Recently someone wrote a comment on one of my post asking why I had not mentioned grains as part of the paleo diet and asking if grains were healthy or not. Well I think its time I address this issue on a post, so here I go.
For well over 10,000 years (since the agricultural revolution) mankind has been eating grains. So you would probably assume that they are good for us. Well, I can honestly tell you, they are not as healthy as most people think.
Now lets see some stats: 10,000 years is about 3% of human existence, meaning that 97% of the time humans did not eat large quantities of grains. The truth of the matter is that the human digestive system is simply not cut out to digest grains.
I guess this fact can very easily be overlooked since after all grains do form the basis of the food pyramid with the US Government recommending we consume a least 6 to 11 servings per day. But don’t you ever wonder why there is an obesity epidemic in the majority of western countries where the consumption of grain is at it’s highest. I can understand that grains are very inexpensive, easy to grow and above all very profitable for the farmers and even governments that dedicate themselves to exporting exuberant amounts of grains. One positive thing about grains is that it is a very inexpensive way to feed third world nations. Lets face consuming grains is much better than starving to death.
Besides obesity, diabetes is another disease that is impacting our western civilization. Insulin is developed and used by our bodies to regulate the sugar or glucose levels in our blood. After the consumption of sugars or carbohydrates (which during the digestive process turn to glucose) insulin is produced and released into our blood vessels in order to regulate the amounts of glucose that have been consumed. When there is to much sugars or carbs for the body to regulate it takes that excess and stores it as fat. In addition the production of insulin in high amounts can inflame the cell walls and lead to insulin immunity which is one of the causes of diabetes, This occurs when your own survival mechanism grows immune to the insulin your body produces and is no longer effective in regulating the glucose levels in your blood.
Renowned Arthur, blogger and formal distance runner Mark Sisson has this to say about grains:
Living things generally do not want to be consumed by other living things. Being digested, for the most part, tends to interrupt survival, procreation, propagation of the species – you know, standard stuff that fauna and flora consider pretty important. To avoid said consumption, living things employ various self defense mechanisms. Rabbits, for example, with their massive ears, considerable fast-twitch muscle fibers, and nasty claws, can usually hear a predator coming, outrun (out-hop?) nearly anything, and (in a pinch) slash a tender belly to shreds. Blue whales are too big to fit into your mouth, while porcupines are walking reverse pincushions. Point is, animals have active defense mechanisms. They run, fight, jump, climb, fly, sting, bite, and even appeal to our emotions (if you’ve ever seen a puppy beg for a treat with sad eyes, you know that isn’t just accidental cuteness) in order to survive. All the while, predators are constantly evolving and generating adaptations.
Plants, though, are passive organisms without the ability to move, think, and react (for the most part). They must employ different tactics to ensure propagation, and they generally have to rely on outside forces to spread their seed. And so various methods are “devised” to dissuade consumption long enough for the seed to get to where it’s going. Nuts have those tough shells, and grains have the toxic anti-nutrients, lectins, gluten, and phytates. (Of course there are some obvious exceptions. Fruits are tasty, nutritious, and delicious so that animals will eat them whole and poop out the seeds, preferably into some fertile soil. The seed stays intact throughout the digestive process; it is indigestible by design. No seed “wants” to be digested, because this would defeat the purpose. They “want” to be swallowed, or borne by the wind, or carried by a bee to the next flower, but they do not want to be digested.)
Some animals are clearly adapted to grain consumption. Birds, rodents, and some insects can deal with the anti-nutrients. Humans, however, cannot. Perhaps if grains represented a significant portion of our ancestral dietary history, things might be a bit different. Some of us can digest dairy, and we’ve got the amylase enzyme present in our saliva to break down starches if need be, but we simply do not have the wiring necessary to mitigate the harmful effects of lectins, gluten, and phytate.
Lectins are bad. They bind to insulin receptors, attack the stomach lining of insects, bind to human intestinal lining, and they seemingly cause leptin resistance. And leptin resistance predicts a “worsening of the features of the metabolic syndrome independently of obesity”. Fun stuff, huh?
Gluten might be even worse. Gluten, found in wheat, rye, and barley, is a composite of the proteins gliadin and glutenin. Around 1% of the population are celiacs, people who are completely and utterly intolerant of any gluten. In celiacs, any gluten in the diet can be disastrous. We’re talking compromised calcium and vitamin D3 levels, hyperparathyroidism, bone defects. Really terrible stuff. And it gets worse: just because you’re not celiac doesn’t mean you aren’t susceptible to the ravages of gluten. As Stephan highlights, one study showed that 29% of asymptomatic (read: not celiac) people nonetheless tested positive for anti-gliadin IgA in their stool. Anti-gliadin IgA is an antibody produced by the gut, and it remains there until it’s dispatched to ward off gliadin – a primary component of gluten. Basically, the only reason anti-gliadin IgA ends up in your stool is because your body sensed an impending threat – gluten. If gluten poses no threat, the anti-gliadin IgA stays in your gut. And to think, most Americans eat this stuff on a daily basis.
Phytates are a problem, too, because they make minerals bio-unavailable (so much for all those healthy vitamins and minerals we need from whole grains!), thus rendering null and void the last, remaining argument for cereal grain consumption.
What, then, is the point to all this grain madness? Is there a good reason for anyone (with access to meat, fruit, and vegetables, that is) to rely on cereal grains for a significant portion of their caloric intake?
The answer is unequivocally, undeniably no. We do not need grains to survive, let alone thrive. In fact, they are naturally selected to ward off pests, whether they be insects or hominids. I suggest we take the hint and stop eating them.
Well hope this article has helped shed some clarity over the issue of Grains being healthy or not. If you have any questions or need additional information please feel free to leave a comment below and I will reply to you as soon as possible.