Due to grains allowing civilization to flourish, industry to succeed, and thus allow companies to make profit, they have become the centerpiece of our standard diet. Though whole grains are often viewed as necessary sources of dietary complex carbohydrates and fiber, it may surprise you to learn that we were not made to digest them, whether refined or not. Over the past decade, many have found they they do better on a gluten-free diet, even if they have not been officially diagnosed celiac . However, wheat products are not the only source of grain humans should avoid, as we are all actually grain-intolerant to some extent, due to harmful amounts of anti-nutrients present in these foods. Unlike “nutrients,” which benefit the body, “anti-nutrients” have the opposite effect, causing significant health complications in today’s grain-based world.
Grains, which are converted into sugar in the bloodstream, are incredibly dense sources of carbs that are unnecessary for living. Not only does eating a diet heavy in carbohydrates cause a roller coaster effect on our blood sugar, but insulin levels are chronically elevated, thus setting the stage for inevitable health problems later down the road. Besides the toxic glucose overload that grains (wheat, rice, millet, rye, sorghum, barley, oats, spelt, amaranth, etc…) provide our body, they also contain anti-nutrients known as lectins. The two most harmful are known as “prolamins” and “agglutinins,” both of which are naturally occurring toxins that plants use as natural defense mechanisms against predators (UV rays, animals, and harmful bacteria). When eaten, these proteins damage our intestinal wall by binding to the lining of the GI track, simultaneously inhibiting it from any remission of healing and repair. When this “leaky gut” develops, foreign food proteins escape into the bloodstream, causing an auto immune response where the body literally attacks itself. Due to “molecular mimicry,” lectins are also able to trick various organs outside of the GI track, such as nerve, liver, and thyroid cells, into using them in their normal function and routine. Because of this, many mild-serious health conditions result, including thyroid and liver disease, fibromyalgia, obesity, heart burn, acid reflux, allergies, skin problems, asthma, autism, cognitives problems, and diabetes. For these reasons, it is very important that those with an autoimmune disease seek to eliminate all sources of grains from their diet, as the lectin content can significantly exasperate their disorder. Lectins also are known for feeding E.Coli bacteria, binding to insulin receptor, and prompting insulin and leptin resistance, which in turn tricks the brain into believing it is starving (when in reality food being consumed is simply being sent directly to fat storage). In the end, the fact that foods high in these anti-nutrients (i.e. all grains and legumes) cause so much inflammation and trauma throughout the body, proves that they are unfamiliar and therefore unnecessary as part of the human diet.
Without getting into too much detail, a second anti-nutrient found in all grains is “phytates,” the salt form of “phytic acid” found in plants. These compounds bind to essential minerals in the body, causing severe nutrient and mineral deficiencies, as well as osteoporosis (a disease relatively absent before the advent of civilization). Even if you have yet to suffer from one of these conditions, the belief that grains are “nutritious” (in any form), is simply an oxymoron, as the vitamins and minerals available are unable to be processed due to phytates inhibiting their absorption. Because of phytates and lectins, even gluten-free foods can serve as problematic for individuals, as they are still filling the body with anti-nutrient dense carbohydrates.
Wheat and Gluten
Out of all the anti-nutrients found in grains, the most commonly known and demonized is gluten. This large, water-soluble protein is considered to be in the “prolamin” category of lectins, and is present in all wheat, rye, and barley. Though only 1% of the population is officially diagnosed with celiac disease, it is estimated that more than 83% of individuals suffer from a noticeable sensitivity or severe intolerance. Symptoms range from GI, skin, and joint disorders, anemia, bone density loss, equilibrium problems, chronic migraines, learning disabilities, various nervous system issues, autoimmune disease, and even several cancers. All in all, gluten causes systemic inflammation throughout the body, acting as a precursor to chronic illness. However, the gluten protein in wheat products is not the only offender in today’s world, but also the high amount of industrialization and engineering that has occurred over the past decades to create a drought resistant variety known as “dwarf wheat.” Now, not only does modern-day wheat include gluten, but it also has two incredibly harmful agents; wheat germ agglutination and gliadin protein. When eaten, gliadin binds to opioid receptors in the brain, causing a huge, abnormal stimulation of appetite, making the average person eat 400+ extra calories per day. Because of this, trying to eliminate wheat can seem literally impossible, as the body detoxes from this gluten-dependancy. However, once the body readjusts back to normal function, side effects will vanish, while digestion, elimination, immune function, and inflammation are sure to all improve.
