17 August 2012

Grains - Health Hazards

Our best guide for a healthy diet is evolution. The longer we've been consuming a certain type of food as a species, the less harm it is likely to do. If we want to avoid chronic disease, the best way would be to restore "biological normality - that is ... the conditions to which presumably we are genetically adapted." (George Rose - Sick Individuals and Sick Populations, 1985)

The most dramatic alterations in human diets in the past 2 million years:
  1. The invention of agriculture (10,000 years ago, only 3% of our time on Earth): this led to a transition from a carbohydrate poor to a carbohydrate rich diet. For 97% of our time on Earth, we were not consuming grains. 
  2. The increasing refinement of those carbohydrates.
  3. The dramatic increase in sugar consumption from 10-20 pounds (per person, per year) in the middle of the 18th century to 150 pounds today.
"For what we know about historically studies foragers, they hunted, gathered and fished for foods in a manner that maximized their caloric intake versus the energy they expended to obtain these foods. This food-gathering strategy is referred to as the optimal foraging theory by anthropologists. Based on the optimal food-foraging theory, hunter -gatherers typically maintained the following order of food preference:
  1. Large animals
  2. Medium-size animals
  3. Small animals, birds and fish
  4. Roots and tubers
  5. Fruits
  6. Honey
  7. Nuts and seeds
  8. Grass seeds (cereals)"
                                                             - Loren Cordain

You can see from the list above that hunter-gatherers preferred large (fat) animals to plant food, simply because the same volume of food provided more calories. They might have consumed plant foods, even grains, but only if preferred food could not be acquired first. 

Seeds and grains would never been eaten on a daily basis, as these plants were not available year round, but only seasonally.

Health authorities who still recommend to choose our food following the food pyramid, advocate grains as healthy and essential for good health. They encourage us to replace refined carbohydrates with whole grains, because refined grains have been stripped of essential nutrients. It is true that many vitamins and minerals are lost during the refining process. What health authorities forget to mention is: nutrient availability and absorbability. Whole grains are loaded with anti-nutrients - such as phytate - which prevent mineral absorption.

For pants, anti-nutrients are very important from an evolutionary point of view. Plants concentrate anti-nutrients in grains. When animals ingest grains, they are not digested, they are dropped off a few miles away, and a new plant is born. The purpose of grains is not to feed us or animals, but to "reproduce" by preventing digestion. 
"Repeated high exposure to seed anti-nutrients can undermine the nutrient quality of our diets, but more important, may impair intestinal function, promote chronic low-level inflammation, and increase our susceptibility to allergies and autoimmune and other inflammatory diseases."
                                                                     - Loren Cordain

Phytate or Phytic Acid
Whole grains may seem a good source of calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. In reality, they also contain phytates which impair the absorption of these minerals. The more grain you eat, the more likely you become deficient in these minerals. 

High whole grain consumption also promotes calcium loss and osteoporosis. Calcium in whole grains is bound to phytates and make it unavailable for absorption. Calcium from vegetables are much better assimilated by our body.

Vitamin D Deficiency
Another another adverse effect of whole grains on bone health: a diet high in whole grains lead to an increased elimination of vitamin D from the intestines. 

Grains are causing celiac disease to a large percentage of the population. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease triggered by the consumption of gluten proteins found in wheat, rye and barley. 

Gluten sensitivity can cause a number of diseases and disorders:
  • Anemia
  • Asthma
  • Atopic Diseases (flaky, itchy skin)
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Infertility
  • Migraines
  • Psoriasis
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Type I diabetes
  • ... and many more

Bottom line
Grains has not been part of our diet for most of the time, they became a staple food only recently. This coincides with the development of many chronic illnesses and obesity. If you already have an immune disorder, I highly recommend you to try a diet without grains, even without whole grains.

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