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In our last segment Grains:: The Intestinal Terrorists we examined how grain consumption over the last 130 years has impacted skyrocketing chronic diseases and plummeting fertility rates. Oh joy! Now we get to look a little deeper at exactly why we really don’t function well while eating them.
Bear this in mind…. We still basically function physically like our ancestors back in hunter gatherer days did. We crave sugar and starch because that gives us quick energy to be able to run away from other tribes with pointy sticks, big cats with pointier teeth, and to be able to walk long distances to find and then run towards sources of protein (when hunting).
Here’s the problem. Unless, by chance, you live in New York City, your chances of having to run away from anything chasing you is really quite small. The closest you get to having to hunt for protein sources is your local Whole Foods Market (for the grass-fed beef and free-range poultry all of you omnivores buy after reading The Detox Diva for so long, right???). The only real fighting you have to do is finding a parking space at said market.
In short, sugar and starch to create quick energy is still needed to get you through your day but not nearly the same way it was needed back in our hunter/gatherer days…. or even in the amounts. On top of THAT little gem of information, our ancestors used to eat small amounts of berries when they were in season, wild grasses, maybe some low hanging fruit, roots, and when I say small amounts I don’t mean a Starsuck’s croissant and a Venti latte. (I bet you are wondering if there is a typo in that last sentence…) We are eating at least 20 times the amount of sugar and starch (and OH am I ever being diplomatic with those numbers) our ancestors ate and in far different ways. Our ancestors didn’t have Wonder Bread and Ho Ho’s.
So why do I advocate going grain-free or, at least dramatically cutting back on the number of grains you do eat? You have questions, it just so happens I have the answers.
If you can get it from grains you can get it from a better source!! Grains are pretty calorie dense compared to their nutrient profiles. Yes, they are a source of dietary fiber and many have B vitamins. Different grains have different nutrients. Let’s talk about whole wheat flour as a prime example of calories to nutrient ratio. In one cup of whole wheat flour there are 406 calories. ( In all-purpose flour there are 454 calories. In white bread flour it’s a whopping 496 calories!!) There are about 50 micrograms (mcg) of folate (precursor to folic acid, something all you mommies to be and wannabe mommies to be really need). In one cup of black beans there are 218 calories and 256 mcg. of folate. In 1 cup of spinach there are 7 calories and a whopping 263 mcg. of folic acid.
Now let’s look at the fiber content (which is WHY they recommend whole grains in the first place, right?) of the first grain people swap white for brown. Brown rice. One cup of brown rice has 3.6 grams of fiber. It has 215 calories. Not so bad, right?? One cup of raspberries has 62 calories and 8 grams of fiber. 1 cup of spinach has 7 grams of fiber and, again, 7 calories. As much as I do not like telling my clients to count calories let’s face it. If you eat too many and the wrong type of calories you are going to get fat and sick. I tell my clients to eat foods that pack as many nutrients into the least number of calories as possible.
Grains cause inflammation and acidify the body. Both of these conditions are really not good things to have going on in your body. Trust me. Inflammation and acidity in the body are absolutely the building blocks of nothing but disease, flab and aging. None of those are good things. They are not a normal part of aging. Stop kidding yourselves. Chronic inflammation in the body leads to cardiovascular issues, autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, polymyositis, and fibromyalgia, fatigue, headaches, diabetes, and obesity. Inflammation and acidity are also causes of infertility Those are conditions that will ruin your day. Most grains are acidifying to the body. Acidity leads to inflammation as well so no matter how much alkaline water you drink, if you are shoveling bread, pasta, and cake into your mouth it’s going to make you acidic and inflamed. Beauties, you know those days when you feel like you have a puffy face, bags under the bags under your eyes, and your skin is lackluster? You’ve probably had 2 too many slices of something with grain and your body is in an acidic state. An acidic state grows all kinds of beasties including cancer. Did you know cancer cannot live in an alkaline body? It is because an alkaline body is full of oxygen and cancer cells don’t thrive in an oxygen rich environment. ALL grains cause inflammation to some degree. Two grains, millet and quinoa still cause inflammation but they are considered alkaline grains. These, when I do eat grains, are the two I reach for most often but even then, I do limit them to a few times a week.
Grains will cause tooth decay, osteoporosis, and acne. First, grains are bad for your teeth and bones because they contain phytates/phytic acid. (We don’t sprout our grains anymore and that sprouting is what minimizes phytic acid allowing us to absorb our minerals). Phytic acid binds to minerals (like calcium and zinc) in the body whisking those vital nutrients right out the back door. You need minerals in your body to keep your teeth and bones strong and, because the body is so resourceful and it knows how to keep your mineral balance, it will take it from your teeth and bones. I don’t care what Crest claims. You cannot remineralize your teeth from the outside. Think of phytic acid as a BIG magnet inside the body attracting all your vital minerals and taking them with it on its way out of your body. Is bread REALLY worth brittle bones? Osteoporosis and its precursor osteopenia have risen to epidemic proportions in the last 60 years. You could be eating a mineral rich diet full of whole grains and you are probably not absorbing those minerals.
