Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Great Grain Debate

Lately, I've heard a lot of railing against grain consumption. People have argued that they are inflammatory, that they make people gain weight, that they are a new food that people haven't eaten since paleolithic times and our bodies are therefore not equipped to digest them.


I've done a lot of research on this subject recently, and haven't found any scientific research supporting these claims as far as WHOLE grains are concerned. REFINED grains, on the other hand, are, indeed, inflammatory, and do contribute to weight gain. A refined grain is one that people have put their little hands on and took all the good stuff out of. Essentially, anything with more than one or two ingredients, or any grain products that are white or fluffy is most likely a refined grain. These grains are pretty much already digested for you in the factory, and your body doesn't have to do a whole lot of work on them. As a result, your body turns them into sugar (and we all know that sugars need to be nixed from the diet as much as possible). They have the same effect on the body as sugar does, which means inflammation, a drop in immune response, weight gain, insulin spikes, drastic energy fluctuations, and more.

Whole grains, however, seem to have a completely different effect. They are associated with lower body fat (one of many published, scientific resources on this: http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/content/abstract/139/10/1950 ). They have an inverse relationship to insulin resistance ( http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/content/abstract/140/3/587 ), they appear to have great heart healthy benefits (a few of many resources on this: http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.907360v1 ; http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/abstract/90/3/493 ), and they appear to reduce-- not increase-- inflammation ( http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/content/abstract/140/3/587 ).

This having been said, gluten is one of the biggest allergens in the diet (whether or not this has anything to do with it not being a paleolithic food is up for debate). If you have an allergy to something, it's very likely you will have an inflammatory result. If you have celiac disease or any other grain allergy, common sense says not to eat them.

My conclusion regarding grains is that unless you're allergic to them, whole grains (not refined ones!!) are a beneficial addition to your diet. Everyone's body is different, of course, so if you feel better without them, then by all means, don't eat them. As for me, amaranth, sprouted grains, whole wheat, brown rice, barley, and other whole grains have a place in my diet, and I feel great about that.

If you have any questions, comments, or research that supports the anti-grain side of the argument, feel free to post it here!

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