Eating Grains, Or Not

“Healthy Whole Grains…”

If something is repeated often enough, it can become an unquestioned truth. “Healthy whole grains” has been recommended for years as a staple of conventional medical advice. But are whole grains really healthy?

Let’s consider what grains are and what nutritional value they have — either in the “whole” form or not.

Grains are seeds. Specifically, grains are the seeds of grasses. These grasses include wheat, rye, barley, corn, rice, and many others. Why should we eat these seeds? To answer that question, it is necessary to understand basic seed anatomy. Since wheat is the predominant seed that Americans consume, let’s start there.

After removal of the hull/chaff or outer casing (the process is called threshing, whereby the wheat is separated from the chaff), wheat is comprised of three components: the outer husk/bran, the endosperm, and the germ. White flour is made from the endosperm and the germ only. Therefore, the only difference between “whole grain wheat” and non-whole grain is the presence of the husk, or bran.0713F3WholeGrainsGrainAnatomy

The husk/bran of the wheat seed contains fiber, B vitamins, and some trace minerals. It also contains phytic acid which binds to important minerals such as calcium and zinc and prevents the absorption of those minerals — not a good thing. Phytic acid is one example of what can be called an anti-nutrient. I strongly recommend that the consumption of foods with anti-nutrients be substantially restricted or eliminated in your diet. The favorable nutrients in the husk such as B vitamins can be easily obtained from foods without anti-nutrients. Strike one against wheat.

The majority of the wheat seed is comprised of the endosperm, which is almost entirely made of rapidly absorbed carbohydrate in the form of a highly branched starch called amylopectin. Consumption of amylopectin will spike your blood sugar (glucose) higher than virtually any other substance you can eat, including table sugar. This is extremely harmful to your health, particularly if you are overweight or have diabetes or pre-diabetes. The fact that the majority of physicians and the American Diabetes Association continues to advise those with diabetes to consume a diet which will wreak havoc with their blood sugar control is pretty crazy, in my opinion.

The last major component of the seed is the germ or “nucleus” in the middle where the genetic material for the plant is stored (the DNA). The germ contains two major anti-nutrients, wheat germ agglutinin and gluten. Wheat germ agglutinin is part of a class of molecules called lectins, which are a means of plant self-defense against animals who might eat them. Lectins make animals who are not adapted to eat that particular plant ill, which improves the plant’s chance of survival. Another lectin is called ricin; it is made by the castor bean. Ricin is a very effective poison which terrorists like to use. Wheat germ agglutinin won’t kill you like ricin will, but it will make you sick by causing irritation of your gut. It particularly can cause acid reflux in a large percentage of people. I have had numerous patients experience resolution of their reflux after eliminating wheat from their diet.

Gluten is actually a family of proteins, and includes the glutenins and the gliadins. Unlike other proteins which can be broken down completely into their component amino acids, gluten cannot be fully broken down in the human gut. Instead, it is broken up into relatively large fragments called polypeptides, which are very inflammatory in the gut and cause the gut’s barrier to become “leaky.” An impaired intestinal barrier can cause generalized inflammation throughout the body and result in migraines, joint pain, and many other inflammatory conditions. There is also good evidence that a leaky gut can predispose to many different autoimmune diseases. There is only one autoimmune disease with a mechanism that is well understood — celiac disease. It is caused by the presence of gluten in the diet, and it is cured by the removal of gluten.

My advice is that if you want to enjoy good health, every food you consume should be consciously evaluated with regard to its nutritional value, not whether it tastes good. Grains have no nutrients that cannot be easily obtained from other sources. I see no reason to put up with all the harmful components of wheat and other grains when the nutrients they offer are available in many other foods which do not have all of the harmful components of those grains.

Although it is difficult to avoid wheat because it is in almost everything Americans eat, try eliminating it from your diet for a month and see how you feel.

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