First, let’s define what grains are. They are the small, hard, edible seeds of grass-like plants. Within the classification of grains, there are two subgroups, cereals (like wheat and rye) and legumes (beans and soybeans). The most common varieties of grains eaten around the world are wheat, rice, corn, and oats. Many civilizations use one or more of these grains as the staple of their diet. Grains are popular because once harvested, they keep for much longer than other staple foods like tubers (sweet potatoes, cassava) and starchy fruits (plantains, breadfruit), thus making them easy to transport.
Grains have three main parts: the bran, which is the hard outer layer or shell; the germ, which is the reproductive part that germinates to grow into a plant (it is the embryo of the seed); and the endosperm, the part of the seed that surrounds the germ and contains oils and protein, which is the part of the seed that is ground into flour.
Whole Grain vs. Refined Grain
You may have heard the phrase “whole grains.” It refers to all three of the seed parts being intact. Refined grains have the bran and/or the germ mechanically removed, leaving just the starchy endosperm. The nutritional value of wheat depends on the form in which you eat it. The most commonly used form of wheat in American wheat products is called 60% extraction. That means that 40% of the original grain is removed and only 60% is left. Unfortunately, the 40% removed are the most nutritious parts – the bran and the germ. In addition, hybridized wheat contains twice the amount of gluten.
The Problem with Modern Grains
In the 1870s, the modern steel roller mill was invented. It was faster and more efficient than the older stone-grinding method. It could separate the component parts of wheat, producing a whiter wheat devoid of the bran and germ that are richest in proteins, vitamins, lipids, and minerals.
In addition, in the mid-1900s, a different kind of wheat was introduced in the United States. Norman Borlaug led initiatives that “involved the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, modernization of management techniques, distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers.” (1)
This change in the way we process grains and the fact that chemicals are routinely sprayed on the crops produces a seed which most humans can’t digest because the body doesn’t recognize it.
Grains, Leaky Gut, and Autoimmune Disease
Gluten, the protein found in grain, is not found in all grains, but it is in some of the most common: wheat, barley, rye, oat, and hybrid grains like spelt, Khorasan, emmer, einkorn, triticale, and Kamut. Some grain products contain excessive amounts of gluten, which is prized because produces a light, fluffy, chewy texture. For this reason, many manufacturers add additional gluten to their products.
Coeliac disease, also spelled celiac disease, is a common digestive condition where your intestines can’t absorb the gluten found in wheat, barley, rye, and oats. This condition has become more prevalent in recent years. Those diagnosed this condition are advised to follow a gluten-free diet.
Gluten can trigger systemwide inflammation, even in those without coeliac disease. This inflammation can cause weight gain, diabetes, autoimmune disease, and many chronic illnesses.
Please note that millet, sorghum, amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa are naturally gluten free.
Eating the wrong types of foods (typically called a Standard American Diet, or SAD) can lead to a leaky gut, which is a condition where the lining of intestines becomes permeable, and undigested proteins (like gluten) and other endotoxins can escape into the bloodstream. When this happens, our immune system thinks these molecules are foreign invaders and mounts an attack against them, resulting in a chronic inflammatory response.
Why I Don’t Eat Grains
Because I have multiple autoimmune diseases (multiple symptoms of the same disease, actually), my gut needs to heal. For that reason, I choose to avoid foods that are difficult to digest, like legumes (which are grains), and foods that may contain gluten or other proteins (like the casein found in dairy products) that could trigger even more inflammatory responses and autoimmune manifestations. I’ve found that since I no longer fill up on nutrient-deficient grains, I eat more healthy produce, lean grass-fed meat, and healthy fats.
Here’s what I recommend to those with autoimmune/inflammatory diseases (or those wanting to avoid them). Eat
- Simple carbohydrates: vegetables, fruits, and raw, local honey (no more than 1 Tbsp. per day)
- Easily digestible fats: ghee, coconut oil, and egg yolks
- Easily digestible protein: wild caught fish, organic chicken, and 100% grass-fed beef and lamb
- Bone Broth
- Probiotic-rich food
Learn more in my new book, Be in Health: Bible-Based Health Restoration: Living in Harmony with God’s Ways Regarding Health. Available now.