Grains: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

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If you listen to the ideology of some mainstream diets out there, it would appear that grains are the latest diet villain, following in the footsteps of fats (healthy ones) and even fruits (because of their natural sugar). (And off the topic- still, still (!)- these typical mainstream diets never suggest that there is such a thing as eating too much protein. After all, they want to preserve the food they love- and their steak, even at the expense of kidney failure and colon cancer). Some diet plans tell us that it’s unnatural for us to eat grains, that they do more harm than good and that agriculture has thrown human digestion off its proper course for some time.

It’s not true. We’re designed to eat grains. We’ve evolved to eat them because the human body adapts in order to survive, and can get vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and even antioxidants from whole grains. The ability to eat grains is one of the miniscule differences between our digestive systems and our primate relatives’, which we’ll discuss more below—there’s about a one-percent difference.

Our Ancestors Ate Grains at Least 105,000 Years Ago

This of course, spans time during the Paleolithic period, which ended around 10,000 years ago.

All signs point to the fact that our ancestors were, in fact, eating grains very long ago. Much of human evolution happened in the savannahs of Africa—grasslands. Whole grains are seeds, usually from certain grasses. It makes sense to assume that they were already eating the grains before they knew they wanted to cultivate the seeds.

Scientific American and Science point out that there’s evidence that our ancestors were getting energy from grains as early as the Middle Stone Age, based on grass seed residue (wild sorghum) on tools found in Mozambique. That was 105,000 years ago.shutterstock_77590927

A compilation of grain- and starch-based diets at EarthSave shows that barley and oats (which offer fiber, vitamin E, vitamin B, calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, copper, zinc, iron, and manganese and help fight cellulite) were eaten in the Middle East 11,000 years ago; corn was a mainstay in Central and South America 7000 years ago; rice and wheat were consumed in Asia 10,000 years ago; and for 6,000 years millet (helpful for easing migraines, metabolizing fat, repairing body tissue, and creating energy) and and sorghum have been consumed in Africa. Now the residue on those tools from Mozambique puts the sorghum consumption much longer ago than that.

Another report from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that Neanderthals, who disappeared around 30,000 years ago, consumed grains as well. According to this article, pollen records indicate that though plant availability fluctuated depending on the glacial cycle, the calorie-dense grass seeds and cattails would have survived even during the colder times. Teeth from Neanderthal skeletons found in Shanidar Cave, Iraq, and Spy Cave, Belgium had starch grains in their coatings.

Agriculture really took off around 10,000 years ago, during the Neolithic Age, but our ancestors were storing grains 1,000 years before that. Once they discovered they could create their own reliable source of food, they were no longer forced to wander to find things to eat. They could finally settle down, and the population grew. And because grain storage was possible (as it wasn’t with plants and meat), they could survive even during unfavorable times. According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a huge collection of grains from 23,000 years ago was found in Israel. Once people settled down and domesticated plants for food, they flourished. According to History World International, the population jumped from between five and eight million people to 60 to 70 million in just 4,000 to 5,000 years once farming became the norm.

Think about it: why would earlier humans spend the time and energy to cultivate things they weren’t already eating? Why would they shift their whole way of living for the sake of something that just “might” work? And how would the population have thrived if it were unnatural to eat grains? We’ve been eating grains for thousands of years with positive results! We’ve survived as a species because of the ability to grow them, store them, and use them for energy.

The Evolution of the Human Digestive System

Because of the need to eat grains for energy and possibly even to stay alive at all at times, the human digestive system evolved to better break them down. The human body was already designed to eat plants, so it wasn’t a giant leap when we began eating grains. Our digestive system is extremely similar to that of chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas, but we do one thing better than them: digest grains. As an article at Scientific American says, “Our guts do not seem to be specialized hominid guts; they are, instead, relatively generalized monkey/ape guts,” humans have evolved to have more amylase, which breaks down starchy foods. According to EarthSave, humans have six copies of amylase; apes have two. This additional amylase may have contributed to brain growth in humans because it helped break the starches down, supplying the brain with extra sugar (the brain’s preference for fuel). So in a way, grains aren’t just a natural part of our diet—they’re part of what made us who we are.

