What’s so bad about grains and legumes?

In many ways, Living Primal’s nutrition philosophy seems standard and run-of-the-mill.  We advocate the elimination of processed foods, partially hydrogenated (trans) fats, sugar, artificial sweeteners and added salt. Most people get where we’re coming from here, as it’s generally accepted that these gems (let’s face it, we can’t even call them food!) don’t contribute favourably to anyone’s health!

Things get a bit trickier when it comes to our beloved bread, pasta, oatmeal and quinoa! Our recommendation to ditch grains (wheat, rice, pasta, bread, corn, cereal, rye, barley, oats, spelt) and legumes (beans, peas, lentils, alfalfa, soy, peanuts) flies directly in the face of prevailing conventional wisdom, our government’s official food guidelines, and much of the health advice dispensed by traditionally trained medical practitioners. Understandably, this generates some skepticism – “How can the ‘staff of life’ be counterproductive to our health? Why would our government recommend foods that aren’t optimal for our health? How will I get my fiber if I don’t eat whole grains?”  We appreciate that “going against the grain” (sorry for the lame pun!) can take some time to digest (there I go again!).

Today’s post deals with the scientific reasons behind our position on grains and legumes:

      1. High-insulin response – grains and legumes are a dense source of carbohydrates which the body breaks down into sugar during the digestion process. This causes a spike in our “blood sugars,” necessitating the release of a hormone called insulin. Insulin is the fat-storage hormone (this is by no means up for debate in the scientific literature), and as long as you are producing appreciable swings in blood sugar and insulin production, losing body fat will be impossible. In other words, body fat cannot be burned as long as insulin is present (some things bear repeating!).
      2. “Anti-nutrients” – grains and legumes contain something called “phytic acid” or “phytates” that have an anti-nutrient effect. What the heck does that mean? In essence, it means that these “anti-nutrients” bind to minerals in your food (like iron, calcium, zinc and magnesium), rendering them unavailable for absorption. This explains the mechanism behind some common health conditions such as iron-deficiency anemia and osteoporosis. Just because a food has nutrients doesn’t mean our bodies will absorb them.
      3. Problematic proteins – grains and legumes contain many different kinds of proteins that can wreak havoc on our digestive health and set the stage for heightened immune activity and even autoimmune conditions (not a good scene!). Perhaps the most well known of these problematic proteins is gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and most oats. Those with celiac disease have a profound intolerance to gluten and must take great care to select gluten free food and drinks!  It is becoming very clear though, that the effects of gluten are not limited just to those suffering from celiac disease.  Gluten sensitivity describes those who don’t have the same change in intestinal permeability, but gluten still produces an appreciable immune reaction in these folks. It is argued that everyone is allergic to grains and legumes on some level, even if they are “asymptomatic!”

When compared with nutritional heavyweights (such a meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds) grains & legumes don’t even stand a chance.  According to Melissa and Dallas Hartwig in their comprehensive new book It Starts With Food, “There is not a single health-promoting substance present in grains that you cannot also get from vegetables and fruit. Not a single vitamin. Not a single mineral. Not even fiber.”

Bottom line: Grains and legumes are nothing more than a convenient source of cheap  calories that turn quickly into sugar. They are easy to over-consume and they are counterproductive to your health, your energy levels, and your waistline!

Having said that, legumes are slightly less offensive than grains so if you are skeptical about eliminating both (or find it too radical to do both at once) then grains should definitely be the first to go (wheat being the grand-daddy of them all!).

Intrigued about ditching grains and legumes? Sign up for a Living Primal workshop this fall!