ARE GRAINS EVIL? FEATURING ARNOLD SCHWARZNEGGER
In a continuation of my quest to find the cause of many unwanted symptoms such as bloating, cramps, sinus congestion, anxiety, infertility, ear infections and autoimmune symptoms (and many others), I am examining each of the potential, high allergy offenders (listed here).
This is the first suspect from the line up… GRAINS!
Since I don’t have a year to write on this subject matter, nor do YOU have the time or inclination to read this subject matter for an entire year, I have had to be somewhat concise and skip the positives of which are irrelevant in finding out who caused The Evil Gas. So do keep in mind, that these offenders do have a good side.
Now…let’s get into it shall we? Take a seat and hang on, because what I’m about to tell you, may make you fall off your seat.
Part of the Poaceae family, edible grains (cereal grains) were first cultivated around 10,000BC. (1) Cereal grains include oats, wheat, maize (corn), rice, barley, and millet and are also grouped with ‘pseudo grains’ quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth. Although the latter three are not truly part of the Poaceae family, they are similar in nutrients and often are classified in this group.
The main cereal grains are wheat, corn and rice, of which make up to 75% of the worlds grain production (2). Food grains also include legumes (pulses such as chickpeas, soy bean and lentils), but we will cover legumes in a separate blog for fear of wearing my finger pads down to the bone.
Righto, its quiz time!
Name 3 products made from grains. READY…SET…GO!
And to help you find your answers, here’s some thinking music.
I bet that most of you thought of these guys:
- breakfast cereal
Well, you can also add these fellas to that list too:
- soy sauce
- chicken salt
- potato chips
- cous cous
- chicken nuggets
- soup mixes
- and many more…
It’s easy to see from this long list of products, that we consume a large amount of grain. In fact, in some countries, bread alone provides more than 50% of total calorie intake (2). Yep! And don’t forget, that grain is now eaten by most of the animals that we then consume (what they eat, we eat…). So grain being high in Omega 6 content, can then be bypassed onto us. Thanks very much. That is why, grass-fed meat is a better option (as its higher in omega 3). We can look more closely at fats down the track…
To give you some idea of how much wheat we consume in Australia, its around 5 million tonnes of wheat annually. Approximately half is used in the production of wheat products for consumption including gluten and starch, and the other half is used as stock feed. (7)
REFINED GRAIN VS WHOLEGRAIN
According to the Whole Grains Council, whole grains are “the entire seed of a plant. This seed (which industry calls a “kernel”) is made up of three key edible parts – the bran, the germ, and the endosperm”. This whole grain is linked with vitamins, minerals, protein, fat and enzymes. However, it is also linked to anti-nutrients that we discuss below.
Refined grains in comparison, are processed grains that have the germ and the bran stripped out of them. And with the bran and germ, goes the vitamins, minerals turning the grain into an empty calorie with minimal nutrients. Refined grains also have a high glyceamic load, causing a rapid increase of glucose in the body. Not what you want if you are planning on keeping your energy levels stable throughout the day.
GRAINS IN YOUR BODY
CARBS TO GLUCOSE
Grains are carbohydrates that are converted to glucose (sugar) in the body. With the increase of glucose in the blood, insulin is secreted from the pancreas acting like an escort for the glucose, taking it out of the blood to the liver and then on to storage (as glycogen). If glycogen is already stored to capacity in the muscles and liver (Hello baby Jesus, no room in the Inn!), the cells become insulin resistant in an attempt to turn the excess glucose away. But now the glucose can’t get into any of the cells, so it keeps swimming around the blood. So…the poor pancreas pumps out MORE insulin in an attempt to escort the glucose somewhere. Eventually, the glucose, needing a home, moves into fat cells where it turns on fat production.
Refined grains, of which cause a rapid glucose spike in the body, make the pancreas, adrenal glands and thyroid work overtime in an attempt to mop up the excess glucose in your body. Consistent refined carbohydrate intake can disrupt this process causing a host of issues and conditions including depression, allergies, obesity, alcoholism and behavioural problems (10).
Glucose increases fat storage through a process called de novo lipogenesis (DNL) – sounds like a name for a funky gym, doesn’t it?! “Get fit with us at de Novo lipogenesis”.
Glucose increases fat storage by activating fat production through DNL and by activating insulin that reduces fat breakdown. So essentially, you make MORE fat, while using LESS fat. Doh!
