Although there are multiple factors that effect our current health, perhaps none are as important as our nutrition. The good news is that this is something we can positively influence once given the correct information. Last week I wrote about the Soy myth, and the dangers it presents to adults and infants. I would like to keep in the same vein this week and speak about the greatest food toxin of them all – cereal grains.
In short, a toxin is something capable of causing disease or damaging tissue when it enters the body. When most people hear the word “toxin”, they think of chemicals like pesticides, or other industrial pollutants. We’ll be referring to dietary toxins here, which are much more insidious and harmful to the human body.
Cereal grains – wheat, corn, barley, rice, rye, and millet are widely used in the American diet as a health food. The American food pyramid, afterall, stresses their importance as a necessary food staple. They’ve also become the “poster children” of the low fat, high carbohydrate diet promoted by the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Diabetes Association (ADA). When you think of “whole grains” most people, in fact, think “health foods”. But the fact is that most animals, including our closest relative (the chimpanzee) aren’t adapted to eating cereal grains and don’t eat them in large quantities. And humans have only been eating them for the past 10,000 years (a tiny blip of time on the scale of evolution). There is a reason for this…
Plants like cereal grains are always competing against predators (like us) for survival. Unlike animals, plants can’t run away from us when we decide to eat them. They had to evolve other mechanisms for protecting themselves. These include:
- producing toxins that damage the lining of the gut
- producing toxins that bind essential minerals, making them unavailable to the body
- Producing toxins that inhibit digestion and absorption of other essential nutrients, including protein
One of these proteins that everyone has been hearing about recently is gluten, which is present in wheat and many of the other most commonly eaten cereal grains. It turns out that gluten is just the tip of the iceberg, and that many other compounds of wheat have a deleterious effect on our health.
This is nothing short of a public health catastrophe in a nation where the #1 source of calories is refined flour.
Here’s some important data to chew on:
Increased mortality rates
Epidemiological evidence suggests that nearly everyone who eats wheat dies earlier.
In 1976 a huge study by the Chinese government involving hundreds of millions of Chinese about their diets, gathered millions of blood and urine samples, and correlated diet with disease rates. People in different areas of China eat different staple grains, so the study correlations give a good measure of the impact of different grains on health. The correlations were:
- Wheat had a +67 percent correlation with heart disease mortality rates
- Rice had a -58 percent correlation with heart disease mortality rates (I’ll discuss the reason for this later)
- Other grains had a +39 percent correlation with heart disease mortality rates
Wheat was by far the most toxic food found in the China study.
Conclusions reached in the China study regarding cereal grains was they:
- Damage the intestine and impair digestion
- Impair immune defenses and make people vulnerable to infections
- Promote cancer growth
- Promote obesity
- Food most strongly associated with mortality
Prior to the Agricultural Revolution, which began about 10,000 years ago, grains were not a staple food for humans. When we did start to eat grains our health suffered because we were not genetically adapted to eating them. Skeletal evidence reveals that humans who adopted agriculture shrank an average of almost five inches. The bones of early farmers also revealed vitamin deficiency diseases such as beri-beri, rickets, and scurvy were also common in agriculturists.
Grains also contain a toxic compound called phytic acid which is the primary culprit in the many disastrous consequences of eating wheat and other grains. Although herbivores like cows and sheep can digest phytic acid, humans can’t. Phytic acid is bad news for human health!
With all this in mind it is easy to conclude we should avoid eating grain entirely. Most people feel better within days of doing this. The one exception to this rule is in regard to white rice. I know, you thought brown rice was supposed to be the healthy rice. The phytic acid I just discussed is formed in the husk or the bran (the outer covering) of the grain. In the case of white rice, the bran has been removed, and what remains is mostly starch. Rice is generally very well tolerated and should only be minimized for those with insulin resistance or diabetes because it breaks down quickly into glucose.
Bottom line – time to give up bread. There may be no single step that can do more to improve your health!
Yours in health,
Rick J. Bernard, L.Ac.