Your Guide to Grains

This is Frapestaartje’s Flickr photo.

Grains – they’re ubiquitous! We grab Pop Tarts, cereal and toast for breakfast. Lunch is a sandwich (what else is there?). Dinner includes pasta, or at least a bread basket (hold the butter!). What’s a snack without crackers? And then there’s the never-ending array of desserts, all based on some combination of flour and sugar. Tell someone you don’t eat grains, and they look at you in shock and disbelief, sputtering “But….well…what do you EAT?”

And they’re nutritious, right? The Food Pyramid, recently transformed into My Plate, recommends that we eat more grains than any other food group. Uncle Ben, Wilford Brimley, Mrs. Butterworth, and Tony the Tiger, with their shining sincerity, couldn’t be wrong! Hasn’t “hearthealthywholegrains” become one word in the last few years? It wasn’t always so, folks.Today, we take it for granted that the basis of every meal is a grain of some kind. But as recently as 200 years ago grains were a “sometimes food,” as Sesame Street would say, and for thousands of years our ancestors didn’t make grains the staple of their diet. It was never part of God’s plan that we should consume such large quantities of grains, and when we do, we suffer consequences in the form of weight gain, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, autoimmune disease, and cancer. Read on to find out why.

If They Didn’t Eat Grains, What Did They Eat?

Long ago, before the Agricultural Revolution, our ancestors were hunter-gatherers who fed on wild game, roots, berries, seeds, and nuts. They got most of their daily calories from animals, and the rest from 100-200 different species of plants. There are plenty of cultures around the world who STILL eat like this. And guess what? They’re super healthy.

With the dawn of Agriculture, human dietaries shifted dramatically, with the majority of calories coming from a few staple cereal foods, 3-5 domesticated meats, and 20-50 plant species. However, even with those dramatic changes, there were more changes to come. The Industrial Revolution in the 1800s brought unheard of amounts of refined sugar and flour to the average person’s cupboard. Check this out: In the late 1800s, Americans were eating 5 pounds of sugar per year. A century later, in the 1980s, we were eating 75 pounds per year. Now, that’s a LOT of sugar!

Before the Industrial Revolution, eating grains was an entirely different proposition than it is today. First of all, you had to travel to your local general store to procure yourself some whole grain flour, which contained both the germ and the bran, which upped the fiber, vitamin, mineral, and protein content considerably over what we know as flour today. The general store milled your flour for you right then and there. The grain had to be milled on the spot and used that day because the oil in the wheat germ became rancid quickly when exposed to air. Not only did you have to work hard to get the flour and bake it into something tasty, but the flour’s lack of processing left all its nutrients intact.

Is it any wonder that prior to the Industrial Revolution, the United States was classified as the healthiest nation among 100 studied, but by the 1920s (post-Industrial Revolution), we had already begun a quick decline, dropping to 2nd place? By 1950, we were in 3rd place. By 1970, we were in 41st place. And by 1981, just a few years after the advent of the junk food industry and a few years after upping our carbs and lowering our fat, we were in 95th place. How did we go from 41st place to 95th place in only 11 years, and from first place to 95th place in just one century? It’s simple: refined sugar, refined flour, and industrial oils.

And Then Came the Government

In 1977, Senator George McGovern announced the publication of the federal government’s first ever Dietary Goals for the United States. Yep, although most of us take it for granted that the government has the right to tell us what to eat, it wasn’t actually until 1975 that they even thought of it. Dietary Goals advocated, based on limited evidence, that Americans increase their consumption of carbohydrates (that is, grains) from 40-45% of total calories to 55-60% of total calories, and that fat consumption be decreased from 40% to 30%. The Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, which prepared the Dietary Goals, acknowledged that there was no evidence that lowering fat would promote health or prevent disease. They also acknowledged that their recommendations were controversial.

Here’s how Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories, describes the creation of the Committee’s Dietary Goals:

The operative force at work, however, was the committee staff, composed of lawyers and ex-journalists. “We really were totally naïve,” said the staff director Marshall Matz. “We were a bunch of kids, who just thought…we should say something on this subject before we go out of business.” McGovern had attended Nathan Pritikin’s four-week diet-and-exercise program at Pritikin’s Longevity Research Institute in Santa Barbara, California. He said that he lasted only a few days on Pritikin’s very low-fat diet, but that Pritikin’s philosophy, an extreme version of the AHA’s (American Heart Association), had profoundly influenced his thinking.

