Should We Even Eat Grains?
I’ve been blogging about the issues of gluten and gluten free grains in the past few weeks. Recently, a glut of books have hit the market including books about the Paleo Diet, Wheat Belly and the more recent bestseller, Grain Brain, by Dr. David Perlmutter.
Many of my clients have said they are simply confused. They ask, “Should I go gluten free, and if I do, what should I eat?” Don’t worry, everyone has an opinion and even the “experts” disagree with each other. In the meantime I would like to put the whole issue in perspective.
Populations Around the World Eat Grains
First, for thousands of years, most of the human population around the world lives on a diet based at least one of these staples: rice, wheat, corn, millet, tubers and roots such as potatoes, yams or taro and animal foods. Without these natural plants there is no way that the world could support the existing seven billion people.
A dentist and nutritional researcher, Dr. Weston A. Price, was the author of the groundbreaking book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Dr. Price wrote about his studies of fourteen indigenous cultures throughout the world. What he found were extremely healthy populations, with no incidence of degenerative disease. These traditional cultures ate foods that were natural to the environment in which they were born. But Price found that when people adopted modern foods, such as the white flour and white sugar in what he called the “white man’s diet,” they started to show signs of nutritional deficiencies especially related to healthy bones and teeth. In the Swiss village where Price began his investigations, the inhabitants lived on rich dairy products (such as unpasteurized milk, butter, cream and cheese) and dense rye bread, meat occasionally, bone broth soups and the few vegetables they could cultivate during the short summer months. The children never brushed their teeth, but Price found that only about one percent of the teeth had any decay at all. Another example was hearty Gallic fishermen living off the coast of Scotland who also consumed no dairy products. Fish formed the mainstay of the diet, along with oats made into porridge and oatcakes, yet all were healthy and had no tooth decay. So when did all the problems with grains begin?
Misleading Governmental Education
In my book, Why Eat Like Jesus Ate?, I explained that there were previous governmental food guidelines: The Basic Twelve Groups in the 1930s, The Basic Seven Groups in the 1940s, the Basic Four Food Groups in 1956. But the Food Guide Pyramid, published in 1992, was the beginning of the obesity epidemic which recommended 6-11 servings of grains. Most Americans were more than happy to load up their plates with crackers, pasta and breads. Not only did the Food Guide fail to make a distinction between whole grains and refined grains, Americans are still recovering from the damage done from eating so many carbohydrates. The Food Guide updated in 2005, was better, but still confusing so it was replaced in Jul 2011 with “My Plate” divided into four quadrants of fruits and vegetables, grains and protein and a side of dairy. A step in the right direction, but the problem with all of these food groups was that there was never a scientific study to support any of them. No wonder we are confused!
Now Even Whole Grains May Be Problemic
First, realize that we are not eating the same grains as traditional cultures that Dr. Weston Price studied, or even those that are listed in Bible such as wheat, spelt and barley. Modern wheat varieties have been deliberately bred to grow faster and produce bigger yields. The down side of this hybridization is that these cereal grains contain more gluten, hence the recent epidemic of gluten intolerance and celiac disease, (an autoimmune condition where the person can’t tolerate gluten.) Clearly, people with severe celiac disease need to stay off gluten containing grains such as wheat, rye and barley.
It’s possible that we are all intolerant to gluten at different levels and possible that even though you have no symptoms. Since there has been a link between gluten and problems such as dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons, I like to err on the side of caution until we know for sure.
Most Americans are still eating “processed” breads, cereals and pastas which we now know increase body fat, suppress your immune system, increase triglycerides, increase insulin, can promote diabetes, decrease good HDL cholesterol, and deplete minerals. Wow, what happened to healthy grains that used to prevent heart disease and diabetes? Whole wheat, grown in rich soil contains vitamin E and B complex, many minerals, including calcium and iron, and even omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, due to processing of modern wheat, not only is it deficient in nutrients, but harsh chemicals are used to grow and preserve the grains.
As early as the 1900s, 100 percent stone-ground whole-wheat flour, contained everything that was in the grain, including the germ, fiber, starch and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Since the original mill stones are not fast enough for mass-production, the industry high-speed mills which destroy vital nutrients and creates rancidity in the bran and the germ. Is it any wonder that most people don’t digest foods well, period. And if you are eating or have been eating highly processed wheat products, you probably have digestive issues anyway. Refined grains, which are what most people eat, are linked to increase in obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Wheat is highly inflammatory, meaning it can cause inflammation and is it any wonder then, that it’s one of the most common allergenic foods.
As if the gluten issue and food processing aren’t bad enough, wheat is also a cause of weight gain. Wheat is high on the glycemic index, which tells us that it raises the hormone insulin, responsible for weight gain. Finally, wheat and most grains contain chemicals known as phytates that bind minerals such as calcium, iron and zinc so that our bodies aren’t able to utilize them. This leads to deficiencies, even if the minerals are present in the body.
It’s not hard to see why people could have eaten whole grains throughout history without celiac, wheat allergies, digestive problems or weight gain when you realize how very different the grains we eat are from what they ate.
Are Grains Helpful?
Yes! Multiple research studies have shown grains have multiple benefits to the bowels: grains help bulk up stool and help keep patients regular, help people avoid hemorrhoids, and have been associated with a lower incidence of colon cancer as well. Additionally, whole grains have been associated with a decrease of heart disease and diabetes. If eaten in a whole grain, organic form, they contain some fiber, and important B vitamins and magnesium. Finally, we are all biochemically individual. Some people can handle whole grains better than others.
Should I Go Gluten Free Then?
I’ve seen in my practice, that most of us have grown up eating too many processed foods, too often. If you still want to eat wheat, I would suggest organic, 100% stone-ground whole wheat bread and other products that says “non-GMO” on the label, and cut back on your servings.
Whether or not you have reactions to gluten, I also recommend that you try going “gluten free.” Everyone would probably be better off and feel better eliminating gluten in the form of products with wheat, rye and barley. But be wary of “gluten free” processed foods, though. A lot of those foods are simply overly processed, high glycemic junk food, often higher in fat and sugars (for flavor) made with refined grains, and lacking vitamins and minerals. It’s better to eat whole grain breads that non GMO breads, preferably spouted and organic. Finally, if properly prepared, phytic acid and even gluten can be sharply reduced by either sprouting or soaking the grains. For this reason, I recommend Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted wheat bread.
Non-gluten grains are amaranth, brown rice, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, quinoa and wild rice. These grains haven’t undergone the processing that other grains have and most are organic and many are sprouted. Don’t worry if you are not familiar with these seeds/grains, I’ll be blogging about them in later blogs. Next week, I’ll be tackling the age old question of how many carbs we should be eating?