Once insulin is released, it decreases the breakdown of glycogen (glycogenolysis), decreases production of glucose (gluconeogenesis) and decreases the breakdown of fat (lipolysis). In other words, insulin released in response to high blood glucose tells the body TO STOP BREAKING DOWN FAT.
Insulin also increases glycogen storage and protein synthesis, which has an anabolic effect (meaning it is muscle building). Some athletes will consume carbohydrates after a workout for this reason – to increase insulin and protein synthesis on the hope of building muscles! BUT…if you want to build muscle, you can’t just consume refined carbohydrates and sit on your couch praying for muscles to come and knock on the door. This “building” aspect, only occurs if you combine exercise with insulin release.(10)
So let’s review this theory…
Couch Time + A Bowl of Pasta = Carb Intake = Insulin Increase = Fat Synthesis = Fatty Mc Fat Fat
A Workout + Some Carb Intake (sweet potato) = Insulin Increase = Increase in Protein Synthesis = Arnold Schwarzenegger
Well kind of…you get the idea!
Grains are known to exhibit molecular mimicry, causing a multitude of issues in the body (3). Let me explain with an analogy, using Arnold Schwarzenegger again (I really do watch too much television don’t I?!)
Let’s take two twins – Arnie is the good twin (your own protein), Danny Devito – the evil twin (grain protein).
The good twin Arnie, is in a bar (your body) having a dance. Now along comes the Devito the evil twin (grain), who is a bit rough-around-the-edges, and is not meant to be in the bar. Sensing trouble, someone calls security (your antibodies), who approach Danny (grain) and escort him out of the bar. All is good.
But then…security who were called to kick out Danny, start to try to kick out Arnie too, not realising that he (your own body’s proteins) is actually harmless, and was just having a dance. This can all occur in any room in the bar by the way (the brain, skin, pancreas etc), and this all ends with the club owner (your health) having to pay hefty fines.
Phew…that was quite a story! Lets have a break and watch Arnie sing and sweat in “Arnie” for a bit. Down, up, down, up…more energy!!
Ok, hold on…don’t put on your dancing shoes just yet, we have more to learn. Lets keep reading…
Wheat is also known to have a ‘feel good’ reaction due to being excitotoxic. This is because of the high levels of the amino acids glutamic and aspartic acid of which cause an over stimulation of nerves (opioid receptors) in the brain, and are also thought responsible for wheat’s exceptional taste. Glutamic acid is what Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is derived from (that and kelp). (17)
ARE GRAINS TOXIC?
Plants, like animals have self-defense mechanisms that allow them to survive – think an animal having an inbuilt ability to out run its prey. Well, plants have their own mechanisms to protect themselves too; toxins embedded in their seeds. These toxins include phytates, lectins and gluten (3). Let’s take a look at each of these self-defense mechanisms more closely…
Lectins (stemming from a word meaning “to choose”) are proteins that literally choose which carbohydrates they attach to. They are resistant to stomach acid and digestive enzymes and are therefore, unable to be broken down by the body. They have the ability to clump, or bind, to almost any cell in the body, meaning they can pass through our entire digestive system, crossing into the systemic circulation interfering with hormonal balance, metabolism and can inhibit actions of Insulin-like Growth Factor (of which is thought to facilitate in cancer development) (1,3)
Lectins are found in many foods, however, there are foods that have higher amounts of lectin, such as grains (especially wheat, but also quinoa, rice, buckwheat, oats, rye, barley, millet and corn), legumes (all dried beans, including soy and peanuts), dairy and the nightshade family (including tomatoes, eggplants and potato).
Wheat (and barley and rye) contains a certain lectin called wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), which has the same strong bonds as vulcanized rubber and human hair (8,11). The highest WGA concentrations are found in wheat germ, with unprocessed wheat germ i.e. muesli, containing higher amounts of active WGA than processed (9). WGA seems to take a liking to (that is, it ‘chooses’) N-Acetyl Glucosamine (which we use to build various tissues and bone in the body) and N-Acetylneuraminic acid (sialic acid). So WGA binds to these guys.
Now…this is where it gets interesting. The protective mucous our cells use to line all the mucous membranes, from the nasal cavity right through the entire digestive tract, as well as the blood vessels, is composed of both N-Acetyl Glucosamine and N-Acetylneuraminic acid. Are you seeing a potential issue here? I am.