In other words, the American public was handed dietary suggestionsfor the first time by the federal government based on the advice of some lawyers and journalists whose committee was about to be disbanded unless they could prove they had a compelling purpose. This committee’s recommendations were based on a senator’s unsuccessful experiment with a low-fat diet and some shaky, unproven, controversial research that has yet to be supported scientifically.

Although the Committee insisted that Americans had nothing to lose by following the new recommendations, almost nobody in the scientific community supported them. According to one observer, “all hell broke loose” as eight hearings were held to examine the recommendations, with expert after expert testifying that the recommendations were “premature, if not irresponsible.” The American Medical Association (AMA) argued that “there is a potential for harmful effects for a radical long term dietary change as would occur through adoption of the proposed national goals.”

You might be surprised to learn that Americans took the new recommendations to heart, and did in fact begin increasing grain consumption and lowering fat consumption. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the three-decade trend of Americans eating more grains and less animal products starting in the 1970s and ending in 2005 really was triggered by American’s health concerns following McGovern’s Dietary Goals. A recent graph shows a sharp and continuing increase in wheat consumption until 1995. The graph then shows a small decline to 135 pounds in 2005, concurrent with the rise in popularity of low carb diets.

Thirty years later, the statistics tell a frightening story about McGovern’s experiment with the American dietary:

• Since 1980, obesity has more than doubled from 15% of Americans to 35% today.

• Since 1980, the number of Americans with diabetes has more than doubled, from 2.5% of Americans to 6.3% today (from 5.6 million to 19.7 million). We went from almost no grains thousands of years ago to having them almost every time we grab something to eat. We weren’t designed for it, and we haven’t adapted to it. Grains negatively affect our health in four primary ways:

• Grains make us fat

• Grains are nutritionally poor

• Grains harm our guts

• Grains promote heart disease

• Grains contain gluten, which is related to a wide array of health problems spanning autoimmune disease, bowel disease, neurological disease, bone disease, and cancer. Click here for more information about gluten.

Grains Make Us Fat

Cereal grains, especially the refined grains we eat today, are quickly converted to glucose in the bloodstream. When glucose levels are high, the body must release high levels of insulin from the pancreas to either use or store the glucose. Some of the glucose is used for short-term fuel for the body. But the body only needs so much glucose at a time, so the majority of it must be stored. The insulin transports the excess glucose to your fat cells and stores it there.

Even whole grains are quickly converted to glucose and stored as fat, just not as quickly as refined grains. Anytime we eat a lot of grains, we are taking in more glucose than we need. When we have more glucose than we need, insulin spikes and stores the glucose as fat. So, eating more grains equals storing more fat. In addition, when insulin is chronically elevated (the way it is when we eat cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, pretzels for snack, and pasta for dinner), we can become insulin resistant.

Insulin resistance means that our bodies have become used to chronically high levels of insulin and therefore need more and more insulin to achieve the same effect. Chronically elevated insulin leads to metabolic syndrome, which is now understood to be an underlying defect that contributes to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Chronically elevated insulin also leads to cravings and hunger.

Grains are Nutritionally Poor

Health markers plummet among traditional hunter-gatherer cultures whenever they adopt cereal grains as a staple food, including:

• Reduction in stature

• Increase in infant mortality

• Reduction in lifespan

• Increased incidence of infectious diseases

• Increase in vitamin and mineral deficiency diseases Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are particularly likely to occur among poor populations who, because they cannot afford meat produce, rely on cereal grains for up to 80% of their daily calories with little or no animal protein.

These deficiencies include:

• Vitamin A Deficiency. When cereal grains displace Vitamin A rich foods such as milk fat, egg yolks, and organ meats, Vitamin A deficiency strikes. Twenty to 40 million children have at least a mild Vitamin A deficiency, which is a leading cause of childhood death, blindness, and exacerbation of infectious and respiratory diseases. Vitamin A supplementation in third world countries results in a 35% reduction in all-cause mortality, a 40% reduction in diarrheal disease, and a70% reduction in respiratory disease.

Vitamin B Deficiency. Vitamin B, which is found exclusively in animal products, is a serious problem for vegetarians and for third world countries where cereal grains make up the majority of the diet. Vitamin B deficiency causes megaloblastic anemia, resulting in irreversible cognitive dysfunction; puts people at risk for heart disease, and worsens intestinal infections. It is the cause of Beriberi, a nervous system disease that causes loss of sensation, inability to walk, and congestive heart failure. Beriberi was epidemic in the late 1800s in Southeast Asia and Japan when refined rice was introduced. It is also the cause of Pellagra, a Vitamin B deficiency disease caused by eating too much corn. Pellagra causes diarrhea, dermatitis and dementia. It killed 10,000 people in an early 20th century epidemic in the Southeastern United States, and is still widespread in Africa.