Grains are high in carbohydrate content which break down into sugar quickly. Ok, whole grains may break down a little slower but, at the end of the day, if you eat a whole grain bagel for lunch you WILL crash by 3 pm because of that breakdown into sugar. Sugars order your body to produce more insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IFG-1). We already know how elevated insulin levels lead to a cascading hormonal response. One of these responses activate the sebum-producing glands in your skin – encouraging them to produce more oil. IFG-1 is also linked with the increased production of keratinocytes which also contribute to acne. High insulin levels lead to insulin resistance but it also leads to collagen breakdown. Collagen breakdown leads to wrinkling, sinking and sagging of skin.
Eating grain increases cravings for more grain. If you ever feel like no matter how hard you try you have no willpower to resist temptation of breads, cereals and sweet treats you are not alone. Because grains are full of carbohydrates (and complex is better than simple but how many people are eating ALL complex??) they give you quick energy. That energy wears off (whether you are burning it in the gym or sitting home on the sofa) and you “need” more. It doesn’t matter if you really need more, your body thinks you need more. You want more. Because of our reptilian brains, usually we give in to cravings. Wouldn’t it be better to eliminate the cravings?
I know, I know, about now you are thinking “But we know it is sugar that we need to cut out of our diet. SUGAR is the culprit of cravings!” and you would be right except, again, grain converts to sugar. You are probably eating something grain based with sugar anyway so it’s a lose-lose situation.” Let me put it to you another way so you don’t go out and buy Sugar-free Sara Lee Coffee Cake. The FLOUR, even without the sugar, is going to turn into sugar. The flour WITH the sugar is just going to be the one-two punch your body needs to create illness.
Grains wreak havoc on your joints. Grains cause inflammation which force an immune response which assumes that there are foreign invaders which triggers an attack on soft tissue in your joints. Grain’s amino acid composition mirrors that of the soft tissue in your joints. Because both synovial tissue and grains are chemically similar, your body has difficulty differentiating between the two. These constant immune responses lead to a constant heightened state of alert for your immune system leading to autoimmune illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis and bring with it a whole lot of pain.
We have already discussed why gluten affects the body in What’s the Big Deal about Gluten? so you have a really good idea of why the gluten in grains is a recipe for disaster. Lectins, gluten’s evil twin, are low grade toxins that essentially bind to the gut and the villi of the intestinal walls (and you need healthy villi to help digestion ease on down the road) which also prevent the absorption of minerals and certain proteins leading to cellular death and helping to alter the friendly bacteria/ unfriendly bacteria ratio allowing beasties like E.Coli to run amok. On top of this lectins are responsible for leaky gut syndrome which is basically lectins and pre-digested food permeating the intestinal walls and leaking into your blood stream causing forced immune responses. If that weren’t enough, gluten and lectins damage the gall bladder, which release bile salts that further help the breaking down and digesting of food further, BUT when the intestines are damaged, the chemical responsible for starting this bile secretion is not released. Bile backs up in the gall bladder, and cholesterol that is left there crystallizes and creates little “stones” that are usually facilitate the need for surgery which is generally removed with the rest of the gall bladder. No more gall bladder, no more bile salts. No more bile salts, impaired digestion for the rest of your life.
Have I scared the bejeezus out of you yet? Look, divas and fellas, I am not saying NEVER EVER eat another grain again. I eat them, though, now that I am pregnant, probably will limit them ONLY to gluten-free grains and only on rare occasions because they also toughen the ligaments and joints making labor and delivery much more difficult. I don’t think bread, cake, or pretty much anything is worth destroying your gut. I really don’t think it is worth causing, at the very least, if you are lucky, headaches, pain, nagging fatigue and impaired performance. (That’s what will happen if you are very very lucky. If you aren’t “winning the lottery four times lucky” your bread addiction will eventually lead to some sort of chronic illness. It may not be full on, complete breakdown of your immune system, or diabetes, but considering over 30% of the population have thyroid issues and many of them have Haschimoto’s Disease of which gluten intolerance is a virtual certainty, you are almost guaranteed that, at some point in your life, one of these chronic illnesses will affect you.
You might be thinking “But I feel fine” and you might, actually, feel fine. But could you feel better? I remember the first “detox” I ever did where I eliminated grains. It was T O U G H. I mean R E A L L Y H A R D!!! About the two week mark though something happened that shocked me. My cravings for sweets, anything sugary or floury stopped. Out of the blue I went from wanting to chew my own foot off for a Krispy Kreme to ZERO cravings for bread, cake, or even candy bars. Headaches disappeared, I had more energy than I had ever had in my life, and I dropped 6 pounds without thinking. (Bear in mind I was still eating loads of plant based proteins, fruits and vegetables with the tiniest bits of lamb and free-range chicken so I was not on a low-fat or even low-carb diet. I was still eating 1800-2000 calories a day and I was only doing yoga.) It took two weeks of wanting to sell my own mother for a croissant but afterward, I could pass a bakery and not bat an eyelash. It CAN be done. It’s not even really that hard.
As I said, I do eat the tiniest bits of grain here and there. Tomorrow I will tell you which ones and how to prepare them to make them more digestible. I rotate my grains when I do eat them and I do limit them to a few times a week (and much less if we are not entertaining) so I have nearly eliminated my immune responses. When I have no choice to eat modern wheat, rye or barley, I blow up like a Macy’s Day Parade balloon. I get an instant headache and my skin pays for it for days. I don’t cry for grains any longer though I do make the odd loaf of bread and enjoy it with relish. (Again, a secret I will share with you tomorrow.)
Wishing you peace and balance,