With the exception of vegetable oils, few items in the American diet embody such idyllic notion of health as grains. For the average person who makes a conscious effort to start eating “healthy,” invariably this means cutting down on meat and animal products and to increase the amount of grains consumed, usually in the form of cereals, pastas, flours and rice. For those who become vegetarian, this often means eating large quantities of grains, rice and other heavily processed foods, such as soy, but there is a problem with grains..
The problem with grains is multifaceted. It isn’t just that these foods are often heavily processed because if that were the case, a person could just purchase a grain mill and organic whole grains to overcome these problems. To understand the real problems with grains, it must be approached from a “paleo” or hunter-gather point of view.
“Paleo diets,” sometimes described as “caveman diets,” approach diet from a pre-technology point of view. They eliminate anything from the diet that would have to be farmed, opting instead for foods that a person could gather in the wild, gather using a minimum of tools, and eat with a minimum of cooking or processing. With few exceptions, paleo diets usually adopt a godless worldview which is based on evolution. However, if a person envisioned the foods eaten by an explorer as he traveled across an untamed wilderness, he would have a basic understanding of paleo diets without having to adopt its worldview.
Those who advocate so-called paleo diets maintain that the shift to an agricultural-based society brought with it the beginnings of modern disease. Ray Audette, the author of Neanderthin, noted, “The skeletons of Neolithic farmers show the effects of poor nutrition. They died much younger, were shorter, and had many more cavities, as well as fewer teeth, than their immediate hunter-gatherer ancestors. These same remains also show the first evidence of obesity in humans.” Speaking of the same early farmers, Loren Cordain, Ph.D., wrote in The Paleo Diet, “They also had more osteoporoses, rickets, and other bone mineral disorders, thanks to cereal-based diets. For the first time, humans were plagued with vitamin- and mineral-deficiency diseases — scurvy, beriberi, pellagra, vitamin A and zinc deficiencies, and iron-deficiency anemia.”
The important thing to note is that these diseases developed in early agriculture-based societies in which the grains being eaten were minimally processed whole grains which had seen very little if any crossbreeding or hybridization and were grown on fresh farmland. If these foods caused problems, contrast that with our modern grains which have been highly crossbred, hybridized, and now genetically modified and grown on over-farmed land whose mineral-deficient soil would not be able to grow food without the aid of fertilizer. And, as if that alone were not enough, the little nutrition that is in these foods — and again, even in their ideal state they caused problems for humans attempting to live off of them — is mostly discarded in the processing, leaving foods containing large percentages of nothing but sugars and starches.
In an article entitled, “Stabilized Rice Bran,” which was featured in Alternative Medicine magazine, Betty Kamen, Ph.D., made some interesting observations on cereal grains in our diets:
The trend in our diet over the years has been toward large-scale elimination of dietary nutrients and trace elements. This is a practice that has accelerated dramatically in the last century, especially in recent decades. Much of our food has been stripped down to a few macronutrients such as sugar and starch, while the complex array of micronutrients is being discarded.
Our bodies have never adapted to this slow but devastating change in the quality of our food. Compared with the diet of any healthy animal living in the wild, the human diet is “abnormal and exotic, driven by style and economics,” as the director of a British cancer research institute recently remarked. And looking at the diets of our ancient ancestors, the food we consume is a sorry trade-off for quantity versus quality.
In the same article Mrs. Kamen described the processing of rice: About 65% of the rice nutrients are in the bran, the seed coat (or polish) covering the white interior kernel. During the milling process, the hull or outer covering of the rice grain, is first removed, and then the bran coat is removed in a step called polishing the rice. She went on to point out that the rice germ, also containing more nutrition than the starches and sugars left in processed white rice, is also discarded. And if you thought brown rice — which is brown because a thin layer of the bran is left on the rice — overcomes the problems of white rice, Mrs. Kamen noted that the milling process was damaging enough to the bran that the enzyme lipase was released into the bran. As Mrs. Kamen stated, “Consequently, almost all brown rice contains rancid oils to some degree. The absolute nutritional superiority of brown rice is therefore questionable.”
Wheat grains suffer the same fate, if not worse. Wheat flour also has the bran — which, like rice, has the highest percentage of the nutrition and vitamins of the grain — removed as well as the germ, leaving nothing but the white starchy endosperm, which is ground into white flour and then, in the majority of cases, bleached with chlorine, a potent toxin. To improve the baking consistency of this flour, it is then treated with other chemicals, such as aluminum chloride, calcium propionate, nitrogen dioxide, potassium iodate, etc. Ross Hume Hall, Ph.D., in an article entitled, “Enriched White Bread Really?” commented that the “highly refined wheat product has been stripped of 11 known vitamins, half a dozen nutritionally significant minerals, as well as the essential fatty acids.” The flour, stripped of natural vitamins, then has niacin, riboflavin, thiamin and the mineral iron added back to it, in the form of cheap vitamins that are of questionable use by the body, so that it can be labeled, “enriched.”
