnic groups have made to a Neolithic (and possibly Late Paleolithic) diet.

    As I point out above, butterfat is a good food for everyone…it's the casein and lactose that some have issues with.  (Thus fermented dairy products like yogurt, in which bacteria predigest much of the lactose.)  I myself drink half-and-half from time to time, frequently cook with butter, and sometimes consume full-fat yogurt.  However, I minimize my intake of lactose due to its likely contribution to AGEs (it's just as unstable in vivo as fructose).

    Have you looked into the A1 vs. A2 beta casein issue?  Apparently A2 is the ancestral variety and A1 is a more recent mutation.


    Which vegetables and fruits are you eating to get you to 50g?  I don't count potatoes, beans, or grains (including pseudo-grains like quinoa) as vegetables…although it's a culinary term and not precisely defined, the usual definition is “An edible plant or part of a plant other than a sweet fruit or seed.  This typically means the leaf, stem, or root of a plant.”  

    Perhaps you're eating a boatload of asparagus, broccoli, and brussels sprouts?  But given that (for example) one spear of asparagus has exactly four calories, I can't see eating enough of it every day to get you to 50g of protein.

    Bananas have the opposite problem: there's about one gram of protein in a banana, and 40 bananas would result in 4800 calories/day, which doesn't seem realistic.  So now you've piqued my curiosity.


  • Cornelius

    Regarding someone saying they are allergic to anything that comes from a bovine, I have known people who claimed to be allergic to a lot of things. In the last couple of years I have encountered several people who claimed to be allergic to sugar, of all things, and while I did not attempt to disillusion them, this is every bit as impossible as being allergic to oxygen. Glucose is largely what our bodies run on, after all.

    Regarding Native Americans and lactose intolerance, that link shows a very small sampling of people, and I am speculating that they were all from the same tribe. I think it is a mistake to lump all of us together, as our diets varied so widely from place to place. I certainly have no lactose intolerance, (I love milk) but my tribe derived almost all of our sustenance from buffalo for millennia. Not a lot of fruit and veggies on the Great Plains. 😉

    (And no, I am not suggesting we were in the habit of milking them, merely that this diet may have exposed us to things that led to better lactose tolerance.)

  • Cornelius:

    I wasn't going to say it, but since you brought it up…yes, there are a lot of people who absolutely swear to allergies they don't have.  Type I hypersensitivity is very straightforward and easily testable.  And you're correct: being allergic to glucose is like being allergic to water.

    It might be possible to be allergic to molasses or brown sugar, since those contain other plant compounds…but I have a hard time imagining how anyone can be allergic to white sugar.  Like I said in the article, allergies are to proteins.  (Fructose malabsorption is real…but that's not an allergy, and most of those people think fruits are just fine for them, so I'm calling 'sugar allergy' a form of orthorexia.)

    As far as Native Americans and dairy: I'm sure you're right, and that was one study from one area.  I'd be interested to know who.  But AFAIK there is no history of animal husbandry in America previous to the arrival of Europeans, so I'm not sure how tolerance would have been selected for.  In the case of Eastern tribes, I'd suspect race mixing after colonization (a meaningful number of whites ran away from the rigid, autocratic Puritan colonies and 'went native'), but there wasn't much of that by the time Europeans got to the Great Plains.  I'll file it under “things I don't know the answer to”.


  • Marisa

    Regarding a “sugar allergy,” it is most certainly possible to be allergic to what most Americans call “sugar,” that is, sugars from the sugar-cane plant. It would more appropriately be termed an allergy to the sugar cane plant itself. I have suffered from this intolerance, or allergy, or whatever you want to call it, for my entire life – certainly before I was old enough to have a phobia of anything.

    When I consume products from the sugar cane plant (white sugar, molassas, brown sugar, evaporated cane juice, etc), it triggers a reaction that causes a chemical imbalance (similar to the imbalances that cause depression). As a child, this manifested itself as crazy or angry behavior. Now, as an adult, it manifests itself as intense sadness, often accompanied by inexplicable crying. I have experienced this in many tests, many of which were double-blind “accidents.” Still to this day, I can tell (or my family and friends can tell) if I’ve accidentally had sugar at a restaurant or in a dish prepared by someone else. It took until the 5th grade for my family (with the help of some medical allergy experts)to figure out what substance was causing my psychological problems!

