The Non-Existent Nutritional Benefits of Grains

*originally published March 2015; updated July 2017*

Insulin sensitivity - the proper rising and falling of insulin levels in response to food intake - is one of my pet projects as a nutrition nerd, and one of the ways in which I try to move the needle on the whole "effortless health and weight management" thing. If we could all just spend a little time getting to know insulin and how it's supposed to work in the body, I think we'd all have an 'aha' moment with regard to our relationship with food. I know I did. I personally ditched the grains about 10 years ago as I did some research and self-education on the best ways to manage my blood sugar levels, and it was a life-changing decision for me. Hard(ish) at first, but the benefits very quickly outweighed the burden. Now, whenever someone tells me how hard it seems to eliminate "a whole food group," I struggle to remember the difficulty. For me, feeling sick and tired all the time and dealing with inexplicable weight gain was much, much harder. Robb Wolf, one of the forefront speakers and gurus on the topic of the grain-free ancestral nutrition template, shared an amazing blog post, guest-written by Mike Sheridan, on the "benefits" of grains. The article starts with the author recalling his time in nutrition school, gritting his teeth as he reluctantly learned about all the benefits of whole grains - even though he himself had abandoned them and achieved great levels of health. Ultimately, he left nutrition school and went on a path of continuing to educate himself. I managed to get all the way through nutrition school myself, but not without my fair share of eye-rolling. I think this is why I positioned myself way at the back of the room. But now that I have those letters after my name - and because I am part of a non-regulated nutrition designation - I can carry on to specialize in this type of nutrition to my heart's content.

The entire article is found on Grains - What's the Upside? I can't say enough good things about how direct and to the point this article is, and how it literally answers every "But what about..." question a grain-free person will ever have to answer.

Without further ado, here are some of my favourite highlights.

On the regulation of blood sugar/insulin. transitioned their fuel away from sugar (batteries) toward fat and protein (gasoline).The top image represents the effect on patients' blood sugar levels when placed on the American Diabetes Association's diabetes protocol. That just looks unpleasant, doesn't it? It looks a lot like insulin resistance feels. This isn't a pretty picture for a perfectly healthy person, let alone a Diabetic one. Just in case this isn't clear, those roller-coaster looking wavy lines represent why you struggle to keep your eyes open at your desk every day at 3pm. The bottom image shows the soft rise and fall of insulin levels in a person who has

"Grains are really nutrient-dense!" Are they though? Are they really? Harvard Research Matt Lalonde's Nutrient Density Chart says otherwise:

As you can see, each food category is given somewhat of a multiplier based on how nutrient dense it is. Organ meat is among the most nutrient dense food we can eat and it gets a whopping "17" on this scale.

I'm no mathematician, but the "-6.2" that grains receives doesn't seem very promising. I mean, it's one step above refined and processed oils for goodness sake.

"'K... but what about B Vitamins?" The B vitamins are killer important for so many things, not the least of which is nervous system support. Grains seem to get some kind of B vitamin celebrity status. I'm not sure why: grain-loving vegetarians are frequently B deficient. And then there's this chart that shows the B quantities in various foods:

"But, but, but... what about FIBRE!?" Ah yes. The belief that grains are the only place to get fibre. And that the bulky fibrousness of grains is what makes you "regular."

I feel like this bit of verbiage from the blog author will be my new "elevator speech" for when people ask me the fibre question:

"Conventional wisdom says the fiber in whole grains keeps us regular, and this prevents colon cancer, right? It also lowers cholesterol, and this prevents heart disease, right? Sorry to burst your bubble, but you’re at risk of heart disease and colon cancer because you’re fat and inflamed. And the reason you’re fat and inflamed is because you listened to the government that told you to eat less meat and saturated fat and start stuffing your gullet with 6-11 servings of whole grains. ...Grains keep you regular because they’re predominantly insoluble fiber that you can’t digest. The only reason you think they’re beneficial is because they expand in water, push everything through your digestive system like a plunger, and make your deuces look massive."

And then there's the small fact of the matter that good ol' veggies have been easily providing our species with suitable amounts of fibre for like 2.5 million years, give or take:


"North Americans stay fat and get sick because they prioritize foods that are high in carbohydrates. And I’m not talking about the creamer in your coffee and candy in your top drawer. I mean the bagel for breakfast, pizza for lunch, pasta for dinner, and popcorn in front of the t.v. Fortunately, many are finally receiving the message that sugar is bad, but they’re failing to recognize that the bread they’re putting zero-sugar jam on raises their blood sugar faster than pure table sugar."

For me, one of the biggest crimes against grains is their needlessly high carbohydrate density. We do not need carbohydrates in such quantities. Our carbohydrate intake is increasingly being accepted as the cause of the "Diabesity" epidemic. Even if you painstakingly soak or sprout you grains or beans for a whole day just to break down some of the phytic acid, lectins and similar antinutrients, they are still hella high in carbohydrate. Which... is sugar - just in case you are currently on a 30-day No Sugar Challenge.

It's causing us to become insulin resistant, to store fat around our midsections. It is feeding foreign yeasts in our gut, displacing the good gut bugs that are so critical for our total well-being. It's giving us those wacky insulin spikes and crashes that disable us from having energetic, productive afternoons at work.

Grains: A Lose/Lose Scenario

The final word on grains: they offer nothing to us "other than holding pizza toppings and adding handles to your hamburger."

"Basically, whole grains versus refined grains is a choice between inflammation and hyperglycemia; or unavailable and non-existent nutrients. Even if there was a blood sugar benefit (which there isn’t), it’s trumped by a loss in vitamin and minerals."

Any questions?


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