If you had to pick a grain to eat, which would it be? Wheat, corn, rice, or barley? There’s a lot of debate in the paleo community—and by paleo community, I mean anyone who eats real food—over which grain(s) are best for us and which should be eliminated.

While many people believe that grains are unhealthy, others (like me) believe they are the cornerstone of a healthy diet. For example, the U.S. government has an official dietary guideline that recommends eating 3-4 servings of grains a day. While it may be easy to see grains as a large part of a healthy diet, there are many debates among nutritionists and scientists about the role of grains in our diets. To settle the debate once and for all, I decided to conduct an experiment to test out the benefits of different grains, and to gather the evidence behind each recommendation. I will be reporting on my findings in a future blog post .

For years, grains have been demonized by the nutrition community, with claims that they are unhealthy and fattening. The truth is that grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye, have been a part of our diet for thousands of years. In fact, there is a vast amount of research, most of it published in peer reviewed medical journals, demonstrating that those who eat whole grains are less likely to develop heart disease, hypertension, and a number of other health complaints.. Read more about why grains cause inflammation and let us know what you think.

Are grains attempting to kill you or sparing your life? We’ll look at both sides of the argument in this post. We’ll also give you some practical advice on how to start eating better right away.

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Quick: What are your thoughts on grains?

Is it true that they are an essential food group that forms the basis of a healthy diet?

Or are they nefarious tiny bundles of carbs and chemicals designed to make you obese, inflamed, and eventually kill you?

This is one of the most important nutritional controversies of our day.

Vegans, vegetarians, and macrobiotic dieters who consume a lot of whole grains belong to one category. They claim that eating grains will make people live longer, healthier lives free of chronic disease. Indeed, the press recently focused on a Harvard study that linked grains to a lower risk of death.

Paleo, Whole30, and Atkins advocates, on the other hand, rigorously limit or even forgo grains. They claim that eliminating wheat from their diet will help them live longer, healthier lives free of chronic disease. They also control a lot of news.

Celiac illness has become more common in the last 60 years, giving rise to a gluten-averse food subculture (and the booming gluten-free marketplace to match). Hundreds of millions of North Americans are now experimenting with grain-free diets and reading best-sellers like Wheat Belly.

As a result, many people now claim that limiting or eliminating one or more grains makes them feel better.

Who is correct?

Should you consume grains, and, more importantly, should you avoid them?

Let’s settle this once and for all.

An old standby.

Grains, or grass seeds, are an ancient food source that is still used to provide calories to people all around the world.

There are several lesser-known grains, such as triticale, quinoa, teff, amaranth, sorghum, millet, spelt, and kamut, in addition to the popular wheat, rice, oats, corn, barley, buckwheat, and rye.

The heated discussion over grains may make it appear that grains are a recent addition to the human diet, yet we’ve been eating them in some form or another for millions of years (yes, the real Paleos ate grains, too). Learning to plant wheat aided us in abandoning our nomadic lifestyle and establishing civilization as we know it today.

Grains are high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients, among other things.

Of course, we’re talking about whole grains when it comes to grain nutrition. In the sense of the entire seed. As an example:

precision-nutrition-whole-grains

Grain types: whole grains vs. processed grains

People conflate “grains” and “carbs,” which is one of the reasons this discussion grew so confusing so rapidly.

Carbohydrates are sugar-based molecules found in bread, pasta, potatoes, beans, sweets, soft drinks, and, yes, entire grains.

Refined grains, which have had their bran and germ removed during milling, supply all of the carbs but few of the benefits present in whole grains. They’re frequently packed with a lot of fat and salt.

As a result, these processed grains are extremely flavorful and convenient to consume, but they are far less filling—a fatal combination that causes many individuals to overeat, leading to weight gain and chronic disease.

What about entire grains, though?

Aren’t they also bad for you?

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Grain’s (supposed) negative consequences

Grains, according to some, can harm your health by producing inflammation, intestinal damage, obesity, and other issues. What does science have to say about it?

Inflammation

Many grain haters argue that these plants cause low-level inflammation, which is a persistent immunological reaction in which your body assaults its own tissue, causing cell damage.

To back up their claims, they cite a few research.

In one study, participants were instructed to consume 19 grams of wheat bran per day, which is nearly three cups of bran flakes. The participants showed slightly higher levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol three months later, which could be a sign of increasing inflammation.

Let the rumors about grains causing inflammation begin.

What is the issue? 44 of the 67 subjects had dropped out at the end of the experiment!

As a result, the final data is at best hazy.

Furthermore, whole grain consumption has been related to decreased levels of inflammation in several major epidemiological studies.

These are, of course, merely hyperlinks. Controlled trials are required to verify any causal association.

Controlled trials, on the whole, are neutral or supportive of the epidemiological research here, demonstrating that whole grains either have no effect on inflammation or actually reduce it.

