Dietary theories are being invented and promoted in a society where the media look to profit from new ground-breaking stories, such as weight loss success stories experienced by individuals or high profile stars.
One topic that always plays a considerable mention in any diet is the consumption of carbohydrates. Excessive carbohydrates are associated with increased fat storage and cause for gaining weight, obesity, and diabetes.
One major culprit is processed foods high in sugar content. Sugars are simple carbs that if over consumed will promote the storage of fat, de-stabilise blood sugar level, promote hyperactivity, ruin teeth health etc etc. But this I am sure most people are well informed about, and the consumption is more about choice and self-discipline.
So rather than try to repeat the negatives of sugar in an extremist way, it would be more beneficial to talk about another carbohydrate. One we are less knowledgeable about that takes the form of starch, and one which we are all led to believe is the holy grail of any daily diet consumed as recommended by national governments – grains.
Our ancestors were not foolish. Living in a period where excessive population was not an issue, and lower levels of pollution were in existence. But they already had foresight to see how humans would likely evolve years into the future, realising the importance of identifying a form of food which could be mass produced and consumed, providing us with a staple source of energy, avoiding starvation amongst our species, and to continue our existence and evolution.
One rule of Modern Palaeolithic dietary followers would be to completely exclude grains in their diet, claiming that the primal human did not eat grains. This is an inconclusive and likely incorrect assumption, given methods of producing and storing foods including grains came directly from our very ancestors.
The likelihood is that grains did form a small percentage of our ancestors’ diets, rather than a much larger portion compared to today’s society. Also the quality and purity of the grains they consumed would be less toxic than today given their less polluted environment. But surely with our knowledge and technologies available we should be able to optimise consumption of grain based foods, so that they remain a healthy food, rendering this discussion pointless?
Well let’s face it, many of us today are now short-sighted, living the lives we live in today, trying to manage our own weight, feed our families. We don’t have the time to self-research information on topics such as grains, which we are led to believe are an integral source of maintaining our daily health. We rely on people responsible for providing us reliable information and expert recommendation to help us live as healthy a life as possible, such as our domestic governments and world organisations.
Grains are supposedly proven to be effective in lowering LDL bad cholesterol, and so promote a healthy heart, helping to control blood pressure levels. Consuming grains also provides a good source of the water soluble fibres beta glucan, which help to cleanse our digestive system and stabilise our blood sugar levels, and so will also be of benefit to those who are diabetic.
They are also considered a Low Glycaemic Index food, and so when consumed in the morning they will provide us with a slow release of energy to last us until the evening. Consequently this will minimise fat storage through the ability to have extra time to burn off these carbohydrates, and preventing an insulin spike that would typically cause the body to promote fat storage which we want to avoid when managing our weight and fat body percentage.
This may be all true. In fact the numbers of studies that are presented to support this recommendation overwhelmingly do support this. And I also believe that consuming grains is certainly a valid choice for an individual whose daily activities are suited for consuming this type of carbohydrate.
But how valid and reliable is this truly? With the number of problems individuals face with their health by consuming grains, some experts are questioning the full validity of these studies.
Cutting it to the chase, by selecting healthy individuals consuming a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and at good weight levels to test benefits of grain consumption, vs unhealthier test subjects who are currently consuming a poor diet, have excessive weight, don’t exercise regularly, and already likely deprived of essential nutrients to place their bodies in an adverse health state as subjects chosen to eradicate grains from their diet in these tests...
Well of course this will lead more substantial evidence to support grains’ benefits on health. But is it actually the grains that are causing the health benefits identified from this period of testing? Perhaps they are beneficial, but not as much as it would be made out to be?
There is clearly lower quality of land to produce a declining level of fresh nutritious foods, with a great reliance now upon pesticides. There is also an overproduction of grains to feed our worldwide population.
This evidence would make it relatively easy for governments to promote regular consumption of grains, supported by strong and frequent forms of evidence, but unfortunately potentially flawed. This successful promotion of grains as critical for maintaining good health would help manage these lower levels of production from more nutritious food sources, whilst also maintaining businesses, employment, and so keeps a national economy in as good a state as possible.
Well if statistical evidence can be produced specifically to suit a purpose other than health, then other misleading information can be spread quite easily. Another problem that many people don’t realise is the importance that grains are consumed in their purest form.
