Are Grains Good or Bad for our Health?

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Grain Brain, Wheat Belly, The Anti-Inflammation Cookbook, these are just a few of the many books that makes grains out to be a terrible food for our health. Are these books scientifically sound? Is it true that all of us are better without our beloved grains? In this post I will go over both sides of the grain story.

Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the lining of the intestines when gluten containing products are eaten. If undiagnosed, the small villi in the intestine becomes damaged from continuous gluten consumption, thus impairing nutrient absorption and provoking systemic inflammation. This is a serious condition and gluten MUST be avoided if you have Celiac. One of every one hundred people in the Western world are diagnosed with Celiac disease. If you have Celiac disease, wheat products ARE inflammatory to your body.

Wheat is one of the most allergenic foods we know of. Obviously if you break out in hives, experience swelling in the throat, or immediate digestive distress when you eat wheat, you’re most likely allergic. You should definitely avoid wheat products if this is your case.

Wheat sensitivity isn’t very common. It’s hard to know the exact numbers due to the the absurd amount of people that self diagnose this problem. I don’t deny that wheat sensitivity is real, it’s just not as common as the media has made it out to be.

So if you have one of these three problems, you should avoid wheat, not all grains. Many low-carb advocates decided because wheat is a problem, we should just throw out all grains. It’s like saying if you’re allergic to kale you should just avoid all vegetables. Why should people avoid beneficial grains like quinoa, brown rice, faro, buckwheat, etc? Because you have to keep your total carb intake very low. That’s the basis of a low carb diet, just keep the carbs low, even if they’ve been proven to be extremely beneficial. Not too scientific.

If you type in “grains inflammation” in PubMed.gov, you’ll only see studies showing ANTI-inflammatory effects. The list of literature supporting grains as anti-inflammatory is extremely long. Here, here, here, here, you get the idea. However, if you type in the titles of the books that I listed above, you’ll find criticism from scientists, doctors, and other practitioners due to the lack of quality research in these books. Many of the references are from blogs and other non-scientific literature. Bear in mind this is also a blog, so you’re welcome to do your own research.

What are the reasons I hear about to not eat grain? “The agricultural revolution started just 10,000 years ago. Our genes haven’t mutated enough to be able to digest grains properly.” This may be the worst argument of all. Simply looking at the research tells us enough…the consumption of whole grains reduces inflammation, reduces risk of type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. If our bodies weren’t “accustomed” to eating these foods, wouldn’t we have died off and become extremely ill? Nope. The agricultural revolution brought to the world a huge boom in population. I won’t dismiss the fact that they became slightly less healthy when they switched from a very diverse diet, to mostly just grains. However, with the addition of abundant fruits, vegetables, legumes, and seeds, grains play a big role in a balanced diet today. Not to mention our genes change in just one lifetime, this is called epigenetic science.

Another reason grains have been demonized is because they are the source of many unhealthy additives like high fructose corn syrup, processed starches, flours and more. I agree, pulverized grains are nowhere near as healthy as whole, INTACT grains. They are void of fiber and deliver a shocking insulin release. I do agree that we should limit pastas, pastries, and even flours. Rather fill your plate with whole grains like quinoa or brown rice.

In conclusion, wheat is bad for people who have an allergy, sensitivity, or Celiac disease. If you’re working through some major digestive issues, perhaps avoid wheat as well to reduce fiber. If you are not one of those people, there is no need to avoid grains. They are full of B vitamins and minerals. They REDUCE inflammation, not cause inflammation. Also, consult a doctor if you think you might have a problem. Don’t turn to the internet for a diagnosis.

Jesse Rich