Today I wanted to research why The Paleo Diet is adamantly against consuming grains. Growing up I was told that eating whole grains was healthy. In health class teachers raved about the benefits of whole grains. You want energy and a healthy heart? Start your day with a bowl of oatmeal or whole wheat toast.
I never questioned if grains were good for the body, until I started The Paleo Diet. I’m going to divide this blog into three parts: Pro-grain, Anti-grain, and Conclusion.
First, I want to make a case for grains. Here’s what I found on Mayo Clinic’s website (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/whole-grains/NU00204):
1) Grains are low in fat
2) Grains contain important nutrients such as: selenium, potassium, and magnesium
3) Grains are a good complex carbohydrate source (complex carbohydrates = more energy)
Those are the three reasons Mayo Clinic endorses the consumption of whole grains. What about the heart, though? Aren’t whole grains essential for a healthy heart?
WebMD published an article supporting the correlation between grains and a healthy heart based on a study in which men were followed for 14 years and their diet and health records were recorded (http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/news/20041229/whole-grains-help-your-heart):
- “Eating just 25 grams of whole grains a day reduces the risk of heart disease by about 15%, new research shows.”
- “11 grams of bran daily also reduced heart disease risk. The risk reduction was 30% compared with men who added no bran to their diet.”
This is great, but then the article states:
- “The only factor that might skew their data, researchers say, is the overall high-fiber diet. The men who ate more whole grain also tended to be those that ate lots of fruits and vegetables, which also lower heart disease.”
- “Also, lifestyle factors like exercise and stress reduction, seen more frequently in the men who eat more whole grains, affect heart disease risk.”
So if the men ate a diet that was rich in fruits and vegetables (i.e. high-fiber), practiced stress reduction techniques, and exercised, they would have a healthier heart anyway.
What is it about grains that make them “good” for the heart? Fiber. Fiber helps lower cholesterol and maintain digestive health. All of these factors play an important roll in heart health.
Grains contain a lot of nutrients, but did you know they also contain antinutrients? Phytic Acid is a mineral blocker that is naturally found in grains. Your whole wheat toast may provide you with magnesium, but the Phytic Acid is going to make it difficult for your body to absorb it. This is possibly why the United States is one of the leading consumers of milk, but osteoporosis is at an all time high. People are consuming a lot of calcium, but if they have a diet that is high in Phytic Acid, their body isn’t properly absorbing the nutrient.
Grain consumption also leads to a spike in insulin production. If too many grains are consumed, cortisol and adrenaline are released to help manage the overload. If your insulin levels are out of control for too long, your body loses the ability to control it and you can become diabetic.
Grains also contain gluten and lectin, which can break down the microvilli in the small intestine over time and allow particles of food to leech into the bloodstream. This can cause allergies, digestive disturbances, and autoimmune problems. Some common autoimmune disorders are: rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
People started eating grains at the start of the agricultural revolution, which was about 10,000 years ago. Paleo argues that from an evolutionary standpoint, our digestive systems haven’t had enough time to catch-up to our technological advances and properly digest grains without them doing more harm than good.
I’ll first say that I’m not a doctor or nutritionist and this is only information I found on the internet. I understand that every body has different needs and it’s important to weigh your options before cutting out food groups.
In my opinion, I’m in favor of limiting grains. I feel that anything you can get from a grain, you can get from another food source (and not have to deal with antinutrients, glutens, lectins, and insulin spikes). Grains contain a lot of fiber? So do fruits and vegetables. Grains help you stay full? So do foods that are high in protein. Grains provide you with vitamins and minerals? So do other food groups (and they won’t impair your body’s ability to absorb them).
There is a massive, massive market for grains in our society. I don’t see the FDA refuting their “goodness” anytime soon. I’ll admit I’m a little sad to read that grains have a downside. I like how grains taste and how convenient they are to add to a meal.
This wasn’t a very picture-heavy post, but here’s what I made for Kevin and I today for Sunday breakfast :). Blueberry Paleo pancakes, grapes, and diced red pepper, onion, tomato, and ham wrapped in an omelette. Thanks for reading!