A single slice of wheat bread contains approximately 500 micrograms of WGA. According to one report, this 500gm if refined and injected, could create such powerful clumping and binding actions that it could potentially create a clot causing myocardial infarction and stroke (8). Although, no one is about to inject WGA into their arm, it gives you an idea of how powerful its actions.
Hold the phone…I nearly fell off my seat, even if you didn’t! Let me get back up off the floor.
So what do lectins actually do?
Lectins have a huge impact on the gut lining as they can bind to the brush border cells (cells in the lining of your gut) damaging the membrane, which can cause shedding of cells and leaky gut leading to inflammation and poor absorption of nutrients. They can also interfere with the immune system, and the bacteria of the gut causing overgrowth (e.g candidia) and can also interfere with hormones. This damage to the gut wall (leaky gut) may also allow other proteins to cross over into the circulation undigested, causing allergic reactions, autoimmune disorders and degenerative diseases.
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE…
Lectins can also cause leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone that acts as a signal to the brain to inhibit food intake, enables storage of excess calories, is involved in glucose and fat metabolism and the reproductive system. So essentially, leptin regulates energy intake and appetite. Interestingly, most obese humans have high levels of leptin, suggesting that leptin resistance causes human obesity.(15,16)
Gluten (derived from the latin word meaning “glue”, yes seriously!), the main structural protein of wheat, is made up of glutenins and gliadins (9). It is a large, water-soluble protein that makes dough become nice and elastic and stretchy.(14) Gliadin can be found in wheat, rye, barley, and oat and contains a lectin that binds to gut lining, thus being termed the “coeliac disease toxin” for over 20 years. It is also known to upregulate the production of the protein – zonulin, which modulates intestinal permeability (that is, it controls what comes and goes through the gut) (5,1,16).
Gluten also causes gut irritation and inflammation and has been linked to such as osteoporosis, irritable bowel, cancer, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, migraines, autism and dementia(2,16).
Further, a byproduct of gliadin can pass through to the brain and organs activating opioid receptors resulting in altered brain function (16). These gluten exorphins, a group of opioids formed post digestion of gluten protein, are thought to play a role in autism, schizophrenia, ADHD and other neurological conditions. This opiate like byproduct has also been thought to cause a similar addictive effect to narcotics, in that they create a “feel good” effect, which is potentially why it is known as a comfort food.
Further, wheat gliadin is structurally similar to the proteins in the thyroid and the pancreas causing conditions specific to these areas.
These guys are bad too as they can form insoluble bonds with minerals making them bio-unavailable for absorption. For example, calcium, magnesium, zinc and manganese in humans (2, 13).
Now that we have covered the toxins in grains, I want to highlight FODMAPs, which stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols (yeah, I know its a bit…supercalafragalisticexpialadoshus!!). I first learnt about this at university during my original studies. Without going into a huge amount of detail, its a way of eating that avoids any of the short-chain carbs that are not absorbed in your gut.
These FODMAPs (short chain carbs) if ingested can result in the bacteria of your gut fermenting that carbs, causing IBS like symptoms including gas and bloating. By removing grains, you are essentially removing some of the guys that cause bloating and IBS like effects. Ahhhh…it is all starting to make sense!
You can read more about FODMAPs at the site of Chris Kresser (who by the way is an amazing read and is very knowledgeable).
A few other potential risks of sensitivity and /or intolerance to grain intake, include:
- Stress & Depression
With an overload of carbohydrate in the body, meaning high insulin, this leads to increased coritsol (think stress hormone) and adrenalin (2).
Further, it is very clear that insulin and sugar are strongly related to depression. WGA can pass through the blood brain barrier, it can end up in the tissues of the brain, attaching to the nerves of the brain, causing a multitude of issues (16)
- Increased Appetite & Low Energy
With the main food source of carbohydrate in our diet grains (wheat, corn, rye, oats, barley, rice), it is inevitable we also have a high carbohydrate load. High carbs make you get hungry, which cause a fluctuation in energy levels due to blood sugar levels being unstable resulting in cravings and tiredness (18).