Why reject grains and pretend that the evolution involving increased amylase in our saliva never happened? If we weren’t designed to eat starches and grains, why does our bodies naturally produce the enzymes to break them down?

The Health Benefits of Grains

Grains were obviously more than something to fill our ancestors’ stomachs to take the edge off of hunger as they hunted and gathered. They were a valuable source of nutrition in a powerful, tiny little package. Grains contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber and have no cholesterol while being low in fat.

shutterstock_112595120Some arguments against grains lament the presence of phytic acid, something that is said to block the body’s ability to use zinc and calcium. Not only does some research show that phytic acid serves a purpose in the human body (it works as an antioxidant, helping to protect against heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other diseases according to EarthSave), but once the grains are leavened, the phytic acid’s negative effects no longer apply.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, whole grain consumption “substantially lowers total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or bad) cholesterol, triglycerides, and insulin levels.” That means a decreased risk of heart disease. The fiber triggers anticoagulant production which then prevents blood clots, and the antioxidants interfere with an interaction between LDL cholesterol and oxygen, an introduction that could contribute to the clogging of the arteries. In addition, Harvard points out that the fiber decreases the likelihood of experiencing constipation and helps sweep toxic residue out of the body.

Grains Also Make You More Beautiful

Beauty Grains, including millet, quinoa, amaranth, brown rice and buckwheat, are gluten-free, high in fiber, rich in minerals and digest easily. They’re the absolute best choices for grains.

In addition to migraine relief, help in metabolizing fat, tissue repair assistance, and energy creation, millet helps create strong bones, keeps the thyroid gland healthy, can calm your nerves, and regulates the secretion of glucose and insulin.

Quinoa assists in tissue growth and repair, relaxes blood vessels and muscles, and helps you push toxins out of your body.

Buckwheat provides fiber and protein along with amino acids for tissue and collagen repair. It can also stabilize blood sugar, and lower blood pressure and cholesterol. It’s especially easy to digest when it’s soaked and sprouted.

While those aren’t the most ubiquitous grains in restaurants, you can opt for brown rice, wild rice, or soba noodles (they’re made from buckwheat) when you go out to eat. Just be sure to skip wheat products. Wheat is not as nutritious as it once was due to inferior soil quality, plus it is often contaminated with pesticides and sometimes even molds and fungi. Wheat also contains gluten, a common allergy that will drain your Beauty Energy.

One Caveat: You Must Eat Whole Grains

I’m not telling you to run out and stock up on white rice and sugary cereals (despite many of those cereals’ “health” or “whole grain” claims), nor am I saying you should base your whole entire diet on grains, and eat huge amounts of them at every meal. Remember all your Beauty Detox principles. Start the day with Glowing Green Smoothie. Eat salads to start lunch and dinner, or entree salads. Eat vegetable soups, veggie dishes, fruit, seeds, nuts, and yes some grains. If you need more ideas, check out the recipe section here or in Beauty Detox Foods. shutterstock_77983462

Refined grains are stripped of most of their nutrients, leaving you with empty calories and very few health benefits. Like a house built on sand! When you eat refined grains, you’re just cheating yourself of Beauty food.

You’ll be missing out on the bran and germ and only eating the endosperm portion of the grain. In the refining process, the B and E vitamins, fiber, minerals, and phytochemicals from the bran and germ are stripped away, leaving only the carbohydrates and protein from the endosperm for consumption. Just as you need to eat whole grains as part of a diet balanced with vegetables and fruit, you need the harmony of the bran, endosperm, and germ’s nutritional benefits—not just those of one part.

