Health Tip #3
Reduce or eliminate processed cereal grains (primarily wheat)
Behind only sugar and vegetable oil, processed grains (typically flour, but also including corn, rice, oats, barley, rye) lie at the forefront of the health deterioration of western culture. Grains are naturally occurring in their whole state and have been part of the long-term planetary ecosystem. Humans have probably consumed grains for 5000-10000 years in one form or another. However, they have been seriously altered in the versions that we currently consume. The primary focus here will be on wheat/flour, as a number of health problems appear to be directly related to flour.
Wheat and other grains have many problematic features: the top ones being…
1. They contain toxins that damage the lining of the gut
2. They contain compounds that bind to minerals, making them unavailable for absorption
3. They contain compounds that prevent absorption of other nutrients, including protein
4. In the refined form, they can drastically raise blood sugar and insulin, similar to sugar, and contain absolutely no inherent nutritional value
5. They contain compounds that interact with the pleasure sensors in the brain, creating addictive properties
Now, many people would consider grains, particularly whole grains, to be a health food. This is up for debate for the above reasons and more. Cereal grains in their whole state to appear to have a slightly lesser impact on blood sugar and subsequent insulin levels, but may be considered problematic for many people. Grains and grasses seem to have evolved some protective mechanisms to ensure their survival and these toxins appear to be the reason there are some health concerns regarding their status in the diet.
As mentioned above, grains contain toxic compounds that can damage the lining of the intestine. The major offender, gluten, a protein in wheat, is at the forefront of public awareness and discussion. Many people have heard of celiac disease, the clinical form of gluten intolerance. People with celiac can have an immune response from even the slightest exposure to gluten, sometimes leading to hospitalization. Although celiac disease is not extremely common (estimated from 1 in 100 to 1 in 30), most people appear to have an immune and/or inflammatory reaction to gluten, even if it is minor. Many immune related disorders have been associated with grain intolerance, as well as the following symptoms: abdominal pain, bloating, cramping, constipation, weight gain, diarrhea and frequent infections/colds.
Additionally, grains contain substances called phytates/phytic acid which bind to minerals in the digestive tract, making them unavailable to digest. Meaning, you could be eating lots of calcium, and getting very little if your grain consumption is high. Many people feel the reliance on grains has contributed to a number of mineral related deficiencies and their subsequent disorders. Osteoporosis is a prime example. If calcium and magnesium are not being digested sufficiently, our bodies are at increasing risk of bone loss. In essence, the more grains a person consumes, the more vitamins and minerals they would need to consume in order to overcome the phytic impact.
To the third point, other nutrients, including protein, are often inhibited in digestion as well. Many grains contain protease or trypsin inhibitors, which prevent the body’s enzymes from breaking down protein.
Fourth is the blood sugar and insulinogenic properties of grains, which is potentially the most dangerous in terms of the refined versions of these grains. Although all grains end up as glucose when digested, the refined versions (e.g. white flour, corn starch, processed oats) turn into glucose much quicker. Since most of these have been processed and milled, bleached, and then injected with a few nutrients to make up for what was stripped away, there is little difference nutritionally between refined grains and sugar. These products are different in name, taste and function but are treated very much the same by the body.
Lastly, grains also stimulate the pleasure centers in the brain, similar to sugar and addictive substances. In fact, specifically they interact with the opiate receptors in the brain to mimic opium (on a much smaller scale). Most carbohydrates can be addictive, and sugar and grains seem to be the two most powerful substances from a neurochemical standpoint.
To conclude, grains can be problematic for many people. Further, refined grains are typically problematic for everyone. Most people would reap a major benefit from avoiding all processed/refined grains, particularly white flour. For those with inflammatory or digestive problems, avoiding all grains would be a good idea.
This is a topic with some gray areas so feel free to comment if something needs a bit more explanation or if you have something to add.
Thanks for reading.
A couple notes…
Many of the potential adverse effects of grains can be limited by soaking them, to start the sprouting process
There are different levels of tolerance for grains, both individually and culturally
Many societies have lived well with grains for thousands of years, however there are much different preparation methods and other lifestyle factors that contribute to health.
There are no nutrients inherent to grains that can not be gotten elsewhere in the diet.