Welcome to another edition of the Doctor’s Note where we talk about what’s on our minds when it comes to your health. This week I am taking a risk by challenging conventional wisdom on eating whole grains. There are a lot of things that people and/or doctors have told you that are not up-to-date.
Medicine changes. Nutrition facts change. We’re told by 99% of nutritionists and doctors to eat more whole grains, but when you do a deep dive you see that it may not be so wise. Today, I’m going to tell you to eat less grains. Yes, you read it right. Eat less grains, and eat less whole grains! I’ll explain why.
Let’s dive in.
Grains Are High On The Glycemic Index
A grain is a hard, dry, seed. Although legumes are termed grains, in this Note, we’re going to only talk about cereal grains. Cereal grains are the seeds that come from grasses, such as wheat, corn, barley, rice, quinoa, oats, millet, rye, buckwheat, and sorghum.
These grains are starchy carbohydrates that consist of many glucose molecules bonded together. That’s why they’re called polysaccharides.
Grains are a staple of the American diet for a reason:
- they are cheap
- they are subsidized by the government
- they’re easy to transport
- they have a long shelf life
- they are packed with energy (calories)
These types of calories are one of the reasons we’re getting fat as a country. Big food giants produce thousands of cheap, grain-based food products, and Americans are getting bigger and more unhealthy because of it.
One problem with these cereal grains is that they have a high glycemic index. The carbohydrate portion of these grains is 100% glucose, which means that the glycemic index (what measures the time it takes your blood sugar to rise after you eat something) is 100, which is as high as it gets.
For example, the glycemic index on table sugar (which is sucrose and fructose) is 57. It’s a lot lower on the glycemic index than glucose. Other examples would be starches from grains, like white and wheat bread. We’ve been told one is healthier than the other, but really there’s not a whole lot of difference between the two. They both have a higher glycemic index than table sugar.
Other examples would be rice, corn, and oats. All of these have a high glycemic index. They’re going to raise your blood sugar, which signals your body to produce more insulin. The high insulin levels tell your body to store the glucose (energy), which gets converted into fat, which causes you to crave more carbohydrates. This is called insulin resistance, a nightmare for people who want to lose weight.
For most patients who want to lose weight, I tell them to eat less carbohydrates, more healthy fats, and moderate amounts of protein. But the right foods for YOU, may not be the right foods for somebody else. Our bodies are different. Our gut microbiomes are different, so keep that in mind as you read this Note.
Grains Are Seeds
Grains are seeds and seeds are filled with antinutrients. Plants don’t want to be eaten, while fruits do. When fruits are eaten and digested, the seeds are excreted and therefore they grow. But because most plants don’t want to be eaten, they have oxalates and phytates on them that deters animals from eating them. Oxalates bind calcium (think kidney stones) and phytates block zinc, copper, and magnesium (all of which are important minerals).
You’ve all heard about lectins, those carb binding proteins found in plants, seeds, legumes, grains, and nuts. These lectins interfere with the mucus repair of your gut lining. Besides grains, the worst offenders of lectins are legumes, beans, and soy. Believe it or not, many vegetables also have lectins.
Plants and seeds also have gluten in them. You’ve all heard of this “dirty word” called gluten! Gluten is really a storage protein in all grains including oats, rice, corn, and quinoa. These contain a form of gluten called prolamins.
Note: Glutens themselves are from wheat, rye, and barley.
Glutens are very hard to digest. They can cause a lot of bacterial overgrowth and intestinal permeability that allows toxins, undigested food particles, and bacteria to leak through the intestinal walls into the bloodstream. This produces an immune response where the body starts attacking the proteins. That’s where you get the autoimmune diseases that we find so common nowadays.
You don’t have to have celiac disease to have a gluten problem. In my opinion, at least one third of the population have a gluten problem (probably more). Celiac is just one percent. Celiac is a really severe form of gluten intolerance. The only cure is totally avoiding gluten. This is hard to do because they stick gluten in almost everything we eat (as a filler ).
Note: Remember, just because it’s gluten free doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
People that have gluten sensitivities have a lot of the symptoms of celiac, just milder. Symptoms like:
- brain fog
- skin rashes
- joint pain
If you think you have a grain problem, you probably do. My suggestion is to give grains a break for 30 days. It generally takes 30 days for something to really work its way out of your system, and then you can rebalance that gut microbiome, and start eating some foods you’re not going to be intolerant to.
Some good grains for healthy people include organic white and jasmine rice, organic slow cooked oatmeal, and sourdough bread (the only form of bread I’ll eat anymore). Sourdough bread does have some carbs in it, but it can actually be somewhat good for you. It seems to be digested a lot better.
Note: Remember, people are so different. Do what your digestive system tells you.
Should You Eat More Vegetables?
I know you’ve been told to eat more vegetables and it’s true, you should! Vegetables have a lot of nutrients, fiber, and antioxidant properties. BUT, leafy greens, grown above the ground, also have a set of toxins that deter animals from eating them, like lectins and lignins, PUFA’s and cellulose.
In fact, to help me diagnose IBS (which is really a diagnosis of exclusion), I’ll have patients eat salad. If they tell me they can’t tolerate salad, they probably have IBS. Salads are hard to digest if you have gut problems. Raw vegetables are, too.
Is more fiber good for you? That’s something a lot of people tell us to eat more of, but in many cases, more fiber actually makes things worse (i.e., produce more gas). More fiber in an unhealed gut can lead from IBS to ulcerative colitis, to Crohns, to maybe even colon cancer. It’s another misnomer. More fiber may not be good for you, just like more whole grains and some vegetables may not be good for you!
Another thing people tell us is to eat cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, but they can be goitrogens. Goitrogens mean they suppress your thyroid function, especially in people that are prone to thyroid dysfunction. If you have a thyroid problem, soybean is a goitrogen you want to avoid, as is bok choy, cabbage, brussel sprouts, and cress.
Note: Try cooking cruciferous vegetables. Generally, when you cook them they aren’t so bad.
Be smart about dietary advice. People are different. Your gut microbiome is different from the person next to you. That is why I preach prebiotics AND probiotics! The food industry adds all types of ingredients into their products that aren’t good for you. I have barely scratched the surface by talking about grains and goitrogens that can lead to gut dysfunction, malabsorption, and poor health.
Going Against The Grain
If you’re overweight, tired, bloated, have abnormal bowel movements, prediabetic or diabetic, my best advice is to start thinking about changing your diet (what you are eating) and maybe even RETHINK what conventional wisdom says about eating more grains. When you hear people say “eat less fat” or “don’t eat salt” or “eat more grains”, THINK AGAIN if it’s not working for you.
For the most part, I don’t agree that you should eat more grains. Nutritionists may challenge me on that, but I, myself, am a patient who doesn’t tolerate grains well. When I increase my fiber, my body disagrees. For others it may be different.
I know It’s hard to move away from conventional wisdom, but if conventional wisdom isn’t working for you, you need to try something different. I highly recommend the book “How To Heal Your Metabolism” by Kate Deering for those who want to dive deeper.
Till next week.