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7 Ways Grains Are Wrecking Your Health

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February 18, 2014

We live in a grain-centric society. Grains are the foundation of what people buy in the grocery stores; the next time you're grocery shopping just take a look at what's in the other carts. Grains are the foundation of what people have on their plates: cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and a grain as a side (at least) for dinner. They're the backbone of industrial farming a multibillion-dollar juggernaut in politics and policy. Grains are even the foundation of the famous food pyramid (or a huge slice of the new USDA MyPlate), which educates the masses on what we should be eating.

It's no surprise, then, that even the idea of eliminating grains sounds radical to many. Let me give you seven compelling reasons to ditch grains and replace them with healthier, more nutrient dense, alternatives.

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1. Gluten

It's nearly impossible to not hear the "G" word thrown around these days. An explosion of gluten research has been able to shed light on this unhealthy grain component. This protein is found in commonly consumed grains like wheat, oats, rye, barley and spelt. Gluten wreaks havoc on millions of people who don't even know it. Conservative estimates approximate that 1 in 20 Americans have a gluten intolerance.

Many people have gluten intolerance but don't even know it, and the proper testing is rarely done in conventional health care. You don't have to be experiencing digestive problems to have an intolerance to gluten. One study linked gluten to 55 different chronic diseases. Gluten-free grains like corn and rice have similar proteins, which is why going for gluten free alternatives can also be unhealthy.

2. Lectins

Lectins are another type of protein found in grains. These grain defense mechanisms are highly indigestible by the body. Like gluten, lectins can wreak havoc on your gut, leading to conditions like leaky gut syndrome. When your gut is damaged by this mild toxin, your body's defense systems are compromised, causing inflammation. Lectins can also bind to insulin and leptin receptor sites, causing hormonal resistance patterns.

3. Enzyme Inhibitors

Your body makes enzymes to make foods digestible. Alpha-amylase inhibitors and protease inhibitors are common in grains, and make the digestion of starches and proteins very difficult [pdf] for your body. Again, good for the grain, bad for you.

4. Phytic Acid

Phytates are anti-nutrients that bind to minerals in your body and make them unusable. Mineral deficiencies like osteoporosis are perpetuated by the presence of phytates, which bind to minerals like calcium. The little nutrients that grains do offer are diminished by phytates, which make them unavailable for your body.

5. Saponins

These anti-nutrients are high in pseudo-grains, like quinoa, that are popular in the health community. Saponins can damage your gut, leading to increased gut permeability, which can contribute to inflammation and chronic conditions.

6. Amylose

Grains are high in sugars like amylose. These sugars overwhelm your body, causing insulin spikes. This hormonal hurricane leads to insulin resistance, high blood sugars, triglycerides and inflammation: hallmarks of metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

7. High omega-6 levels

Fats are essential for optimal health, but grains are high in polyunsaturated omega-6 fats, which are highly inflammatory. This fat imbalance is not only found in grains themselves but industrial oils like canola ,corn, vegetable and soybean oils – all recipes for chronic systemic inflammation.

It is also important to remember that grains are not what they were in the past. With cross breeding and genetic modification, grains are chemically different today than they were even a few decades ago. Two common arguments for eating grains are fiber and nutrients. Vegetables and fruits offer ample amounts of fiber and nutrients without the number of offenses to your gut, brain, immune system and hormones.

I coach people around the world investigating underlying health issues like food intolerances; check out this article to see my favorite gluten-free and grain-free alternatives to try!

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William Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C.
William Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C.

Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He has holds a level 2 Doctor of Natural Medicine (DNM) certification. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Cole specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is also the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and bestselling author of Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum, and the New York Times bestseller Intuitive Fasting.

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