Sunday, January 17, 2016

Is The Paleo Diet Right When It Says Grains Are Bad You?

Despite what you may have been led to believe, whole grains are far from being healthy or particularly good for us. Let’s have a look at why this might be the case…

For starters, cereal grains have only been a major part of the human diet since the adoption of agriculture around 10,000 years ago.  Although this may seem like a long time, in evolutionary terms, it’s too short of a time period for people’s digestive systems to have fully adapted to eating them in the amounts we do today.

The problem with grains…

Grains are the seeds of grasses and are the reproductive part of the plant.  In the wild, grasses don’t really want their seeds to be eaten because then they can’t reproduce.

Because these plants can’t run away from predators, they have evolved certain anti-nutrients, such as lectins and enzyme inhibitors, which wreak havoc on animals’ digestive systems to discourage them from eating their seeds.

“Whole grains” have been marketed to us as healthier than refined grains.  Although whole grains have more fibre which slows down digestion and may not spike blood sugar as much as refined grains, they actually contain more of these anti-nutrients.

These anti-nutrients can cause damage to the human digestive tract and cause disorders like “leaky gut”, a condition of intestinal or bowel permeability which allows partially digested compounds to enter our blood stream (not good and linked to autoimmune disorders).

Worst of all…

Some of the most popular grains we consume such as wheat, barley and rye contain protein compounds called gluten.

You may have heard of or even know someone who suffers from celiac disease, which is a severe autoimmune disorder related to gluten and can be so serious as to be life threatening.

It’s estimated that in Western countries the prevalence of celiac disease is roughly 1% but may be higher due to under diagnosis and is on the increase.

However, celiac disease may just sit at the extreme end of a spectrum we all fall on as it’s also estimated 30% to 40% of us still suffer from some form of low level gluten intolerance or irritation.

This may manifest in many forms including irritable bowels, acid reflux, skin rashes and even joint pain amongst other symptoms.  Gluten has also been linked to making the symptoms of people suffering from schizophrenia worse.

Nutritionally poor…

Apart from anti-nutrients, grains in general also have relatively low nutrient-density when compared to foods like meat, fish, eggs and vegetables.

And even the nutrients they do have are not easily absorbed.  Compounds called phytates bind minerals, such as calcium and iron, in insoluble complexes which prevent their absorption.

So, if grains are so nutritionally poor why do people still want to eat them so much?

Well, you may actually be addicted to them!  That’s right, the same receptor sites in our brain that respond to heroin or opium (opiate receptors) are triggered by wheat.

The effect is only amplified with the addition of sugar and may be the reason why people are so reluctant to give up their bread and bagels – they’re literally junkies to junk food.

Are all grains bad?…

Cooking and proper preparation, such as soaking and fermenting, can help breakdown lectins and phytates in grains. The problem is the grains we eat are very rarely properly prepared in modern foods and gluten can be so harmful to human health it’s just not worth eating it.

Corn and white rice in general aren’t as bad as gluten containing grains, and can be eaten in moderation without causing too many issues in most people.

However, they can still pack a powerful glycaemic punch so should be avoided by people with blood sugar regulation problems – best to stick to the meat and veggies.

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