The Real Truth About Those “Healthy Whole Grains”
If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you already know that I’m no fan of grains, whether processed or whole. Unfortunately, those of us that think such blasphemous things against those “wholesome” grains are an anomaly. So for those that still think whole grains are an important, healthy, wholesome, and necessary part of the diet, let’s look at just a few of the issues.
Do Grains Cause Leptin Resistance?
Stephan at Whole Health Source grabbed an old article of mine about lectins in grains and took it to a a new level with an awesome three part series on Lectins and Leptin Resistance (Part II and Part III).
Here is some of the pertinent information from all three parts to help pull together the picture Stephan is painting:
Furthermore, elevated leptin predicts the onset of obesity and metabolic syndrome. It also predicts insulin resistance. Yes, you read that right, leptin resistance comes before insulin resistance.
Many plants use lectins as a defense against hungry animals. Thus, an animal that is not adapted to the lectins in the plant it’s eating may suffer damage or death. … Grains and legumes (beans, soy, peas, peanuts) are rich in some particularly nasty lectins. Especially wheat. Some can degrade the intestinal lining. Some have the ability to pass through the intestinal lining and show up in the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, they may bind all sorts of carbohydrate-containing proteins in the body, including the insulin receptor. They could theoretically bind the leptin receptor, which also contains carbohydrate (= it’s glycosylated), potentially desensitizing it. This remains to be tested, and to my knowledge is pure speculation at this point. What is not so speculative is that once you’re leptin-resistant, you become obese and insulin resistant, and at that point you are intolerant to any type of carbohydrate.
One of the molecules they use to probe the function of the leptin receptor is our good friend wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), a lectin found in wheat, barley and rye. They used WGA to specifically block leptin binding at the receptor.
This fits in very nicely with the hypothesis that grain lectins cause leptin resistance. If WGA gets into the bloodstream, which it appears to, it has the ability to bind leptin receptors and block leptin binding. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this could cause leptin resistance.
Lectins And Phytates And Gluten, Oh My!
Along with lectins, there are two other components of grains that are detrimental: phytates and gluten. As the Weston A. Price Foundation points out in the article Be Kind To Your Grains:
Phytic acid, for example, is an organic acid in which phosphorus is bound. It is mostly found in the bran or outer hull of seeds. Untreated phytic acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption. This is why a diet high in improperly prepared whole grains may lead to serious mineral deficiencies and bone loss.
WAPF also points out several other antinutrients:
Other antinutrients in whole grains include enzyme inhibitors which can inhibit digestion and put stress on the pancreas; irritating tannins; complex sugars which the body cannot break down; and gluten and related hard-to-digest proteins which may cause allergies, digestive disorders and even mental illness.
Gluten is the protein component of wheat grasses (wheat and its derivatives rye, barley, durum, etc). It is made up of the proteins gliadin and glutenin and is quite the gut irritant. Even for people who don’t exhibit overt celiac symptoms, gluten is known to be a gut irritant and a component of developing a leaky gut.
If You Decide To Eat Grains, Eat Them Properly
There are cultures, however, that have figured out ways to neutralize, or at least minimize, the dangerous components of grains to optimize the available nutrition. From the same WAPF link, we learn that:
Our ancestors, and virtually all pre-industrialized peoples, soaked or fermented their grains before making them into porridge, breads, cakes and casseroles. A quick review of grain recipes from around the world will prove our point: In India, rice and lentils are fermented for at least two days before they are prepared as idli and dosas; in Africa the natives soak coarsely ground corn overnight before adding it to soups and stews and they ferment corn or millet for several days to produce a sour porridge called ogi; a similar dish made from oats was traditional among the Welsh; in some Oriental and Latin American countries rice receives a long fermentation before it is prepared; Ethiopians make their distinctive injera bread by fermenting a grain called teff for several days; Mexican corn cakes, called pozol, are fermented for several days and for as long as two weeks in banana leaves; before the introduction of commercial brewers yeast, Europeans made slow-rise breads from fermented starters; in America the pioneers were famous for their sourdough breads, pancakes and biscuits; and throughout Europe grains were soaked overnight, and for as long as several days, in water or soured milk before they were cooked and served as porridge or gruel.
So if you absolutely have to include grains as part of your diet, you must soak or ferment them. Today’s quick-rise breads and extruded cereals and all of those other “healthy” whole grain products do not neutralize the antinutrients. But a real soaked or sprouted bread does cut down on these components. Grains should also be consumed with fat-containing foods such as cream, butter, or raw cheese to help your body absorb the vitamins and minerals that are available.
Of course, there is still the gluten component to deal with. And I still advise removing grains from your diet, especially gluten containing grains, as difficult as that may be.
The FDA Lays The Smack Down on General Mills
Finally, in a pseudo-win for those of us that aren’t convinced grains are a panacea of health, the FDA sent a somewhat humorous (possibly unintentionally funny) warning letter to General Mills for misbranding Cheerios as a food instead of as a drug. Of course, most of the damage is done. People have seen the ads and the cereal boxes and now know to equate “Cheerios = whole grains = heart healthy”.
Here are a couple excerpts:
Based on claims made on your product’s label, we have determined that your Cheerios® Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal is promoted for conditions that cause it to be a drug because the product is intended for use in the prevention, mitigation, and treatment of disease. Specifically, your Cheerios® product bears the following claims ort its label:
“you can Lower Your Cholesterol 4% in 6 weeks” “
“Did you know that in just 6 weeks Cheerios can reduce bad cholesterol by an average of 4 percent? Cheerios is … clinically proven to lower cholesterol. A clinical study showed that eating two 1 1/2 cup servings daily of Cheerios cereal reduced bad cholesterol when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.”
If you cannot complete all corrections before you respond, state the reason for the delay and the date by which you will complete the corrections.
It’s a fairly short letter and worth a quick read. The last line there is important though. They have 15 days to respond and surely the FDA isn’t going to force them to pull all boxes from the shelf. Anything in circulation is likely to remain in circulation as the offending boxes are phased out. I doubt that General Mills was unaware that they were pushing the envelope. Likely, they hoped the FDA just wouldn’t get the time to deal with it.
Cooking Without Grains Is Easy
Getting rid of grains seems to be the major sticking point for most people moving to a diet of real, unprocessed foods. While soaking, sprouting, and fermenting are pretty good compromises for including grains in your diet, I still think you’re better off to eventually remove them completely. Now, I’m realistic…those of us that don’t have full-blown celiac are probably going to eat some grains now and then. I do. Last Saturday I was at a restaurant that has amazing bread and butter, the kind of bread with a crusty outside and soft inside (and real butter, of course). So I had a goodly bit. But tearing into something like that is a rarity for me and my body thanks me.