Calcium Deficiency. Cereal grains cause the body to excrete calcium. In populations where grains are a major source of calories, bone diseases like osteoporosis are common.

• Vitamin D Deficiency. Cereal grains cause the body to metabolize Vitamin D improperly, resulting in D deficiency. Populations that consume high levels of unleavened bread show high incidence of Vitamin D deficiency. D deficiency is related to autoimmune disease and heart disease.

Iron Deficiency. The fiber, phytates, tannins, lectins, and phosphates in cereal grains adversely affect iron metabolism, resulting in iron deficiency anemia, which afflicts 2.15 billion people. Iron deficiency results in irreversible impairment of children’s learning ability.

Grains Harm Our Guts

Lectins in grains irritate the gut and prevent it from engaging in its natural repair, making it permeable. A permeable, or leaky, gut allows food proteins to enter the bloodstream, resulting in autoimmune diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, lupus, and dermatitis.

Grains Promote Heart Disease

Cereal grains are a concentrated source of omega-6 fatty acids and replace foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, resulting in an unfavorable ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. An unfavorable ratio leads to an increase in triglycerides, thrombotic tendencies, atherosclerosis, and chronic inflammation, all of which are risk factors for heart disease. Despite the widespread idea that vegetarians have a lower risk for heart disease, newer, more rigorous studies suggest just the opposite. Vegetarians are a hard lot to study, as they typically engage in a wide array of “healthy” behaviors, such as not smoking, exercising, and limiting processed foods. It’s hard to separate out the effects of their meatless diet from the effects of the other healthy behaviors they engage in. The more recent studies have focused on “religious vegetarians” such as Buddhists who tend to behave and eat very similarly to the meat-eaters in their society (Taiwan and China), just without the meat. These studies have consistently shown that the vegetarians have higher levels of c-reactive protein, homocysteine and triglycerides than omnivores, all of which are markers for heart disease.

Grains Contain Gluten, Which is a Factor in Disease

Gluten is a large, water-soluble protein found in the seeds or grains of wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut, and triticale. Gluten gives baked goods elasticity and chewiness and helps them rise and hold their shape. You can find gluten in everything from lunch meat to soup to candy. Gluten sensitivity is related to cancer, autoimmune disease, bowel disease, neurological disease, and bone disease. Check out Fit4God’s article on Gluten to learn more about its insidious and dangerous effect on health.


• Hunter-gatherers, who do not consume grains and other industrial foods, enjoy health late into life and are free from the diseases of civilization that we take for granted (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, to name a few).

• When hunter-gatherers begin consuming industrial foods, they quickly develop the diseases of civilization.

• The Agricultural Revolution changed our hunter-gatherer diet to a grain-based diet, with accompanying ill health effects.

• The Industrial Revolution brought unheard of amounts of refined flour, refined sugar, and industrial oil to our cupboards and tables.

• The grains we have today are decidedly NOT the same as they were pre-Industrial Revolution, with far less fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals.

• Cereal grains are insulinogenic, causing us to store excess amounts of fat.

• Cereal grains supply far less nutrition per calorie than animal proteins, vegetables, and fruits.

• Cereal grains contain antinutrients that prevent the body from properly metabolizing vitamins and minerals, causing people who eat high levels of cereal grains to be nutrient deficient.

• Cereal grains contain lectins which damage the gut and lead to disease.

• Cereal grains are related to heart disease.

• Many cereal grains contain gluten, which is related to autoimmune disease, neurological disease, bowel disease, bone disease and cancer.

If you have nothing else to eat and are in danger of starvation, by all means, eat grains. But in the modern world, grains are overconsumed and lead to serious health problems. Make the better choice and serve up a plate of animal protein and vegetables and give yourself a better chance at a long, healthy life. You might just live to be as healthy as a hunter-gatherer!

References and Recommended Reading

Allan, C. B., & Lutz, W. 2000. Life Without Bread: How a Low-Carbohydrate Diet Can Save Your Life. McGraw Hill.

