Whole, half, or any other way, grains aren’t good.
(Yes, that includes breads, pasta, pizza, cereals and pastries!)
If this is your first time hearing that grains are problematic in the human diet, then it can come as quite surprise. More than just a surprise, it can be a downright shock to the core of your “think you know what to eat to be healthy” soul. You may need to sit down for this one: grains are largely responsible for the chronic diseases of civilization (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, auto immune disorders, strokes, and cancer).
Now, take a deep breath and keep reading, because this is where it will start to make sense. We have to go back quite a ways to understand the problem with grains – about 10,000 years to be exact. You see, before then, all human beings were hunter-gatherers (H/G), meaning they spent their days hunting animals and/or gathering fruits, veggies, seeds, nuts, bugs, and any other nature-made thing they could get their hands on to stay alive. Now here is the kicker: you are the same as them. That’s right, our genes (the info in our cells that makes us human) haven’t changed really at all for the last 50,000+ years.
Why is that a big deal? Well, that means that you are designed and/or evolved to eat those same things that our hunter-gatherer ancestors were eating – things from the earth, in their natural state. Now, have you ever tried to eat a grain in its natural state? Chances are you have, in the form of corn (that’s right, corn is a grain), and you’ll notice if you are observant, that not much is digested. Other grains such as wheat, rye and barley are also hard to digest in their natural state, and much harder to collect, which is a major reason we were not designed and/or created to eat them. It would have taken hours to collect just a few handfuls of wheat kernels, and then eating them wouldn’t have netted many calories or nutrients. About 10,000 years ago, with the help of agriculture and stones tools, humans began harvesting and grinding grains. This, in a sense, was our first processed food, and it allowed us to get access to the calories in the grains. Now we have technology that can really process the heck out of a grain, but because we really had no evolutionary history with them and their chemical make-up, we have encountered some major problems by eating these tasty broken down seeds.
There are a number of basic problems with grains that make them bad for us to consume, period – much less a staple in our diet. Please remember that grains are a staple in most all western cultures, making up roughly 24% of the calories Americans eat every day, displacing what we were designed/created to eat – natural, unprocessed foods (Paleo Diet for Athletes p100)! Now, the problems with grains are as follows: net acidity, high sugar content with relatively little fiber or other nutrients, and therefore high insulin response and decreased immune function, auto immune disorders (the last two because wheat contains the anti-nutrients gliadin and glutenin which cause intestinal permeability), and Omega 3 deficiencies.
First, let’s tackle the acidity issue. There is something called a pH balance that your body strives for in different tissues, and it has to do with how acidic an environment is. For example, your stomach needs to have a very low pH (around 2) – a.k.a. high acid content to be able to digest your food. Your blood, however, needs to have a much higher pH, slightly basic (alkaline) environment, for you to continue living; in fact, your blood is one of the most tightly controlled environments in your body. Your body will fight and sacrifice other systems to keep its pH in the range of 7.35-7.45 (water is 7).
Now, here is a problem with grains: unlike fruits and veggies, they have a net acidity when digested and allowed to enter our bloodstream. This means that your body must buffer that acidity to keep the blood pH in its narrow range, and the major way your body deals with this acidity is to draw calcium from our bones. Calcium is a basic (alkaline) element and if forced to, it will exit our bones to buffer our blood with a cost to our bone health. Your body has a hierarchy; blood health comes before bone health. This calcium loss due to buffering our grain-laden diet is a major factor in the pain, suffering and millions we spend each day on osteoporosis in our country.
There are a few other ways your body can deal with this extra acidity; it can be stored away from our blood in our adipose tissue (fat), making it very difficult to lose unwanted pounds, because your body does not want to have that acid back in the blood stream (sound familiar?), or it can be excreted through your skin, producing acne, boils, eczema and a host of other symptoms. Microforms also known as yeast, viruses and unhealthy bacteria thrive in acidity, so the more grains in a person’s diet, often the more susceptible they are to low grade or repeat infections as well.
Our recommendations are to consume a Paleo diet similar to the one our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have, one that is rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, lean healthy meats, healthy fats, and if you’re daring (or not paying attention), the occasional bug.