21 Aug Grains and Gluten: Your Worst Enemy?
Wow. Pretty scary title, no? I bet you opened up this article just from being curious about, “How in the heck can grains and gluten be my worst enemy?!” I bet you also may be saying to yourself, “I eat grains everyday! The FDA suggests a diet made up of 50% grains and carbohydrates!” Well, you’re correct on that statement. The FDA does recommend 50% of your daily caloric intake to come from grains, but does that make it right? So bread, pasta, wheat, rye, corn, rice, and barley; these are all bad for me? I should stop eating them?” In simple terms; YES! Now let me get into why.
So we’ll start out by explaining what exactly grains and gluten are. Grains are generally, any food made from wheat, rice, oats, and barley. Some examples of grains include bread (oh yes, so delicious!), pasta (who can live without it?), oatmeal (no more oats?!), tortillas, corn, breakfast cereals, whole-wheat flour, and brown rice to name a few. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, rye oats, and barley. I always ask myself, “Why is it that the past 20 years have developed a new scare of gluten and that we are starting to get more and more interested in ‘gluten free’ foods?” Why is it that our population is now almost 70% overweight or obese and why in the heck has Celiac disease made a huge increase this past decade? I consider those some good questions that I wanted answers to, so I started doing my research.
I don’t want to get into the anatomy of a grain as I’m not trying to make this a nutrition class, but generally, a grain is made up of three parts: bran (outer covering), endosperm (mainly starch with a touch of protein), and the germ (reproduction portion of the grain). So why are grains bad? Let’s take a look.
To start, grains contain a variety of proteins. Some of these proteins are called lectins, and one of the more researched lectins is called wheat germ agglutinin (WGA). The main reason lectins and grains are horrible for our bodies are because they are not broken down during the digestive process. The structure of some grains makes it extremely difficult for our body to digest and they also contain protease inhibitors, which further block the digestion of lectins. Do you think this lack of digestion is dangerous for our body? You bet your bottom it is. Lectins are also very stealthy, as they will attach to receptors in our intestinal lumen and will be transported unbroken through our intestines, leaving them fully intact as nice, big protein molecules. Like a virus or bacteria, these large protein molecules are now mistaken by our bodies as foreign invaders. As wheat germ agglutinin and other grain proteins stay intact during digestion, they damage our intestinal lining, allowing other proteins to enter our system. This is a very problematic event! And just think, this process is happening EVERY TIME you eat grains! As these grain proteins are indicated as foreign invaders, our immune system will start to create antibodies to fight against them. Robb Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution laid it out for us in the simplest terms, “These antibodies are very specific to the shapes of these foreign proteins. Unfortunately, these proteins also tend to look like proteins in our body.” He continues, “If the WGA is attacked by the immune system and an antibody is made against it (because the body thinks WGA is a bacteria or virus), that antibody will not only attach to WGA, it can also attach to the protein in your pancreas.” And here comes the grand salami, “When that WGA antibody attaches to your pancreas, it precipitates a wholesale immune response – attacking that tissue.” With this cascade of events occurring, your pancreas can now become damaged or destroyed, turning you into a diabetic. Rob smacks us with some final truth, stating, “..if that protein happened to be in the myelin sheath of your brain, you would develop multiple sclerosis.”
Pretty scary stuff, eh? So literally, the food you eat is causing chaos in your body! Not good my friends, not good. And this food, or grains I should say, is what our government is telling us to consume 50% of our daily diet from. Does this make you scratch your head as many times as it has mine? I hope so.
Research has started to find that lectins are one of the causative factors in the following diseases: Celiac disease (an autoimmune disease caused by gluten), rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjogren’s, multiple sclerosis, reproductive stress, vitiligo, Huntington’s, narcolepsy – literally hundreds of conditions in which lectins appear to have caused the distress and development. And you know what has been deemed as the clinical solution for these and many other diseases? You guessed it; the removal of grains, legumes, and dairy. I’m not your professor, so you can look up the studies and research on your own, but I’m here to provide you with the information that might make you think for a second or two, or even kick you into making the lifestyle change of cleaning up your “healthy intake” of grains and gluten. Not so “healthy” anymore are they?
