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Are Grains Good Or Bad?

Are Grains Good Or Bad?

One thing that gives me the shits when I research stuff on the internet (as regular readers may have already noticed) is the level of pseudoscience and utter bullshit out there masquerading as good advice.

The old chestnut often used by these people is the, “The governments are captive to the food lobbyists”, and naturally the system is corrupt. They don’t want you well because big pharma makes big money out of selling you drugs to treat illness.

Well yes, there is an element of this at play. There is no field of human endeavour into which special interest doesn’t play a part. However on the flip side of this, governments the world over have a thing known as health budgets. And while America, having the appearance from the outside of an entirely corrupt oligarchy, may end up in a situation where special interests call the tune, the rest of the OECD countries do not have the same level of special interest interference in health policy. So what this means is that in general terms, in order to keep the health budget as low as possible, it is in the interest of governments to give good nutritional advice to the public.

It is why the healthy eating food pyramid is fairly standard throughout the world. Because it represents the best available advice based on the currently accepted consensus among nutritional experts. I believe, as do a growing number of people that it needs some review, with saturated fats no longer being considered the demon that they once were, but on the whole it does a pretty good job of saying what you should eat.

Problem is, it’s not sexy and marketers can’t make lots of money out of it. People want to discover the latest super food. Like most people I hadn’t heard of quinoa or kale until a few years ago. Next thing you know, they are touted as protecting you from all disease.

Apart from the shysters and snake oil salesman, there are just the plain unhinged. The starter of the paleo fad Loren Cordain, says potatoes (of all things) are something you should never eat. It appears he doesn’t like them, so therefore, you shouldn’t either. The first time I have ever heard anyone claiming that potatoes are bad for you.

The thing about this guy is that he has a PhD (in exercise physiology) and specialises in the field of nutrition, so you would expect him to be fairly knowledgeable about that subject. However it appears that he has managed to allow personal views to colour his professional opinions.

The usual argument trotted out by the paleo crew is we  have been adapted by evolution to eat a certain optimum diet and that since the start of agriculture, there has not been enough time in evolutionary terms for us to adapt to eating things like grains. I must admit that sounds fairly legit to me, so I had to ask a few questions, which brought me across this gem from another blogger “As an evolutionary biologist, I think there are logical and scientific flaws…“.

Funny how people make claims about certain branches of science and when you go to the people who specialise in these fields they go, “WRONG”.

A couple of examples about rapid evolution that I wasn’t aware of. Blue eyes have only been around for 6 or 7 thousand years. I didn’t know that and I bet not many people do. Also, tolerance to to lactose spread rapidly throughout Europe since the domestication of dairy cattle.

A truism pointed out as a load of rubbish is that we are adapted to eat a specific diet. There was no one diet that paleolithic humans ate. It varied from place to place, depending on what food sources were plentiful in a particular location. When I read this it made sense right away.. one of those facepalm moments where you go, why didn’t I think of that?

So we can see already that the claims the paleo movement make about grains are based on flimsy evidence, but wait there is more bullshit to come.

For the first time in my life I heard of lectins. Apparently they are the next demon, sort of like gluten has been for some time. Time to get rid of lectins from your diet. Oh wait, there’s a problem, they’re in everything (but of course mostly in grains).  And one minor detail that has to be ignored when you’re creating a fear campaign – they are generally destroyed by cooking.

Then onto more bullshit. There is actually a guy out there, Mark Sisson (advocates a primal diet – I guess the paleo label was taken) who claimed dietary fibre is bad for you because it irritates the bowel lining. This is the type of rubbish advice out there in the internet. Dietary fibre is essential to good health. Someone making claims like this is not only misguided, but actually dangerous.

The major demon for the anti grain crew is wheat. I don’t particularly know why this is so and I don’t care. I have friends who say to me don’t eat anything wheat based. I don’t actually have a problem with eating wheat products, however they do. My rule is simple. Choose what suits you. If you feel better not eating wheat products, don’t eat them.

But what about other grains? Rice, barley, oats? Well as long as you assume that dietary fibre is actually good for you (which it is) then barley and oats have a host of health benefits. Both barley and oats are very good at lowering blood cholesterol levels and protecting against arteriosclerosis. In addition, barley is a good source of fermentable fibre (but that is topic for another blog post).

Rice is problematic because we usually eat white rice, which causes spikes in blood sugar levels and is a major cause of type 2 diabetes amongst Asian communities who eat rice as a staple. Brown rice on the other hand is every bit as good for you as barley and oats. Of course this is no different from wheat. Wholemeal good – processed bad.

So what’s the verdict? Whole grains are good for you as a good source of dietary fibre. People who say we aren’t adapted to eat grains are talking a load of rubbish. And there is a lot of rubbish written by people who are trying to profit from misinformation and plain bad advice.

Image source: (c)2007 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) – Self-photographed, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2187185

About The Author

Shaun

A guy obsessed with stripping down whatever field he studies to get the optimum return from effort expended. Sort of like Tim Ferriss, except with zero fame.

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