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What are your thoughts on grains? Should we be eating more protein and less carbs? I understand that we need complex carbs, but I am curious to see what your thoughts are on this topic. Books like 'Grain Brain' are confusing to consumers because it's making grains to be the bad guy (of course because of GMO's and the like) and the general recommendation is to have whole grains. Should the general public be consuming fewer grains than what's recommended by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

May 20, 2014

The topic of whether or not to eat grains is a great one to discuss in this type of forum

If you read my previous post on “Going Gluten Free,” I do touch on this topic a bit. The mindset behind grain-based carbs is that they are unhealthy for you, should not be consumed because our ancestors did not, and they “make you fat.” Let's go through some of these misconceptions.

Modern Wheat is the Problem - It's true that wheat is a relatively new plant. But it can be put it in many different environments and it will adapt. Modern wheat's genome is 5x the size of the human genome. This is the reason why wheat is so successful at feeding the world - it can adapt to many climates. However, claims made in Wheat Belly, Grain Brain, etc. state that modern wheat is tainted by selective breeding and genetic modification, creating Gliadin, the protein that causes individuals with Celiacs disease to have a reaction. This is not true however - ancient species of wheat contain gliadin as well, and individuals with gluten sensitivity or Celiacs should avoid these. There is no data to suggest that changes in wheat's genome have a detrimental effect on health. With the many varieties that have been developed by planting wheat in different environments, saying ‘modern wheat' or 'ancient wheat' is far too broad to account for the genomic changes that occur from region to region. There is also limited evidence to suggest that GMO foods are detrimental to your health. People are so negative about GMO foods because they seem “unnatural,” but reach for the neon yellow cheese sauce anyway without a second thought.

The Glycemic Index of Wheat is Very High due to Amylopectin - Amylose and amylopectin are the two major types of starch found in plant foods that get broken down into individual glucose molecules so that your body can absorb them and use them for energy. The Glycemic index (GI) measures how 50g of a specific food affects your blood sugar levels after consumption. Besides the fact that the GI is not a measure of health, and is drastically effected by other foods included in a meal and preparation methods, there is nothing too special about wheat's amylose to amylopectin ratio. Davis, the author of Wheat Belly, sensationalizes the issue saying that whole wheat has a higher GI than sugar - this would not be surprising, if it were true, as wheat is long chains of just glucose, and sugar is half glucose, half fructose. Contrary to what a non-scientist might think, sugar does not have a high glycemic index to begin with, so comparing wheat to it does not make any scientific sense. In reality, whole wheat does have a slightly lower GI than the internationally accepted values for white bread, potatoes, rice and sugar. Fruthermore, as soon as you slap some almond or peanut butter on that whole wheat bread, the GI will drop. The GI is also not a great parameter of the glycemic response of the food - the better scientists use glycemic load to more accurately represent a food's effect on blood sugar. If you use the glycemic load, whole wheat doesn't look so bad though - can't sell books about that though.

Gluten has opioid-like effects on the brain -  When your body breaks down gluten, the gliadin protein residues are incompletely digested to a seven amino acid long chain called gliadorphins. However, your gut absorbs only free amino acids, and di- and tri- peptides. There is no known transporter for this protein residue, and can therefore not be absorbed and travel to the brain to elicit any drug-like effects. There is no data to substantiate the claims that wheat causes an addictive-like effect, withdrawal symptoms, or over-eating. If you lose weight by cutting out wheat, it’s because you’re cutting out calories - many individuals who cut out wheat tend to replace it with lower calorie, more fiber/protein dense foods that make you feel more full than wheat did.

A lot of people are likely gluten sensitive - Yes, there is data backing up gluten sensitivity, and its role in Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). This is estimated to occur in about 5-10% of the population. However, these individuals have varied symptoms, and it has been proposed that other food components, besides gluten and found in many other foods, are the real issue. These other components are known as FODMAPs - easily fermentable carbohydrates that cause some individuals intestinal distress. Low FODMAPs diets have gained a lot of popularity and have good research supporting them- enough that Australia has an official low-FODMAPs label. Wheat is high in FODMAPs, and reducing your consumption may be ideal - but lowering your consumption of FODMAPs from all sources may be necessary, and just going wheat-free may not adequately resolve your symptoms. Seek out the advice of your doctor or gastroenterologist, and the help of a qualified Registered Dietitian.

However, if a person is not gluten sensitive, which 90-95% of the population is not, then eliminating grains does not make sense. Making grains the “bad guy” stems from the fact that Americans eat too much, it can be highly processed, and it is usually thrown in every processed food on the market today. Our bodies need glucose to survive, and this comes from (but not only from) grains. Eating an adequate amount, as recommended by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is meant to promote optimal health and nutrition. My book, The Slice Plan, talks about this in depth and teaches people how to eat a healthy diet with every food group (including grains) while building a healthy relationship with food that is not based on fear or media-based critiques.

The issue at hand here is that diet books are not scientific. Sure they may be based on scientific articles. But the other half of science is called peer review. Peer review is, as it sounds, when your scientific peers read your research/review, and ensure that your methodology was correct, and that the conclusions you draw make sense. If any of these claims made in Grain Brain were put up against a review committee, the issues that have been pointed out would’ve been noted, and it would have never been published. Unfortunately, diet books aren’t peer-reviewed. And that’ s because they’re usually not trying to represent all of the literature that’s there - they want to sell new copies, and to do that, you have to say something that’s not been said before. It’s about money, not science-based health recommendations.

Sorry for the long answer, but I hope this helps. Happy Eating!

Zachari Breeding, RDN, LDN & Kevin Klatt, Assistant Site Manager for:

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