    I don’t know how you would classify it – whether it would medically be called an “allergy” or an “intolerance,” but it is most assuredly a real reaction to the byproducts of the cane plant. I am unperturbed by fructose and artificial sweeteners – with the sole exception of sucralose (Splenda), which is a byproduct of cane!

  • Marisa:

    Very interesting!  Are you sensitive to corn syrup/HFCS?  Beet sugar?  Dextrose?  Invert sugar?  And how long after ingestion does it take for these symptoms to manifest?  Is there any physical component, or is it purely emotional?


  • Brandon Nolte


    What about allergies to fruit? My dad has been developing allergies to different fruits. It started with Kiwi a while back. Then it was pineapples. More recently peaches and now blueberries too. What is happening that would explain this? (Note: he is very active and in shape for a 55 year old, but doesn’t eat paleo/primal – although he is starting to come around).

    I love your blog by the way. I just found out about it from Angelo Coppola’s “Latest in Paleo” podcast.

    Thanks for the great article.


  • Brandon:

    Welcome! Angelo spoke very kindly of this place in his podcast, and I'm glad you find it informative.

    It's possible to have allergies to some fruits: kiwis, pineapples, peaches, and blueberries all have a little bit of protein in them (as opposed to cherries, lemons, limes, and mangoes, which have essentially none).  But it's rare in the grand scheme of things: the Big Eight are responsible for over 90% of allergies in the world.

    What are his reactions like? (I'm wondering if it might be a reaction to something sprayed on the fruit and not the fruit itself.) Are these foods he ate often, or just occasionally? Is he manifesting allergies to anything else, or just fruit? Does he have IBS or any other digestive problems?


  • Kelly

    I have a friend that is allergic to pork. Only turkey bacon for her.

  • Squeakers

    Very informative. Delighted to have run across your site. 🙂

  • Paleo Pepper »

    […] Food allergies and intolerances reveal the true human diet […]

  • Squeakers:

    Thank you! It's a lot of work, and definitely a labor of love.


  • AmyNVegas

    Well fortunately and unfortunately I had skin prick allergy testing for foods about 2 years ago when I found out food allergies have a strong tie to food addiction, and found out I am allergic to all kinds of foods from all different food groups. Proteins- beef, lamb, lobster, oysters, and all fish except salmon. Plants- all nuts except for hazelnuts and cashews,spinach, broccoli, all peppers, watermelon, peaches, apricots, nectarines, raspberries, spices-cinnamon, vanilla, black pepper, clove, and soy and wheat for grains. Wheat was a good one to find out about because I found out about Paleo eating from Gluten Free for Dummies and started reading about and eating a Paleo/Primal diet. I eliminated all the allergens from my diet for 6 weeks then tried each one to see what it did. Unfortunately beef makes me swell and gain at least five pounds from just one serving and bison does the same thing if I have 2 or more servings close together. So chicken, eggs, pork, and salmon along with shrimp and the occasional scallop are my main proteins. I really miss beef! But I have lost 81 pounds since going Paleo/Primal and I have about 100 more to go but I feel so much better. I have almost no inflammation which had taken over my body and my back and all my joints hurt to the point where I could barely stand by the end of each day. I have energy and even at 300 pounds, my current weight, I move and have more stamina than my much smaller friends and colleagues, and I feel great. I try to share with others what I am doing but even though they want to know what makes me look and feel so great they hear Paleo/Primal and hear no grain and they tune out or think it will be too hard or is unhealthy(hello been surviving this way for 2 years). Maybe once I lose another 100 pounds they will get it.

  • AmyNVegas:

    It sounds like you've had an ordeal!  That serious a set of allergies is usually due to leaky gut (often undiagnosed celiac), especially since they've improved after going Paleo.

    And yes, it's still possible for people to become allergic to beef…it's just very, very uncommon compared to the Big Eight.  I even know someone who's allergic to chicken.

    Congratulations on figuring out what was happening to you, and especially on losing 80 pounds…that's almost an entire extra person worth of weight!  I wish you the best in your journey, and feel free to stop by anytime.


