Going grain-free is something more and more people are doing as attempt to achieve optimal health. I agree this is a step in the right direction and grains are non-existent in the Primal Blueprint. However, I feel that going grain-free to a lot of people is merely just a fad. They heard about it on Dr. Oz, they see all the gluten free items in the organic section so they try to cut back on grain based items and try those delicious gluten-free cookies which are so delicious because they are loaded with sugar to make up for the lack of flavor that the gluten provided. It’s to the point that going gluten-free is a joke to some. We’ve all see those “Gluten-free Oil Changes” those clever mechanics put on their outdoor signs.
Just about every grain contains gluten and just about every human on the planet has some intolerance to gluten. Some more than others. Some of us just get a little gassy after eating some pasta. Other have such an extreme intolerance to gluten that they can even eat gluten-free food that was prepared by someone who just finished preparing a dish containing gluten. Gluten intolerance can be the cause of many ailments ranging from eczema to migraines to digestive stress. A list of intolerance symptoms can be found here.
Grains in Our Diet
Grains are featured heavily in the modern human diet and are especially prevalent in the Standard American Diet (SAD). They are on the base of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Pyramid, meaning most of what we should eat are grains, and they share the same amount of space on the USDA’s newer guideline tool, MyPlate. You can say that the SAD is a grain-based diet.
A grain comes from the seed of a grass. Human have never been able to digest grass. The human digestive system lacks the bacteria and microbes to effectively break down grass and absorb its nutrients. But probably somewhere along the way, someone ate one of these seeds without too much distress afterwards. It was later discovered that these seeds could be collected and stored for long periods of time without spoiling like plants and animal products do. Then, someone figured out that if they planted extra seeds, they could grow more grass and then eventually collect more seeds. Thus, the Agricultural Revolution. This happened about 10,000 years ago and we never looked back.Grains include:
- Corn (it’s really not a veggie)
Grain containing products include:
- Cous cous
- Tortilla Chips
- Pita Bread
- Pita Chips
- Sauces and gravies
- Pretty much anything that tastes awesome
Humans can’t tolerate grains
Much how humans can’t tolerate grass, we also can’t tolerate grains. The effects of eating bowl of oatmeal may not be as apparent as eating a bowl of grass, but over time, grains wreak havoc in our bodies. We simply never evolved to tolerate and properly process grains in our bodies. Ten-thousand years seems like a long time. But, in terms of human evolution, it really isn’t. Homo Sapiens emerged about 2 million years ago this means that grains emergence as a staple food has only been for the last .5% of human existence. To put it another way, if human evolution was the movie “The Breakfast Club”, the grains would appear right about when Judd Nelson pumps his fist in the air.
It wasn’t until I dove into all things Primal that I realized how evolution works. One might think that we simply have to grow accustomed to grains in order to be able to handle them without issue and that the more we eat grains, the better we are setting up future generations to tolerate them. But evolution doesn’t work that way. In order for humans to evolve to handle grains, some of us need a mutation in our system to tolerate grain based foods. Step two is every other human without that mutation being wiped off the face of earth to allow the mutant humans to breed freely and pass their mutant genes down to subsequent generations. Simple, right? And since we don’t need grains to survive, it’s unlikely that the inferior non-mutant humans will die off.
So, don’t count on yourself or the rest of us to be able to handle grains any time soon.
So, what’s so bad about grains?
When it comes to food, we are primarily concerned with nutrients and nutritional value, but we also have to look at anti-nutrients as well. And grains are chock full of ’em. Most notably are lectins, gluten and phytates.
Lectins are a plant’s defense mechanism against predators. They are actually toxins to deter predators from eating the plant and they are highly concentrated in the seed of the plant – its grain. Not all lectins are the same and we’ve evolved to tolerate lectins in most plants – the fruit and veggies we regularly consume today. These lectins are actually beneficial to our immune system. They actually bind to bacteria and viruses so we can flush them out of our system. We can easily eat these types of lectins because they are present in the plants we’ve been consuming for millions of years. But since we started eating grains only 10,000 years ago, we have yet to adapt to those lectins present. Lectins found in grains damage our digestive system and actually puncture holes in digestive linings. This allows bigger, undigested particles to seep through, or leak into our bloodstream. This is leaky gut syndrome.
…queue the record needle scratching in the jukebox…
Wait, undigested particles? Isn’t that the same as fecal matter????
Yes, yes it is. A simple, and gross, way to think about leaky gut syndrome is fecal matter circulating through your system.
…back to “Don’t Stop Believin'”
Anyway, our immune system is always Johnny-on-the-Spot and does its best to remove these foreign particles from our bloodstream. This is an auto-immune response and is inflammatory. This is partially why eliminating grains from you diet will result in immediate weight loss. When we sprain our ankles or jam our fingers playing basketball, they become swollen. This is an inflammatory response to protect the injured bone while it heals. To protect it, water collects in the inflamed area. In the case of the inflammatory effect of lectins, our entire body is inflamed and we retain water throughout. Eliminating grains reduces inflammation and as a result, we expel the water we collected. So, yes, most of the weight lost when you first go Primal is water weight.
Gluten is the stuff that makes dough stretchy and elastic and it creates the appetizing texture to many of the baked good we enjoy. It is primarily found in wheat but it is also present in other grains. What you may be surprised to find out is possibly up to one-third of all humans have some form a gluten intolerance. Having only a mild intolerance doesn’t put you in the clear, however. The long term affects can range from digestive issues, migraines, skin conditions or exacerbate Celiac Disease.
Phytates put the “anti” in anti-nutrient. While they can serve as antioxidants they also bind to important nutrients making it hard for our bodies to absorb them.
What about whole grains?
Whole grains offer more nutrition than their refined counterparts. So, yes, whole wheat bread has more nutritive value than WonderBread. They also take longer to digest which delays or minimizes the insulin spike afterwards. But, along with the extra nutrients and benefits come more of the anti-nutrients I just talked about.
Also, the term “whole grain” has become a marketing talking point. Food manufacturers slap the “whole grain” label on their products and the American consumer is lead to believe the Frosted Pop Tarts are suddenly healthy because they are made with whole grain.
Read food labels BTW.
What about fiber?
Whole grains are often touted because of the dietary fiber. We’re told to eat steel cut oatmeal every day to get a healthy dose of fiber to start of the day and then eat whole wheat bread during lunch and a heaping pile of brown rice at dinner. But, this may actually be too much fiber. If you experience gas a bloating after a meal, you may have just consumed more than you need. Moderate amounts of fiber provide enough benefits and eating too much won’t necessarily provide more benefit and may even cause some negative effects. If you follow the Primal Blueprint and make sure fruits and veggies play prominent roles in your daily diets you’re sure to get enough fiber.
Stop eating grains. You’ll definitely go through a withdrawal like I described in Let’s Talk Carbs and My Name Is Sean And I’m A Recovering Carboholic. You will also crave them and be tempted them. And I know I’m being a buzzkill writing this right before the holidays but once you cut grains out of your life and make it over the hump, you will notice positive changes. But since this is the holidays, My Primal Plan For Thanksgiving Day also applies to Christmas and New Year’s.