Why You Should Join The Grain-Free Movement

Written by William Davis, M.D.

By my calculations, MindBodyGreen readers are members of the species Homo sapiens. There are very few squirrels, goats, or freshwater trout viewing the great information on this site. (I believe the squirrels are on MindBodyAcorn.)

Every species has a style of eating appropriate to that species. Every creature, regardless of whether it lives in water, on land, climbs trees, burrows in the mud, or wields an iPad, follows a dietary script written by many years of adaptation to life in a specific ecological niche on this planet. Adhering to this script permits a level of health to be maintained.

As a member of the dominant primate species reading this, you wouldn't do well if you were to mimic the diet of a frog casting its tongue out to capture tasty insects, or the diet of a goat munching on grasses all day.

Let’s consider further the diet of the goat and other ruminants, such as cows and sheep: they're able to obtain all their nutrition by grazing on grasses and other forage. Grasses are plants from the biological family Poaceae. What if we tried to eat grasses just like them? In fact, why not save the clippings from mowing your lawn every summer?

Surely you could set aside some of the clippings to put on top of a salad: It’s a green, leafy plant, after all. Well, if you did save the clippings and ate them, you would endure hours of cramps, abdominal discomfort, perhaps diarrhea, then pass the blades of grass out whole, completely undigested.

Why? Why can a mammal like a goat or cow survive on a diet that's exclusively grass, while we can’t even begin to digest the stuff? Simple: millions of years of evolution that provided adaptations that allow ruminant digestion to convert grasses into all the nutrients they need.

For example, they have a dental pad in place of upper incisors to grab grass. Their teeth grow continuously throughout life because the sandlike particles (“phytoliths”) in grasses cause tooth wear. They have a four-compartment stomach and a spiral colon, both with unique microorganisms that digest the grasses. We have none of these adaptations for consuming grasses.

This is not to say that we didn’t try to eat the grasses of the earth. For as long as humans have inhabited the earth, we've consumed animal meat, berries, nuts, and other foods we readily and instinctively regard as food. But 10,000 years ago, after observing the ruminants, we domesticated grazing grasses. This, coupled with a period of natural global warming that created a shortage of traditional foods, hungry humans asked, “Can we eat that, too?”

And they tried, learning that humans cannot consume the roots, stalk, or leaves of grasses. But hungry, desperate humans did figure out that, if the seeds are isolated, husk removed, pulverized with stones, then heated, they could be consumed as porridge. The Egyptians later figured out that the seeds of grasses could be used to make breads and brewed as beer.

So we added the seeds of grasses at a moment of desperation. Today, grains occupy an exalted place in the human diet, with wheat, corn, and rice constituting over 50% of all calories worldwide. Grains, added recently — less than 1/2 of one percent of our time on earth — now dominate the human diet.

But they remain seeds of grasses. Just as we cannot digest the roots, stalk, leaves, or husk of grasses, so we also cannot digest most of the components of the seeds. This basic digestive fact underlies many of the health problems that develop when we consume the seeds of grasses and, even worse, allow them to dominate diet.

Worse still is when agribusiness and geneticists change the seeds of grasses, with their genetic manipulations converting, for example, 4-and-a-half-foot tall traditional wheat into 18-inch tall high-yield semidwarf strains that now comprise 99% of all wheat grown worldwide, or insert various genes for herbicide resistance, as in genetically modified corn.

We have good evidence that the protein gliadin, found in wheat, rye, and barley, and the related protein in corn, zein, when undigested provides the first step in triggering the diseases of autoimmunity, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and type 1 diabetes in children.

We have good evidence that the wheat germ agglutinin protein present in wheat, rye, barley, and rice is a potent bowel toxin that disrupts gallbladder and pancreatic function, thereby disturbing digestion and resulting in issues like the bowel urgency of irritable bowel syndrome and discomfort of acid reflux.

There's one component of grains that is digestible, highly digestible, in fact: the amylopectin A carbohydrate. The amylopectin A of grains explains why, ounce for ounce, grains raise blood sugar higher than table sugar: two slices of whole wheat bread raise blood sugar higher than six teaspoons of table sugar.

Autoimmunity, disrupted gastrointestinal function, high blood sugars — that’s only a partial list of what happens to unsuspecting humans when they're persuaded that the seeds of grasses should dominate the diet. You are not a goat, you are not a cow, you have none of the digestive adaptations that allow you to survive and thrive on the seeds of grasses.

These are just some of the reasons I tell people to reject the campaigns of bad information that tell us to eat more “healthy whole grains” and allow the seeds of grasses, digestible as well as non-digestible components, to do their dirty work.

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