The proof of whole grains’ place in our diet is in our history. Grains are a big reason we are the way we are today. Agriculture—grains–made it possible to settle down, become more social, store food for later, rapidly increase the population, and possibly even expanded our brains. How could something with so many benefits, so many nutrients, be detrimental to us? Remember, we most likely weren’t going to start cultivating something we weren’t already eating. As long as you’re consuming whole grains with everything nature intended still intact, you’re doing your body a favor each time you dig into a bowl of oatmeal or serve up some spiced quinoa next to a plate full of veggies.

To make healthy choices, it’s important that you know the difference of multi-grain vs. whole grain vs. whole wheat.

Some are a few of my favorite Beauty Detox dishes that include grains:

  • Gluten-free Low-sugar Sprouted Buckwheat Granola (it’s great for traveling!)
  • Rainbow Quinoa-Stuffed Bell Peppers
  • Kale, Carrot, Pinto Bean and Quinoa Stew
  • Quinoa, Squash, Avocado and Microgreen Timbale Stacks
  • Cracked Caraway Seed, Brussels Sprout, Squash and Carrot Stew over Brown Rice

Enjoy and be well!

 

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42 Responses to “Grains: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

  1. As much as I agree with you about organic veggie consumption, The scientific evidence is Against Grains, particularly those containing gluten. (Those of Middle Eastern descent have eaten grains in any substantial quantity the longest, so gluten tends to not be a problem). The world’s leading expert on paleolithic diets is Loren Cordain, Ph.D. If you want the most objective data using the gold standard scientific method, Loren is source #1. His website is: Thepaleodiet.com and his groundbreaking book “The Paleo Diet” proves that the truth is truly in excellent research. I used to extoll the virtues of whole grains despite Horrible bouts of IBS and low energy & weight gain. I really didn’t want to believe that grains are not good for us. By going Paleo, my IBS is Gone, I feel more energetic & am losing weight. Paleo doesn’t mean just eating meat! One of the best Paleo websites is Marksdailyapple.com because it contains huge amounts of accurate info. Bty, increases in human brain size were due to increased consumption of animal & fish sources of omega 3 fatty acids, not grains

  2. Great article and repeating what I instinctively know to be true. Thanks, Kimberly. Let’s hope people spread the word.
    We have a new grain (NOT GM) in Canada called Cavena Nuda which you may not have heard of: it is an unhulled oat grain. I saw it at CHFS Health show a few years ago and the grower has since appeared on our version of ‘Shark Tank’ to great success. It is very high in protein, calcium and fibre, much more than rice, and has a wonderful chewiness like brown rice or barley. The downside is that, like wild rice, it takes a while to cook so if you aren’t patient, a slow-cooker or pressure cooker comes in handy. Since you have to search for it here in Canada, I doubt that you will have it in the U.S. yet but it will be something to watch for and may help your Canadian followers. Here’s the link for the nutrition as a comparison to rice and oats (pretty awesome numbers):
    It’s essentially gluten-free (<5ppm) but while our Health committee here in Canada works on the criteria for oats and their GF status (in regards to contamination), the grower has had to remove this claim from the label.

  3. I appreciate you drawing attention to the issues- but there is no ONE rule fits us all. I have Crohn’s and have done every elimination diet possible, and I will say that every grain I’ve tried has hurt my guts! Rice, wheat, you name it. NO GRAINS for me. Overall I agree with your diet suggestions though- lots of veggies, fruits and clean meats.

  4. Hi Kimberly,
    I was talking to friend who said some good friend of hers are on the paleo diet and drinking something called “bullet coffee”: a stick of butter goes in with coffee grains and they grin them down. She said he lost twenty pounds on the paleo diet. However as she explained a bit more I could not help shaking my head and saying sound so unhealthy. I told her you had written some information on it and tried to search it, but instead of finding your article which is no longer on your blog, I would really like to read your article and share it with my friend. Can you put it up again? I own both your books and visit the your blog daily.
    Linda

  5. Hi, Kimberly, ilove everything in your new book ! i am in England and a huge fan converting friends and family
    with love Lynda xxx

  6. I wanted to say how refreshing it is to read some sensible advice about food and would love to know how you get all of your information.

