Whole Grains Aren't Healthy

(photo by James Harris)

Whole grains. Wheat. Those golden, willowy strands that sway so effortlessly in the summer wind. I feel like every Cheerios commercial makes it seem like whole grains will solve all the world's health issues with one, round breakfast food.
In reality, it's quite the opposite.
There's still this commonly held belief that whole wheat and whole grains are a necessary part of a healthy, balanced diet. But, y'all. That's just dead wrong. Eating grains may not only be unnecessary to achieving optimal health, but also just bad for our bodies in general.
Don't believe me? Good, you're a critical thinker. Or maybe just a product of our wheat-worshipping culture.
Who knows.
Let's just get to it.

Wheat isn't what it used to be
When we talk about grains, we first need to understand something very vital. The grains of our time (the ones in our cereals, breads, pasta, etc) are exponentially different from that of our ancestors. Comparing modern wheat with the wheat growing thousand years ago just isn't fair or practical. It's a whole new monster.
Back in the 1960's, an agricultural scientist by the name of Norman Borlaug wanted to create a way for wheat farms to yield their product more efficiently. So he came up with a way to genetically modify the stems to be shorter and thicker, and therefore came up with what we call "dwarf wheat". A new type of wheat that produced more wheat, and did it faster. This was one of the reasons why he even won a Nobel Peace Price, awarded for his advances towards ending worldwide hunger. "By 1963, 95% of Mexico's wheat crops used the semi-dwarf varieties developed by Borlaug."
And although I don't doubt Borlaug's good intentions to better the lives of those in poverty-stricken countries, the consequences of his creation are still causing problems for us today. This wheat is much higher in starch and gluten, causing a higher increase in blood sugar, and promoting inflammation in the body. Dwarf is the type of wheat we're eating today, but it's not called dwarf wheat anymore, it's just called "wheat". In fact, you have to go out of your way to buy traditional, unmodified Einkorn wheat
Dr William Davis, the author of Wheat Belly, puts it this way:
This thing being sold to us called wheat—it ain’t wheat. It’s this stocky little high-yield plant, a distant relative of the wheat our mothers used to bake muffins, genetically and biochemically light-years removed from the wheat of just 40 years ago.
The lost art of preparing grains
Not only has the wheat itself drastically changed over time, but the way we eat it has as well. Humans have been fermenting, soaking, and preparing foods for as long as we've been around, yet, sadly, it's just not something we do today. Maybe it's a direct result of industrial agriculture, or maybe we've just evolved into a culture that demands immediate satisfaction. But we're dealing with the consequences of abandoning the wisdom of our ancestors.
So what does traditional preparation do for the grains? Soaking and fermenting breaks down large amounts of the phytic acid and gluten contained in the grains. Most of us are familiar with gluten, but ah, what exactly is phytic acid, you ask? Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient naturally found in many grains, nuts and seeds. (it's also in some veggies, but at a much lower amount)
Plants, just like any other living thing, plants don't want to be eaten. So they produce this anti-nutrient as a form of defense. Phytic acid, in particular, binds to minerals like calcium, iron, and zinc, and inhibits the body from absorbing them properly.
And you're probably familiar with one of the last few traditionally prepared breads that's still popular today- sourdough. Sourdough is made by fermenting the dough using bacteria and yeast. This breaks down a lot of the phytic acid and gluten present in the wheat, and it's what gives it that slightly sour flavor. And traditionally made sourdough bread has been found to be tolerated in some Celiac patients. So people who's bodies normally can't tolerate the gluten found in standard bread were able to digest sourdough with no issues. Can I get an amen?
Check out this article for more specifics and easy tutorials on grain-preparation. It's not as difficult as it may sound!

Weed killer in our bread
Another huge issue with modern wheat is how it's produced. For the most part, it's heavily sprayed with glyphosate. You've might've heard of it before. It's the active herbicide in Roundup. Yes, the weed killer. And yes, they're putting it in your food.
Glyphosate is used to kill weeds in commercial crops of all kinds, but it's heavily present in grain production. The crops are sprayed right before harvest in a practice called crop desiccation. From Wikipedia: 
The application of glyphosate just before harvest on grains (like wheat, barley, and oats) kills the food crop so that it dries more quickly and evenly [...] This dry crop does not have to be windrowed (swathed and dried) prior to harvest but can easily be straight cut and harvested. 
So it's not only applied in order to kill weeds, but to quicken the harvesting process as well.
Y'know, it honestly amazes me how willing large corporations are to just straight up put poison in our food. But at the end of the day, it's because we're willing to consume it. And, sadly, glyphosate is far from inert once it enters our bodies. It has links to an unsettling amount of health issues, from allergies to depression, autoimmune disease to cancer. But we're still eating this stuff by the truckloads.
And I can't not mention the detrimental environmental impact spraying these industrial wheat farms is having on our soil. 
I'd suggest taking a look at this in-depth paper on the history and effects of glyphosate, and just exactly how much is in the foods we eat everyday. It's pretty eye-opening

Whole Wheat is not heart healthy 
We're always hearing about how consuming larger amounts of whole grains lowers our risk of cardiovascular issues. But the science just doesn't support that. Modern grains are inherently inflammatory and cause a wealth of digestive issues in the body. Refined wheat spikes our insulin response, much like sugar.
If we were talking about the traditional, untainted grains of years ago, this might have been different.(although it seems that the ancient Egyptians had cardiovascular issues despite eating a diet high in grains) It's hard to say. But we can't ignore the rise of chronic health issues that seems to go hand in hand with the rise of added, refined sugar and grains in our diets. New York Times bestseller and functional medicine doctor, Mark Hymen, comments on the correlation:
The history of wheat parallels the history of chronic disease and obesity across the world. Supermarkets today contain walls of wheat and corn disguised in literally hundreds of thousands of different food-like products, or FrankenFoods. Each American now consumes about 55 pounds of wheat flour every year.
Fifty-five pounds. That's pretty staggering if you ask me. I'm not gonna do the math, but I bet that's a lot of slices of Wonder Bread.
But is it really surprising? Much like sugar, wheat is added to everything. It's a filler because it's cheap and easy to produce. A lot of the time we're consuming it without even knowing.
Again, from Dr Mark Hymen:
There is no difference between whole wheat and white flour here. The biggest scam perpetrated on the unsuspecting public is the inclusion of “whole grains” in many processed foods full of sugar and wheat, giving the food a virtuous glow. The best way to avoid foods that are bad for you is to stay away from foods with health claims on the labels. They are usually hiding something bad.
In people with diabetes, both white and whole grain bread raises blood sugar levels 70 to 120 mg/dl over starting levels. We know that foods with a high glycemic index make people store belly fat, trigger hidden fires of inflammation in the body and give you a fatty liver, leading the whole cascade of obesity, pre-diabetes and diabetes. 
Nutrition and health is nuanced. There's rarely any quick-fix, easy answers. And depending on the individual and their biology, I believe that grains can be a part of a healthy diet, provided that they're grown organically and properly prepared. But for the most part, it's really hard for me to justify eating the extremely processed grains that fill most of our plates and bowls.
If you choose to consume grains, that is 100% up to you. But can we please at least stop acting like the phrase "whole grains" is synonymous with the word "healthy".

And maybe you're not ready to give up wheat completely, but check out these ingenious ways to swap grains for vegetables in your cooking. We could all use some more veggies in our diets.

Also, the next time you see a cereal box claiming to be made with heart healthy grains, do me a favor and scoff at it for me.



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