To Grain or Not to Grain

With all the advanced science available to us you wouldn't think that what we should eat to stay healthy should come down to an act of faith, like believing in angels. Yet it does because there is so much conflicting evidence and studies about what is good or bad for us.

Take the humble food class called whole grains. In January the USDA released the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, and a new food pyramid, which looks much like the old one, which calls for eating lots of whole grains, in addition to more fruits and vegetables, and lean meats. To the USDA's credit, the food pyramid no longer takes a one size fits all approach to what we should eat. They have tools to personalize what might work best for you.

A CNN article reported that a new Harvard study shows significant benefits from eating whole grains:

( -- Eating a diet rich in fiber - especially the kind of fiber found in whole grains - reduces the risk of dying at an early age from a range of causes, a new government study suggests.

Fiber's beneficial effects on heart health have been known for decades, so it wasn't surprising that eating a lot of fiber was associated with a lower risk of death due to heart attack and heart disease. But fiber intake also appears to lower the risk of dying from respiratory diseases (such as pneumonia and chronic bronchitis) and infectious diseases, the study found.

Yet, there are others who are also well armed with studies that completely disagree with this take on grains. In fact, they claim  grains can be harmful, in ways beyond the well-established connection between gluten and celiac disease.

Robb Wolf, who's become popular advocating the Paleo diet from which grains are excluded, in fact, considers them poisonous because they can cause serious problems like Irritable Bowel Syndrome. His views are nicely summed up here by one of his Paleo practitioners.

Gary Taubes, author of the bestsellers Good Calories, Bad Calories and  Why We're Fat and What to Do About It, also bans grains from healthy diets because when fully digested they turn into glucose (sugar) and spike your insulin, which leads to inflammation, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

So what's a TOJ to do? I think there's plenty of evidence that American eat way too many carbs, and grains are very potent carbs. I found what both Wolf and Taubes have to say about grains worth studying. When it comes to controlling weight, which is associated both with health and the ability to be physically active, an excess of grains can definitely work against us. However, I still eat some whole grain foods because they do contain vital nutrients, as listed on the USDA website:

•Grains are important sources of many nutrients, including dietary fiber, several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate), and minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium).

•B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate) play a key role in metabolism – they help the body release energy from protein, fat, and carbohydrates. B vitamins are also essential for a healthy nervous system. 

•Whole grains are sources of magnesium and selenium. Magnesium is a mineral used in building bones and releasing energy from muscles. Selenium protects cells from oxidation. It is also important for a healthy immune system.

And whole grains taste good, like all carbs. But I only eat a food with whole grains at most once a day, maybe a piece of whole wheat flatbtread. Mostly it's veggies, some fruit, and lots of protein.
When it comes to diet and exercise, be open minded, and do what works for you.

1 comment:

Arsy said...

Hi! Great article. I'm Arsy of 30 days of paleo. First off, I want to thank you for linking to my blog, I really appreciate the support.

I also wanted to clarify, that I am not one of Robb Wolf's practioners (unfortunately), although I would love to be one day. Currently, I am just a nutrition enthusiast that spends all my spare time reading about it and taking courses whenever possible.

Here is a list of the amazing RDs that Robb works with -