The Whole Truth About Whole Grains
by Ellen Livingston
In the big picture of life on Earth, feeding grains to humans is still an experiment in its infancy. Thus far the results are very questionable! Most people don’t realize that humans thrived for ten million years without consuming grains, representing more than 99.9% of the time that we have walked the Earth. There are still societies who experience robust health without eating grains, while there are no exceptionally health grain-eating societies.
Humans have cultivated grains for about ten thousand years, about the same period in which we have used fire. For the past hundred years or so grains have been promoted and marketed as the staple of our diet. Doctors and researchers say grain-based diets reduce heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. Environmentalists argue that eating more grains will reduce our consumption of animal products, thus helping the planet as well as solving the hunger crisis. Athletes are now told they can enhance their performance by “carbo-loading” with grains. None of these scenarios have come to successful fruition. Instead, the large scale farming of grains has proven devastating to the planet, and to the hunger crisis, and after all this carbo-loading, Americans are fatter and sicker, hence the recent low-carb craze which inevitably leads to dangerously high consumption of animal proteins and fats.
I will show you why a high carbohydrate diet is indeed our best choice, and, importantly, what kind of carbohydrates to choose for health. My friend and personal health coach, author and fitness expert Douglas Graham, has coined the term “80-10-10” to describe the high carbohydrate diet humans are designed to eat. The numbers represent at least 80% of calories from carbohydrates, and not more than 10% of calories each from fat and protein. Top nutrition researchers today also recommend similar proportions of these three macronutrients.
What is not generally talked about is that there are TWO KINDS of carbohydrates, and each acts very differently in our bodies. Complex carbs consist of grains and starches. Simple carbs refers to the simple sugars, the best source of which is found in fruits. I will show you why a healthy diet is based on SIMPLE carbs, and how a diet based on complex carbs is actually harmful to your health.
First of all, we ought to look at whether grain eating is natural for humans. There is not a single example in nature of an animal with anatomy and physiology similar to ours that consumes grains. All of the anthropoid primates, our closest genetic cousins, thrive on a diet based on fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, in their raw state, and do not eat grains at all (which, by the way, must be processed to even become edible).
There are many reasons why grains are not ideally suited to humans, and are in fact harmful to our health. This list includes:
They are acid-forming in the body, and can cause arthritis and possibly cancer.
Grains contain significant amounts of acid-forming minerals such as choline, iodine, and sulfur, and very little of the alkaline minerals - calcium, potassium, natural sodium and magnesium; they cause a condition called “acid toxemia”. During digestion, the body must draw calcium (the best alkalizer) from the bones to neutralize the acidity of the grains.
Whole grains (and beans) also contain phytic acid, which binds with zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium and interferes with their absorption by the body.
Grains are difficult to digest, depleting our enzyme reserves and fermenting inside our bodies, causing harmful production of alcohol which gets absorbed into the bloodstream and causes damage, and gas.
They give us a maximum number of calories with a minimum number of nutrients (especially when cooked), the opposite of what we ideally want.
They contain insoluble fiber which is harsh and can cause damage to the sensitive intestinal lining, as well as causing food to move through the bowels too quickly, reducing nutrient absorption.
They antagonize the body’s immune system and cause allergy reactions and auto-immune disease.
Health problems associated with grains include asthma, allergies, gluten intolerance, celiac disease, digestive disturbances, mucous and congestive conditions, yeast infections, arthritis, autoimmune disease, and chronic overeating (Grain Damage, p.25). (By the way, all of these disease conditions and allergies are really just a normal, natural reaction by the body to an unnatural food.)
They are devoid of critical nutrients - we cannot survive on grains alone.
They contain poisonous, toxic substances (both inherently and added for preservation)
The gluten in grains has been proven to chemically contain fifteen different opioid sequences, or morphine-like molecules. These are labeled by scientists as addictive and neurotoxic, and to have psychoactive properties. (Grain Damage, p.27) Eating foods that contain opioids creates a subtle and temporary “high”, which is why grain products can be one of the most difficult things to eliminate (cheese has casomorphine).
They cause tooth decay by their tendency to ferment between the teeth and so produce the acid that destroys tooth enamel.
They can cause permanent damage to the digestive organs of infants.
They accelerate aging
They cause increased fat and salt intake due to their inherent tastelessness.
The cultivation of so much grain on huge tracts of land, using multiple toxic fertilizers and pesticides, and clearing forests, causes massive environmental damage, not to mention the energy required to process and cook the grains to render them edible.