A huge number of businesses operating solely for profit will advertise breakfast cereals promoting these associated grain benefits such as Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain and Coco Pops, when in reality the majority of the nutritional content of their products happens to be much lower in the benefits a pure grain would provide. Some of these processed products on the market containing a much higher sugar content and alarmingly high levels of sodium. Even adverts have been to promote these supposedly healthy breakfast cereals also being suitable for snacks, lunch, or evening consumption!
Another controversial statement is the classification that all grains are Low GI, processed or not – not all grain forms are low GI, with some classified as medium GI. A medium GI Food such as a healthy banana will still cause energy levels to crash if expecting to rely on this food only as a source of carbohydrates for a prolonged period of time. White bread, white rice, some forms of brown bread and rice, and muesli can all fall into the Medium GI bracket.
And so these Medium GI grains therefore won’t serve the purpose of proving the claimed “slow release form of carbohydrate to stave off hunger and provide energy for most of your day”. They would in fact promote appetite, and increased fat storage if these calories are not used up within the shorter time frame a Medium GI food has to be utilised as energy.
Health Tip – Remember, by consuming a variety of foods, the overall GI level of the meal will be reduced to help promote a more stable release of energy.
It’s therefore easy to see why people would both over consume and gain excess weight when eating grains. Being misinformed, thinking they are healthy at any point of the day, whilst not recognising the amount of processing and impure grain content within the production and nutritional breakdown within products on our shop shelves today.
This then causes the individual to end up blaming their body type, their self-discipline, and a low natural metabolism as cause for their excessive weight level which continues to worsen as time passes by. This person will also think any weight loss regime is a pointless exercise, as their body would never be capable of losing excess weight and fat…but all in fact, is due to false information being provided, where there is reason and evidence to suggest what they are consuming would promote their lack of self-discipline, increased fat storage, and weight gain.
It is true however that some body types may be better suited for metabolising fats rather than carbohydrates. An individual with an endomorph shape will naturally hold more fat than an ectomorph, and would be suited to exercises that burn off fat rather than carbs.
But again being overweight is also majorly due to an individual’s daily activity. Sedentary individuals and those engaging in this lower intense exercise will burn only fat directly, but be more prone to storing excess carbs they fail to burn during the day as more fat to again burn off.
In comparison, those who have a job and exert a greater amount of calories in their daily lives, or athletes that undertake high intense forms of activity will need the carbohydrates to feed the energy demands their body requires.
So my point here – grains when it comes to consumption, need to be in its purest form such as 100% wholegrain oats and the amount consumed needs to be relative to the type of activity and number of calories an individual burns on a daily basis. We now live in a technological age, not a primitive age decades passed. And do not believe how a business promotes their products to be the perfect grain to consume for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – check the labels, ingredients, to allow you to make that self-informed choice.
We know how grains may benefit us when consumed smartly – but like any legumes, grains also contain anti-nutrients.
Anti-nutrients as suggested by the name, are not nutritionally beneficial to our health, but rather affect us adversely and cause us harm. These anti-nutrients present and in greater amounts within certain grains, are phytates and lectins.
Grains contain both of these in abundance. Phytic acid causes certain vitamins and minerals consumed to have decreased absorbability by the body, and so consequently can lead to a mineral imbalance or deficiency if those affected are not compensated for adequately when consuming grains.
Most notably is vitamin c, zinc, and iron. Both are affected substantially when consuming grains. So it is important to ensure you feed yourself plenty of these affected vitamins and minerals when eating a grain based food. This will ensure you absorb enough of these, avoiding any deficiency and imbalances to keep your body functioning in good order.
But phytates are not all bad. They are also known to bind to any toxins that are created, rendering them ineffective till the point of excretion.
My advice with Phytates – when consuming grains, ensure you consume a good multi-vitamin, and increase your vitamin C, zinc, and iron intake. Being short of these will affect your testosterone and circulatory health. And so this way, your body will compensate for the absorption inhibitor functions phytates provide, whilst also maintaining the antioxidant benefits phytic acid brings with grain consumption.
When we are attacked, we try to protect ourselves. We have our own self-defensive mechanism to achieve this. Poor plants are also subject to being attacked on by its prey, and that’s including us! Plants instead of protecting themselves in the physical way we do, instead produce lectins which form part of their make-up which humans also consume when eating plant based foods.
Lectins function in a way to adversely affect our digestive system, causing harm to our intestinal lining which can cause a lower immunity level to toxins that are created, present, and continue to enter our bodies.
These lectins again are in greater amounts from certain sources, such as grains, and especially nuts. Peanut butter is extremely high in both phytic acid and lectins. Such a popular spread on unhealthy white bread, and such a harmful food especially consumed on a frequent basis. (I am guilty here too).
