In this installment of Deceptions in the Food Industry, I’m going to talk about “whole grains”, a term which has received a great deal of abuse both on product labels and in recommendations for better health from mainstream health professionals.
In the past, the Food Pyramid told us to eat 6-11 servings of grains per day for health. This year the government revised its formula and recommendations to My Plate – even more vague and completely leaving out one of the most important components our diets – healthy fats. Grains are still there, and comprise just over a quarter of the size of My Plate. Yet despite following these high-carbohydrate, low-fat recommendations, obesity and disease rates in the U.S. have continued to skyrocket over the last 50+ years. Why?
Ironically, a majority of those grains we told to eat with such frequency are highly-processed, and are far from whole. When you see a package that says “whole grains” on the label, what are you really getting? One of the methods used on most grains you buy in packages in the store is called extrusion.
Here’s how it works:
Ingredients are mixed to create a slurry or dough. This mixture also includes other ingredients such as dough conditioners, stabilizers, other chemicals, and sugar. These are placed into a large processing chamber where they are subjected to high temperatures and pressure and cooked or baked, and finally pushed through a hole in an exploding movement. This ensures that all pieces look more or less the same, such as little o’s, spheres, squares, and other shapes you see in cereals, snacks, and crackers. During this processing, delicate nutrients in the grains are denatured and oxidized. These grains are also not properly prepared through soaking, sprouting, or fermenting in order to make them more digestible to the body, leaving phytates intact to prevent absorption of vital nutrients. For more information, read Be Kind to Your Grains…And Your Grains Will Be Kind to You from the Weston A. Price Foundation.
What is a whole grain?
A true whole grain includes all parts of the whole:
- the starchy endosperm (with few nutrients)
- the bran or outer layer of the kernel (where you’ll find most of the fiber)
- the germ (where you’ll find most of the nutrients) including B vitamins and iron.
Examples of whole grains include brown rice, whole-wheat berries, whole cornmeal, bulgur, popcorn, millet and whole oats. Refined flours are most of what you’ll find on the supermarket shelf, and have the bran and germ removed during processing. What’s left in these products is the endosperm. Refined grain products are usually enriched or fortified with nutrients that are now missing from the food such as iron, folic acid, niacin, riboflavin and thiamine. But those nutrients are synthetically-assimilated in a laboratory, and are not the way they would occur in nature.
Supermarket sales and health recommendations
Over time – and especially since the revision of Dietary Guidelines in 2005 – the trend toward recommending the consumption of whole grains in our diets by the USDA and most health and medical sources has increased. As a result, we are seeing disease rates increasing dramatically – obesity, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.
The trend toward adding more whole grains to food has been growing steadily since the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services revised the dietary guidelines in 2005, recommending that at least half of all grains eaten be whole grains and that 3 or more ounces of whole grains be consumed per day. As a 1-ounce equivalent of whole grains has about 16 grams of whole grains, the recommendation is to eat 48 grams of whole grains a day.
Those guidelines were based on information in large studies published in peer-reviewed journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine, Obesity and the Archives of Internal Medicine that were assessed by the dietary guidelines committee, says Robert Post, deputy director of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, a USDA agency. In an editorial released by the NEJM, doctors revealed that at least one of the studies they published received some of its funding from the tobacco industry. In the study, “The study the authors concluded that the majority of stage I lung cancers treated after their detection by CT screening had a favorable prognosis.”
Why should anyone care about this? Industry bias in medical studies is rampant, and should always be taken into consideration in the evaluation of studies promoting certain dietary lifestyle recommendations. The grain industry, like many arms of the food industry, wields much influence on the mainstream food market and has powerful lobbying and business activities watching out for its interests.
Are grains good for us?
- Grains contain phytates, which are anti-nutrients. Consuming improperly prepared grains such as those at the supermarket actually prevents mineral absorption in the body. When eating grains with the bran intact, the phytates bind to minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, and phosphorus and prevents our digestion from being able to absorb it so our bodies can use them. Preparing grains as our ancestors did through soaking and sprouting helps to aid in pre-digestion of grains and can minimize the loss of nutrients our bodies experience, but it does not completely eliminate this problem.