  • Donna

    I have a long time friend who has been “lactose-intolerant” all his life. A few years ago, I came across information on celiac disease and mentioned it to him. He looked into it and eliminated all gluten. Some months later, he discovered he is no longer “lactose-intolerant”.

    So this is perhaps anecdotal evidence of an “allergy” that was actually a symptom of an underlying problem such as “leaky gut” (caused by gluten intolerance). Once the “leaky gut” was healed, the other allergy seem to disappear.

  • Donna:

    You're absolutely correct.  That's a very common situation, particularly among people with multiple food allergies and intolerances: what they really have is leaky gut caused by eating gluten grains.  Once the gut heals, many of the intolerances slowly diminish.

    You don't even have to have gluten intolerance: gluten grains cause increased intestinal permeability in everyone.


  • Scotlyn

    Re the genetics of lactose tolerance v. intolerance, it strikes me that for natural selection to have been able to enhance lactose tolerance in populations exposed to dairy foods past infancy (which from my readings, appears to have happened slightly differently in European v African pastoral populations) there would have to be a background genetic variability in relation to lactose tolerance in the pre-existing human population, such that some individuals in any given population would be lactose tolerant even with no selection pressure. Selection can’t work if there is no genetic variability for it to work on.

  • Scotlyn:

    I'm sure you're right.  And lactase persistence evolved multiple times independently, as you implied.  So the potential had to have existed across the human population.


  • mzg

    Thanks for the great allergy description. I have had a variety of types of allergy testing including my own process of elimination–feeling great eating particular foods , then adding in 1 suspectd food . a bit at a time to note adverse reactions. It turns out that i have allergies to shell fish,. all dairy, butter (cow and goat), soy, eggs, wheat, other gluten proteins, peanuts, some tree nuts, potatoes, egg plant, and peppers, . This is not a problem in and of itself. I can do great on a strict paleo as I am currently superlatively healthy on it. BUT until all these allergies were diagnosed I had so many diverse, strong Adverse reactions, that various doctors diagnosed various serious diseases and recommmended various drugs which if I had taken I would have been either dead or seriously ill–worse than my adverse food allergies. When i SUGGESTED to the doctors that since i AM a person with some diagnosed allergies including a couple of foods, perhaps I have various undiagnosed food allergies and also all 4 types of allergic responses—most of them said there are NOT 4 types of allergies and that I do not have food allergies, but I have Long QT syndrome, heart failure, diabetess, pre diabetes and a list of other things, including the fact that they are absolutely sure that if I keep taking bhrt I will have cancer because of 1 study by phizer on premnarin (DUUUHH!!) I was so shocked to find out that these doctors were so stupid. Guess what—- I am perfectly healthy and have food allergies to neolithic foods. I also suggested to the cardiologist who saw me for sudden atrial fibrillation that on my new paleo and gluten free diet I had become so healthy that my hypothyroid meds were too high and this was the cause. She said that was impossible. I had the dos lowered and everything is fine.This was backed up by the fact the my tsh had gone from .8 to .03, and my rT3 wqas way high etc. I alos looked into the energy metabolism of the heart and how much of which electrolytes are required for health and changed my diet to include these by food and/or supplement. I also took taurine (amino acid) and Arjuna(ayervidic medicine) as neuromodulators for the heart and brain. When I suggested these to the various doctors they said it would give me arterioclerosis and heart arrythmisas and I should take liptor (even though my numbers are not too high) and also beta blockers (even though my resting pulse is 58). I then told my cardiologist I had gone on a high (good)fat diet because it would increase my osmotic pressure (more water in the blood in veins going back to the heart) and this would make my heart function better and avoid hear failure and it also removed my varicose veins. The doctor said if I did this I would die. How can doctors not know how the body actually works?? I am horrified .–but currently very healthy. what is wrong with our medical system??????????????????????

  • mzg:

    Having previously dealt with health issues I finally traced to a Type III allergy, I too have been puzzled by the medical establishment's refusal to acknowledge the existence of Type II-IV allergies — despite their being discussed in detail in every undergrad microbiology text.  And though I've never had thyroid issues myself, I've heard horror stories about endocrinologists…

    Unfortunately there is a lot of quackery around 'alternative' allergy testing (holding vials of allergens in your hand, colored lights, etc.) but that doesn't invalidate basic biochemistry.

