A professor in the health and exercise science department at Colorado State University, Loren Cordain, PhD, and a member of the American Society for Clinical Nutrition wrote a groundbreaking paper that was published in the World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics called “Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double Edge Sword.”
In essence he said: The human genetic constitution has not changed much in the past 40,000 years. For the vast majority of mankind’s presence on the planet, we rarely if ever consumed cereal grains. The natural diet of humans is food that could be hunted, fished, gathered or plucked. This natural diet served us well as long as populations were limited and wildlife was plentiful. As the population in the world increased and the supply of wild game became more limited, it became necessary to provide an alternative or supplementary means of nourishment – and about 10,000 years ago agriculture was born. Agriculture has made it possible for humans to live in cities and literally, for civilization to flourish.
Eight cereal grains (wheat, corn, rice, barley, sorghum, oats, rye and millet) now provide 56% of the calories and 50% of the protein consumed on earth. Without these crops, the planet could not support six billion people. So here’s the double edged sword, cereal grains literally stand between mankind and starvation. Take away rice, wheat and corn and half the people on earth will not eat. The dwindling supplies of our natural diet of wild animals and wild plants, together with the huge expansion of the planet’s population, made agriculture a necessity for survival.
On the other hand, cereal grains are a nutritional compromise to say the least. In their current genetically modified form, they are anti-nutrients and are not particularly suited to our ancient digestive wiring as the foods they have replaced. The health implications of a diet so high in cereal grains – and so different from the diet we were designed to eat – are just now beginning to be understood. In addition, we also must consider the incredible changes to agriculture production that has emerged in our country since the 1970’s. As Cordain points out, we have actually had little time since the inception of the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago to adapt to a food type that now represents humanity’s major source of calories and protein.
Many people are concerned about where they will get their fiber in their diets if they stop eating grains. Compare a whole grain cold cereal and you will find 1 or 2g of fiber. Compare that to an avocado (11 to 17g) or a guava (8g). Then there is the gluten issue. Gluten is a primary component of grains such as barley, rye, oats and especially wheat. A full-blown allergy to gluten is called celiac disease and in 1989 a study was conducted that showed 1 in 10,000 people had this disease and the study repeated in 2009 – only 20 years later – and is now shown to be 1 in 133 – an astounding rate by any measure. (Sources: Archives of Internal Medicine Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology) Many, many more people than have celiac disease have undiagnosed or delayed food sensitivities and wheat and gluten are prime triggers.
This brings us to the whole connection to obesity, diabetes and blood sugar. It’s worth noting that the old (and thankfully discredited) food pyramid, which had 6-11 servings of grain at the bottom of the structure, was suspiciously similar to the pyramid used by farmers to fatten up cattle. If you want to fatten up farm animals fast, you feed them grain not grass. Grain is not a part of their natural diet and it makes the cattle sick and so antibiotics and hormones must be administered, it’s not all that different with humans. Grains, by and large are starch powerhouses and almost all of them raise blood sugar and insulin quickly. In addition they have a connection to carbohydrate addiction for many people which creates a vicious circle. While grains add the perception of variety and bulk in the diet, they’re not a good source for essential nutrients when compared to other options. And its difficult to eat grains on their own – they’re often a delivery vehicle for additional calories to make them palatable. For example, pizza is just a delivery system for meat, vegetables and cheese.
The bottom line is that grains make us sick and fat. In the experience of thousands of people, the removal of wheat, (and dairy and sugar) produces remarkable relief from a wide variety of symptoms, not the least is unwanted weight and bloat.