- Consumption of gluten (commonly found in wheat and other products) for many contributes to various health issues: allergies such as asthma, eczema, respiratory illnesses such as colds, sinusitus, and bronchitis, digestive problems such as heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, leaky gut, IBS, diverticultis, and Crohn’s Disease, joint, auto immune, and teeth and bone issues, weight gain and metabolic disorders such as heart disease, high blood pressure, emotional and mental disorders, other auto-immune disorders such as diabetes, MS, and Lupus, and cancer. Researchers who study gluten-intolerance and celiac disease have discovered that 30% to 40% of people of European descent are gluten-intolerant on some level. And that’s just what’s being reported. Gluten-free products, now on most grocery store shelves, aren’t much better nutritionally.
- The fiber myth of grains: As we discussed with the processing of grains, they don’t contain so much as even a trace of fiber, as all that’s really left is the endosperm. Scientists discovered the following about high-fiber foods: “bang up against the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract, rupturing their outer covering” and “increases the level of lubricating mucus.” Last time I checked, increased mucous in the body means your body is trying to rid itself of something which is causing irritation, and it also means a lack of absorption of nutrients. There is also growing evidence that fiber causes a whole host of health issues. Read Fiber Menace for more information.
- We are not designed to digest grains. Grains are a type of grass seed. Like carnivores, we have a short digestive tract. Prior to about 10,000 years ago, we did not consume grains or grass seeds. Starch-eating creatures secrete a large amount and variety of starch-splitting enzymes, while human production amounts to one starch-splitting enzyme: salivary amylase (ptyalin). Our teeth also do not grind grains efficiently. We’d never eat them raw, but the processing we put grains through by way of cooking, refining, packaging, boxing, and adding sugar and chemicals makes them palatable. For scientific information explaining why humans were not designed to digest grains, visit Beyond Vegetarianism by Dr. Loren Cordain, PhD.
- A diet high in carbohydrates causes health issues. Eating high-carbohydrate diets causes insulin production, stimulated by the pancreas, to spike our blood sugar. These substances are then quickly and readily converted to fat through our production of insulin. Continued elevated levels of insulin in the blood cause a condition known to medical experts as hyper-insulinemia. One of the side-effects of insulin production is that fat becomes deposited in the cells. Then, your brain is stimulated to make you feel hungry. The result is you want more food, and many people turn to carbohydrates to satisfy that need. As this repeats over time, the cells in your body become resistant to insulin production, placing tremendous strain on your pancreas to produce more and more of it. These abnormal levels of insulin produce a variety of health issues including metabolic disorder which includes heart disease and diabetes, aut0-immune problems, and premature aging.
At best, the “whole grains” you eat in packaged foods are a blasted mixture of various kinds of grain flour, chemicals, and sugar which don’t live up to the promises made on the label, and no part of this even remotely resembles a whole grain found in nature. Even most brands of bread on the shelf (excluding some fresh-made breads) are made of refined grains that are processed, causing the bread to go rancid by the time it gets to the store. Fresh ground flour is really only fresh for up to about 2 or 3 days.
I’ve personally realized tremendous health benefits from avoiding grains, and I know many others who have experienced the same. So, if you are going to eat grains:
- Avoid packaged and processed grain foods like the plague
- Prepare your grains properly through soaking, sprouting, souring, or fermenting
- Try limiting your consumption to once or twice a week
If you have digestive issues – and many of us do – it is really important to get those under control so your body can make the most of the foods you eat and receive the nutrients it needs from healthy foods. I recommend Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride as a good starting point for gut healing and detoxification.
Grain-free meal plans – Health Home, & Happiness
Grains and human evolution – Whole Health Source
The definitive guide to grains – Mark’s Daily Apple
If you missed the last installment of this series, read Deceptions in the Food Industry: Lean Meats