Like rice and wheat, corn also suffers from the modern production methods and processing. Cornmeal, which shouldn’t be confused with corn flour, is milled yellow corn which has been shelled, dehulled and degermed to give it the longest shelf-life possible. Because much of its nutrition is lost in this processing, cheap vitamins — thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin and one mineral, iron — are added back to it so that it too may be labeled “enriched.”
Corn is the second largest crop in America and probably one of the most hybridized and genetically modified crops. Gary Null, an author, consumer advocate, and investigative reporter wrote of the dangers of hybridized corn in a piece entitled, “The Hidden Hazard of Hybrids”:
In order to breed corn that would produce more food per acre, scientists created hybrid varieties. One of the reasons hybrids are able to produce more is because they are sterile; energy normally allocated to reproduction is redirected toward growth. But some feel that this unnatural manipulation has also made hybrids nutritionally inferior plants.
Studies have revealed that hybrid corn varieties are less nutritious than their unhybridized counterparts. In one comparison of open-pollinated (non-hybrid) corn and hybrid corn, the open-pollinated variety had 75% more crude protein, 875% more copper, 345% more iron, and 205% more manganese. Similar differences were noted for calcium, magnesium, zinc and sodium. Another study found that hybrid corn was unable to absorb cobalt and other trace minerals from the soil.
While hybrids may produce more bushels per acre, open-pollinated corn will out-produce hybrids in terms of nutrients per acre. And nutrients, after all, are what food is all about. However, farmers make their profits on volume, not nutrient quality. Hybrid corn is also more susceptible to certain insect pests, which insures brisk sales of toxic pesticides and keeps chemical companies happy. (Based on excerpts from Spectrum Magazine and information from Acres USA, March 1998).
In many cases even if a product has a less processed form of grain in it, the other ingredients aren’t something a person would eat if he had a full understanding of them. Look at the ingredients in any popular whole-grain bread product. They are full of hydrogenated vegetable oils, salt, processed sugars and a long list of chemical preservatives. Also, even grains that appear to be unprocessed may indeed be processed. Virtually all oat products are steamed to extend the shelf-life of oat-containing food products because oat grains contain oils that will destabilize and turn rancid very quickly if they are not deactivated by steaming.
Even modern production and harvesting has affected the quality of the grains in negative ways that most people would not even consider. Seeds and grains contain substances called enzyme inhibitors which keep them from germinating and growing until the conditions are right. In Enzyme Nutrition, by Dr. Edward Howell, Howell described the old methods of harvesting which allowed the grains, sheaved and shocked, to stand in the field for several weeks exposed to the weather, allowing a degree of germination and at least partial elimination of the enzyme inhibitors. Modern production eliminates this time in the field, thus leaving all the enzyme inhibitors in tact. While certainly the human body can digest foods containing enzyme inhibitors, to do so requires harder work by the pancreas because the enzyme inhibitors can actually inhibit digestive enzymes as they attempt to digest foods with the enzyme inhibitors intact.
Another drawback with grains is that they are acid forming in the body and also rank moderate to high on the glycemic index, which is a measure of the rate at which a food spikes blood sugar. In a Los Angeles Times article entitled “Rethinking Our Daily Bread,” the author, Patricia King offered evidence that eating a diet high in foods that rate high on the glycemic index raised the body’s levels of insulin, which she termed the “hunger hormone.” Patricia King wrote:
In a 1999 study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics medical journal Pediatrics, Dr. David Ludwig, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and director of the obesity program at Children’s Hospital Boston, found that obese children downed 38% more calories after a moderate-glycemic meal of steel-cut oats than they did after a vegetable omelet and fruit meal designed to keep blood sugar levels low.
When the meal contained high-glycemic, refined, instant oatmeal, the obese children ate a whopping 83% more. All of the meals contained the same number of calories. “From a hormonal standpoint, all calories are not alike,” says Ludwig.
It is interesting that two different groups that claim to eat diets which reduce or eliminate many of our modern degenerative diseases, so-called paleo diets and raw-food vegan diets, both eliminate grains, and this certainly could be one of the common denominators behind the reversal of sickness for those that adhere to either of the diets. When you consider the sheer volume of highly refined and heavily processed grains, devoid of any real nutrition and high in calories, present in the American diet, it isn’t hard to understand why people get well when they eliminate them from their diet.
Contemplate for a minute the number of pre-packaged snack foods that are either wheat or corn flour based and contain either a cheap trans-fat containing hydrogenated vegetable oil or are deep fried in one. A recent report on diabetes projected that 1 in 3 people born in the year 2000 are expected to develop diabetes in their lives. Ironically, many of these people thought they were eating healthy by following contemporary dietary recommendations.