There hasn’t been a single controlled study that shows grains cause inflammation.

In the fitness industry, there’s a belief that inflammation is at the basis of all health issues, and that all health issues can be linked back to your diet and gut. This is a faulty assumption.

Yes, food allergies can induce inflammation, which can lead to disease elsewhere in the body following a series of events.

In most situations, however, inflammation is a byproduct of sickness, and it exacerbates other disorders or disease states that have already begun.

There are numerous study articles available on the subject. We can now test a large number of inflammatory markers.

No one knows what it all means, I repeat, no one knows what it all means.

However, most diseases, including those with an inflammatory component, are unlikely to be caused by inflammation.

Damage to the intestine

Another widely held belief in the anti-grain movement is that grains harm your intestines by containing anti-nutrients and other chemicals that inhibit mineral absorption.

This theory has been investigated in at least three research. The following are the results: The amount of whole wheat flour, wheat bran, and/or oat bran consumed had no influence on calcium, zinc, or iron absorption or blood levels.

Let’s take a look at some of the anti-nutrient players.

  • Lectins: These proteins bind to cell membranes, causing injury to intestinal tissue if consumed in high quantities or without first cooking the plant (just a few sprouted red kidney beans would result in some terrible GI symptoms). However, lectins are used by the body for basic processes such as cell-to-cell adhesion, inflammatory management, and programmed cell death. Lectins have been shown to diminish tumor growth and the occurrence of certain disorders.
  • Phytic acid, a phosphorus storage form, can bind minerals in the digestive tract, preventing them from being absorbed. It can induce vitamin deficiencies and other problems in extremely big dosages (it’s been blamed for small stature throughout Egypt’s history). For this stuff to be a hazard, you’d have to consume a lot of bread that hasn’t been leavened—a routine practice that greatly reduces phytic acid levels—and you’d have to eat a lot of it. In truth, phytic acid has a range of potential health benefits when consumed in acceptable doses.
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Anti-nutrients can be an issue if you eat too many of them or don’t properly cook the foods that contain them. You’ll probably be alright if you eat like most people do, which is to consume a range of foods and carbohydrate sources.

Gluten, a protein contained in certain grains (see below), has been shown in studies to make your gut lining more permeable. However, all of these experiments were carried out ex vivo, or outside the body, in an unnatural environment.

In vivo trials, which are conducted inside the body and hence more practical, have discovered that eating grains reduces GI symptoms in Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and IBS patients.

You know, the ones who are most susceptible to the alleged intestinal damage caused by grains.

Yes, grains include anti-nutrients, which are found in all plants. Broccoli, spinach, and other green leafy vegetables are all good choices. This is a red wine. Chocolate with a dark hue. Nuts. Seeds. Green tea is a type of tea that is used to make

Fiber is an anti-nutrient in and of itself.

It would be like refusing to eat a lobster because it has a shell and claws if you refused to eat it because it had components designed to resist digestion. Every living creature tries to escape being eaten. It’s just not a valid argument.

Gluten sensitivity is a condition in which a person is unable

Gluten is a visco-elastic protein present in wheat, rye, and barley. Its visco-elastic qualities are what make bread so delicious.

Gluten promotes inflammation and prompts the immune system to assault the small intestine, destroying its cells in those with celiac disease.

This can slow digestion and make the stomach more porous, enabling toxins, undigested food, and germs to pass through that would otherwise be blocked. Celiac disease can lead to diarrhea, malnutrition, osteoporosis, and even cancer. Celiac disease can only be treated with a gluten-free diet.

Celiac disease is still poorly understood and difficult to diagnose. There are various blood tests and an intestinal biopsy available now, but none of them are 100 percent accurate.

That’s why the celiac disease rate varies so much, ranging from 0.3 to 1.2 percent of the population (some even speculate up to 3 percent). Celiac disease affects roughly 1% of the population in the United States, according to most specialists.

An estimated 10-20% of the population has gluten intolerance in some form or another. This syndrome, dubbed “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” (NCGS), appears to cause many of the same symptoms as celiac disease (bloating, discomfort, diarrhea), but without the intestinal damage or biochemical signs of an autoimmune disease.

But it’s all up in the air right now. When the researcher whose work appeared to confirm the existence of NCGS began to have questions, he conducted a more thorough follow-up investigation. He and his colleagues came to the conclusion that NCGS does not exist.

There is little evidence to advise eliminating gluten from your diet unless you have a verified intolerance.

Indeed, avoiding gluten needlessly may have the exact opposite effect you desire. To compensate for the loss of palatability when gluten is removed, many packaged gluten-free items are loaded with extra sugar and fat.

Intolerance to FODMAPs

What causes gluten sensitivity in persons who don’t have celiac disease or NCGS?