    I think the problem is that doctors are taught almost nothing about nutrition (see Anastasia's excellent article here), and as a consequence, feel that it can't possibly be relevant to anyone's state of health beyond perhaps making them fat.  Add that to the constant lobbying and gift-giving by drug companies, and it's easy to see how they tend to look at diseases as drug deficiencies.

    Like most issues, it comes down to money.  Prescribing a drug makes money for the drug company, the physician, and the media (drug ads = $$$).  Fixing someone's diet doesn't make any money for anyone but a local farmer or rancher. 

    At the end of the day, we are all responsible for our own health.  A doctor isn't like an auto mechanic, where you can just drag your broken metabolism into a hospital and say “Fix this and bill my credit card.”  If you're lucky they'll spend a minute looking at your chart before you show up, instead of reading it right in front of you during your appointment.  This is the reality of the medical industry today: sick people are a profit center.  There is little incentive to return you to health, and every incentive to maintain you on expensive drug regimens…and even though individual doctors are usually doing their best with what they know, they're just one cog in a very large machine.

    I'm glad you've managed to find your own way to good health!  Meanwhile, we can all work to inform others about good sources of information — I'm doing my best by writing articles and publishing them here at gnolls.org — so that we can keep ourselves healthy and fit.


  • David

    Shellfish already pushed back to 164k ago. And we’re talking middens, big dumpings of shells and not casual gathering. No way ancient humans did take advantage of food that couldn’t run away and was full of vitamins, whenever it was convenient. I myself have eaten a few mussels I’ve picked up along the riverbank.

    Keep in mind that casual consumption isnt easy to track from a million years away and that much of the evidence is now far from water that has long disappeared, or is under water after the seas rose.

    Migration out of Africa is being pushed back to 100k years ago for some groups.

    Good article though. I’ve got casein allergy myself and an insensitivity to gluten, but it’s not bad. I can have a piece of cake on my birthday if I want. Know people with fruit allergies. Two who claim beef allergy, and I believe one of them because he’s massively allergic to all meats, especially undercooked, and a host of other things.

    I don’t understand the medical community. I really don’t.

  • David:

    Yes, I already use the 160 KYa figure in the article.

    However, I'm a bit skeptical of hypotheses that claim “OF COURSE this has to have been the way it happened, even though we have no physical evidence.”  If shellfish were a major food source, you'd think we'd find some traces of smashed-open shellfish somewhere…there aren't a lot of calories in an oyster or mussel, so it would take a lot of them to provide any significant dietary contribution (evidence we've found in abundance in the South African middens you mention).

    And given our skills in interpreting bone taphonomy, I think we ought to be able to do similar reconstructions on shellfish remains: if anything, opening an oyster with rocks is more difficult, and should leave more scrape marks, than scraping meat off of bones with rocks.  

    Note that I'm not arguing against the possibility of early shellfish consumption — I'm just pointing out that given the physical evidence we have, it's not the most parsimonious interpretation.  And the prevalence of shellfish allergies does argue against it being a major dietary constituent from so long ago.  It would be interesting to look at relative allergy rates from different human genetic stocks…

    The medical community as a whole is a profit-seeking enterprise.  Many individuals within it act for their own moral reasons, to the degree they can do so and maintain job security — but if you understand it as a business, not a societal good, you'll have a much clearer picture.


  • Steve Kinna

    kick-ass write-up from you! thanks!

  • Steve:

    I do my best: I'm glad you find it useful.


  • Melody


    Often allergic reactions to fruits and vegetables are due to something called oral allergy syndrome. And in that case the person isn’t actually allergic to the fruit or vegetable, but rather it is a case of the body getting confused. Proteins that are in the fruit/veg are similar to proteins found in grasses, weeds, or trees that the person is allergic to and the body thinks that is what has been eaten. So, for example, I am allergic to ragweed. The proteins in ragweed are similar enough to those found in bananas and melons that when I eat those my body has a reaction – with bananas a bad stomach ache and with melons itchy, swelling lips and heartburn.

    Interestingly, I gave up dairy for a while, due to a suspicion that I have a sensitivity to it, and the oral allergy syndrome improved drastically, after getting worse and worse for many years.


