Do Grains Deserve a Spot in any Food Pyramid?


breadWe live in a society that takes extreme turns in regards to popular food opinions. We go from embracing whole grain everything to vilifying all grains. We go from no one even knowing what celiac disease is to everyone claiming a gluten sensitivity. Ten years ago, finding a product labeled “gluten free” on your grocery store shelf would be an exercise in futility. Now, they are everywhere. There are countless books on the dangers of wheat and grains in general, but is this fear of grains justified or is it just another trend?

Currently, the USDA recommends several servings of grains each day. Back when they had a food pyramid, the daily serving amount to aim for was 6 to 11. Now, it’s customized to gender and age. But we have to look at what’s motivating this end-all recommendation (it’s not just your health).

The government functions, in part, on the backs of industry funds. Ag-lobbyists work tirelessly to ensure the grain producers benefit as much as possible from government funding and recommendations. To believe that bias plays no role in these recommendations would be remiss.

In the arguments for and against grains, we have many who are of the belief that grains are a necessary component of the modern diet. But the human diet has only included grains as a mainstay for an estimated 10,000 years. Before that, we were largely hunter-gatherers and though we may have munched on grain-like plants, we didn’t produce them on a large scale and therefore the consumption was limited.

Many of those who argue that grains are bad say the human body has not evolved to digest these substances properly. That because modern agriculture only arose 10,000 years ago, our bodies are still optimized for the digestion of meats and natural plant-parts (leaves, roots, nuts, etc.).

There is little arguing that grains do have negative points. They can increase blood sugar and potentially lead to insulin resistance. Over-consumption of grains has also been linked to obesity and leptin resistance. And for those who say grains provide necessary fiber—soluble plant fiber like that found in fruits and vegetables is far superior to the insoluble type in grains.

A word of caution: anything with a “gluten-free” label should be closely scrutinized. Any label indicates processing and the ingredients used in place of wheat gluten are often no better.

As with most things in this age of information, you will find legitimate arguments for grains and legitimate arguments against. As a conscientious consumer of this information (and food), it’s up to you to make the healthiest decision for yourself.

Generally, those who turn away from grains in favor of more vegetables and fruit experience benefits like lowered blood sugar, increased mental clarity, improved digestion, and even weight loss. But for some, omitting grains completely can be a difficult challenge.

For our readers, have you bought into the gluten-free craze or have you given up on grains in favor of other foods? What’s your take on the grain-free movement?