Being into fitness and muscle building, peanut butter is a good slow release form of casein protein. This form of protein helps to prevent muscle breakdown.
So how do I compensate? Digestive supplements can be taken which will promote gut health and help aid the digestive system as a whole provide some benefit to counter act these little pests.
Acidophilus pro-biotic products that contain supporting bacteria will promote a healthy gut by helping our gut bacteria to fight off the harmful properties lectins bring. And to aid any digestive discomforts an individual does have, slippery elm and marshmallow are both herbs effective in soothing the digestive system, especially when combined together.
Slippery elm also acts as a pre-biotic, to support the effectiveness of consuming probiotics. Artichoke is another popular herb supplement to aid in making the most out of your probiotic supplement.
I actually use one of Patrick Holford’s supplements here, konjac glucommanan. This is a fibre which acts as a prebiotic and probiotic, along with its fibrous properties helps to digest and cleanse our digestive system. It also works different to the more renowned psyllium husks product, where konjac actually expands and acts as a sponge. This property ensures there is less discomfort when food passes through the digestive tract.
Other beneficial supplements include papaya enzymes and bromelain, both helping to optimise nutrient absorption, increasing nutrient uptake from the food we masticate and digest. Both are especially effective at breaking down proteins, and both provide benefits to joint health.
I have also heard of lectin blockers that have recently been introduced to the market – I have yet to try these, so I cannot provide any judgement. But lectins are a classification, not specific lectins. So I would expect blockers would need a number of constituents that fight off certain lectins. Make sure you find a product that counters the lectins you are consuming.
My Advice with Lectins – From my experiences, a pre biotic, a pro biotic, and digestive enzymes are important supplementation staples in anyone’s diet, as I am sure most of us will be consuming food sources containing phytates and lectins on a day to day basis.
I haven’t yet touched on gluten, but this protein often forms part of a number of grain sources, such as wheat, rye and barley.
It is a known cause of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), and the even more severe coeliac disease where nutrient absorption is a severe issue. This can result in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), or if iron deficient and suffering a shortage of red blood cells, being anaemic.
A number of individual have also found that when eliminating grains from their diet, they feel more energised, and any previous joint pains and arthritis, are eased or eliminated. These are symptoms of individuals showing intolerance to gluten. A gluten free diet would be suitable for these individuals. Safe alternative grain sources include rice, millet, quinoa, buckwheat and potatoes.
The popular oats also does not technically contain gluten, but will often end up being contaminated with this protein due to being processed with other grains, or during their distribution.
So my answer to the above question, it really does depend on the individual and their lifestyle. By taking your own factors into account, and using trial and error to your body’s specific needs and reactions, adjustment grain consumption accordingly.
- To consume grains in their purest form, don’t get fooled by firms marketing their processed breakfast cereals for profit
- You can compensate for anti-nutrients by utilising digestive supplementation, and increasing consumption of specific vitamins and minerals where absorbability is reduced (Vitamin C, Iron, Zinc)
- Do acknowledge your own needs and any adverse reactions of your body to determine grain consumption, or the type of grain consumed
And for the athlete and active person – you’ll need grains, as a modernised paleolithic based diet or one based in prolonged ketosis phases will be too low in starchy carbohydrates, and these will not provide enough energy for intense exercise and optimised performance. So when consuming grains, do make sure to take compensative measures to account for the negative effects of unavoidable anti-nutrient consumption.
…..So are grains a healthy option, or a health hazard? I’ll let you decide on that one.
Published: March 8, 2014
Notes by Irina Bright:
Gene, yet another great article - thanks very much!
As always, lots of excellent points here. Of course, grains have been promoted as a healthy food option in our everyday diets.
I myself love many different types of grains, although I don't consume them in large amounts either. I love rice, millets, quinoa and buckwheat. Buckwheat is a very popular food in Russia. I feel like buckwheat is easier to absorb than rice, for example. Also, quinoa is very easy to absorb, from my personal experience.
I don't eat much of bread, although from time to time we like to make our our bread in the bread-making machine. That way we can, at least, choose the ingredients that go there.
I totally agree with your points about helping the digestive system while consuming grains. There are loads of supplements on the market for consumers to choose from.
Brown seaweeds are amazing pro-biotics. I absolutely love the taste of Seagreens harvested in Scotland.
You are totally right when your say that everyone has to find their own individually-matched foods and diets that will serve them best.