Why We Don’t Eat Grains
A. Grains provoke an inflammatory response in the gut
Lectins are specialized proteins found in many plants and foods, but are found in high concentration in grains (particularly wheat), legumes (particularly soy), and dairy. The most commonly referenced grain lectin is called “gluten”, but there are many others which are found even in pseudo-grains like quinoa. Lectins serve many biological functions in animals, but foods with high concentrations of lectins are harmful even if consumed in moderate amounts.
Lectins are hardy proteins that do not break down easily, and are resistant to stomach acid and digestive enzymes. They migrate through your digestive tract largely intact, and disrupt the intestinal membrane, damaging cells and initiating a cascade of events leading to eventual cell death. (Translation: lectins destroy the cells that line your intestines, leading to small “microperforations” or tiny holes in your intestinal lining.) These holes allow intact or nearly intact proteins, bacteria and other foreign substances to cross into the bloodstream – where they do not belong. As the immune system notices foreign substances in the body, it responds and attacks. The immune response can manifest in an unlimited number of conditions (not just in the digestive tract!) commonly referred to as “auto-immune” in nature.
It’s important to note that these cautions are not just critical for those with a diagnosed Celiac condition. These negative downstream effects happen to everyone who eats grains, to various degrees.
B. Grains spike insulin levels
Grains pack a whopping amount of carbohydrates in a very small package. As most grains are also heavily processed (yes, even whole grains) they are broken down into blood sugar (glucose) in your body very quickly. A high amount of ingested carbohydrate broken down very fast leads to a spike in blood sugar. The body, demanding homeostasis, then releases a massive dose of a hormone called insulin to pull blood sugar levels back down. This is often referred to as an “insulin spike”.
When too much blood sugar is present in the system, your body quickly runs out of places to store it as useful energy, and will store any excess as body fat. In addition, when too much insulin is present in the system, the cells in your body become desensitized to the hormonal “message” insulin is trying to send. Since the message isn’t getting through, your pancreas is prompted to release even more insulin when your body doesn’t need it. Finally, chronically high insulin levels lead to a condition in which your body has trouble releasing the energy already stored in your cells. This is a bad place to be. If (via a diet high in carbohydrates) this pattern continues, insulin levels continue to rise, fat stores continue to grow and the body becomes completely incapable of responding to its own directions.
C. Grains have an acidifying effect on the body
A net acid-producing diet promotes bone de-mineralization (i.e. osteopenia and osteoporosis), and systemic inflammation. Grains are one of the highest acid-producing food groups. By replacing grains and grain-containing processed foods with plenty of green vegetables and fruits, the body comes back into acid/base balance (and a more positive calcium balance). Recent research out of Tufts University has also shown that a more alkaline diet preserves muscle mass. We like muscle mass.
D. Grains are “empty calories”
All grains – things like oatmeal, pasta, breads and cereals – have two things in common. They are calorically dense, and nutritionally meager. A small portion of grains packs a whopping amount of calories, almost all in the form of carbohydrates. All those calories, however, contain a miserly amount of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (also called phytochemicals). Compare the calories, carbohydrates and vitamin profile of two large slices of whole grain bread (100 grams) to one cup of chopped, cooked broccoli (184 grams – nearly twice the mass). (Nutritional stats from NutritionData.com)
Note that we’re not saying there is nothing good to be found in grains. They do contain vitamins and minerals in various proportions and amounts. But the serious down sides of grains far outweigh any potential health benefits. Bottom line – there is NOTHING found in grains that you can’t get from a better source with NO down sides (like vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds).