“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”- Hippocrates
We are led to believe that grains are an essential element in a healthy diet. We are told that eating high-fiber whole grains may help reduce the risk of heart disease, prevent or treat diabetes, and reduce cholesterol. Grains occupy the entire base and largest space on the food pyramid. Should we question whether they are healthy for us?
Interestingly, scientific and historical research shows that humans have not always consumed grains, and in fact some would argue the body was not designed to function on grains at all! Based on this research we have asked our patients to reduce their intake of grains and in some cases we are suggesting to go grain free. Grains include processed and whole grain products such as wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt, teff, rice, amaranth, millet, buckwheat, sorghum, and corn. These grains are used to make products like cereal, crackers, cookies, breads, and pasta. Grains contain anti-nutrients and cause big fluctuations in insulin levels, which promotes inflammation in the body. Let’s discuss each of these issues in detail.
Grains contain anti-nutrients.
Anti-nutrients are elements within a food that either prevent or disrupt the proper digestion and absorption of nutrients contained in that food. The more grains you eat the more anti-nutrients you have in your diet. If you eat cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and a bowl of pasta for dinner you are being exposed to a huge amount of anti-nutrients. Phytates are anti-nutrients. Phytates make minerals bio-unavailable as they bind to the minerals in our foods and prevent their absorption. Minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc are crucial for health and healing, but in the presence of phytates they are blocked from being absorbed by the body. This causes mineral deficiency which can result in a wide variety of symptoms that include, but are not limited to, suppressed immunity, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, heart palpitations, muscle cramps, constipation, hormonal imbalance, restless leg syndrome, muscle spasms, asthma, migraines, PMS and infertility.
Lectins are anti-nutrients that are sugar-binding proteins resistant to digestive enzymes and stomach acid. Lectins stick to the cells in the lining of the small intestines causing a weakness in digestive function. They are sticky like glue, and their stickiness is what clogs your digestive tract and blocks the absorption of nutrients. Overconsumption of lectin rich foods can build up over the years and cause sludge to form on your bowel walls keeping the intestines in a constant state of inflammation.
One way to address the problem of anti-nutrients in grains is to soak and/or sprout them. Some cultures prepare their grains by sprouting and soaking them before preparation and eating. This process dramatically reduces anti-nutrients and makes the actual nutrients present in grains available for absorption. If sprouting and soaking your own grains is not an option there are many health food stores and supermarkets that are already fully stocked with sprouted-grain products. Sprouted-grain breads are easy to find in the freezer section of most grocery stores.
Grains contain gluten.
Gluten is the protein component in wheat, rye, and barley. It makes pizza dough stretchy, gives bread its spongy texture, and is used to thicken sauces and soups. The latest research from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that around 1% of the population has Celiac’s disease, an autoimmune response to gluten that damages the small intestine. A Celiac patient reacts to trace amounts gluten in their diet. Although only a small percentage of people have Celiac’s, research shows a larger percentage of the population is sensitive to gluten and wheat. Some researches estimate that 30-40% of people of European decent are gluten intolerant. In addition to that Allopathic medicine has recently recognized a new group of diagnoses called non-celiac gluten sensitivity disorders. These conditions include digestive issues, cognitive and behavioral disorders, and neurological conditions that are caused by immune reactions to gluten in the diet. Unfortunately for many, the long-term results of consuming gluten can cause permanent damage to their immune and nervous systems.
Gluten free grains such as millet, amaranth, rice, buckwheat, sorghum, corn and teff also contain anti nutrients, cause insulin fluctuations and promote inflammation in the body. We recommend these grains in limited amounts. Pure oatmeal does not contain gluten, but most oatmeal brands on the market today are not pure — they contain oats that have been cross-contaminated with small amounts of wheat, barley and/or rye.
Reason # 3:
Grain consumption causes spikes in insulin production.
Insulin is very important for storing nutrients and processing glucose (sugar). Our bodies simply can’t handle the insulin requirements demanded when we over consume grains on a daily basis.
Ingesting grains causes blood sugar levels to spike, causing a shock to your system. Both simple and complex carbs get converted into glucose but at different rates once they enter the body. Your pancreas compensates for this excess glucose in the bloodstream by secreting excessive levels of insulin. Over stressing your insulin response system over the years can lead to metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.
We could tell everybody to completely eliminate grains out of their diet, and those who do will thrive… It will lower their blood pressure, decrease cholesterol levels, dramatically improve energy levels, burn off belly fat, reduce inflammation, promote weight loss, alleviate dermatitis, acne, and digestive disturbances etc. Those who chose to stay on the grain train should choose their grains wisely and infrequently. Soak and sprout your grains, buy sprouted grains, and seek non-grain, high protein alternatives like almond flour and coconut flour for your baked goods. By changing your diet and lifestyle you can take an active role in improving your digestive system, which in turn, will improve your immune system, and your ability to resist chronic diseases. As for the food pyramid, we should turn it upside down and get our daily fiber and essential nutrients from foods like vegetables, fruits, proteins and healthy fats which offer a much higher nutrient profile without the drawbacks seen with grains. This decrease in grain consumption will allow you to create a new relationship with grains and will help manage your blood sugar, control insulin levels and decrease systemic inflammation, which is essential to restoring health and slowing the aging process.