Are Grains Unhealthy For Me?

Often times I'm asked “Jasmine, why do you suggest I cut back on grains?
My doctor advises me that I should have whole grains daily to help me control my insulin and for fiber, and I need them if I want to have energy to get through my day.
What I see on the food pyramid suggests that they’re alright, so are grains actually bad for me?”


Sometimes the first response that pops into my head is, “if your doctor told you to drink ammonia would you do it?”

I’m slightly hyper at times when people ask me questions that to me have seemingly obvious answers.

But then I have to snap back to reality and remember that not everybody walks around with their head stuck in a book about food everyday like I can often be found doing.

So before I ever answer this question, I always try to get them to think about the effect regularly eating grains has on their body.

Do this exercise with me, won't you?

Let’s pretend this person’s name who asked this question is Linda.

The first thing I’ll ask Linda is, “how many meals do you eat in a day where some form of grain is involved?”

The answer usually goes a little like this:

“I’ll have either a slice of toast with my eggs, a bowl of cereal with some low-fat milk, or a small bowl of oatmeal with fresh fruit on top.

For lunch I'll usually have something quick like a turkey wrap, with a whole grain or spinach tortilla of course.

And for dinner, I'll usually have some form of meat like chicken or maybe some fish beside a bit of couscous or pasta.”

Next I ask Linda how energetic does she feel throughout the day.

Linda: “Usually I feel okay, nothing spectacular like I'm revving to go...until I have my cup of coffee that is.”

Following that question I ask Linda how does she think throughout the day.

Linda: “If you're asking if I think clearly or not, I do experience a little brain fog where I have a hard time getting focused on a task or can't’ follow through on my thoughts because I forget them.”

Then I ask Linda how does her stomach feel after each meal.

“Sometimes I’ll have gas. I keep Gas-X tablets on hand. But the weird thing is I am always slightly bloated for hours after eating. I have this annoying pooch for a stomach that I cannot make go away no matter how long or hard I workout.

Finally I ask Linda how often does she have bowel movements.

“Umm, do I have to answer that?”

Most people don't like to admit right off that they do not have regular daily meetings with their household throne. Usually because they aren't proud of the fact that they have trouble going everyday.

The reason for this example food conversation is for me to bring out the causes behind the most common symptoms people fact with regular grain consumption.

Most negative symptoms from grains are brought on from grain’s 3 anti-nutrients; phytates, lectin, and gluten.
 

Phytates. People argue that cereal grains are needed because of their mineral content, but phytates makes minerals bio-unavailable. Meaning your body can’t access them to use them.

Lectin. Lectin binds to insulin receptors - you know, the little thing insulin needs to allow the liver to do its job and breakdown the glucose in your bloodstream.
Lectin also bind to your intestinal lining (that can’t be good) and causes leptin resistance.

Leptin unlike lectin is a good thing...when it works properly.
Leptin is the hormone that tells you ‘okay stop cramming food in here, we’re full.’

Gluten. Gluten is probably your worst enemy of all the anti-nutrients. Just because you aren't a celiac does not mean you escape the vengeance of gluten.

First you need to understand what gluten does to your body, then I'll tell you what your body does in response to gluten being an uninvited guest to the digestion fiesta.

Your gut has one primary job; to be the gatekeeper. Or as I like to refer to it, the bouncer.
It’s job is to be sensitive to all bad things passing into the body. Good nutrients make the list and get an all access pass to the digestion party while bad nutrients get roughed up and shuttled to the rectum for disposal.

Now when gluten comes onto the scene it binds to the lining of the gut and weakens it making it permeable, causing the gut to be less sensitive to the bad nutrients and therefore allow gluten access into the body (i.e. “leaky gut syndrome”).
 

You can think of it as gluten walking up to the bouncer and challenging him to an arm wrestling match - and winning that match. Then slips inside the party uninvited.


Gluten entering into the body is what causes you to have gas and bloating and all those other stomach discomforts.

Now that you know what gluten does, this is how your body responds to the uninvited guest.

Gluten is made up of the two proteins gliadin and glutenin.

Since these large proteins don’t belong outside the gut, when gliadin enters the body the gut dispatches an antibody called anti-gliadin IgA to fend off gliadin.

The only reason the antibody anti-gliadin IgA is released is when the body senses the impeding threat of gluten.

Besides the anti-nutrients, grains cause that sluggish non-energetic feeling because of their high carbohydrate content spiking your blood glucose levels. When blood glucose levels spike and don’t elevate and lower in a gradual manner, you feel the effects and often put on the weight.

 

At the end of the day I’m not telling you what to do here or trying to give you medical advice that will sabotage the way you eat.

I just want to help educate you on the risk of what you are doing to your body with what you are sticking in your mouth.

Grains have not proven to help anyone healthwise. Especially anyone who is diabetic, battling with weight-gain, has irritable bowel syndrome or any other digestive disorder for that matter.


If you don't see yourself being able to cut grains out of your diet, at least reduce it to a once a day thing, or limit it to a few meals that you allow yourself to have throughout the week if that will help keep you sane and the cravings at bay.

Jasmine Cabrera

Chisel Training + Health, Charlottesville, VA