The Trouble with Whole Grains

I don’t count organic or commercial whole grains on my list of healthy foods because these cereals contain many anti-nutrients and natural toxins which are associated with serious digestive issues and autoimmune diseases such as celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

Modern man is not equipped genetically to properly digest cereal grains. In his paper Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword, Loren Cordain, an expert in the diets of Paleolithic humans, writes:

Modern man has become so dependent upon eating cereal grains (grass seeds) that it has prompted at least one author to say that we have become “canaries”. However, this has not always been the case. For the vast majority of mankind’s presence on this planet, he rarely if ever consumed cereal grains. With the exception of the last 10,000 years following the agricultural “revolution”, humans have existed as non-cereal-eating hunter-gatherers since the emergence of Homo erectus 1.7 million years ago.

Dr. Stephen Wangen, in his book Healthier Without Wheat: A New Understanding of Wheat Allergies, Celiac Disease, and Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance writes that wheat gluten intolerance is associated with not only the celiac disease but many other health problems ranging from heartburn to multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and cancer.

In his book, Cancer: Disease of Civilization?: An Anthropological and Historical Study, Vilhjalmur Stefansson reported on a presentation made by Stanislas Tanchou in 1842 to the Paris Medical Society.

Tanchou, a physician and surgeon, spoke on cancer and claimed he could predict the exact rates of cancer in the major European cities, and based his predictions on the percentage of grain consumed in each city. His predictions were recorded, and over time, were shown to be completely accurate. In the cities where grain consumption levels were high, cancer rates were high, and vice versa.

And Weston Price, in his research in the 1930s, showed that in fact, in hunter-gather societies where no grain is consumed, cancer does not manifest. This is why Stefansson called cancer “a disease of civilization”.

Grains Negatively Affect Blood Sugar

In addition, grains, even whole ones, are very high in carbohydrates. There is a huge and growing volume of research which implicates a high carb diet in the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and a host of other health problems in the United States.

And cereal grains aren’t that nutritious either. They offer much smaller amounts of vitamins and minerals than animal-sourced foods, and the polyunsaturated oils in grains are unstable and spoil (oxidize) very easily.

Rancid fats have some pretty nasty health effects. Unstable fats are being implicated in the inflammatory process which is at the root of fatty liver disease, heart disease, and atherosclerosis. I avoid polyunsaturated fats from grain as much as possible for this reason.

Cereal grains cannot be digested in their raw state by humans, as we don’t have 4 stomachs like ruminant animals to break these foods down. Actually, grains aren’t healthy for ruminant animals either. Feeding grain to cows and pigs makes them sick; it lowers the pH of their stomach acid which allows lethal strains of bacteria to take hold.

In traditional cultures around the world, whole grains and the bread made from them are prepared differently. The grains are soaked, fermented and ground just before eating or baking them into bread. The fats in the grain seed are still fresh then, the soaking and fermenting process removes the anti-nutrient toxins. The resulting grain dish or bread is healthier.

I don’t recommend eating grain-based foods because of the link to autoimmune disease, but if you like grains and bread, at least switch to:

  • Whole, organic grains that have been soaked in an acidic medium or sprouted to remove the phytic acids and lectins.
  • Bread made from whole, freshly stone ground organic grains which have been soaked or fermented to remove the phytic acids and lectins. Organic sourdough or sprouted bread would be a good choice.

Resources for Further Reading

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