Low-carb, high-carb, no carb, or gluten free? When it comes to grains, there are often conflicting recommendations and dietary trends, making for a challenge to sort out the facts from the hype. Can grains actually not be as healthy as once thought?

Refined versus Whole

The current Canada Food Guide recommends an adult consume 6 to 8 servings of grains per day. The US My Plate recommends 5 to 8 ounce equivalents, and instructs us to make at least half of our grain choices come from whole sources. The well-intentioned suggestion to favor whole grains does not address the fact that grains are actually quite difficult to digest for most people and the way in which they are prepared makes a huge difference. There is no comparison to good old fashioned oatmeal (not the instant or quick-cook oat variety) being soaked overnight and cooked the next day for breakfast versus a processed product such as flavored crackers made with white flour and added soybean oil, modified milk ingredients, excess salt, and artificial flavors.

Gluten Problems

There is also a growing population of individuals developing sensitivity to grains, particularly gluten. The seemingly overnight appearance of gluten-free sections in grocery stores everywhere may appear to be just a food fad to the uninformed. However, sensitivity to gluten is a growing concern for all ages, and can range from mild to a severe allergy called celiac.

According to a study done by the Mayo Clinic, celiac disease has increased 4-fold from 60 years ago. Lesser degrees of gluten sensitivity are also on the rise, and although not as dramatic as the effects of celiac, it is often a hidden culprit to many symptoms and conditions. Some common ones include bloating and gas, skin problems, fatigue (or ‘brain fog’), headaches, irritability, and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. Most people do not realize they may have gluten sensitivity until they go off it for a few weeks. Then an attempt to reintroduce gluten-containing foods for a day makes them realize how much they react in a negative way.

A relatively newly coined term in health care – leaky gut syndrome – results in the small intestine and colon becoming chronically inflamed from irritating foods. This causes partially digested proteins being taken up into the bloodstream where they normally shouldn’t be. The immune system reacts to these foreign proteins and mounts an attack, leaving a person susceptible to allergies (not only to foods but environmental as well), autoimmune diseases, and even behavioural abnormalities and learning disabilities.

Grain & Gut Health Resources

For those who want to learn more about this topic, I recommend such books as:

The last book deals more with clearing out candida (yeast) from the body caused by eating too many processed carbohydrates and refined foods, and instead replenishing the natural flora (bacteria) in the digestive tract.

Consequences of Processed Grains

Gluten sensitivity aside, processed grains are increasingly making up an unhealthily large part of the typical North American diet. This overabundance of simple carbohydrates, such as breads, bagels, muffins, pancakes, waffles, pastas, crackers, rice cakes, cookies, cereals, and granola bars causes a repeated over-stimulation of insulin, which is already more sensitive due to most people’s high-fat, animal-food centered diets. The end-product of the digestion of such carbohydrates in the body is its conversion into sugar. The pancreas becomes overtaxed and can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes. It isn’t just plain old sugar that is the culprit in someone developing diabetes, but rather a diet that was made up of far too many refined carbohydrates over the years.

Furthermore, digesting such carbohydrates requires several B-vitamins, zinc, magnesium, and chromium, all of which get depleted in the body with excess refined carbohydrates. As well as the pancreas having to secrete insulin, it also makes digestive enzymes to break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates in the small intestine. When the pancreas becomes overworked, digestion and metabolism in general becomes sluggish. Voila, a perfect recipe for gaining excess weight and having difficulty taking it off!

In another article, I will discuss how we evolved from the staple of life – bread – once being so healthy to bread now being an over-processed ‘silent killer’, the connection between heart disease and excess carbohydrate intake, as well as ways to make changes in your diet to achieve healthy weight loss, help reverse symptoms, and increase vitality.