The staple of modern day diets include foods like bread, cereal, pasta, rice, and other grains. These foods constitute the base of what was once a chapter within our middle school health textbook: The Food Pyramid. Patterning a diet according to this food pyramid would mean up to 11 servings of these types of foods. Obviously someone discovered the supernatural powers hidden within grains and decided we should stuff our faces with it throughout the day. Well thankfully everyone listened to the omniscient pyramid and now we find ourselves in the midst of an uber healthy society dominated by grain consumption.
All joking aside, our society cannot claim good health as one of its defining characteristics. Rather than a defining characteristic, good health is more like Camus' Sisyphus, a completely unreachable endeavor. With exponential increases in diabetes, coronary heart disease, and many cancers, we are actually tumbling down the spectrum of health into a pit of confusion. Yes, confusion. We should be confused about why our food (our giver of health, life, and energy) has not saved us from the torment of these diseases. Even our drugs have failed us, but that is neither here nor there and a topic for another day. There must be something missing from the equation. It seems that the more grain you eat, the more likely you are to die. Quite literally and quite painfully. The foundation of our all-mighty food pyramid may be inviting more health disaster than you may have thought. Let us examine some commonly overlooked, and often unknown, characteristics of grain consumption:
Grains contain "anti-nutrients" - Forget that grains are pretty much void of any important nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and focus on the fact that grains actually contain the evil 2nd cousin of nutrients: anti-nutrients. These substances actually bind to other nutrients (take zinc, calcium, magnesium and iron for example) and prevent their absorption in the human body. This creates huge mineral deficiencies in the human body and negatively influences bodily functions. Some common anti-nutrients found in grain are Phytic Acid, Lectins, Protease, Alpha-amylase inhibitors, and Alkylresorcinols. Aside from their ability to prevent mineral absorption, these substances also induce inflammatory responses (beer belly anyone?), prevent protein metabolization, are known allergens, and drastically influence auto-immune function. This, however, is only the beginning.
Most grain is GMO - Sexy acronym? Yes, but it really just means genetically modified. The need for GMO came when someone decided that cheap grains were the answer to feeding the world. We needed to feed the growing human population. Then we needed to feed the cows, chickens, and fish (this list is probably much longer but condensed in order to keep your interest, if any). Finally, we needed enough left over so the farmers can get their subsidy checks from the federal government. I know what you are thinking, "Okay, okay. I get it. But just because its genetically modified does not mean its bad for you". There are two ways of dealing with this response. One is to go and research the topic for yourself. Or, simply take my word for it since that is commonplace in today's "Google Age". I prefer if you learn more and if you do decide to embark on this intellectual journey, please please please ensure that the research found is scientific and, more importantly, independent (*cough* Monsanto *cough*). GMOs are highly controversial with long term effects on humans still to be determined; and yet they populate almost every aisle of American grocery stores without a single question. The rest of the world sees it differently. Hungry African and Asian nations are concerned enough about it that they refuse food aid where the food contains GMOs. Europe has been very suspicious of GMOs as well. There have even been examples of health impacts from the consumption of GMOs. In Japan, a bacterium modified to synthesize amino acids, effectively "pumped out" amino acids from the desired food, but it also created a new one not typically occurring in nature. The new amino acid caused some deaths and a lot of irreversible mental and metabolic damage to hundreds of people until the product was finally recalled. As a result, Japan does not want GMO food. Australia does not want GMO food. And of course, New Zealand detests anything GMO.
Humans are not wired for grain consumption - Ask any anthropologist, biochemist, or even a competent nutritionist, and they will tell you the same thing. Humans evolved on a diet that consisted of hunting, foraging, and gathering. Hence, killing animals and picking fruits and vegetables was the most effective, and only, means to satiating hunger. Humans would have starved if they had to wait for the growing, harvesting, milling, and baking of their food. This process, however, is exactly what it takes to bring grains to the market. To quote a Dr. Peter Rouse, "the simplest way to look at your diet is to look at what we ate 100,000 years ago. That will allow you to tune in with your individual metabolic type. No legumes, grains or dairy were consumed during the Middle Paleolithic Period. Only since we have increased the consumption of these have we seen the spread of diseases such as CHD, Cancer, Diabetes, etc. How do we know there is a link? Because we understand the biochemical effects these food substances have on the human organism". Its no wonder that veterinarians tell you to avoid feeding dogs any grains. Yet they are safe for human consumption? Hmmmm.
But wait! Grains contain fiber (Yay!) - You got me. They do, but forgive me if I do not wave a white flag and shout mercy. The importance of fiber and its required abundance in daily eating could be one of the biggest flaws in medical literature. Although it may be a standard recommendation for virtually every digestive illness, when the human digestive tract is compromised in any way, that very same fiber could be creating and irritating most of the colorectal and digestive disorders it is suppose to cure. Coincidentally, grains are responsible for tearing up your digestive system since it is a known stomach irritant and causes gut inflammation. Is it not remarkably strange that after grain consumption, feelings of bloating, increases in gas, and loose stools shortly follow?
If fiber ends up being the only reason for eating "balanced breakfasts" with corn flakes or oatmeal for lowering cholesterol, try some fruits and vegetables that are high in not only vitamins and minerals, but also fiber. This includes avocados, apples, asparagus, and artichoke. That only includes selections from the first letter in the alphabet! Just imagine the plethora of food options outside the letter "A". One of the best ways to avoid grains is to simply shop on the outside of grocery stores and avoid the aisles. Its simple and effective, so give it a try. Lastly, and most importantly, take in account this shocking fact. Our kids will have a shorter life expectancy than us. This is highly correlated, if not statistically and absolutely, due to horrendous eating habits. The Food Pyramid and its food consumption guidelines fall well short of becoming the next great wonder of the world.
Luke Sniewski is a Certified Public Accountant as well as a Corrective Exercise Specialist. He works by weaving the health and wellness world with the business world. Working with companies and business professionals, his organization, LEAF, aims to increase bottom line productivity by implementing proactive lifestyles. Please visit http://www.leaflifestyle.com for more details regarding corporate wellness services. Remember, stop treating the symptoms and start solving the problems.