White or Wheat?
All anti-nutrients aside, another reasons grains are detrimental to the body is due to being an “acellular” carbohydrate source, meaning they are are too easily digestible and thus overwhelm and imbalance healthy gut bacteria. Due to this intensive carbohydrate load, glycogen stores are quickly filled up, turning any ingested calories immediately into inaccessible fat. (i.e. triglycerides). Once a pattern of this eating is continued (as is the case for SAD), stress hormones are triggered to flood the body, which exhausts the adrenal system, pancreas, and immune system, simultaneously creating systemic inflammation, the precursor to all disease. Unlike the popular notion that “whole grains” are great sources of fiber and protein, these items are just as unnecessary as all processed versions. The only difference in choosing “white” over “wheat,” is that the product is free from its bran and germ components, leaving only the starchy endosperm intact. Because whole grains are not as refined, they naturally contain higher amounts of previously discussed anti-nutrients; lectins, phytates, and gluten. Though it is true that the more heavily processed grains cause an unhealthy, immediate spike in insulin, the same can be said for whole grains. Despite the fact that the heightening of insulin happens over a longer period of time, the end result of these “whole” sources is exactly the same; toxic amounts of blood glucose, insulin resistance, fat storage, and chronic disease.
Against the Grain
For those who believe they absolutely “need” their carbs to function, there are plenty of paleo approved foods that allow for more than enough natural carb consumption. It is important to remember that overall tolerance of starchy vegetables and fruit will vary on the individual, which makes experimenting and learning how your own body reacts ultimately the best thing to do. Mega-calorie burners, such as endurance athletes, find that they do better on the “higher” end of the paleo carbohydrate spectrum, averaging around 100-150 grams per day. If you are less active, trying to lose weight, or follow a more primal-aligned exercise pattern, 50-100 grams of carbs is quite satisfying, while also allowing for adequate amounts of protein and healthy fat. If you are not consuming fruit for their natural carb content, finding high antioxidant, low glycemic varieties such as berries and stone fruit (cherries, prunes, peaches, etc..), is always a great idea. It is also important to eat these fruits when in season and (or) grown locally, instead of foreign and imported varieties (i.e. strawberries the size of golf balls in the middle of winter). Of course, wild options are always the best, as these do not experience pesticides or premature aging, and thus have the highest nutritional value of all.
After touching on just a few of the reasons why grains are an unnecessary, it is quite clear what the inevitable consequence of their over-consumption is; disease. With gluten being just one of the offenders, all grains take a tole on our body, resulting in a worn out, damaged, and helpless immune system. Though we obviously are able to “tolerate” grains for a certain extent of time, the rising number of chronic disease and illness serves as proof of our inability to uphold against these toxins. Just because the food industry claims we need them to survive, does not mean that living a grain-free lifestyle is impossible. Pasta, sandwich bread, wraps, and pizza, are all seen as cheap, efficient ways to feed the family. Yet there are many ways that make going grain-free just as affordable, if not cheaper, due to eliminating all high carb, processed food and drinks, while boosting caloric efficiency. It is true that frequent stops in the drive-through lane, dining out, and stocking up on pre-made frozen meals strips one’s finances more than they are aware. Instead, emphasizing real food (i.e. protein, vegetables, fruit, nut/seeds, fat) while avoiding high profit (low nutrition) foods, will not only result in a lighter dent in your wallet, but also an improvement in overall health.
Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.”