  • Melody:

    I hadn't heard of oral allergy syndrome, probably because I've never suffered hay fever.  Very interesting!  It seems like there might be more allergy cross-reactions that we don't understand as well.

    Your experience is yet another data point to add to my empirical observation that dairy is worth eliminating on a trial basis…many people observe that it clears up nagging issues of all kinds, most for reasons we don't understand yet.  There's a reason I've kept in Eat Like A Predator for years.


  • Jacci

    Hi JS,

    I’m new to Paleo mostly as a result of reading your blog. I’ve only been eating this way for a month or so with great results (more energy, weight loss, better sleep), but today as I was eating a grass fed burger from my local farmer like I do every week, I got a severe allergic reaction. I have no food allergies and have never had a reaction to anything. My entire body was covered in a rash like hives, and I felt like my skin was on fire. It was painful and lasted a few hours till my boyfriend went to speak with the pharmacist and got me some allergy medicine. Then a friend told me about the Lone Star tick that makes people allergic to red meat. I read some articles on NPR and other sites and it sounds like what happened to me. I’m very worried about not being able to eat red meat as it is really saving my life right now. (I was vegetarian for a while and deficient in everything!) Do you know anything about it? Have any other readers mentioned this?


  • Jacci:

    It's a rare syndrome (the founders only know of ~1500 cases so far, though there are likely more) and we don't know much about that yet.  For instance, no one knows whether it's a component of the tick's saliva, some parasite within it, or something else entirely that triggers the allergy.  What we do know is:

    1. The allergy appears to be to a sugar known as alpha-gal

    2. The reaction doesn't occur every time someone eats mammal meat. Some only get it when they eat a lot of meat, some only get it to certain types of red meat, some will get it even when consuming gelatin.  Note that pork contains alpha-gal, too, so it's not just red meat

    3. Susceptibility to this consequence seems to run in families

    4. Some people manage to “outgrow” the allergy if they avoid additional tick bites for an extended period (months? years?)

    My strategy would be to continue being strictly gluten-free (leaky gut increases the probability of foreign material entering the bloodstream, and to move towards a more chicken and fish-based diet to see if that indeed improves your symptoms. 

    On the other hand, if you reacted after the burger but not after other meat, that seems to argue against meat allergy, as pork contains alpha-gal too.

    More information here.  Let us know what you find out. 


  • […] From Janet – Food Allergies and Food Intolerances Reveal The True Human Diet […]

  • Mina

    All this allergens are manufacture and put in on most foods on purpose to create allergy reactions to the public, since pharma companies make billions of dollars. I know this because I am very allergic to almost every food ittem in North America. Every time I travel to Europe, at times I stay up to a year. All my food allergies are gone, and I eat whatever I want. How is that possible? Is all about money and nothing else. They will keep doing it as long as people live in fear.

  • Mina:

    I'm not sure it's done on purpose — I tend to think the allergies are an accidental synergy — but the US allows many food modifications that are illegal or otherwise proscribed in Europe.  (GMO crops are the most obvious example, but AFAIK there are also pesticides and herbicides legal here but not there, and tolerance for detectable residue is often lower AFAIK.)


  • issa

    how do you test for food allergies? i found websites that test hair samples but i believe they are fake. how did you guys test for food allergies the cheapest way?

  • Jen W



    The cheapest way to test for food allergies is an elimination diet.  The most common foods allergies are gluten, dairy, nuts, eggs, and soy.  Try eliminating them for two weeks to 30 days and then re-introduce them one by one and see if you feel like crap or not.

  • Roy

    Funny my cholesterol levels have always been high. I have been on medication, diet, and exercise for the last twenty years now. Never been able to bring it down to normal levels.
    Whenever I go to visit my son in Spain my cholesterol goes to normal levels for the first time with no medication, no exercise, nor diet!!
    I do have to agree that there is something toxic on the food supply in North America that keeps cholesterol levels even in children high, having to take medication to help lower it.

  • issa:

    What Jen said.  There is a lot of quack “allergy testing” around, and the cheapest way is to do an elimination diet.  Pare yourself down to the foods I list above — red meat, vegetables, root starches, and fruits — for thirty days, and see if that helps.  If so, then you can start slowly adding foods back in (perhaps one every 4-5 days) and see if you can find where your problems lie.


