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Grains – Good or Bad?

by Mila McManus, MD

The grain family includes most commonly wheat, corn, rice, millet, barley, amaranth, sorghum, spelt, buckwheat, rye, and oats, and others.

We often get asked whether grains should be included in a healthy diet. Understandably, many foods we have grown up eating, such as cereal, bread, and pasta are made from grains and are also favorite foods. For purposes of this article, the grain family includes most commonly wheat, corn, rice, millet, barley, amaranth, sorghum, spelt, buckwheat, rye, and oats, though many others exist.

We view grains as a food group that may work better for some people than others.  Individuals who are active, have normal weight and metabolic functioning, may be able to consume some grains,  if chosen and eaten properly. Regardless of the frequency with which they are eaten,  it’s important to choose carefully to avoid the problems associated with grains.

Broadly speaking, grains tend to be pro-inflammatory, rather than anti-inflammatory. The more processed they are, the less nutrient-rich they become. As a result, we put a much higher emphasis on vegetables and fruits, animal products, nuts, and seeds as the most anti-inflammatory, nutrient dense foods to consume. Grains should be consumed infrequently and more as a condiment-sized serving, or small side dish, rather than as a primary component of a meal. 

In America, most grains are heavily treated with pesticides and herbicides. Many are genetically modified.  For these two reasons, organic grains are a much better choice. Additionally, the bread aisle at the grocery store contains the most highly processed food in America.  Pasta, and most cereals, also fall into this ultra processed category where it is generous to even call it food.  In addition to pesticides, herbicides, and genetic modification, wheat is especially further altered through a process called deamidation. Acids and enzymes are applied to wheat to make it water soluble so that it mixes more easily with other foods. One study published in the European Journal of Inflammation concluded that this wheat “compound” may be the major cause of hidden inflammatory responses to foods.[1] Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MS, says our wheat is truly a fake, man-made substance that should not be honored with the name “food”.[2]

If you conduct an internet search, you will find that both wheat and gluten are in the top 10 highest food sensitivities and food allergies. [3]  Food sensitivities typically cause symptoms a few days after a food is eaten.  Food allergies[4] are more immediate, usually within minutes to an hour of eating it. For this reason, we recommend to all of our patients that they try a period of time without wheat, gluten, or other grains to see if inflammation and symptoms are reduced,  weight is lost, and cognitive function improves.

One final concern regarding grains. When pulverized into flour [e.g. wheat flour, rice flour, corn meal], not only does it lose most of its beneficial fiber and good vitamins, it also digests very rapidly, destabilizing blood sugar, causing a glucose spike and dump, which leads to pre-diabetes, weight gain, mood swings, and inflammation. Stabilized blood sugar is one of the foundational concepts of good health.  We recommend adults wear a continuous glucose monitor [CGM] for a couple of weeks so that you can understand how your body is responding to grains and other food combinations.  In our observations with glucose monitor results, grains are one of the most common blood sugar-destabilizing food groups.

Be Wise.  Be Healthy.  Be Stable.

[1] Vojdani A, O’Bryan T, Kellermann GH.  The immunology of immediate and delayed hypersensitivity reactions to gluten. European J of Inflammation. 2008;(6):1-10.

[2] Kharrazian, D. Why Isn’t My Brain Working?, Carlsbad, CA., Elephant Press. 2013. P. 134.

[3] https://www.medicinenet.com/what_are_the_most_common_food_intolerances/article.htm

[4] https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/food-allergies-what-you-need-know


By |2024-03-06T11:05:46-05:00March 7th, 2024|General|