Another reader question today.
Why is grain so dangerous to health? can you send me a listing of those grains that are not to be eaten and why?
Well, fortunately, there's a lot of good info out there and so rather than rehash it, let's just call attention to it here, particularly for the benefit of newer readers. I just checked the number of RSS subscriptions to Free the Animal and it's now over 1,000, which would represent regular, daily readers. Just a couple of months ago, last I checked, it was less than half that. Growing all the time, so thanks for the support I get from readers.
Those of you who have been with us a while now know the evolutionary backdrop I mean here. We humans had the pleasure and occasional scourge of evolving within a hunter gatherer existence. We’re talking some 150,000 plus years of hunting and foraging. On the daily scavenge menu: meats, nuts, leafy greens, regional veggies, some tubers and roots, the occasional berries or seasonal fruits and seeds that other animals hadn’t decimated. (Ever seen a dog at an apple picking?) We ate what nature (in our respective locales) served up. The more filling, the better. And then around 10,000 years ago, the tide turned. Our forefathers and mothers were on the brink of ye olde Agricultural Revolution. And, over time, grains became king. But, as countless archaeological findings suggest, people became smaller and frailer as a result of this new agrarian, grain-fed existence.
And actually, the 150,000 years is just for Homo Sapiens and could be upwards of 200,000 years. but, before that, more primitive ancestors of humans go back at least 2.5 million years. Grains never played any significant role in diet.
Why? It's certainly not that people would have considered them unhealthy. In fact, had they been eaten for all those years, we would certainly be well adapted to them by now — just as people worldwide have become increasingly adapted to lactose in milk beyond weaning age, owing to a genetic mutation about 8,000 years ago that left the lactase producing gene on, and that mutation has been spreading far and wide ever since. Unfortunately, we know of no such stark mutation for grains, and it's important to remember that we were already genetically adapted to milk. The mutation merely allowed us to continue to drink it into adulthood.
But the principle reason ancestors didn't take grains into the diet is because it's too much work for the reward. Think about how much work it would take you to locate and pick wild grains, just to get a handful — a few hundred calories at best. Now, compare that with the effort required to take an animal and the thousands of calories you get from that.
So, somewhere along the line someone realized that it's better to lay around most of the time, hunt occasionally, bag the meat, and enjoy life. The life of a gorilla, for example, is pretty dismal. They literally have to eat all the time, the nutrient density of the food they eat is so low. Moreover, look at the size of the gut needed to break down and digest all that fibrous plant matter.
Continuing with Mark (be sure to read his whole entry, as I'm just excerpting):
Among my many beefs with grain, the first and foremost is the havoc it plays with insulin and other hormonal responses in the body. For the full picture, visit the previous Definitive Guide to Insulin from some months ago. Guess what? The same principles still hold. We developed the insulin response to help store excess nutrients and to take surplus (and potentially toxic) glucose out of the bloodstream. This was an adaptive trait. But it didn’t evolve to handle the massive amounts of carbs we throw at it now. And, yes, we’re talking mostly about grains. Unless you have a compulsive penchant for turnips, the average American’s majority of carb intake comes from grains.
That's one, but there's more.
And as for the nutritional value of grains? First off, they aren’t the complete nutritional sources they’re made out to be. Quite the contrary, grains have been associated with minerals deficiencies, perhaps because of high phytate levels. A diet high in grains may also reduce the body’s ability to process vitamin D.
Why not get the same nutrients from sources that don’t come back and bite you in the backside? If you have the choice between getting, say, B-vitamins from chicken or some “whole wheat” pasta, I’m going to say go with the chicken every time. Is pasta cheaper? Yes. Is it healthier? No. The B6 in chicken is more bioavailable, for one. The fact is, you pay too high a physiological price for the pasta source. Let’s get this point on the dinner table as well: whatever nutrients you can get from whole grains you can get in equal to greater amounts in other food. In terms of nutrient density, grains can’t hold a candle to a diverse diet of veggies and meats. (And if the label says otherwise, look closely because the product is fortified. Save your money and buy a good supplement instead.