- Upper Respiratory Infections
Lectins strip the mucous of the gut lining and in the throat the nasopharyngeal mucus lining. Without lectins, the lining would be more effective as a barrier to viruses.(5) Further, gliadin and WGA can both increase intestinal permeability and activate the immune system. (9)
- Vitamin D Deficiency
Calcium is present in grain, but is not bioavailable due to the high phytate content. This fact, and also with intestinal lumen damage, grains are thought to decrease Vitamin D metabolism (yes, I said DECREASE VITAMIN D – one of the increasing concerns in Australia at the present time) and increase osteomalacia (softening of bone) (2)
- Iron Deficiency Anemia
Wheat and oats consistently report reduced iron absorption. This can increase if consumed with Vitamin C however. (2)
LDL cholesterol (thought of as the bad cholesterol, although not completely accurately) is increased, possibly leading to atherogenesis. Plus, increased LA (Omega 6) in grain leads to increased LDL (with a higher LA fat percentage) which increases the risk of oxidation of LDL, which can lead to atherosclerotic lesions (hardening of arteries) (2)
Whilst there is limited research out there on this one, its is logical that removing toxins from your body when you are trying to conceive is the healthiest option. Further increasing your chances of conceiving involves maximising your nutrient intake (thus avoiding any food that may decrease absorption) and minimising stress to the body (removing any foods that cause stress and adrenal fatigue). There are also studies that link Celiac Disease to various reproductive disorders. You can read more about endocrine disruptors and hormones here
- Autoimmune conditions:
Grain intake has been associated with several autoimmune diseases (where the body can’t distinguish between self and non self proteins and begins attacking the self proteins and destroying tissues). Remember the story about the twins in the bar and security picking on the good twin, causing damage? If not, stop skim reading dude and go back up to the top!
Some of the autoimmune diseases include:
- Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH)
Molecular mimicry (where a grain protein with close structural similarities to one of the body’s proteins) causes confusion in the body i.e. A wheat gluten protein (high molecular weight glutenin) is mistaken for the protein human elastin in the dermal layer of the skin, resulting in a cross reaction, known as DH (2,19) DH is thought as a progressive state of Celiac Disease (19).
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
One trigger food of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), is wheat, and wheat lectin which is thought to cause inflammation, worsening symptoms of RA (2,5)
- Celiac disease (CD)
Caused by wheat gliadins, the symptoms of CD, a chronic inflammatory disorder , are mucosal inflammation, increased intestinal permeability and malabsorption. This is accompanied by a pro-inflammatory state (2,9)
- Insulin-Dependant Diabetes Mellitus
There are reported correlations between grain intake and Insulin-Dependant Diabetes Mellitus. In a study on animals, a cereal-based diet containing wheat induced the development of type 1 diabetes, whilst those fed a gluten free diet showed a decreased incidence of this disease. (2,9)
- Sjrogens Syndrome
There are reported correlations between grain intake and Sjogrens Syndrome, with one study showing antibodies to gluten – gliadin in people with Sjrogens Syndrome (2,20)
OH SHUT THE GATE…I’M NOT CELIAC, SO I’M FINE!
A study of people without celiac disease, tested positive for anti-gliadin IgA in their stool. Another stated 30% of the population have noticeable amounts of anti-gliadin in their stools.
So what? Whose this “anti-gliadin” anyway?
Anti-gliadin are antibodies (remember the security in the bar) released when the body sees gliadin as an intruder. Normally, it would remain in your gut, but if it is found in your stool, it means that your body is trying to fight gluten (meaning you also have a low level of chronic inflammation) (12). You can read more about that here.
SO WHY AM I SENSITIVE, BUT MY MATE ISN’T?
It is in part due to the genetic variation in our cells and partly because of environmental factors. The cells in our gut have a protective layer that can be stripped off and damaged by enzymes that are found in viruses and bacteria. So…if you get the flu, or if you drink too much, or take too many anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin, ibuprofen), whereby damaging this protective lining, you may become more susceptible to lectin reactions and in turn, more at risk of autoimmune diseases such as RA, IDDM, ulcers etc. (4, 5, 8)
My mother always questions why I was able to eat grains as a kid with no trouble, but now as an adult I react so strongly. It seems that lectin and grain intolerance is degenerative, meaning symptoms can worsen over time and with increased consumption. So just because you were able to eat bread and pasta as a kid, does not mean that you always will be tolerant.