To put it in simpler terms, grains, gluten, and the proteins they contain such as lectins and WGA, damage your intestinal lining, which enables the contents of the small intestine to make it’s way into your system, which should NOT be happening. Yes, this is VERY bad. With a potentially damaged gut, you now put yourself at risk of developing multiple allergies due to the undigested food in your system. And the undigested food isn’t the only problem here; chemicals from the intestines, which should be remaining in the intestines, are now being exposed to your system, which can lead to multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome. You can even develop osteoporosis by eating too much grains and gluten. The phytates that are contained in grains have the ability to bind to calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron that are present in our body. This means that calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron are now unavailable for absorption. This leads to long term bone damage and decreased bone health!
Now I want you guys to know, this article didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. Today is April 18, 2014, which is 4 weeks after I decided to cut out all grains and gluten from my diet. I’m not only writing this article from my research and scientific background information, I’m writing it from my own personal experience as well. I use to eat my usual morning bowl of oatmeal as my carbs for breakfast, along with some sugar free syrup since I made them into my own version of oat/egg white pancakes (yes, they were delicious). After swapping out the oatmeal for sweet potato and fruit, I noticed that the bloat I would usually experience after the meal was now gone and nonexistent. I also took out my usual serving of brown rice at my third meal and swapped in some sweet potato (I love sweet potatoes!). Again, the bloated feeling after that meal was now gone. Now rice is actually the less damaging grain since it contains different proteins that react a bit differently during digestion, but they still cause inflammation and damage to your gut lining (do your own research on this; it’s pretty interesting.). My energy has dramatically increased. I have zero bloat throughout the day, no matter how much sweet potato and fruits I consume. Some of you may ask, “Is there anything else you changed in your lifestyle that could contribute to this new feeling of energy?” NO. I changed absolutely NOTHING else about my nutrition other than taking out the grains and gluten I was consuming from oats and rice. You may also say, “Sounds like you are just eating a Paleo diet.” Eh, possibly, but also, not really. I consume whey protein on a daily basis. Whey protein is dairy. Dairy isn’t “allowed” in a Paleo diet. I also consume peanut butter on occasion. Peanuts are considered a legume. Legumes are not “allowed” in a Paleo diet. On my refeed days (effective for fat loss and reestablishment of hormones), I consume cookies, chocolate, and refined carbohydrates; definitely not “allowed” in a Paleo diet.
I’m not trying to convince you to change your lifestyle around, but I needed to inform you on what is actually happening inside your body after eating these certain “everyday” foods like bread, pasta, cereal, wheat, rice, barley, and the like. I also needed to try it out for myself to see how I would feel after incorporating the change so that I could bring you a first-hand experience of the results I felt. After reading this article, someone may ask me, “Well, then what do you suggest I do about my grain and gluten consumption?” I would honestly tell you, just try it for two weeks. Cut out grains and gluten from your diet for TWO WEEKS and then see how you feel. Document your energy levels throughout the day, the feeling you get in your stomach after you eat, the energy in your workouts, and the flatness of your belly throughout the day (yes, you’ll notice this!). What’s the worst that can happen? You go 14 days without some of your favorite breads, cereals, and routine bowl of morning oatmeal (yes, I LOVED my oatmeal too!)? But on the contrary, what’s the best that can happen? You discover that foods you’ve been eating have literally been causing a decline in your health? Make you feel uncomfortable throughout the day? Are giving you serious signs and symptoms of diseases you may be setting yourself up for in the long run?
You may discover an entire new way of living, and who knows, it may even be saving your life.
Paul Hovan Jr., B.S., NASM CPT, CSN
Sources: Wolf, Robb. The paleo solution: the original human diet. Las Vegas: Victory Belt, 2010. Print. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/grains.html