Since switching to a paleo lifestyle over two years ago, I feel like I have had to defend and explain my dietary choices on many occasions. Lately, I’ve had a lot of questions from friends wondering “what’s so bad about grains,” so I thought I would break it down into some simple explanations. We’ve all heard of paleo and probably roll our eyes at it and write it off as a fad. I’d first like to explain what the paleo/primal lifestyle is and what it isn’t. Adopting a paleo lifestyle means nourishing your body with the most nutrient dense foods our world has to offer in order to promote optimal gene expression and hormone function. It is NOT about stuffing your face with bacon and red meats and the focus should NOT be on excluding entire food groups that our government tells us we have to eat for ultimate health (hmmm, wonder who that is serving?). I’m not trying to necessarily convince you to change your diet. But once you read this, I think it will make total sense to you as to why you may want to consider leaving grains out of your diet or at least decreasing your consumption (grains include wheat, corn, rice, barley, millet, rye, oats, etc. and their derivatives such as bread, pasta, and cereals).
- Our bodies prefer to burn fat for energy over carbohydrates. Considering grains offer us nothing but carbs, you can see how this may pose a problem for our metabolisms. High carb and high insulin producing diets inhibit fat metabolism which makes you constantly dependent on feeding yourself with carbs to sustain energy. This promotes an accumulation of excess body fat. Keep this in mind when you hear the phrase “80% of your body composition is determined by your diet”.
- Excess insulin production, caused by eating too many carbs, promotes oxidation and inflammation in the bloodstream. This sets the stage for pretty much every modern day disease from cancer to heart disease to diabetes. This is also what accelerates the aging process.
- All carbs ingested are converted into glucose in the body. Carbs=sugar=glucose. So basically, grains are a cheap source of glucose (sugar). Whether you are eating a bowl of skittles or a piece of whole grain bread, our bodies process it the same way. When our liver and muscles are full of glucose, the rest is stored as FAT.
- Grains offer minimal nutrition, a lot of calories, and actually contain anti-nutrients. Think about this, what foods are you pushing off your plate to make room for grains? Grains are fortified and enriched with synthetic nutrients that can’t compare to naturally occurring nutrients found in fruits and vegetables. Our bodies don’t even recognize these synthetic nutrients and therefore, can’t use them properly. And don’t even say “what about fiber?”. Grains actually contain too much fiber and we can get plenty of easily digestible fiber from fruits and vegetables. Grains also (especially whole grains) contain anti-nutrients including lectins, gluten, and phytates. Lectins can cause “leaky gut” by permeating the gut lining, leaving poop basically to circulate in our bloodstreams, which can illicit autoimmune responses. This leads to digestive problems, thyroid problems, nervous system and liver problems. Excessive consumption of phytates can lead to mineral deficiencies because they bind to minerals and eliminate them from the digestive track.
- There is no requirement for carbs in human nutrition and our bodies cannot digest grains efficiently. Our bodies produce all the carbs we need without having to ingest any by gluconeogenesis (converting protein to carbohydrates) and ketone production. That is not to say we shouldn’t eat any carbs, but we need to be smart about the amount of carbs we ingest and where we get our carbs from. One thing to keep in mind, there are no essential carbohydrates. There are only essential amino acids and fatty acids. I will let you think about that one for a bit. Finally, our bodies were not built to digest grains. Our primal ancestors did not consume grains and we have not evolved to digest them in the past 10,000 years since the advent of civilization and cultivation of grains. This is because selection pressures are not present, so we have had no need to evolve. Again, think about that one.
Bottom Line: Get your carbs from vegetables and fruits and you won’t have to worry about any of this stuff. Focus on high quality proteins and healthy fats.
Exceptions: ATHLETES might need to add some grains to their diet because they are constantly depleting their glycogen stores and they may not be able to meet their needs with fruits and veggies alone.
Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.