meme Log

May 26, 2012

Going Against the Grain (7.0)

Filed under: Books — Lynn Fikstad @ 08:36

By Melissa Diane Smith

The best part of the book was Section I, the part that covers the science behind “going against the grain”. It is well written and provides many cited references.

Of almost 20 books I have read about the problems with grains, this is the first to specifically identify the disadvantages of whole grains compared to refined grains. On page 52 she states, “whole grains have more nutrients, but they also have more anti-nutrients – substances that impair the absorption or utilization of many nutrients”. After making this statement she references Robert Crayhorn’s interview with Loren Cordain, not exactly a reference to a scientific study, but Cordain provides evidence for these claims in his other writings. In the interview, Cordain not only criticized the anti-nutrients in whole grains, but he also noted that, “the high lectin content of whole grain cereals can bind enterocytes in the small intestine and cause villous atrophy in addition to changing tight junction characteristics thereby allowing intestinal antigens (both dietary and pathogenic) access to the peripheral circulation.”

So over the past 40 years the government has been giving bad advice concerning the amount of grain servings in a healthy diet. There was finally a modification when they created the recent “my plate”, but they continue to give bad advice, or at least unsupported advice, by emphasizing the importance of whole grains. It will probably be another 30 years before this mistake is acknowledged.

Refined grains may create a greater insulin response, but whole grains could be more damaging to the integrity of the small intestine (and possibly the colon) and the leaching of nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and zinc. The most pernicious lectin, wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), is in the wheat germ, and a well refined wheat bread removes the germ. Some of WGA remains in refined bread, but it would we relatively insignificant compared to an unrefined whole grain, or worse, eating wheat germ by itself. The same would be true of phytates, because they are found in the germ and the bran. Smith writes on page 57, “The more whole grain and bran a food contains, the more you eat whole-grain foods, the higher your intake of phytates. These are apparent facts being down played or ignored by many critics of grains. I suspect the same ideas hold true for rice, oats and other grains; the more refined they are the fewer anti-nutrients and lectins. Imagine that, white refined cereals and grains are less harmful than whole cereals and grains.

The Trouble with Whole Grains is the best chapter in the book. Here are the highlights:

  • The glycemic index of grains is high. The more refined grains are higher, but even whole grains are very high. The carbohydrate density of grains makes the glycemic load the highest of almost any food group.
  • Although people who eat whole grains are healthier, they may be healthier for other reasons than the grains they eat. Anyone eating whole grains is usually much more concerned about every aspect of their health and this is why they are healthier; it may have nothing to do with eating whole grains.
  • Nutrient density per calorie is terrible for whole grains; it’s high even before considering the anti-nutrients in them.
  • Whole grains are acidic and there is evidence that this results in loss of calcium to maintain a pH balance.
  • In addition the phytates in whole grains prevent calcium, zinc, and magnesium absorption.
  • Other anti-nutrients include alkylresorcinols which have been shown to stimulate inflammation, alpha-amylase inhibitors which have been shown to induce adverse effects on the pancreas, alpha-amylase inhibitors which have been shown to cause bakers asthma.
  • Lectins are glycoproteins or proteins combined with carbohydrates and are considered a major anti-nutrient of many foods, especially grains. Lectins are also in legumes which are broken down somewhat with cooking. Smith claims that cooking cannot break down the lectins in wheat, corn, rye, barley, oats, rice, and other grains.
  • Protease inhibitors, found in all grains, inhibit the digestive enzymes which break down protein.

Her lectin writing was the most interesting of all the anti-nutrients, and has been the most researched. Lectins can breach the gut wall and enter the blood stream. The immune system learns how to fight these invaders, but the protein makeup of lectins, especially the wheat WGA lectin, is similar to the body’s own tissues. Some propose this is a cause of various autoimmune disorders. The WGA lectin is similar to the body’s joint tissues.

There is probably not a lot of scientific evidence to support some of these claims, certainly not a lot supporting the lectin/autoimmune connection, but the Paleo premise is that there is no evidence we were meant to eat grains and that they have not been shown to be harmless. Most evidence shows the likelihood of harm, and making grains the center of any diet without proof of safety seems somewhat reckless. This is essentially what the U.S. government did. The burden of proof that grains and cereal are healthy foods should be on those who make such an unusual, unsupported claim.

Those with food allergies don’t completely digest their food. If the small intestine is compromised by grains, especially whole grains, then partially digested proteins from various grains can get into the blood stream. Narcotic like exorphins common in grains can go from the bloodstream, past the brain barrier, and then cause an opioid effect in the brain. The process can explain the addictive nature of grains.

In addition, as the Eades wrote in Protein power, grains move quickly into the colon and cause gas which backs up into the small intestine. Again, whole grains would seem to be a greater problem than refined grains even in the Eades’ scenario.

The gluten grains include wheat (including kamut and spelt and duram), Teff (still considered a grass), Triticale (a wheat hybrid), Millet, Rye and Barley. She also claims corn has gluten, but I was not able to verify that the gluten in corn was similar to wheat gluten. Oats, rice, and sugarcane do not contain gluten, but the safety of oats for wheat sensitive people is still being debated. I also found the safety of corn is being debated. Contamination of both corn and oats by wheat gluten seems to be much of the issue.

For those with autoimmune diseases she recommends removing, not just gluten, but all grains, legumes, dairy products and yeasty foods (bread cheese, vinegar, mushrooms, and alcohol). In addition she recommends increasing the high omega-3 foods. “It often takes three to six months for this program to begin working.” Since autoimmune symptoms fluctuate in any three to six month period, this seems like an unreliable method to determine cause. Her advice is to reintroduce food groups after they symptoms are reduced or gone. Again, given the nature of autoimmune diseases, it would take years to even suspect a cause. A better approach is to initially identify a suspect lectin; this will usually be WGA or wheat gluten. Since it is easier to avoid gluten for months rather than avoiding dairy, all grains, yeasty foods, and legumes; the chances of successfully coming up with a possible suspect anti-nutrient is much better. I’m sure it all depends motivation, but since WGA has been so well researched, it is probably a good idea to start with it.

The one recipe I tried was lime marinated turkey cubes. It was not good, but adding chili powder made it somewhat better. The recipes may be the most useless part of the book.

The first 100 pages of this book were great, but it went downhill from there.


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