If you are a regular reader, you probably know by now that I am not a fan of gluten. In the least. But when it comes to gluten free grains, I have been back and forth about them.
Are they healthy to eat…Daily? Occasionally? Never?
After much thought and research, I bring you this article. This is my current stance on grains. Yet, this is my personal opinion based on all the research and studies I have examined. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion as everyone has a unique body, microbiota, and microbiome. I would encourage you to read my stance and then decide for yourself what you will do or not do about it.
Let’s dig in!
I. Wait…Aren’t Whole Grains Healthy?
If you grew up in the Western side of the world then you probably grew up with the Food Pyramid. When I was growing up, the Food Pyramid was everywhere! On cereal boxes, in my health and nutrition school books. It was essentially the ten commandments for a healthy life. (1)
Or so I thought.
I grew up on this SAD (Standard American Diet) with my diet consisting of bread, cereal, bagels, or hot cereal for breakfast, sandwiches, rice and beans or pasta for lunch and…you guessed it…MORE grains for dinner. Sure, I also ate my share of dairy products and would try to throw in some occasional vegetables or a side salad at dinner to ‘balance out my diet’. But you get the idea. My dietary staples were grains, grains and more grains!
I thought this was healthy. It’s what the Food Pyramid said to eat…right? You are supposed to eat 6-11 servings of Grains (the bread, rice, pasta, and cereal group) which is the foundation of the pyramid. That what your diet is SUPPOSED to largely consist of.
Yet…I wasn’t glowing with health and vitality. I struggled with severe acne all through my teenage years and into my early 20s. I was puffy and inflamed despite being thin. I had constant blood sugar swings and was always hungry. I could eat and eat like a teenage boy and yet still be hungry two hours later. I didn’t have a strong immune system and was sick multiple times a year.
I was not heathy.
But…I was following the Food Pyramid??? I couldn’t understand…
Let’s Debunk Some Myths
Fast forward years later and, thankfully, I learned that there was another way! Grains aren’t the be all, end all. In fact, they don’t provide much nutritional value for you in the least.
What’s the point of food, anyway? To fuel your body.
Let’s look at some common myths that most of us grew up believing about ‘healthy whole grains’ and see how they stand up to solid, scientific research:
Myth 1: Whole Grains Contain Essential Vitamins and Minerals:
In whole grains, vitamins and minerals are actually ‘locked up’ in anti-nutrients such as Lectins, Phytic Acid, Gliadin etc. Anti-nutrients are the plant’s natural defense and self-preservation mechanism and are not healthy for human consumption (more on this in the next section).
Unfortunately, all the vitamins and minerals in a plant are incased in the outer shell, husk, or bran of the grain. Since most grains are refined, you are not going to get any of these nutrients as they outer shell has been removed.
If you decide to eat the grain in it’s whole form (with the husk, shell, bran intact) then you run into a myriad of problems such as the flattening of your villi in the small intestine, permeating the intestinal wall resulting in Leaky Gut, numerous GI problems as a result of Leaky Gut. The list goes on.
Studies now show that soaking and sprouting have little effect. (4) (5)
Myth 2: Whole Grains are Needed For Fiber
I’m sure you’ve heard “You need grains to increase your intake of healthy fiber.”
Yes, fiber does help keep you ‘regular’. It does not, however, help prevent colon cancer, contrary to popular belief. (6)
What may surprise you is that vegetables are actually far superior to grains regarding fiber content. There are more grams of fiber per serving in vegetables than in cereal grains. This study shows the surprising high fiber content of avocados. (7)
Healthy fiber from vegetables has also been shown to help facilitate in helping the gut to absorb nutrients such as magnesium.(8) (9)
Myth 3: Helps Prevent Coronary Heart Disease by Lowering Cholesterol:
Despite what you may have read on the back of your Old Fashioned Oats cereal box or seen on TV, whole grain (such as oats) do not lower cholesterol levels and prevent coronary heart disease. In fact, studies are showing that the opposite of this is true. (10)
Instead, daily consumption of ‘healthy whole grains’ chronically raises your blood sugar levels which in turn increases your chances of heart disease and degenerative diseases of the brain. (11) (12) (13) (14)
Myth 4: Whole Grains Are Healthier Than Refined Grains:
Although we’ve been brainwashed to believe that whole grains are healthier than refined grains because they don’t spike your blood sugar levels, studies are showing this is not the case. In fact, studies show that there isn’t much of a difference in overall wait circumference from those who eat refined grains to those who eat whole grains. (15) (16)
Myth 5: You Need Whole Grains for a Clean Energy Source:
As you will see in the next section, grains bring along a truckload of health problems with no healthy benefits. As I mentioned earlier, grains aren’t the be all end all, despite the fact that we were brainwashed to believe they should be the bedrock of our daily meals. They actually don’t provide much nutritional value for you in the least.(17) (18)
II. The Nitty Gritty on Grains
There is SO much research pointing to the fact that gluten is not healthy. Gluten is a highly inflammatory grain that causes an inflammatory response in over 80 percent of the population. (19) (20) (21) (22) To learn more about why gluten is so damaging to your gut, check out THIS POST.