    I am passionate about nutrition and so I am looking forward to hearing more from you. I am a UK size 8 (US 2 or 4?), yet when I eat nuts, avocados, grains, fruits. I always have people telling me how bad they are for me, it drives me mad, it is great to point them to a place where there is researched evidence of the sensible benefits of such food. I am trying to get all my friends out of the habit of counting calories and fat. Thank you for the help!

  7. Thanks Kim! Once again, you nailed another topic that has been coming up at the dinner table and frustrating me…. You are the best! :)

  8. Thank you for answering this question. I saw the Dr. oz show on the paleo diet and about jumped out of my chair. Talk about setting us back (about 1,000,000 yrs) and it also attacked legumes, saying they were inflammatory foods along with dairy. I feel it’s just another way to get attention for losing weight, but one thing that they did point out is to only get grass fed meats and alike. Hopefully this will raise awareness about the horrors of animal agriculture.

  9. Thanks for the reminder of the benefits of grains! It seems like all of our “everyday” grain foods are wheat based, so it was good to hear your thoughts on better grain choices. Now I need some good recipes for quinoa…I guess it’s time to start looking!

  10. My understanding is that, yes, our ancestors ate grains, but they were prepared in a certain way: soaked, sprouted, fermented, etc. The process sometimes took weeks. I would love more information on how to prepare grains like our ancestors did so that they are healthy for us.

  11. Nice article. It would be worth doing a deeper analysis of some of what you referred to as “beauty grains” as I have a sneaking suspicion that most of those (other than rice) are technically known as seeds or even fruit seeds in the case of buckwheat. I think most of the things in this arena that make you well and promote long living are likely to be seeds not grains. Brown rice excluded obviously.

    Also the presence of leaven (yeast) in breads to nullify phytic acid’s impact is interesting as yeast is also an antagonist to mineral absorption.

    Anyway all of this does point to some grains being less healthful than others and possibly therefore enjoyed more in moderation. I love your promotion of quinoa which is very healthful and it is the seed of the goosefoot plant. Great source of protein! Love your articles and recipes Kimberly; thank you.

  12. I have always eaten whole grains…including brown rice, oatmeal and buckwheat, and quinoa. But, recently I have been hearing everywhere that phytic acid robs your body of nutrients, or counteracts the nutritional value of the grain. What is the importance of soaking grains before consuming them (to rid them of the acid)? How do you appropriately soak (I read somewhere you have to add vinegar or lemon juice to the water)? Do I have to soak all grains…or just certain types?
    Please help!

  13. Kimberly,

    I have both your books and agree with the majority of info. I have commented and asked for help many times, and while I know you cannot possibly answer every comment, I DO need help in this area. I don’t think that grains are necessarily evil–however, my symptoms became worse following BDS. I found I did need more protein beside GGS in the AM, pain levels increased with grain consumption, and fatigue worse with out animal protein (though I have tried to be vegan and veg a few times through out life.) I know that in my case leaky gut was an issue–so following a paleo template (minus the bacon,pork,glorified junk paleo amuck on the internet) and removing the offending foods (grains), my health improved. Lately, I put grains back in , and some of the symptoms are creeping back. Can you help? Is it possible that your approach does not work for everyone or am I missing something. I am NOT a junk eater–I eat tons of greens, veggies, limit fruit, and eat absolutely no sugar except for the occasional 85% dark org chocolate.

  14. People who say that eating grains or carbs most certainly have had no scientific education. Any undergraduate biochemistry student who has taken metabolism will know that the way we get energy (ATP) revolves all around carbs through the processes of glycolysis, Citric Acid cycle, and the electron transport chain. Our bodies have evolved to use carbs as energy!!! When you consume protein and fats, they get converted into intermediates that will become part of those three pathways mentioned.