    That's fascinating!  What levels do you mean by “high”?


  • Helen

    Allergies, I have huge food allergy problems, which change with time. I try hard to “resist” the foods that I am hooked on. It takes a few days to change ones habits and vices (sugar, chocolate and dairy products). My cytotoxic tests show I am allergic to tomatoes, oranges, beef, chicken, pork, sardines, milk, eggs, beans, lettuce, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage and some more. This doesn’t seem to back what you wrote. I really would like it to, but it doesn’t seem to fit your explanation. desperately,

  • Helen:

    AFAIK cytotoxic tests are among the many “allergy tests” that are useless and/or quackery.  They're subjectively interpreted (a technician looks for “altered morphology” of white blood cells, which can mean anything at all depending on the interpreter), and they don't measure any sort of actual immunologic reaction, which happens at a much deeper biochemical level.

    Add to that the fact that allergic reactions must be to proteins (which is why all the common allergens are very high in protein), so being allergic to things like lettuce is nearly impossible; pile on the fact that allergies tend not to change over time; and I'm pretty sure that you're not actually allergic to most of the substances you mentioned.

    That being said, the medical profession tends to label anything but skin-prick tests for Type I hypersensitivity as quackery, despite the awkward fact that every one of them learned about Type II, II, and IV hypersensitivity in their undergraduate microbiology class.  However, IgG tests are more difficult to interpret (agglutination can indicate that you're allergic, or just that you've eaten a lot of that food lately — I'm not going to get into the details of Fc sialylation here), and I'm sure there are quack versions of them too.

    Also, it's certainly possible to have problems consuming certain foods that aren't strictly allergic in nature — but as Jen and I said above, the best and cheapest way to test for all the different possible allergies, intolerances, dysbioses, and so on is simply to do an elimination diet.  Basically limit yourself to red meat (lamb is purportedly even better than beef for this), non-nightshade vegetables (no potatoes, eggplants, tomatoes, or peppers — sweet potatoes are a good starch source, and the least allergenic fruits (e.g. apples, apricots, pears, grapes, dates).

    Many intolerances are, in reality, caused by a leaky gut due to gluten ingestion, so going gluten-free is usually the first step towards fixing these sorts of problems.  I also recommend the other steps from this article.


  • William Thompson

    Interesting you part on meat allergies. Chimps that eat a lot of meat die early of clogged arteries as they did like the early humans before they got the genes to absorb meat. Unfortunately it seems the genes might vary in different people because some eat meat voraciously until they a 100 years old and others croak at 35. I suspect the humans with clogged arteries at 35 likely didn’t get the genes passed on to them.
    Even more interesting is all the studies on meat and milk that say it is bad or good for you are total rubbish until the people being surveyed are analysed to see if they have the goodies (genes or chemicals) in their system to absorb it. If the surveyed people were first checked genetically they could tell in advance how many meat eating people will die of a heart attack before the age of 50 without following their lives for the next 20 years.

  • William:

    “Chimps that eat a lot of meat die early of clogged arteries as they did like the early humans before they got the genes to absorb meat.”  

    Citations?  Chimps regularly eat meat.  (Not saying they don't exist, just saying I'd like to see the citations!)

    Also, increased meat consumption in humans generally tracks a large number of unhealthy behaviors, like smoking and heavy drinking…not to mention that the unhealthy part of a Happy Meal probably isn't the tiny scrap of “hamburger” hiding under the giant bun, the huge pile of n-6 soaked fries, and the big cup of soda.

    That being said, ApoE4 exists…but the arguments against SFA consumption for them generally involve “high LDL”, not an actual endpoint of CVD.  Doing well on ApoE4 generally involves being extremely sensitive to reducing n-6 load, reducing environmental toxins, and generally being protective of the fact that you're usually smarter than everyone else (and have an amazing immune system), but are very sensitive to poor diet and environment.

    That being said, it is absolutely true that different people seem to do better on different diets, and that we have different tolerances for different suboptimal diets depending on our genetic and epigenetic background.  Sometimes some interesting data pops out if you look at subgroups, not just the average.