This is a big one that, frankly, pisses me off. Even not considering the problems with grains in terms of insulin, gluten, and other lectins, they are not very nutritious. Listen, everyone, and listen closely: if you eat grains as a significant part of your diet, you are getting CRAP nutrition as compared to a paleo-like diet. It's simply a fact, the "healthy-whole" fraud notwithstanding. You are feeding your children an inferior diet, and considering the phytic acid in grains, you are sacrificing their ability to absorb minerals, potentially setting them up for arterial calcification later in life (contributed to by the vitamin D deficiency that goes hand-in-hand with a high grain diet).
Want proof that a diet with any significant grain content is nutritionally inferior, and woefully so? See here, and here (really, take a moment). In fact, for most micronutrients, a paleo diet outstrips a standard, grain-based diet by 100-300% in terms of nutritional content.
Grains are junk and garbage that barely pass for "food," and yet this is what the "authorities" advise that you eat as your primary source of "nutrition." Why? Wish I knew, definitively. Much is a result of the huge subsidies paid to producers, much is modern ignorance, and the rest is simple inertia. Anyway, the nutritional deficit from grains pushing out far more nutritious and bioavailable foods like meat and veggies (you can only eat so much, so what's it gonna be?) is the prime reason why they ought to be avoided in any important quantity.
But, wait, there’s more. Enter the lurker substances in grains that cause a lot of people a whole lot of obvious problems (and probably all of us some kind of damage over time). 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. And that still doesn’t mean that the rest of us aren’t experiencing some milder negative effect that simply doesn’t manifest itself so obviously.
Now for lectins. Lectins are mild, natural toxins that aren’t limited to just grains but seem to be found in especially high levels in most common grain varieties. They serve as one more reason grains just aren’t worth all the trouble that comes with them. Lectins, researchers have found, inhibit the natural repair system of the GI tract, potentially leaving the rest of the body open to the impact of errant, wandering (i.e. unwanted) material from the digestive system, especially when these lectins “unlock” barriers to entry and allow larger undigested protein molecules into the bloodstream. This breach can initiate all kinds of immune-related havoc and is thought to be related to the development of autoimmune disorders. Some people are more sensitive to the damage of lectins than others, as in the case with gluten. Nonetheless, I’d say, over time we all pay the piper.
So, there you have the most of it. However, I urge anyone who's interested to read Mark's entire entry.
For even more, check out Life Spotlight's post just today: The Real Truth About Those "Healthy Whole Grains." Also, Scott linked up Stephan who has a three part series that I probably already linked at some point, but let's do it again.
The punch line, from Stephan the biologist as pulled together by Scott from those three posts:
For this model to be relevant to us, we'd expect that humans with metabolic syndrome should be leptin-resistant. Well what do you know, administering leptin to obese people doesn't cause satiety like it does in thin people. Furthermore, elevated leptin predicts the onset of obesity and metabolic syndrome. It also predicts insulin resistance. Yes, you read that right, leptin resistance comes before insulin resistance.
Many plants use lectins as a defense against hungry animals. Thus, an animal that is not adapted to the lectins in the plant it’s eating may suffer damage or death. … Grains and legumes (beans, soy, peas, peanuts) are rich in some particularly nasty lectins. Especially wheat. Some can degrade the intestinal lining. Some have the ability to pass through the intestinal lining and show up in the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, they may bind all sorts of carbohydrate-containing proteins in the body, including the insulin receptor. They could theoretically bind the leptin receptor, which also contains carbohydrate (= it’s glycosylated), potentially desensitizing it. This remains to be tested, and to my knowledge is pure speculation at this point. What is not so speculative is that once you’re leptin-resistant, you become obese and insulin resistant, and at that point you are intolerant to any type of carbohydrate.
One of the molecules they use to probe the function of the leptin receptor is our good friend wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), a lectin found in wheat, barley and rye. They used WGA to specifically block leptin binding at the receptor.
This fits in very nicely with the hypothesis that grain lectins cause leptin resistance. If WGA gets into the bloodstream, which it appears to, it has the ability to bind leptin receptors and block leptin binding. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this could cause leptin resistance.
As to the last part of the question, what grains would be OK, I'd have to pass. I'm so over grains, don't think about 'em and don't miss 'em. I'm just sticking to Real Food.