Many raw fooders tout the nutritional benefits of sprouted grains. It is true that soaking and sprouting grains makes them somewhat more digestible, due to the extra hydration and some breakdown of starches. Sprouted grains also contain more nutrients, both because you have not heat-damaged them with cooking, and because the sprouting process releases nutrients. And they can be a significant non-fatty source of calories on a raw vegan diet.
However, sprouted grains are still an acidic food in the body, and drain our alkaline reserves as bicarbonate flows into the bloodstream to neutralize the acidity. They are still relatively difficult to digest and so rob us of energy, they still contain gluten and its associated toxins like opioids, and they still tend to ferment in our body and cause harmful byproducts like alcohol and gas. And they still elicit immune reactions, and contain harsh insoluble fiber which irritates the digestive tract and can lead to disease.
Given all of these drawbacks, it is amazing that grains are still recommended as a dietary staple, whether cooked or sprouted!
Yet grains do remain a better choice than animal products. Promoters of whole grains make their health claims based on whole grains containing carbohydrates, trace minerals, B vitamins, phytonutrients, antioxidants, magnesium, folic acid (when fortified!), and fiber. It is true that whole grains contain these qualities. However, there is a better choice. As Doug Graham states in his book, Grain Damage, “Our greatest nutrient needs are for water and simple carbohydrates; starches provide neither, while fruits are the best source of both.”
In addition to being rich with naturally structured water, fruit carbohydrates also supply us with much more abundant vitamins and minerals than any starches. A particularly important vitamin we must get from food sources, vitamin C, is most plentiful in fruits. All of the nutrients whole grains are touted for are better supplied by fruits and vegetables. In fact, there is no nutrient needed to support perfect health in humans that cannot be amply supplied by fruits and vegetables in their whole, raw, unprocessed form.
Per calorie, fruits contain 10 - 100 times as much calcium and other alkaline minerals as do grains. Our body’s only fuel is carbohydrates in the form of simple sugar, glucose, of which fruit is by far the most efficient source. Any other fuel sources, such as complex carbs like grains and starches, fat, or protein, require far more effort to digest and utilize.
As long as your diet is low in fat, fruit sugars will go directly to nourish all the cells in your body with their only fuel, simple sugar, and will cause a gentle, natural and immediate rise and fall in your blood sugar, with no sudden spikes or dips. A low fat, fruit based diet will keep your blood sugar on an even keel.
Fruits satisfy our naturally strong sweet tooth healthfully, and are satiating and delicious in nature’s simple packaging. It is hard to overeat on fruit because the brain monitors your blood sugar, and sends a message to decrease appetite when the blood sugar rises.
Limiting fruit in your diet invariably leads to the very dangerous over-consumption of fats, a serious problem most raw fooders unwittingly create. Whole grains have been recommended as our dietary staple over fruits due to unfounded fears that the sugars in quantities of fruit will enter the bloodstream too quickly, upset the normal blood sugar levels, and result in the dangerous over-production of triglycerides. Fruit was therefore rejected by Nathan Pritikin (he developed a reknowned grain-based diet), as our principle source of nourishment. The only other option, since he had clearly determined the dangerous health effects of animal products, was cereal grains.
Pritikin’s primary mission was to eliminate heart disease; replacing animal foods with whole grains largely achieved this goal. But, according to Dr. Graham, “Unsticking the blood is only the first step in optimizing health, the second step is to get the blood’s chemistry right … When he grouped the natural sugars contained in fruit in with other sugars, Pritikin had made a fatal mistake.” (The 80-10-10 Diet, p.88).
Which do you choose?
A healthy diet is very high in simple carbohydrates and very low in fat. By replacing grains with fruits for your primary carbohydrate source, you will experience vastly improved nutrition and digestion, you will enhance your health and free up vital energy for other activities such as getting fit!
When you learn to consume sufficiently large quantities of fruit, you will stop craving complex carbs and fats.
It takes practice, and requires the development of a new mindset, to eat enough fruit to satisfy your body’s need for simple carbohydrates. I highly recommend that you read Dr. Graham’s book, The 80-10-10 Diet, and consider getting some personal coaching to get your raw diet on the right track: the high fruit, low fat track.
Remember, “Grains are for the birds!” - Ross Horne
Graham, Dr. Douglas N., Grain Damage: Rethinking the High-Starch Diet, Food for Thought Publishing, 2005
Graham, The 80-10-10 Diet: Balancing Your Health, Your Weight, and Your Life, One Luscious Bite at a Time, Foodnsport Press, 2006