Mankind’s relationship with grains might be considered a long one, tracing back to the agricultural revolution approximately 12,000 years ago. It was at this point in our history that humans developed the means to cultivate grains, and since this point they have come to be seen as the backbone of civilization. Humans treasured grains on account of their rapid growth rates, versatility, and long storage life, and they soon became a valuable form of currency: one which could dictate the rise and fall of towns, cities, and even empires.
Today, grains continue to be seen as vital to our existence, with politicians, media, and health specialists all urging mass consumption of whole grains in order to stay healthy. The notion of grains as staple food has become so embedded in our consciousness, in fact, that it is difficult to even consider life without them. After all, how would you get your daily dose of fiber? With what would you sandwich your ham, cheese and tomato? Indeed, where would you put your pasta sauce? A life without grains seems hardly worth contemplating.
So why, then, is there such a poor correlation between grain consumption and health? Why do the heaviest grain-eating populations, America in particular, continue to get sicker and more disease ridden?
Alright, alright, lets back the truck up…what the heck IS a grain, exactly?
Well, grains are the reproductive embryos of plants. Each grain is designed to ensure the establishment of a new generation of a given plant species, and must be dispersed away from the parent plant in order to ensure that it does not compete with it’s dearly beloved. To promote dispersal, most plants encourage animals to ingest the grains then poop them out somewhere else, whereby the seed contained within the grain can take hold in the poopy soil and begin to grow.
While effective, this method of dispersal presents a problem. By encouraging the animal to eat its babies, the plant risks having them destroyed by the animal’s digestive system. The plant must then design its grains to be indigestible to animals in order to ensure the survival of its species, and it is this design which is responsible for many of the chronic autoimmune diseases we see in people today.
Grains are unhealthy? That’s preposterous!
In order to discourage digestion, grains contain a potent mix of anti-nutrients and gluten. Unless you’ve had your head in the sand for the past 10 years or so, you’ve probably heard of gluten. It’s also probable that many of you have adopted a gluten-free way of life after reading about the ravages this protein can wreak upon your gut and immune system. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but unfortunately it’s not enough.
Gluten comprises most of the protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It is a compound protein which causes gut inflammation in 4 out of 5 people, and can often trigger an autoimmune response when the body develops antibodies to fight the intrusion of alien proteins in the bloodstream. Gluten contains a protein called gliadin, which is very similar to certain proteins naturally found in the tissues of organs, most notably the pancreas and thyroid. As a result, gliadin can cause your antibodies to mistakenly attack your organs and result in chronic disease, particularly hypothyroidism and diabetes.
Added to this is the highly inflammatory effect of gluten, which causes the walls of your intestines to thin and promotes the development of “leaky gut”. A leaky gut allows bacteria and toxic proteins to enter the bloodstream, and further exacerbates your gliadin-induced health problems.
In summary, gluten is a nasty little hell-raiser. So, you cast aside any wheat, barley and rye due to their glutenous evil, and turn your dietary attentions to other, “healthier” grains. The problem is, while only certain grains contain gluten, ALL grains (yes, even quinoa!) contain anti-nutrients. The most troublesome of which are lectins and phytates.
Phytates are a derivative of phytic acid, a primary source of fuel for plants. Phytates hang out in your gut and bind to important nutrients which are essential for your health, including magnesium, zinc, calcium and iron. This process can prevent your body from absorbing nutrients from food, resulting in chronic nutrient deficiency disorders.
Lectins are toxins which have been designed by plants to prevent their digestion. These proteins possess the uncanny ability to bind to, and damage, the intestinal tract, further compromising gut bacteria and contributing to leaky gut. Prolonged exposure to lectins can result in the development of leptin resistance, which can set the stage for obesity and diabetes.
The link between grains and chronic disease
Certain animals, birds in particular, have evolved to eat and even thrive on grains, and can therefore digest them without experiencing their ill-effects. Humans, however, have only been exposed to sustained grain consumption for 12,000 years or less. When considering the evolution of our species, which took place over millions of years, 12,000 years is not a long time. Certainly not long enough to have allowed our digestive systems to evolve the ability to process grains and receive benefit from them. Added to this is the increasing commercialization of grains, whereby scientists modify the genes and cultivars of grains to encourage high density yields while sacrificing nutrients and other useful compounds found in wild or heritage breeds.
As a direct result of this, modern society is riddled with chronic inflammatory conditions. These conditions are closely associated with high grain intake, and include:
• celiac disease
• thyroid disease
• dental defects
• liver disease
• rheumatoid arthritis
A growing body of evidence is also beginning to suggest that grain consumption may also be responsible for certain neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, autism, and schizophrenia.
The solution is simple: stay away from grains
Based on the increasing number of studies showing the damage that grains can do to our bodies, if you’re suffering from chronic pain, it’s possible that grains are the cause. Here’s an idea: stop eating them! If you can’t bring yourself to remove grains completely from your diet, soaking and sprouting them can significantly reduce the concentration of anti-nutrients and make their vitamins and minerals more digestible.