Whole Grains Are Good For You?

Whole grains are good for you, right? It seems that grains, whole or otherwise, have several potential problems that might just be causing more harm than good. For the purposes of weight control and disease prevention, I suggest you read-on, to find out exactly why grains aren’t as beneficial as their cracked up to be.

Grains Contain Anti-nutrients:

There is ample evidence to suggest that an over-reliance on grains and sugar products leads to numerous vitamin, mineral, and nutritional deficiencies. Most grains contain substances called phytates, which bind to important minerals like calcium, magnesium, and zinc in the digestive tract, making them more difficult to absorb. Interestingly enough, these grains, being plants, use these phytates as their natural defense mechanism to keep predators from eating them and destroying their ability to reproduce. The more unprocessed the grain, i.e. the more “whole”, the higher the phytate content. Therefore, it seems that whole grains aren’t as healthy as once believed due to their inability to be adequately digested and absorbed.

Mineral deficiencies are extremely common in underdeveloped countries due to their reliance on grain as a food staple (approximately 50% of their diet), while Western civilization experiences many of the same malabsorption issues. High grain consumption can also play a role in the interference with vitamin D metabolism as well as deficiencies if vitamins A, C, and B12, which we know to be necessary in adequate immune system function, energy production, among many other homeostatic functions. Ironically enough, these nutrients are not normally present in grains, unless they have been artificially “fortified” by adding back the missing vitamins. A diet rich in quality raised meats and fish, colorful vegetables, nuts/seeds and some fruit will contain much greater (and bio-available) sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber.

High Carbohydrate Content:

Grains, whole or otherwise, offer a great majority of their calories in the form of carbohydrate. As we all know from school, media, etc., eating carbohydrate causes blood sugar levels to elevate quickly (depending on how much fiber it contains) and “will make you fat”. These high glycemic foods are relatively new to the human food supply, that is, a mere 10,000 years since agriculture (the Neolithic era) began, is but a flash in the pan of human existence. These high carbohydrate grains, consumed in large quantities, create extreme stress on our hormonal systems, which are better suited to ingesting the lower glycemic foods that our ancestors ate, such as meat, veggies, nuts and some fruit.

Heavy grain consumption as typical in the standard American breakfast of cereal, pancakes, toast, scones, muffins, and a glass of juice, cause blood sugar levels to soar, causing the pancreas to release large quantities of insulin to store the sugars in your blood as fuel for the muscles and liver, and/or to be stored as body fat. Repeat this process frequently enough, and your body loses its ability to regulate the amount of insulin produced after a given meal. This eventually leads to weight problems, behavior and cognitive problems, and eventually Metabolic Syndrome (Coronary Artery Disease, Stroke, Type 2 Diabetes).

Foreign Grain Proteins:

Certain grains contain a protein called gluten that has the ability to mimic the proteins found in viruses and bacteria. When these gluten-containing grains are ingested, it triggers an immune response in the body. It’s believed that up to 60% of the U.S. population has some degree of gluten intolerance or sensitivity, while those with full blown gluten allergies are diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Typically those of Irish, English, Scottish, Scandinavian or Eastern European decent are the most sensitive. This happens at the sub-clinical (or undiagnosable) level, in which sensitivity to gluten-containing whole grains slowly erodes the gut lining over time, eventually leading to a multitude of potential health related medical conditions, such as: low blood pressure, heartburn, esophogeal reflux, vitamin/mineral deficiencies (anemia), coughing, asthma, shortness of breath, allergies, autoimmune disease, digestive issues, cancer, growth retardation, learning disorders, neurological disorders, reproductive problems, seizures, lung Disease, fatigue, anxiety, depression. “Anything that damages the gut lining including bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections, as well as alcohol, grains, legumes, and dairy, can predispose one to autoimmunity, multiple chemical sensitivities, and allergies to otherwise benign foods.” - Robb Wolf (Damn Dirty Grains)

Foods to Avoid:

Grain free/Gluten-free means avoiding all foods containing wheat, oats, rye, barley, spelt, bulgar, semolina, couscous, quinoa, amaranth, triticale, and durum flour. Rice and corn can be problematic for some people, but are usually far less provocative than the gluten containing grains. Gluten can be hidden, so read labels carefully. Be wary of modified food starch, dextrin,  flavorings and extracts, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, imitation seafood, soy sauce and creamed or thickened products such as soups, stews, and sauces.

What Can Be Done:

If you believe that you may be sensitive/intolerant to grains and gluten containing grains, one of the best things you can do is eliminate the aforementioned foods from your diet for a minimum of 60-90 days to allow the healing process to occur within your digestive system. A mini-test can be done for 2-weeks to identify if any specific symptoms diminish, however the full 2-3 months is an absolute must for true healing to take place. This includes elimination of processed dairy products as these too will cause inflammation and are best left out of the diet for the duration of the healing process.

Valuable Resources for More Information:

1) Dangerous Grains: Braly and Hoggan

2) The Paleo Solution: Robb Wolf

3) Good Calories, Bad Calories: Gary Taubes

4) The Primal Blueprint: Mark Sisson


The Primal Blueprint: Mark Sisson. 2009. p. 152-153.

Damn Dirty Grains. Robb Wolf. The Performance Menu.