Researchers now believe that “FODMAPs,” or fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-, and polyols, are to blame for their pain, bloating, and gas.

FODMAPs are carbohydrates present in grains, dairy, vegetables, fruits, and a variety of other foods. Some people’s small or large intestines don’t break them down or absorb them correctly.

FODMAPs attract water into the gut, where it is processed by bacteria in our colon, creating hydrogen rather than methane (plus a bunch of undesirable GI symptoms).

Is there a FODMAP problem in 10-20% of the population? To be honest, the research isn’t conclusive in this case.

The most we can say is that if you have NCGS-like symptoms, cutting wheat out of your diet may be a good idea.

There’s no reason to fool with it if you don’t have to. Wheat fructans appear to be an useful prebiotic for people who can tolerate FODMAPs.

Obesity

A lot of study has been done on grains and body weight. Unfortunately, the majority of this study is epidemiological.

Regardless, these epidemiological research consistently suggest that eating more whole grains is linked to a lower body weight.

The findings of controlled experiments have been less consistent. Whole grains did not regularly contribute to superior fat loss in these studies, however they did not cause people to gain weight either.

We can look at how real individuals do on grain-heavy diets to move beyond the inconclusive controlled-trial results.

Because there are so many variables, this data isn’t ideal. However, it can point us in the right direction and give us an understanding of how grain consumption influences body weight in the actual world.

If grains were naturally fattening, vegetarians and vegans, as well as many people in less-developed nations (where grains such as rice or sorghum are common), would be more overweight or obese.

There is no evidence that plant-based eaters, or those who live in places where grains are a staple, are more likely to be overweight or obese. In reality, the evidence reveals the exact reverse.

While these associations aren’t proof of anything, it’s likely that if grains were to be the cause of obesity, we’d notice certain patterns and correlations.

But here’s the bottom line: buckwheat, oats, and quinoa don’t make people fat.

These and other whole grains are relatively bland foods in their natural state, not extremely calorie-dense, not particularly tasty, high in fiber, and relatively filling. (Do you recall the old commercials with Wilford Brimley informing us that oats would “stick to our ribs”?)

Refined grains, on the other hand, are a different story.

Corn syrup is made from whole kernel corn. For cookies and muffins, pizza dough, and toaster pastries, whole wheat grains are processed into refined white flour. Rice Krispies and rice noodles are made from whole grain rice, which we can then cover with Pad Thai sauce (potentially containing the aforementioned corn syrup).

“Carbs” are basically a technique to give hyper-palatable, “can’t-eat-just-one” pleasure as well as calorie-dense fatty meats, cheeses, sauces, and condiments in processed foods. Is it true, though, that the “carbs” are the main issue here?

pad thai with chicken dish

So, are whole grains beneficial to your health?

Here’s what we know about whole grains’ health advantages. They are as follows:

  • Fiber is a food that can help you maintain a healthy gastrointestinal tract.
  • It takes a long time to digest, which helps keep blood sugar levels under check.
  • Vitamins and minerals abound.
  • fulfilling, which helps you control your hunger.

There may also be more specialized advantages.

Overall, research suggests that whole grains reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes to varied degrees. They also appear to help manage blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, as well as guard against excessive blood pressure.

Okay, that’s alright. Are grains, on the other hand, necessary for good health?

Is it necessary to consume grains?

No. You don’t have to eat any specific foods, such as wheat, apples, kale, or seafood.

Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are required. The amount of carbohydrates you require is determined by your degree of exercise.

If you exercise frequently, you’ll probably benefit from a moderate carbohydrate consumption. Your metabolism, stress hormones, and muscle-building hormones may all be affected if you don’t receive enough.

If you’re inactive, have blood sugar problems, or need to lose a lot of weight, you’ll probably benefit from a lower carb diet.

Whole grains can be replaced with a range of other high-quality carbohydrates, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, fruit, legumes, squash, yuca, and yams. You’d get all the carbs you need, as well as plenty of fiber and a variety of helpful phytonutrients.

Even in the best of conditions, though, completely eliminating grains will be challenging.

If you don’t have celiac disease or a sensitivity, cutting out grains altogether becomes far more bother than it’s worth in a life that includes family holidays, birthday parties, business gatherings, and any other event where food is prepared by others.

Getting a sense of where grains fit in

When we talk about food, we frequently extol the virtues of food X. Or the heinous deeds that food Y commits.

In actuality, foods can have both positive and negative effects, depending on the diet as a whole, the amount of food X or food Y consumed, and the person who consumes them.

The extreme position that all grains are unhealthy and should be avoided at all costs is incorrect.

The idea that grains are natural “superfoods” that everyone should eat in large quantities is also false.

Neither side of the argument is correct.

Most people may maintain their fitness and health by eating a varied carbohydrate diet that includes some whole grains (a few refined carbs can be OK, too).

