Yes they are consumable, and yes they do contain nutrients, but are they a necessity in our diet? What about the fiber? Should we really be eating 5-10 oz of grains per day?
Some think we needed them to sustain large populations. Others believe that we simply grew them for brewing beers, malts, and other liquors, and simply "stumbled" across the fact we could make breads, pasta's, etc.
Whatever the reason it does not make a difference as to whether we as humans are suited for the consumption and digestion of grains.
So why are grains eliminated from the paleo diet? It comes down to the fact that humans cannot properly digest grains. In the 10,000 years that we have been consuming grains our digestive systems have not had enough time to evolve so that we can properly process them.
Yes we can tolerate grains but they are not a necessity in our diet. We do not need them to survive and we definitely do not need them to thrive. If achieving optimal health is your goals removing most grains from your diet should be considered a priority.
First off, grains contain a whole host of compounds and substances (anti-nutrients) that cause all sorts of issues in your digestive system. Everything from mild bloating to Celiac disease can all be associated with some of these anti-nutrients.
Gluten, I am sure that almost everyone has heard of it. It is found most commonly in wheat but is also in barley, rye, and a few others. Gluten is a protein molecule and it is what gives wheat dough it's nice soft "gummy" texture.
The main issue with it is that a lot of us are intolerant to it. If you have Celiac disease it is a serious issue. But those of us that do not may also have a mild case of intolerance with regards to gluten that causes inflammatory responses when eaten. Without digging into it inflammation is not a good thing.
Another anti-nutrient present in grains are phytates. The main concern with phytates (or phytic acid) is that it binds to some of the main dietary minerals in your body and slows or inhibits there absorption. Therefore if you do not eat a diet with optimal levels of micronutrients, and trust me almost everyone does not, these phytates can become an issue as they inhibit your ability to "use" certain micronutrients.
Now with that being said phytates also have some health benefits associated with them. They have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects and improved cardio vascular health. So they are not all bad.
The phytate issue becomes big when we are eating a lot of grains and a diet low in micronutrients. But lets face it, that is a lot of North Americans.
Now on to lectins. Lectins are a natural toxin found in grains that raise all kinds if issues in your digestive tract. The main one being that lectins damage the lining of your stomach and inhibit it's natural repair process. This can lead to a leaky gut where by unwanted materials can now pass through your stomach lining and enter your blood stream. A process that can lead to a host of auto-immune and other degenerative processes.
Now the second main reason that grains are eliminated from the paleo diet is that insulin response that is associated with the consumption of grains. We have talked about it before but simply put large insulin responses to food = fat storage and weight gain.
Grains are a relatively "carb" dense food and a food that a lot of people consuming in excess. And although I have said that low carb diets are not for everyone, most individuals do eat too many carbohydrates for their activity level and body type.
So do I agree with the paleo diet when it comes to grains?
I most certainly do with regards to the anti-nutrient argument. I do however do not take quite as "extreme" an approach where if you have a bowl of oatmeal your brain will become foggy and body will swell up like a balloon.
I also agree for the most part with eliminating grains from your diet because of the large physiological insulin response when eaten. Most individuals simply need to eat less carbs but this doesn't mean that every single person should cut their daily intake to 100 grams.
Now my one big exception to all of this is white rice. Most of the anti-nutrients found in grains are found in the husk of the grain. White rice has this husk removed and with it goes all the anti-nutrients.
White rice therefore becomes a pure starch which we as humans have been eating for millions of years and can easily digest. The one caveat to this is that it is still a carb dense food with a large insulin response.
If you do not exercise at intense levels multiple times per week it is a food that I would keep to a minimum in your diet.
I hope this was able to clear up some of the problems associated with grains? I almost 100 percent agree with the paleo diet that grains should be virtually eliminated from our diets. I am maybe not as anal as a true paleo'er but I definitely know that I thrive when the only grain I consume is white rice.
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