Whole grains are one of the most heavily marketed, medically recommended health foods out there. They are the largest category in the government food pyramid, with six to eight servings recommended per day for adults. But did you know that grains can cause blood sugar dysregulation, mineral malabsorption, chronic inflammation, leaky gut syndrome, and autoimmune disorders?
You might be thinking, “I’ve heard about this. Gluten-free diets are a
fad outside of the few people with full-blown celiac disease.” However,
the truth is that regardless of whether you are celiac or gluten
intolerant, whole grains inflict many damaging inflammatory and
digestive effects. Let’s examine the details.
Nutrition in whole grains
are often touted for their high fiber content, and sometimes even as a
source of protein. While this is not untrue, we are looking at only 15
percent protein content, and significantly less fiber than is provided
by root and leafy vegetables.
For example, 200 calories worth of whole grains contains just six
grams of fiber, eight grams of protein while piling on 38 grams of
carbs, with only trace amounts of vitamins and minerals.
Conversely 200 calories worth of spinach contains 23 grams of fiber,
27 grams of protein, and 35 grams of carbs. It rates much lower on the
glycemic index due to the nature of the carbohydrates, and delivers
impressive amounts of vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin K.
When you also take into account the inflammation
and lowered absorption of other nutrients caused by grains, it’s just
not worth the trade-off. Vegetables, on the other hand, deliver much
greater nutritional value while being easy to digest, pro-alkaline and
Since the fibrous part of the grain gets pulverized by milling, it is
easy to consume larger amounts of grain. “It is so much easier to
overconsume any food where the work of chewing or digesting or
separating fiber from starch has been done for us,” says functional
nutritionist Julie Starkel.
The macronutrient breakdown of whole grains leans heavily toward
carbohydrates (80 percent), and they are treated essentially as sugar in
the body. This leads to a spike in insulin, and eventually inflammation
and weight gain.
Grains contain phytic acid, a mineral blocker that prevents
absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc. Phytates are
found in the bran of all grains as well as in the skin of seeds and
This is how grains, nuts and seeds protect themselves against
digestion by animals that eat them, so that they can be excreted
relatively whole and still be able to grow and spread their species.
Even though grains have only been widely consumed by humans for about
10,000 years, up until recent times they were left to sprout before
they were ground up to make flour. Once the grain has sprouted, it loses
that defensive mechanism and becomes easier to digest.
However, in large-scale modern agriculture, whole grains are ground
in the unsprouted state, complete with mineral-blocking phytic acid.
Lectins are toxic molecules that remain whole in our digestive tract.
They are very similar to proteins in the human body, which can cause
damage and confusion in the gut and result in an autoimmune response.
The result can be leaky gut syndrome, allergies to
anything from pollen to pets, or even full-blown inflammatory and
autoimmune disorders. These can include high cholesterol, altered
hormones, infertility, arthritis, headaches, and thyroid issues, to name
Too much of one food group
Even if grains were to be health-promoting and nourishing, they have
become far too ubiquitous in our daily diets. In fact, wheat flour is
the most widely used food product in the world. How many of us eat
cereal or toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and pasta for
dinner? These meals may have a thin layer of vegetables or meat on them,
but the majority of the dish still consists of grains as a base or
carrier for the other ingredients.
Overall, our cultural norms result in a diet weighted far too heavily
on the consumption of grain. Whether they are refined or whole, it
doesn’t matter. Relying so heavily on one single category of food, no
matter what it is, cannot result in balanced health. With this
grain-heavy diet, we end up sorely lacking in the other food groups such
as protein, vegetables, fruit, healthy fats and dairy.
Modern wheat is different from traditional wheat
Although today’s whole wheat is not technically genetically modified,
it has been extensively crossbred and hybridized to change its
characteristics. Experts point out that changes within the last 40 years
or so have resulted in wheat that is higher in gluten, contains more of
the super-starch amylopectin A, which is highly fattening, and exerts
an addictive effect on the human brain.
All of these adaptations mean that whole wheat consumption
contributes to chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and
obesity. The dramatic increases in these illnesses correspond closely
with the last few decades, when food production has become highly
Pesticides and chemicals on grains
Whole grains can be considered a whole food, but they are
unfortunately not immune to the evils of processed foods. Although they
certainly have more to offer than refined grains, whole grains are still
subject to the same range of chemical treatments during growth,
harvest, processing and storage.
The last three decades have seen increasing amounts of North America’s wheat get treated with pesticides
and herbicides such as Roundup during growth. There is even a theory
that many of the people who suffer from gluten intolerance are actually
reacting to the chemicals on the wheat, rather than the wheat itself.
Many other insecticides are used on grains, because species of
insects increasingly become resistant, so stronger and newer chemicals
must be applied to meet the challenge. Those promoting the use of
insecticides claim they are safe because they work via the shikimate
pathway, a biological mechanism that insects have but which doesn’t
exist in humans.
However, the friendly bacteria that live in the human gut, and which
support the majority of our immune system and many other bodily
functions, do have this pathway. Therefore, experts on the leading edge
have begun to raise concerns about unexpected effects of these
agricultural chemicals, which were previously believed to be safe for
Another unsavoury consideration is that grains are irradiated before
they are stored in order to control insects and extend shelf life. A
study on children fed irradiated wheat found that this may contribute to
abnormal cell formation, lower immunity and decreased fertility.
Other chemicals are sprayed into grain storage bins and added to the
upper layer of grains to protect against pest attacks in the warehouse.
These include pyrethrins, which are neurotoxic to humans, and
cyfluthrin, which is toxic to water ecosystems. Then there are bromides
and phosphines, which are used to fumigate grain storage facilities
whenever live pests are found within a sample. These chemicals have been
shown to cause malformation of embryos and damage to genetic material.
Finally, organophosphates are gas-based pesticides that are among the
most widely used in the United States. These chemicals, even in legally
permissible amounts, have been shown to cause increased levels of ADHD.
This is because they inhibit the breakdown of a neurotransmitter called
acetylcholine, which results in hyperactivity.
Traditional preparation of grains
grains were soaked and sprouted or fermented. These processes
effectively disarm the toxins of the seed and result in a relatively
nourishing, digestible food. Until recently, grains were also grown in
healthy organic soil without the use of any chemicals, and never
cultivated in overblown, subsidized, monoculture plantations like those
we have today.
Grains are naturally a “high-maintenance” food requiring extensive
traditional preparation to become digestible and nutritious to humans.
On top of these issues, the modern farming and processing methods of
grains have made them even less suitable for human consumption.
It’s clear that the grains in our supermarkets today have
unfortunately become highly inflammatory and toxic pseudo-foods. They
make up far too much of our cultural diet and mainstream nutritional
Six to eight servings a day? No thanks!
Stick with vegetables and protein for the vast majority of your diet.
For the occasional healthier baked treats, try using safe starches such
as almond meal, flax meal, white rice flour and coconut flour instead.