    Eating too much protein is not very healthy because upon metabolism, proteins get converted into urea (yes the stuff we pee out). Too much urea is highly toxic to our bodies and can lead to brain damage. It’s crazy that high protein diets are becoming popular.

    THANK YOU for writing this article, it does dispel a lot of the myths surrounding grains.

  15. Great article! I loved how you backed everything up and explained everything very well. Grains are definitely a hot topic. People definitely need more education in this area, and this article is a great place to start!

  16. (I am sorry, the comment I just posted had some typos I should have corrected. Please use this edited comment instead of the one preceding it. :o) )
    I am a Christ-follower and the Bible is where I find my answers. In Genesis, God tells us grains are good for us, Joseph stores grain for the Israelites in preparation for the upcoming famine and in the New Testament, Jesus and his disciple ate grain relatively a short time ago. As our calendar is divided, B.C.-”Before Christ” and A.D. “Anno Domini meaning the year of our Lord” which puts Christ’s life historically at around 2040 years ago.
    Here is a verse soon after the Creation account in Genesis 1:29
    Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” After the flood God did give Noah meat as food, but there was no vegetation at that time and it was necessary, but not God’s ideal.
    God is good and His food is best.! As we stick to His ways, we find His wisdom.
    Thank you Kimberly for helping us to get back to health. Your recipes are fabulous. I have your new book and love the recipes. My favorite so far is Sweet Potato Shepherd Pie. I even served it for Easter dinner and the whole family loved it!

  17. The only check I would place on grains is that they should be pure – not genetically altered and organic – then enjoy!

  18. I’m curious, why do you think white rice is consumed more commonly over brown rice? Was brown rice the norm before white rice became more popular? White rice is more often available and seems to be the traditional choice in Asian cultures.

  19. Kimberly,
    This is such a great article you wrote. You have a way of explaining things simply and to the point. I have been mostly vegan for 35 years now, and I still enjoy reading about proof of the healthfulness of a vegan diet. There is so much science and studies about what our ancestors ate that prove this is our natural diet. The natural diet we were designed to eat can make all the difference in how we feel and look. It is as simple as “Whole , Natural, Plant-based Food”. That is the answer to our healthcare problems. And you do a great job of getting that point across.

    Thank you,
    Marge

  20. Can you give me an idea as to whether Ezekiel 4:9 bread this is a good product that fits what you’ve described above as part of the beauty detox foods?

    Thanks

  21. Maybe, it is a given since you tout the use of organic produce whenever possible, but nowhere in this blog did you mention to stay away from grains not listed as non-GMO or organic. Some grains are yet to be manipulated by companies like Monsanto at this point, but far too many grains are being genetically manipulated to allow Roundup to be used on them. The medical studies being done on these foods is scary.

  22. Dear Kimberly,
    Next month, I’m going to turn 71, and I’m happy as a lark and fit as a fiddle on my beloved personalized Paleo diet.

    Certainly and “big time” references are stellar, but many of us NYT readers hold the Ivy league elitists in a special box of “bought-off” so-called scholars, considering all the corporate funding they’ve come to depend on. I don’t know about you, but the word is getting out about corporate funding being the last-gasp of the American empire.

    Why bother with your version of a grain-based diet when it is at least as much of a challenge as the Paleo? For over 40 years I ate a basic macrobiotic diet, and managed to pack on a couple of pounds a year. I started checking out other “healthful” diets, from the Mediterranean to the Sough Beach. None of these worked. I stumbled across the “cave man” diet on a body-building site, and it worked. Within a year 90 lbs were history, and I also realized that the reason why I felt like I was starving eating your favorite grains was because I felt like I was starving all the time.

    At this time, the information became available about carbohydrate addiction and the lure of “comfort foods”. I was a carbohydrate addict before the word got out.

    Certainly most Americans are dependent on chemicalized S.A.D. Standard American Diet) foods along with barked goods and sugar. Little wonder that they are coming down with ultimately fatal inflammatory diseases from heart disease, through dementia, diabetes, cancer, etc.

