Are grains bad for you? An honest look
When the paleo diet became ‘high fashion’ in nutrition around 2013, the common culprit for poor diet was grain. Paleo stipulates that you can’t eat processed foods, artificial sweeteners, or trans fats. The saying goes “if it looks like it was made in a factory, don’t eat it."
But, like pet rocks, the no wheat part of paleo will go out of fashion, and only people you don’t want to associate with will still shill the no-wheat diet. Could there be any validity to the argument? Let’s discuss.
Grain got caught up in this demonized food group because it was said that the human is not conditioned to eat grains, that the human diet far proceeds grain consumption, a lie that has been disproven by the discovery of cereal like snacks made from grains which date back some 105,000 years.
Why did this trend take off the way it did?
The Paleo diet began to surge in 2013 because of a study by Samsel and Seneff (two computer scientists) which dictated that glyphosate, the herbicide heard ‘round the world for being in Roundup (pun intended), was responsible for the uptick in Celiac disease.
Was there validity to this? No, the Celiac Disease Foundation itself would come out to refute this point. On top of that, Donald D. Kasarda, an agriculture scientist who authored a 2013 study on 1920s wheat, says it's possible that increased consumption of wheat in recent years—rather than increased gluten in the wheat actually consumed—might be in part to blame for increased incidence of celiac disease.
Sarah Pope of the “Healthy Home Economist” reported (falsely) that glyphosate is the reason people experience digestive ailments when consuming wheat. This claim was partially based on the personal story that when in Italy, people didn’t experience digestive issues when consuming similar pasta as those eaten in the United States. Side note: it was probably the wine that made them feel fine, and if it wasn’t, then they weren’t doing Italy right!
Here is where I want to introduce the “appeal to nature” fallacy. This fallacy – a misconception - states that because something appears in nature or is “natural” and not contaminated by factory or industry, it is therefore better for you.
Test: the next time you hear a person who claims they only like to eat natural, suggest they go to the nearest freshwater basin, and drink “unmodified” water straight from the source – you’ve seen the picture of the freshwater estuary housing that stuck slice of tire and the half-submerged Lays sour cream and onion chip bag. Yes, this “natural” water is contaminated but does qualify as “special” and “untouched by processing.”
Yeah, I don’t think anyone will be too enthusiastic about drinking water with two parts Michelin Man and one part grimy-hand-touched leftover plastic.
The truth of the matter is, industrialization and modern wheat agriculture is responsible for keeping 3 billion people who might have been hungry instead alive, well fed, and in the case of Eastern Europe, for the most part lacking obesity.
Today, some 4 or 5 years later, there is still the misconception running around that grains will wreck your insides and make your brain the equivalent of a foggy window. So here’s the truth: without grains, we would lose the staple which provides more energy to the world than any other nutrient. We wouldn’t be able to maintain the population as it stands today without the various grains.
But I’m not here as a spokesperson for “Big Wheat,” and I will say eating wheat is not without its limitations; while an inexpensive and healthy source of energy for the most part, when consuming large quantities of refined wheat, we can run into problems. There is also a small percentage of people who are truly affected by grains.
Grains are made up of three parts: bran, germ, and endosperm. The first two parts, bran and germ, are integral for nutrient quality, as they contain fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, proteins, B vitamins, and get the point... good stuff.
When grain is refined - to make for a longer shelf life and prevention of mold and insect infestation - you are only left with the latter endosperm.
The endosperm is a high-carb starch, which is broken down relatively quickly due to separation from fiber. This leads to a blood sugar spike, and a correlated insulin spike. Over time at high rates of consumption, eating refined grains can lead to insulin resistance, which is when the body doesn’t respond properly to insulin. Insulin resistance is a symptom of metabolic syndrome, a serious condition made up of several risk factors that lead to cardiovascular risk. They are:
1) High blood sugar (greater than 100mg/dL) <- Insulin resistance part
2) Low HDL cholesterol (less than 50 mg/dL)
3) Elevated blood pressure of over 135/85 mm Hg
4) Fasting blood triglycerides of over 150 mg/dL
5) High central obesity: 35in women, 40in men
Pssst...if you’re over 40 and haven’t tested for the above, you should check-in with your doc!
Insulin is demonized with respect to carbohydrates, but did you know that beef can spike insulin at the same rates as pasta? Protein, as well as fat sources can spike insulin. Insulin’s role in the body is to manage concentrations of all nutrients, not just sugars.
So basically, the problem with refined grains is that over time, they will elevate blood sugars if consumed in large quantities. The biggest issue I see with respect to refined grains is that the refining process strips the grain of roughly 35-90% of its nutrients. You don’t have to be a scientist to know that’s not the best thing.
Because we want to run through all the bases of potential wheat downsides, there has been a claim made in Dr. William Davis’ anti-wheat book, ‘The Wheat Belly,’ that wheat is an opiate. Dr. Davis, a cardiologist, states wheat peptides attach to opioid receptors (aka feel-good receptors) and stimulate appetite. His assertion (debunked) is that gliadin – a protein in wheat – is a result of hybridization in wheat, and causes increased consumption of calories. There lies a speck of truth to this: actually, gliadin has always been in wheat; and while it does bind to receptors in the brain, so does spinach and lettuce – with the three showing zero evidence of appetite stimulation.
Other issues with wheat hold that wheat is genetically modified (GM) – meaning genes have been sliced, thus altering the DNA of a plant. The problem with this is that there has never been commercially produced GM wheat. So throw that notion away in the garbage along with your idea of making “The Next Facebook-type app.” Facebook is probably the reason for this misinformation anyways!
Grains have been eaten for over 100,000 years, and are an integral part of diets around the world. From oats being proven to reduce high blood sugar in diabetics, to millet preventing hypertension; if you integrate them properly, they are part of a strong foundation for great health.
What are our suggestions?
Whole grains are great additions to a diet, but there are a few dos and don’ts when it comes to eating them.
Do: go for grains when the label says whole, rolled, stone ground, sprouted, or cracked
Don’t: go for grains when the label says enriched, white, or bleached
Do: Look at what the serving size is beforehand
Don’t: Toss down grains like Popeye with Spinach, you don’t want your diet to come exclusively from one food group
Does ProFiber incorporate grains?
Yes! These “Do” examples are why we included a clinical dose of oat bran – an important nutrient that’s high in beta glucan - a nutrient proven to lower LDL cholesterol and fasting blood sugar. For those who are gluten intolerant, have no worries! Oats are gluten-free.
If you want to check out ProFiber, the once-a-day meal replacement, visit: www.profiberfood.com/product-page/profiber
Samsel A, Seneff S. Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance. Interdiscip Toxicol. 2013;6(4):159–184. doi:10.2478/intox-2013-0026
Gunnars, Kris. “The Paleo Diet - A Beginner's Guide Meal Plan.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 1 Aug. 2018, www.healthline.com/nutrition/paleo-diet-meal-plan-and-menu#section3.
Harmon, Katherine. “Humans Feasting on Grains for at Least 100,000 Years.” Scientific American Blog Network, Scientific American, 17 Dec. 2009, blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/humans-feasting-on-grains-for-at-least-100000-years/.