Although it has such a bad reputation, it’s important to recognize that gluten containing grains such as wheat, rye, barley etc. aren’t the only bad boys involved. Gluten free grains are also very problematic for very similar reasons. This may come as a surprise.
Let’s dig into why grains (both gluten and gluten free) are problematic:
- Grains Contain Anti-Nutrients Anti-nutrients are contained in the bran, shell, or husk of the grain and come in many different forms such as Phytic Acid, Phytates, Lectins, Gliadin etc. These anti-nutrients are there to protect they plant. They are the plant’s built in defense mechanism. They are there to harm and wreck predators digestive systems. When grains are consumed, the anti-nutrients built into the outside shell of the grain will cause so much damage to the GI tract of these bugs and animals that they will never want to eat that plant again. It’s a plant’s natural defense mechanism for self-preservation and survival.) (23) (24)
- Grains Can Cause Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies: Anti-nutrients in grains can actually cause the body to become deficient in essential vitamins and minerals (25). The most common deficiencies developed from high grain diets are B12 (23) magnesium,(24) iron (25), zinc, and calcium (26). How does this happen? Anti-nutrients (such as lectins, phytic acid, phytates etc) bind to vitamins and minerals in your food as you eat and inhibit the body’s ability to absorb the essential nutrients. Studies show that diets high in cereal grains have contributed to diseases such as Rickets due to severe calcium deficiency from phytic acid. (27) Other studies show that Vegans and Vegetarians often suffer from iron deficiency as the result of high exposure to phytic acid from consuming large amounts of grains. (28)
- Grains cause Inflammation, Leaky Gut, Autoimmune Diseases, IBS and Much More Because anti-nutrients are severely irritating to your intestinal wall, chronic inflammation in the GI tract results. (29) Anti-nutrients, such as lectins, actually bind to the lining of your gut. (38) (39) This leads to weakening the tight junctions in the intestinal wall which results in intestinal permeability, aka Leaky Gut. (30) Chronic inflammation and leaky gut can THEN lead to more severe problems such as various Autoimmune Diseases and IBS. (31) (32)
- Grains Spike your Insulin Levels. Regardless of whether you are eating whole grains or refined grains, it all turns to sugar. Glucose spikes your insulin levels. Constant elevated levels of insulin can cause the ever feared “belly flab”, insulin resistance and lead to even worse diseases such as diabetes. (33) (34)
- Grains Feed Pathogenic Bacteria. Due to the fact that grains raise your insulin levels, the sugar that results from the grains being digested contributes to feeding pathogenic bacteria. Not good! (20)
- Grains Contribute to Excess Body Fat and Weight Gain (35) (20) In addition to the fat-storing insulin hormone, Studies show that a diet high in grain carbohydrates elevates levels of LPS (Lipopolyscaccarides) in the gut. This has been shown to increase the risk of diabetes and obesity. (36)
- Grains Can Degenerative Diseases In Your Body Lastly, a diet high in grain consumption increases the risk of developing degenerative diseases such as heart disease, degenerative brain diseases, cancer, and diabetes. (11) (12) (13) (14) (37)
4. Egli, I., et al. “The influence of soaking and germination on the phytase activity and phytic acid content of grains and seeds potentially useful for complementary feedin.” Journal of Food Science 67.9 (2002): 3484-3488.
7. Naveh, Einat, et al. “Defatted avocado pulp reduces body weight and total hepatic fat but increases plasma cholesterol in male rats fed diets with cholesterol.” The Journal of nutrition132.7 (2002): 2015-2018.
11. Welborn, T. A., and K. Wearne. “Coronary heart disease incidence and cardiovascular mortality in Busselton with reference to glucose and insulin concentrations.” Diabetes care 2.2 (1979): 154-160.
16. Jackson, Kristina Harris, et al. “Effects of whole and refined grains in a weight-loss diet on markers of metabolic syndrome in individuals with increased waist circumference: a randomized controlled-feeding trial.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 100.2 (2014): 577-586.
19.Bernardo, D., et al. “Is gliadin really safe for non-coeliac individuals? Production of interleukin 15 in biopsy culture from non-coeliac individuals challenged with gliadin peptides.” Gut56.6 (2007): 889-890.
20. Spreadbury, Ian. “Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity.” Diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity: targets and therapy 5 (2012): 175.
26. Balasubramanian, Rita, Elizabeth J. Johnson, and Judith A. Marlett. “Effect of wheat bran on bowel function and fecal calcium in older adults.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 6.3 (1987): 199-208.
29. Spreadbury, Ian. “Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity.” Diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity: targets and therapy 5 (2012): 175.
36. Ghanim, Husam, et al. “Increase in plasma endotoxin concentrations and the expression of Toll-like receptors and suppressor of cytokine signaling-3 in mononuclear cells after a high-fat, high-carbohydrate meal.” Diabetes care 32.12 (2009): 2281-2287.