Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Whole Gains = Wholesome Goodness?

What we think we know about grains based on everything you've heard and been told by your friends, family, doctors, the food pyramid, your health teacher, and the media is that whole grains are healthy and good for you and should be a staple in your diet.  Whole grains are included "as part of a complete breakfast" and to help fulfill you RDA, Recommended Daily Amount, of vitamins and minerals as well as fiber. Americans regularly eat bagels, donuts, pastries, cereal, muffins, toast - all grain based breakfast foods in addition to sandwiches, pizza, rice and pasta at lunch or dinner.

So why did I change my diet and go from eating a loaf of bread a week as a high carb/low fat believer in whole grains to going Paleo and no longer eating grains at all? I started to learn more about grains and found that grains aren't as much good as 'they' say.

First, lets define what is a grain?

Wheat, Rye, Barley, Flour (made from any grain), Oats, Cereals, Corn...yes corn is a grain, Rice, Quinoa*, Couscous
Why I don't eat Grains:

Grains contain Lectins that cause inflammation and cause auto-immune responses:

Lectins = Proteins found in grains (Gluten is one of them) that cause an inflammatory response and break down and actually attack your intestinal lining because your stomach acid is unable to break them down.  When they attack the lining of your gut, it creates small holes that enable both lectins and other things to 'leak' outside of your digestive system and into your blood stream.  When this happens both harmful and non-harmful particles can enter your body, so your body attacks them causing an inflammatory response often associated with auto-immune diseases (like Multiple Sclerosis, Celiac Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis).  In addition to the inflammatory response your body is attacking itself and diverting attention away from being able to attack other things.  With constant re-exposure to grains your gut never has time to heal, and therefore the damage persists and gets worse each time you eat more grains.

Celiac Disease = extreme form of reaction to the lectin gluten, so for people that are gluten intolerant the attacking of the gut lining and response is extremely bad. Robb Wolf, a former research biochemist turned Paleolithic Nutrition and Strength & Conditioning coach, states that all people are gluten intolerant to some degree; try taking grains (especially ones containing gluten) out of your diet and see what clears up...allergies, colds, energy spikes and lows, stuffy nose in the morning, headaches and more.

Grains have a high carbohydrate load, resulting in insulin spikes and crashes.

Grains are primarily carbohydrates, and therefore have a high carbohydrate load.  A high carbohydrate load = insulin spikes and crashes, as your body breaks carbohydrates down into glucose.  If you body can't use those carbohydrates immediately, for fuel or to replenish recently spent fuel,  then the carbs are stored as fat instead of used by the body for energy.

Grains are very calorie dense, and not very nutrient dense.

Grains are primarily empty calories, and compared to other foods (like vegetables) are relatively low in nutrients.  In order to get all of the nutrients you need, you need to eat a lot of grains which results in eating a lot of calories quickly.  That concept brings us back to the high carbohydrate load properties of grain and the tendency for your body to store the excess carbohydrate as fat since its unable to use all of those calories immediately.  When grains are processed they lose some of the nutrients that they have - whole grains and most grain products are usually fortified with additional vitamins and minerals since they are stripped out in the process of making the grains edible.  So while grains offer a some vitamins and minerals, nutritionally speaking you can get them from a better sources - vegetables, fruits, meats, eggs, seafood, nuts, and seeds.

I feel better, look better, and perform better when I don't eat grains.

What I've found, is that taking grains out of my diet has given me more energy and has made me feel significantly better.  I haven't gotten sick much since changing my diet and eliminating grains from my food choices.  I also have noticed that I don't need to eat as often, my mom used to joke that you could set your watch by me since I was hungry every 2 hours.  Now when I do eat grains, I find that I feel sluggish and sometimes even sick.  Try no grains for 30 days (you need to give it a full 30 days though) and see how you feel.  What ailments clear up?  What comes back when your re-introduce grains?
"Bottom line – there is NOTHING found in grains that you can’t get from a better source with NO down sides (like vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds)." - Whole 9, The Grain Manifesto

Additional Web Reading about Grains:
More information on grains, both of these resources are easy to understand and properly researched:
Whole 9 - The Grain Manifesto
Mark's Daily Apple - The Definitive Guide to Grains

*Note: I'm defining quinoa as a grain, but botanically it is actually a berry.  Your body reacts to it very similarly as it does to a grain, which is why I included it.


  1. Thanks Laura for explaining it so well!!I ahve a hard time explaining the "facts" to people so I will def point them in your direction. In addition to the physical reasons one might decide to stop eating grains, their are emotional reasons for anyone who struggles with compulsive eating. Check out my guest post on the paleo chix blog:

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on whole grain. It contains a lot of health benefits. It reduces risk of some chronic diseases.

  3. “Whole Gains” indeed! I ended a nineteen-year vegan phase four years ago, and I gained a whole twenty five kilograms in that time! I was always hungry after eating pasta or breads, which at that time I thought was good for me, while thinking meat and other sources of saturated fats were bad. That’s why I was vegan. Now, I know better.