Carrera-Bastos, P., Fontes-Villalba, M., O’Keefe, J. H., Lindeberg, S., Cordain, L. 2011. The western diet and lifestyle and diseases of civilization. Research Reports in Clinical Cardiology. 2011:2, pp. 15-35. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2009. NCHS Health E-Stat. Retrieved July 4, 2011. Online at

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2010. Number (in Millions) of Civilian, Non-Institutionalized Persons with Diagnosed Diabetes, United States, 1980–2009. Retrieved July 4, 2011. Online at

Chih-Wei Chen, Chih-Ta Lin, Ying-Lung Lin, Tin-Kwang Lin, & Chin-Lon Lin. 2011. Taiwanese Female Vegetarians Have Lower Lipoprotein-Associated Phospholipase A2 Compared with Omnivores. Yonsei Med J Vol. 52, No. 1, pp. 13-19.

Cleave, T.L. 1975. The Saccharine Disease: The Master Disease of Our Time. New Canaan, Conn.: Keats Publishing.

Cordain, L. “Cereal grains: Humanity’s double-edged sword.” World rev Nutr Diet. Simopopulos A. (ed.). 1999, vol 84; Karger, Basel: 5, 6, 12, 13.

Batchelor AJ, Compston JE. “Reduced plasma half-life of radio-labelled 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 in subjects receiving a high-fibre diet.” Br J Nutr. 1983 Mar;49(2):213-6.

Biesiekierski JR, Newnham ED, Irving PM, Barrett JS, Haines M, Doecke JD, Shepherd SJ, Muir JG, Gibson PR. “Gluten causes gastrointestinal symptoms in subjects without celiac disease: a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial.” Am J Gastroenterol. 2011 Mar;106(3):508-14; quiz 515. Epub 2011 Jan 11.

Braly, J., and Hoggan, R. 2002. “Dangerous Grains.” Avery: New York. Freed, D. L. J., 1999. Do Dietary Lectins Cause Disease? British Medical Journal. 1999 April 17; 318(7190): 1023–1024.

García-Manzanares A, Lucendo AJ, González-Castillo S, Moreno-Fernández J. “Resolution of metabolic syndrome after following a gluten free diet in an adult woman diagnosed with celiac disease.” World J Gastrointest Pathophysiol. 2011 Jun 15;2(3):49-52.

Greger, J. L. 1999. “Nondigestible Carbohydrates and Mineral Bioavailability.” J. Nutr. July 1, 1999 vol. 129 no. 7 1434

Guyenet, S. 2008 “Gluten Sensitivity: Celiac Disease is the Tip of the Iceberg.” Whole Health Source.

Guyenet, S. 2011. “Eating Wheat Gluten Causes Symptoms in Some People Who Don’t Have Celiac Disease.” Whole Health Source.

Hammond, L., & Rominger, L. M. 2003. “Allergy-Proof Recipes for Kids.” Fair Winds Press: Beverly, Mass. Marsh, M. N. “Gluten sensitivity and latency: Can patterns of intestinal antibody secretion define the great ‘silent majority’?” Gastroenterology. 1993 May; 104(5): 1550-53.

Minger, D. 2011. Vegetarians and Heart Disease: Will Ditching Grains Really Save Your Arteries? Retrieved July 10, 2011. Online at

Singh, M., and Kay, S. “Wheat gluten as a pathogenic factor in schizophrenia.” Science. 1976.; 191:401-2.

Sisson, M. 2011. “Dear Mark: Gluten.” Mark’s Daily Apple.

Sisson, M. 2011. “Why Grains are Unhealthy” Mark’s Daily Apple.

Taubes, G. (2001). “Good Calories,Bad Calories.” New York: Anchor Books.

Taubes, G. (2002). “>What If It’sAll Been a Big Fat Lie? The New York Times Magazine” July 7, 2002.

Taubes, G. (2011). “Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It.” Knopf.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2004. Wheat: Market Outlook. Retrieved July 10, 2011. Online at

U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2011. Wheat’s Role in the U.S. Diet Has Changed Over the Decades.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2011. Chapter 2: Profiling Food Consumption in America.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2009. Wheat’s Role in the U.S. Diet Has Changed Over the Decades. Retrieved July 4, 2011. Online at

Wellness Mama. 2011. “How Grains Are Killing You Slowly.”

Wellness Mama. 2011. “Does the Bible Say We Should Eat Grains?”

Wikipedia. 2011. “Gluten.”

Zanchi C, Di Leo G, Ronfani L, Martelossi S, Not T, Ventura A. “Bone metabolism in celiac disease.” J Pediatr. 2008 Aug;153(2):262-5. Epub 2008 Apr 14.

Useful Web Sites

Wellness Mama.

Gluten Intolerance Group.

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