Here is an episode of my Healthy Hints for Harmony. In it, I talk about eating grains. Are grains actually good for you?
If you watched it, you know that the answer is no, grains are not good for you. Now, I completely understand that there will be people that disagree with me. The main reason that grain are not a good idea is that they promote chronic inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is a process that is linked to a number of disease processes including cancer, diabetes, depression, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, obesity and more. Almost any chronic process or disease is accelerated by chronic inflammation. The topic is not just an alternative medicine fad either as there has been a great deal of research into it in the past decade and the news stories continue to be published from sources such as Scientific American, US News and Fox News. There are many reasons that grains are not good for you, but one of the main reasons is that they contain “bad” fats. Many people have heard of the “good” fats in fish, avocados and olives which are anti-inflammatory.
What is a “bad” fat though? One example that is always clear cut is trans-fats. Trans-fats are always bad for you because they are not made naturally and your body cannot break them down. They include anything on a label that says “partially hydrogenated”. Most people erroneously include saturated fats as a bad fat, but it depends. Coconut oil is a saturated fat but it is good for you and much better to cook with than olive oil at higher heats. If your olive oil is smoking, either turn down the heat or use coconut oil. Animal fat depends on what the animal was fed. If it was a grain-fed animal, it is going to have more of the bad fats in it, but grass-fed animals tend to be healthier for you. Without going into a lot of detail, it comes down to the ratio of Omega-6 fats to Omega-3 fats. Both are considered to be essential fatty acids (EFAs) but the Standard American Diet (yes, SAD) contains way too many Omega-6 fatty acids, which promote inflammation. The reason that the “good” fats are good is because they have higher amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids in them.
Grains are a good source of mostly empty calories, meaning that they do not contain a lot of vitamins & nutrients in them. Enriched white flours are even worse, since they have the portion of the grain that actually has the vitamins and nutrients (germ and bran) is stripped away and powders of specific vitamins are added. The vitamins that are added do not return the flour to the same nutrient content that it had before the refining process began. Dr. Janet Lang says that if someone mugged you, took the $100 that you had in your pocket and gave you back $5 , would you feel enriched? The left-over starches are basically unrefined sugars that give you some extra padding.
The idea is that grains are good to eat if your other option is starvation. Most Americans eat an excess of calories compared to what they need and grains are a big reason for this over-consumption of calories. Because of this, we should limit our consumption of grains. I’m not saying that everyone needs to give up grains completely, but maybe you should pass on the sandwiches for lunch, the starter bread at a restaurant or the bowl of pasta that never ends. You should not make the grain the basis for every meal. Eat less rice with your Chinese or Indian food. Don’t have a big bowl of spaghetti or mac & cheese as your meal.
Take a look at my episode on the New Food Pyramid to give you an idea as to what you should eat.