    You really ought to read “Primal Body, Primal Mind” by Nora T. Gedgaudas. Her knowledge base leaves yours in the dust!.

    A number of your rationalizations about the history of grain-eating are mostly based on the assumption that the agricultural allowed enough time for man’s physiology could have evolved during that relatively brief time.

    I consider you to be a con artist who is trying to sell something that just won’t work for most people! Of course, you get the joy of laughing all the way to the bank in the meantime.

    There’s a lot to becoming exceptionally healthy, especially at my age (71) and older. I’m not a mainstream person, which is why my success is so exceptional. For instance, I make my own fermented vegetables all the time. I cook only from scratch. And I practice mindfulness/heart-fulness all the time.

    My greatest attribute is my ability to constantly evolve and improve my way of living. Mindfulness is the key. Scientific proof even exists to demonstrate that the amygdala (center of fearfulness), is physiologically changed through mindfulness. Even the structure of our brain can be permanently changed, freeing us from the grip of often unconscious fear(s).

    Since I live in Sedona, Arizona, a wealthy retirement area, I know first-hand just how difficult it is to change, and how the S.A.D. diet lifestyle cuts years off life’s length. I have yet to meet a laggardly and wealthy retiree who would switch to your version of a healthy diet, or my beloved Paleo diet, either.

    In closing, I resent your casting aspersions on my beloved Paleo diet as some sort of fad. You’re just trying to establish yourself as being in the mainstream. Believe me, you’re no close to the mainstream than I am. Everyone I know still eats sugar-dipped doughnuts at the breakfast meetings, except me. When I’m asked about it, I don’t pontificate, I just say I have food allergies to wheat and sugar. I’ve been benefiting from my “new way of living diet” for six years, now, and along the way I cured a heart rhythm condition myself, saving Medicare a $150k operation. When I started rubbing down with magnesium oil, my condition cleared up in less than two weeks. So much for the credibility of corporate controlled cardiologists!

  23. This does make sense. Why would something from nature be harmful to our bodies? The problem with grains today is the amount we eat and the type. Everything has wheat and like you stated wheat is a problem for many reasons: gluten, pesticides, inferior soil-type in which it is grown.
    Eating non-gluten containing grains along with veggies, legumes, and fruit will provide your daily nourishment. Go Grains!

  24. I would like to start eating more whole grains and would like to know good recipes i can use to get started with this.

  25. You ask: “How could something with so many benefits, so many nutrients, be detrimental to us?”
    Watch the answer from this Cardiologist and author of Wheat Belly. I have nothing to gain from posting this, i just want people to have the whole story and be truly healthy and feel great!
    Vegetarians and Vegans always eat grains, because they have cut out so many other food groups. That doesn’t make it healthy or right, though.

  26. Ugh….Thank you! It’s so frustrating hearing all this talk recently about eating all this meat and cutting out whole grains..doesn’t make sense at all! Thanks for the fabulous info!!

  27. Kim, I love you to death and your books and your digestive recommendations. However, please stop beating the dead horse that is the myth “high protein causes kidney failure”. It simply does not in people with healthy kidneys. It’s like having a sprained ankle and trying to run. Running isn’t particularly bad for healthy ankles, but for an unhealthy ankle running is VERY bad. It’s the same with high protein diets and kidney function. Bad kidneys cannot handle all the protein. Good kidneys handle it without a flinch and without any harm done!

  28. While your posts are entertaining and somewhat informative, I really believe that they are a little mis-leading. Grains in their current form were not domesticated until about 10,000 years ago. That’s a long time for me but a millisecond in the grand scheme of things. What you are alluding to in your article is that whole grains and unprocessed grains are the same, void of any additives, or gene altering methods as we see in today’s grocery store. While it is semantically accurate that grains are seeds. It is not accurate to imply that “whole grain” or “whole wheat” is the same as a whole unprocessed seeds which in turn has a totally different physiology once consumed.

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