Grain based foods are made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or other cereal grains. Bread, cakes, pasta, oatmeal and breakfast cereals are examples of grain based food products
There are many nutritionists, dieticians and researchers who are of the strong opinion that grains should be largely avoided.
Grains naturally have a high carbohydrate content, even whole grains, especially if prepared using added sugars. Put simply, if we eat more carbohydrate than we need for our basic energy requirements (about 150 grams a day for most people), the rest gets converted to fat and stored.
This promotes weight gain and obesity as well as heart disease and type 2 diabetes over time. The typical western diet will have us eating 300-400 grams of carbohydrate a day, mostly from poor quality, refined grain based sources.
Excessive of poor quality grains, often containing added sugars has been a large factor driving the obesity epidemic we face. Refined grains also promote higher than optimal levels of insulin, which in turn can promote systemic inflammation. This may be a factor in certain chronic pain and autoimmune conditions.
Grains also have a high concentration of ‘anti-nutrients’ as discussed below, which can cause digestive, immune, and inflammatory problems.
Lectin proteins present in grains can damage the delicate lining of the digestive tract, exacerbate insulin resistance leading to type 2 diabetes, and also promote autoimmune disorders in sensitive people.
Gluten is a form of lectin present in wheat and can also trigger an inflammatory response in the body. Coeliac disease is the most severe form of gluten intolerance, but everyone is sensitive to gluten at some level. Problems associated with gluten ingestion also include compromised vitamin D and calcium absorption and hormonal disturbances such as compromised thyroid function. Gluten sensitivity has also be linked to autism in children.
Grains are also high in phytates, which, when consumed in excess, compromise vitamin and mineral absorption.
Some people are best to avoid grains altogether for health reasons, especially if they are gluten sensitive or intolerant and have problems controlling their weight.
However, moderate amounts of grain in the diet can be tolerated by some of us. If for example you have a fondness for bread, try and eat bread which has as few ingredients as possible. The traditional sourdough ingredients of only water, flour, salt is a good option. Certainly try to avoid breads with added sugars, preservatives, additives, flavour enhancers and those baked with seed oils which can cause oxidative damage when ingested. Buying bread from speciality bakers or markets may be a bit more expense but the health benefits are great. Supermarket bread is usually best avoided!
Catassi, C., Bai, J.C., Bonaz, B., Bouma, G., Calabrò, A., Carroccio, A., Castillejo, G., Ciacci, C., Cristofori, F., Dolinsek, J. and Francavilla, R., 2013. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: the new frontier of gluten related disorders. Nutrients, 5(10), pp.3839-3853.
Fasano, A., Sapone, A., Zevallos, V. and Schuppan, D., 2015. Nonceliac gluten sensitivity. Gastroenterology, 148(6), pp.1195-1204
Sisson, M., 2012. The primal blueprint: reprogramme your genes for effortless weight loss, vibrant health and boundless energy. Random House.