Consider the advantages and disadvantages.

Is it possible that wheat poses a low-level risk to some people? Possibly.

Is it still plausible that the health advantages of whole-grain wheat outweigh the risk? Yes. The same can be said for most whole grains, as well as most whole foods in general.

Finally, the wisest course of action is to:

  • evaluate the research objectively
  • With an open yet skeptical mind, consider the contrasting viewpoints of certified experts.
  • Try several things to see what works best for you.
  • Keep in mind that what’s best for you today might not be what’s best for you afterwards.

What should I do next?

It’s all a lot to take in. What are your options now?

Use the following list as a guide:

  1. Focus on nutrient-dense foods that are whole and minimally processed. This implies you’ll be consuming a lot of lean protein and vegetables, as well as grains. It will also assist you in limiting refined grains (those that do not meet the “whole” requirement). Keep in mind that what’s on top of the potato skin has a bigger impact on your health than the poor, mistreated tuber itself.
  2. Check to see if your grains are fully cooked. Cooking reduces the amount of lectin, phytic acid, and protease inhibitors in food. Fully cooked kidney beans, for example, have a lectin content of 200-400 units, down from 20,000-70,000 units. Don’t overindulge in unleavened bread.
  3. Breads that have been sprouted or fermented are a good option. To go even farther, sprouted (like Ezekiel bread) or fermented grains (like sourdough) contain even lower levels of phytates, lectins, and protease inhibitors. This boosts mineral bioavailability while also improving the bread’s protein quality.
  4. Get tested if you suspect you have a gluten sensitivity. If you test positive for celiac disease, consult your doctor for assistance in establishing a gluten-free diet.
  5. Concentrate your efforts on wheat. While whole-grain wheat may still be somewhat beneficial to most people (sprouted wheat may be even better), it looks to be the grain with the most issues and few benefits. If you’re having stomach problems, it’s a good idea to explore if avoiding wheat will help. Again, consult your physician.
  6. Other grain options should be explored. Variety is beneficial. We provided a list of whole grains at the start of this post. Try some new foods that you wouldn’t ordinarily consume. Have a good time broadening your horizons.
  7. Think about going on an elimination diet. Food sensitivities certainly exist, but we don’t know how common they are. They’ve been connected to GI issues as well as a slew of other ailments all over the body. Elimination diets, in which you systematically remove and then reintroduce foods in your diet, noting any changes in symptoms, are the gold standard for identifying a food sensitivity (grain-related or otherwise).
  8. Maintain your sanity. Excessive dieting causes stress, dissatisfaction, and, unfortunately, weight increase and health problems. Instead of focusing on the “great grain argument,” channel your energy into making excellent food and sharing it with loved ones.

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To see the information sources mentioned in this article, go here.

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KC Maki, et al. In people with overweight and obesity, a dietary program that includes whole-grain ready-to-eat oat cereal decreases low-density lipoprotein cholesterol more than a dietary program that includes low-fiber control foods. 2010 Feb;110(2):205-14. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Feb;110(2):205-14.

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Dietary lectins are metabolic signals for the gut that influence immunological and hormonal activities, according to A. Pusztai. 691-699 in Eur J Clin Nutr, 1993.

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B. Sandström et al. When added to a low-fiber animal protein-based diet, a high oat-bran intake does not decrease zinc absorption in humans. Journal of Nutrition. 2000 Mar;130(3):594-9.

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P. Tighe et al. A randomized controlled experiment looked at the effects of increasing whole-grain food consumption on blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors in healthy middle-aged people. 2010 Oct;92(4):733-40 in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

P. Tighe et al. A randomized controlled research looked at the effects of wheat and oat-based whole grain meals on serum lipoprotein size and distribution in overweight middle-aged persons. PLoS One, vol. 8, no. 8, e70436 (August 5, 2013).

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The gluten-free and grain-free diets have received lots of backlash from health professionals, nutritionists and the general public alike. Some have claimed they are dangerous, while others claim that they are dangerous. We have, however, seen a marked increase in the consumption of grain-free foods in recent years. In fact, polls indicate that one third of the U.S. population now sees themselves as being “mostly grain-free”, compared to just 6% in 2011.. Read more about are whole grains good for you and let us know what you think.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which grain is suitable for healthy living?

Quinoa is a grain that is high in protein, fiber and iron. It is also gluten-free.

Which is healthier grain or wheat?

Wheat is healthier than grain because it has more nutrients.

Which grain is healthier refined grains or whole grains?

Refined grains are more processed than whole grains, which means they have had the bran and germ removed. This makes them easier to digest and lower in fiber content.

This article broadly covered the following related topics:

  • whole grain
  • what are grains
  • types of whole grains
  • why grains cause inflammation
  • grain free inflammation
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