Grains: Gift or Garbage?

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Grains: Gift or Garbage?

Beginning in the 1970’s, the USDA started to recommend that Americans consume 2 servings of grain with each meal.  Grains made up the base of the food pyramid, suggesting that grains should make up the majority of our diet.  Around the same time, the Farm Bill was enacted that began subsidizing farmers that grew corn and other grains.  This was meant to protect farmers from the perils of bad crop years, so if farmers would plant grains then they would paid through subsidies whether or not their grain crops failed.  Sounds great, right?  So then the USDA, the government agency with the job of advocating for farmers as well as making daily food suggestions to the American people (and making school breakfast and lunch program rules) had farmers with a bunch of grains to get rid of as well as very high grain recommendations to the general public.  These high grain recommendations still stand, and the USDA school breakfast program requires schools to serve 2 servings of grain at every breakfast (the schools can substitute 1 grain with a protein for 4 out of the 5 schools days if they want to).  Now, I am not saying which came first: the high grain recommendations or the Farm Bill that led to an overabundance of grains.  I am just saying they both happened around the same time.

What I do want to discuss is if these recommendations actually serve health to the American people or not.  As rates of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, digestive issues, ADHD, autism, and Alzheimer’s continue to rise, it’s important to understand if our changing diet recommendations might be a contributing factor.  To understand how grains affect our bodies, we need to have a little biology lesson.

So, grains are carbs.  Vegetables and fruit are also carbs. A carb is anything that came from a plant and is made of the sugar glucose.  However, there are “monomer”, literally “one unit”, sources of carbs with a few glucose molecules, and “polymer”, literally “many units”, sources of carbs with millions and millions of glucoses.  Now, all living cells need glucose for energy.  However, the poison is in the dose.  Just because a few glucoses are a necessary thing, that doesn’t mean that millions of glucoses are better. In fact, depending on the amount of glucose we consume, one of three fates for that glucose will occur.

Here are some monomer sources vs. polymer sources of glucose (the referenced fates 1, 2, and 3 are discussed below):

sources-of-glucose

So, as you can see, grains are polymer sources of glucose, meaning they give you millions and millions of times more glucose compared to whole vegetable and fruit sources of glucose.  Well, what’s the problem with this?  The problem is one of those 3 fates of glucose I mentioned above happens to be obesity and, more importantly, Type II Diabetes, greater risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s, and more.  When we eat glucose, our body uses the glucose that we immediately need for energy.  Good.  That’s why we eat.  But any extra glucose is then stored in our livers as about 1-3 days worth of glucose as glycogen, and then any extra glucose beyond that is turned into body fat (this information comes straight from every college-level biology textbook).

blood-sugar-in-the-body

Now, I know our weight-obsessed culture is going to focus on that fat-creation thing, but there is something far more important that happens when we have extra glucose floating around in our blood: insulin resistance and Type II Diabetes.  You see, SOME people will gain weight from extra glucose depending on their fast or slow metabolisms.  However, ALL people will begin to internally develop insulin resistance and therefore Type II Diabetes the more extra glucose we have floating around.  This means that no matter what your weight is, if you are consuming too many polymer sources of glucose then you are at risk for insulin resistance and Type II Diabetes!

Well, if you back up to that first picture, you can clearly see that grains are polymer sources of glucose! And we aren’t being told to eat just a few grains; we are being told to eat TWO SERVINGS OF GRAINS with EVERY MEAL!  School students can go the entire week getting nothing but grains for breakfast based upon USDA requirements! And we wonder why we are all walking around with fatigue, lack of motivation, hyperactivity (in kids), and attention issues.  These are all signs of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance caused by too much glucose too often for too long!

Type II Diabetes isn’t the only risk factor from high blood sugar.  Alzheimer’s is now being called Type III Diabetes because of its association with prolonged high blood sugar.  Cancer cells feed on and grow more rapidly from high blood sugar.  High blood sugar decreases your immune system for at least 5 hours after its consumption.  High blood sugar increases blood pressure and risk of heart disease.  WHY ON EARTH ARE WE BEING RECOMMENDED HIGH GRAIN DIETS?

As if increasing our risk of several chronic, deadly health issues wasn’t enough evidence to group grains under the “garbage” category, there is more!  Grains contain anti-nutrients called phytates and lectins.  Both of these molecules bind to important minerals like iron and decrease their absorption in the body, contributing to iron-deficiency anemia.  Furthermore, lectins are known to increase small intestine permeability.  Now, if the term “leaky gut” hasn’t made it to your radar, suffice it to say that if your gut is leaky, molecules that aren’t supposed to leak into your blood do.  This can lead to an immune attack that manifests as autoimmune diseases like lupus, MS, arthritis, digestive issues like colitis, fibromyalgia, etc., allergies, asthma, and skin issues, as well symptoms of autism.  In the past, nutrition experts thought it was just gluten causing gut permeability in gluten-sensitive people.  However, current research clearly shows that gluten increases gut permeability in all people, and that all grains have lectins and phytates. Unless you want to soak and ferment all of your grains the way our ancestors did for the few grains they did eat, then these molecules are binding your important minerals and most likely giving you gut permeability.