So to put it simply, if you get a flu, take a painkiller such as aspirin or drink like a slapper every night, then you will damage your lining, making it more susceptible to lectin and grain reactions and suddenly, your body is saying “No more soup for you”. But replace SOUP, with BREAD in this instance.
IS THERE A TEST FOR GRAIN INTOLERANCE?
Whilst there are tests for gut immune reactions to dairy, soy, egg and wheat, these tests do not cover the entire range of lectins. Meaning, what they test for, may appear negative, but that does not mean that you are not sensitive or intolerant to ALL lectins. The tests are somewhat limited. There are also tests based on experimenting and eliminating any potential high allergens to “cleanse” the body and then slowly reintroduce them one at a time to monitor any reactions. I personally have tried this with dairy, and highly recommend it.
You can read more about testing options and elimination experiments here
I’M NOT ELIMINATING BREAD DUDE. YOU’RE INSANE!
If the thought of eliminating bread, pasta and soy sauce from your diet leaves you cringing, perhaps you should examine why you feel this way. I have listed 5 potential reasons that the thought of eliminating grain may not fly with you:
- I need this food to get me through the day for energy and to fill me up
- I don’t know what else to eat
- I need the fibre from grain so I can poo!
- I don’t have time to cook anything else, I am busy
- I can’t afford to eat expensive foods that will replace the grains
All of these reasons, are not actually reasons. They are excuses. It’s not easy to give up something you have eaten for a lifetime and simply change overnight. Well…actually it is. You just have to want to. And with more knowledge about how these high allergy foods can harm your body, you might be armed with more determination to cut out the crap and eat right. But if you still need a little help along the way, I have addressed each excuse below…
- With the grains now cut out of your diet, you can look to other healthier Real Foods to get your carbohydrate and energy fill. Try sweet potato and coconut cream for example, both healthy energy sources. Also, protein will fill you up nicely without the help of refined carbs. Besides, if you NEED grain, then perhaps you are under the spell of the addictive grain, and its best you eliminate it just to break free from the control it has over you. Show it whose boss and cut it out for a while!
- There are many recipes here on my blog that are super quick and easy, but are grain free for you to try. Otherwise just type into Google “Against the Grain” Or “Paleo” and you will be inundated with recipes.
- Fibre does help to bulk up your stool, but you don’t need the fibre to come from grains. Vegetables actually contain greater amounts of fiber per calorie than grains, and without the risks.
- Most of the recipes on this blog take next to no time to make and hardly any require much cooking skill. Plus, you can whip up a bulk batch on a Sunday so you can make it through the week. Also, when you go to the supermarket with no grains on your shopping list, you will take half the time in buy what you need because you skip the crap aisles and go straight to the healthy items only. In and out! Bang!
- You will find cutting back on the processed food and grain and replacing it with market wholesale fruit and vegetables actually reduces your budget. Try buying in bulk to save on dollars, or getting involved in a veggie community coop, where you get a share of seasonal veggies each month.
From the research, it can be seen that grains are high allergy foods. Low consumption of grain with appropriate protein intake may potentially be ok for certain individuals, in small doses. However, grain intake can affect people differently as we all have slightly varied genetics and digestive processes. Due to the inability to decipher which grains are going to cause issues, whom it is going to affect and to what extent, it’s impossible to predict if YOU are going to be affected or not, and so cutting out grain from the your food repertoire seems to be the best way to eliminate any potential reactions or issues.
If you feel that grains may be a potential risk factor for you and your health, then try for 30 days going without any grain and see how you feel. I’d be interested to know how you go, so make sure you report back! And if your health, energy levels, skin, sex drive improve, then perhaps get rid of grain from your diet for good. But if you see no improvement, then go ahead and slowly reintroduce each grain and just try to keep intake to a minimum. After all, there are more nutritious things you could be eating.
For me, in an effort to rid myself of all of the nasty side effects, I am banishing them from my diet! Put simply, they are not NEEDED for me to survive and they cause me too much grief. Plus, I don’t like the thought of consuming something that is used to bind books together and as glue for Papier Mâché. Mmmm…Glue!
BE GONE GRAINS!
What are your thoughts on grains being an allergy food? Do you agree? Do you think you could go without grains?
- Fallon, S & Enig, M, Nourishing Traditions, The cookbook that challenges politically correct nutrition and the diet dictocrats