  • Maxine

    This was such an insightful article – and all the comments are insightful too. I think that meat is important to good health, but meat we eat today is not the meat our ancestors ate e.g. meat is now mass produced with growth hormones added in the feed. In addition, commercial milk reacts with me and I don’t think it’s healthy. Raw milk, on the other hand, doesn’t cause me any problems.

  • Maxine:

    I'm more concerned about the antibiotics and the grain-based diet, but your point is well-taken: feedlot meat is not the same as free-range meat.  I recently ran out of the grass-finished, free-range, dry-aged side I've been eating, and the difference between it and supermarket beef is remarkable.

    I don't notice any difference between raw and regular milk, though many people do.  OTOH, I absolutely notice ultra-pasteurization, which makes milk taste like burnt matches.  I have no idea how anyone else can drink that stuff!


  • NAY

    I am actually sensitive to red meat (beef/pork/lamb/venison) – I can’t eat more than about 1 oz. in a day without serious GI distress (but i can still eat a bit of real bacon!). I can eat as much fish as I like :) and chicken/poultry rarely bothers me. My mother is Type 1 allergic to strawberries and my great aunt is also sensitive to red meat.

  • NAY:

    Sounds like you have some sort of digestive sensitivity to red meat, e.g. intolerance, as opposed to allergy. At least you can eat fish!

    It’s instructive to remember that in a world with seven billion people, there will be many people representing even the rarest conditions!


  • Elle

    Thank you so much for these informative articles!

    I wanted to share about developing an intolerance to eggs late in life – I’m 37 and a year and a half ago started developing hives whenever I ate eggs. It took me about six months to narrow it down to a food intolerance (internally I’ve been calling it an intolerance as I consider allergy to be something a bit more drastic… though perhaps it is a Type I allergy) after maintaining a food diary and an unhelpful visit to the dermatologist. It starts as an itch, and eventually becomes raised like hives – and almost always near the joints and when serious, become symmetrical (eg start at the left elbow… spread to right elbow/ start near right ankle, repeat on left ankle). Weird, huh?

    I determined on my own that I’m more sensitive to egg yolks than whites, and the more raw the protein is the larger the response – so soft-boiled eggs are a big no-no, while eating pastries is more or less ok. If I eat chicken, I get a delayed, muted reaction by about a day. Most people respond to my reluctance to eat chicken with disbelief because they believe only children get these allergies, and it’s difficult to not eat chicken as I live in a country where the population is nearly 70% Muslim… it’s all eggs, chicken, eggs, chicken.

    If I stay away from eggs/chicken resolutely for a few weeks/a month I can eat chicken every day for up to a week with few side effects, and may even eat scrambled eggs/less-cooked eggs for a few days consecutively too. If there is a special egg occasion I take an antihistamine to pre-empt a reaction but don’t do it often.

    Nobody else in my family has this, so they chalked it up to stress for the six to seven months I couldn’t figure out what was going on *while* eating soft-boiled eggs for breakfast every day (!)

    ps I stumbled onto your site after searching for whether there’s any truth to the whole “stuff stays in your gut from baby to death and we’re full of toxins and must detox X times a week”.

  • Elle:

    Hives definitely suggests a Type I allergy, i.e. the regular kind.

    A delayed reaction, like you get to chicken, suggests an immune-mediated hypersensitivity — especially since it slowly goes away over time if you keep strictly away from them.

    Are you gluten-free? A lot of these sorts of intolerances are made worse by the tight junction-opening effect of gliadin peptides, and can often be improved by removing gluten grains from one’s diet. (Give it a couple months before deciding to put your allergies to the torture test.)

    I’m glad you’ve found out what was causing your problems! Food allergies and intolerances are extremely common — but for some reason many doctors are loath to advise elimination diets, even though basic statistics says that a substantial number of their patients *must* have these problems!


  • Megan davis

    Hi is,

    I loved this insert you are the most detailed person I think I have ever read. I looked up does hamburger meat rott in your stomach cause a man came in the store where I work at. He said that he doesn’t eat hamburger cause it rotts in your stomach for 30 days. My god I couldn’t even believe that when he said it. 😂
    Anyways I think your breakdown of the digestive system is by far the easiest and straight forward way to explain it in detail. I’m going to subscribe to the newsletter I loved reading it. Keep up the good work.

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