Wholegrains – friend or foe?

Every time I see an advert on the television for breakfast cereal trumpeting the benefits of “100% wholegrain” I think to myself: “Why the hell is that a good thing?”

I can see that not having added sugar and salt is a good thing. I can see that there are no additives and that my Shreddies aren’t going to fill me full of cancer-causing chemicals and trans-fats. However, I don’t really understand why these wholegrains are a healthy breakfast.

I subscribe to the feed of the excellent health and fitness website Mark’s Daily Apple and he has one or two things to say about grains. It seems that this supposed benefitial start to your day might not be so good for you after all.

Mark’s article mentions the evolutionary process quite a bit. Apparently grains were only a very small part of our diet for most of our existence but have taken a larger portion on our plates since we started along the agricultural path about 10,000 years ago. That’s not a very long time at all in evolutionary terms and it seems that our guts struggle to cope with the digestion of our Shreddies.

Grains, new evolutionarily-speaking, are frankly hard on the digestive system. (You say fiber, I say unnecessary roughage, but that’s only the half of it.) Enter gluten and lectins, both initiators of digestive mayhem, you might say. Gluten, the large, water-soluble protein that creates the sludge, err, elasticity in dough, is found in most common grains like wheat, rye and barley (and it’s the primary glue in wallpaper paste). Researchers now believe that a third of us are likely gluten intolerant/sensitive. That third of us (and I would suspect many more on some level) “react” to gluten with a perceptible inflammatory response. Over time, those who are gluten intolerant can develop a dismal array of medical conditions: dermatitis, joint pain, reproductive problems, acid reflux and other digestive conditions, autoimmune disorders, and Celiac disease.

Ouch! The thing is, most of us eat a LOT of grains. We eat bread, pasta, cakes – all loaded with wheat. There’s some nutritional value to all these things but Mark reckons we can get all the things we need in our diet from other sources – ones that are easier digested and cause fewer problems.

The bottom line is this: grains = carbs. Unnecessary at best, but flat out unhealthy at worst, they’re not the wholesome staples they’re made out to be. Talk about double taxation: Our bodies pay for what our trusty government subsidizes Big Agra for. The best – really the only way – to achieve a low carb, whole foods diet is to ditch the grains. (Your body will be better off without inflammation, the insulin roller coaster, not to mention the constant onslaught of creepy gluten and lectins.) A diet very low or entirely without grains (low-carb) has been shown to decrease risk for problems associated with diabetes, to lower blood pressure, alleviate heartburn symptoms, and shed abdominal fat.

Mark is really on his high horse on this subject. I’m loath to trust one source for information on any subject but Mark tends to argue against faddy diets and argues for a healthy, scientifically-designed approach to food. His site argues for food common sense and regular exercise without resorting to pseudo-science and weird eating habits.

I’d miss my biscuits, toast and pasta but I wonder how much healthier I’d be if I reduced my intake of grains.

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