If you choose to “get healthy” and follow modern USDA-based dietician advice to eat a high whole-grain diet, then any of the above scenarios might be how you externally manifest what is happening to your internally at the cellular level.  Even if you aren’t eating whole-grain products but are consuming the standard American diet of high refined carbs, you are ingesting polymer sources of glucose that put you at risk for Diabetes II, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and symptoms of metabolic syndrome.

I think the verdict is in: Grains = Garbage!

So what can you do if you want to avoid the risks of the above scenarios?  Start to decrease your polymer sources of glucose, including grains! There are many steps you can take both at home and when eating out:

  • Make sure and eat a breakfast of proteins (think eggs) and veggies (sliced tomatoes, sautéed onions, peppers, and mushrooms) instead of cereal and bagels. Spend one day each week boiling eggs, cooking sausage, and slicing fruit and veggies.  Keep them in the fridge so you can just grab them each morning.
  • Switch out pasta, bread, tortillas, and rice with extra servings of veggies.  We make “spaghetti” with just ground meat with sauce and veggies, and it’s still just as yummy without a side of fatigue.  Roasted root vegetables (carrots, onions, beets, and sweet potatoes) make a wonderful nutrient-dense side that still gives your tongue the joy of sweet without feeling hungry again 1 hour later! Make sure and eat these whole-food sources of the sweet flavor…your body still needs glucose and these provide a great source while also reducing sugar/grain cravings later!
  • Replace chips with my incredibly easy and amazing kale chip recipe or this cracker made with seeds that I found online (I can’t find the source anymore, so if you do tell me so I can give the amazing creator credit!). These two recipes really save me when my salty crunchy cravings start to kick in. I make sure and always have a a bag of those crackers stored away.  (The more questioning ones of you out there might have noticed that seeds are also on the “polymer” source of glucose.  There is a big difference between eating a handful of whole nuts and seeds versus eating cups and cups of ground up nuts and seeds as flour and meal.  The difference is in the number of glucoses!)
  • Switch out pasta with spaghetti squash and zucchini noodles.
  • Switch from burgers and wraps to bowls (not rice!) and soups (no noodles!).
  • Choose the fruit and veggie sides instead of fries and tots or rice and pasta.  Fajitas are just as amazing if you tell them not to bring rice, beans, and tortillas!
  • Tell them not to bring the bread or chips and salsa (I know, I just died a little inside typing that).  Your sacrifice will totally be worth it!
  • Choose grilled meat over fried meat.

The most important thing to remember is

IF YOU DECREASE GRAINS, YOU MUST ALSO INCREASE VEGGIES.

Many people get fatigue when starting to reduce grains, and usually this is from not getting enough glucose for your cells….you HAVE to eat veggies to get that glucose!!!

With just a few adjustments, you can start to make the switch from a high starch/grain, disease-causing diet to a low starch/grain, energy-and-health supporting diet!  You may have noticed that juice and added sugar are also sources of extra glucose that can contribute to sugar-related chronic disease.  I will talk about how to kick the sweet-sugar habit in a future post!

EDIT: I do want to point out that there are bioindividual cases where grains are indicated, and people who thrive on grains.  The point I want to make is that the current recommendations to make grains the largest part of our diet can have negative effects, and that most people would benefit from going grain free for at least 6 weeks to see how their body reacts.  As always, listen to YOUR body, not just some words on a page (including this page).

Make sure you don’t miss my next blog post about why you should ignore the USDA’s recommendations and get FRIENDLY WITH FATS.

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AWP-11Lori Valentine Rose, PhD, CNP, BCHN, RH (AHG) is a college biology, nutrition, herbal, and wellness instructor, board certified nutrition professional and holistic nutrition consultant, registered herbalist, wife, mother, organic vegetable, fruit, and medicinal herb gardener, school garden planter, city class teacher, and passionate Zumba dancer!  She created, developed, and instructs the Hill College Holistic Wellness Pathway, the most thorough, affordable, degreed wellness program in the country.  She loves spreading love and light, and helping others feel awesome on the inside and out so they can live their dreams and make this world more awesome!  Lori Rose Holistic does not replace medical advice or working with your doctor, and she does not diagnose, treat, or cure disease.  Her goal is to educate, and any actions you take are voluntary and of your own free will.

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