Grains may be available in abundance now but it hasn’t always been that way. The development of agriculture is what allowed for us to grow and consume these foods in such vast quantities. In fact, China has only had rice for around 10,000 years now while central America has had corn for about 9,000. However, corn didn’t become a staple in the western diet until around 1,200 years ago. Wheat originated around 11,500 years ago but only became common the western Europe around 7,000 years ago. It has now developed into the third largest crop in the world due to its ability to resist otherwise uninhabitable climates. At a glance this seems like a long time but when you really think about the amount of time humans have been living on this earth then it’s really a very small amount of time in comparison.
What this means is that our digestive systems haven’t quite adapted yet to be able to handle grains in such volume. Most western Europeans have grains every day in almost every single meal which is a huge contrast to never eating them whatsoever. Over time, this digestive stress can build up and cause many problems.
Type 2 Diabetes
As well as digestive issues, grains are a very dense source of carbohydrates. Per 100g corn has 74g of carbohydrates and wheat has 71g. Potatoes, a tuber, only contain 17g of carbohydrates per 100g and apples contain only 14g. These carbohydrates elevate insulin levels, a hormone secreted by the pancreas which responds to glucose within the blood. If there is too much glucose within the blood stream then insulin will store it in your liver, muscles or fat stores. Unfortunately, as most Americans are sedentary with a high carbohydrate intake, most of the glucose gets directed straight to the fat stores. If your insulin is raised too much too often then cells within the body eventually become resistant. This is when type 2 diabetes sets in.
Type 2 diabetes results from the body not being able to produce enough insulin or the cells in the body not responding to the amount of insulin released. Once you have this condition it can only be managed, not reversed. If you’re planning on having a child and one of the parents has diabetes then there is a 15% chance of passing it on to the baby. If both parents have diabetes this figure sharply rises to 75% which means that there is a higher chance of your child being born with diabetes than without – a very scary thought.
Consuming a diet high in carbohydrate can be at the expense of nutritious fatty foods such as eggs. Contrary to popular belief, fats are actually very good for you. So much so that they contain certain fat-soluble vitamins which can only be absorbed in the presence of fat. These vitamins are A,D,E and K and help with a range of things from bone density to immune system regulation.
It can also mean a reduced consumption of protein which is needed for preserving and promoting lean tissue within the body. Protein is also very satisfying and can be eaten in excess with very minimal effects on fat levels. This means that if you have 50g of extra protein one day then there is a very rare chance of you gaining any fat as long as your other macronutrients were the same.
Gluten Intolerance and Coeliac Disease
Other conditions that are affected by grains are gluten intolerance and coeliac disease. If you’re gluten intolerant then you may experience lethargy, bloating, brain ‘fogginess,’ sickness and joint pain along with some other symptoms after consuming a gluten containing food such as grains. Being coeliac is a much more dangerous condition which can result in weight loss, vomiting, bone defects, hyperthyroidism and malnutrition if undiagnosed. Grains such as wheat and barley are particularly high in gluten so should be avoided at all costs. Gluten sensitivity is actually very common with around 18 million Americans having the condition. About 3 million Americans are estimated to be coeliac. According to a study referenced in this post by Mark Sisson, 29 percent of non-coeliacs tested positive for anti-gliadin IgA in their stool. This is an antibody produced by the gut to ward off gliadin, a primary component of gluten. So, you really only have anti-gliadin IgA if your body believes there is a threat in the form of gluten. If you suspect you are coeliac then please consult your doctor where as if you believe you are gluten sensitive then an elimination diet works best. Take out all gluten containing products for 6 weeks and see if your symptoms persist or are alleviated. Gluten sensitivity can be present from birth or brought on through over consumption of gluten so don’t think that you’re alright because you were fine as a child.
Grains and Fibre
Many people believe that they cannot take grains out of their diet due to the fibre content. Yet, fibre is a key component of many fruits and vegetables. Also, consuming fibre in high quantities can actually be bad for your digestion. Yes, that’s right; those large bowls of all-bran for breakfast aren’t doing you any good.
There are two types of fibre: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble is hard and dense meaning that after you ingest it scrapes through your gastrointestinal tract and bumps off the sides. Doesn’t sound too good, does it? Eating too much insoluble fibre, which is particularly high in grains, can cause your digestive tract to experience real stress and damage. Soluble fibre on the other hand soaks up water much like the oats. It then forms a sticky gel consistency and the theory is that it draws water into the stool thus making it easier to excrete. However, this can also bung you up and attach to your body. Many people who experience IBS will notice that decreasing their fibre intake will dramatically improve their health be them having constipation or diarrhoea. If you eat a regular amount of fibre at each meal then there’s no need to have these special fibre-filled products like oat and wheat bran.
Grains do not contain any unique vitamins and minerals, either. There are a vast array of natural fruits and vegetables which can counter any micronutrients a grain has.
Grains and Lectins
Unfortunately, grains do contain a certain compound called lectins which can bind to insulin receptors as well as the human intestinal lining and also attack your stomach lining. They also have the ability to cause leptin resistance. Leptin is often known as the ‘satiety hormone’ and is produced by adipose cells. This hormone helps us know when we are full and when we are hungry. If you’re experiencing a leptin resistance then you’ll never know when you’re hungry or when you’re full (kind of like a teenager). You’ll end up constantly grazing (like a teenager) which creates an energy imbalance and causes fat gain (unlike a teenager).
Some people who consume a high amount of grains may believe that they have a leptin resistance because they’re always hungry but it could also be down to another factor. Grains are not very satiating compared to their more wholesome counterparts. In one 100g bowl of corn flakes there is 357 calories. You would have to consume around 460g of potatoes in order to equal that amount and I think you know which would leave you feeling more full. Constantly choosing grains over more nutrient dense and natural food items can lead to a huge caloric surplus. This is why obesity is so prevalent in the US. High calorie, grain-filled foods with a low level of nutrients are readily available and unsatisfying. They don’t fill you up or give you any value making them easy to overeat as your brain tries to get as many nutrients as it possibly can.
Lectins and gluten are part of the plant’s natural defence system called anti-nutrients which are as unappealing as they sound. Anti-nutrients help stop the plant from being eaten by causing ill effects when digested. Another anti-nutrients found in grains are phyctic acid/phytate which can bind to minerals such as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium and zinc to prevent absorption.
So, now you know that grains probably aren’t the best choice for your health then what is?
Wild fish, free-range meats, nuts, seeds, fresh fruits and veggies, game, poultry and eggs. All of these foods provide you with a high level of vitamins and minerals while being extremely satiating and tasty. That’s right, bacon and eggs for breakfast instead of soggy bran flakes and steak for dinner instead of cous cous. These are all single ingredient, natural and whole foods that are bodies have been thriving on for millions of years.
The USDA recommends that grains should make the basis of your diet but that’s just because they are cheap to produce; it’s not because it’s what best for our health. Humans need a diet predominantly made of food that we could hunt or find easily like animal products and seasonal fruits and vegetables. These foods are often neglected because people are busy eating bread, cereal and pastries. Swapping these foods for proper nutrition will stop those sugar crashes, improve your concentration and leave you with an all round feeling of wellbeing.
Feeling constantly lethargic and ill is not normal. Struggling to get to sleep every night is not normal. Being bloated all the time whether you’ve eaten or not is not normal. Your body is designed to be healthy and is designed to thrive. It’s not designed to ‘just live with’ aches and pains. It needs to run, walk, lift and eat good food.