In our previous article on the topic, we covered the evolution of grains in weight loss and how we came to such a confusing place around grains. Here, we’ll get into the details from the anti-grains and pro-grains camps:
The Argument Against Grains in Weight Loss
We’ll start with several key arguments from Dr. Lorain Cordain’s, “Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword.” In archeological evidence, a civilization adopting a grain-based diet experiences a reduction in stature and lifespan, increases in the incidence of infectious diseases, infant mortality, and iron deficiency anemia. However, the advanced civilizations and populations we have built could never have been sustained without this grain-based diet, comprising 56% of the food energy consumed on earth. Where this becomes problematic, is in the nutritional shortcomings of relying on grains. Wealthy western nations have access to a more varied diet, but in underdeveloped populations, these nutrient-deficient grains can comprise as much as 80% of all the calories consumed. In at least half of the countries of the world, more than 50% of calories consumed are provided by bread. These are the same countries with significant and common nutrient deficiencies (2).
The Argument for Grains in Weight Loss
Next, we’ll look at a 2012 meta-analysis conducted by the Journal of Nutrition on the effects of whole grain intake on Type 2 Diabetes, Cardiovascular disease, and weight gain. Those consuming 3-5 servings of whole grain per day had a 26% lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, a 21% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and observed less weight gain during periods of eight to thirteen years (4). A Harvard study with 100,000+ participants tracked over time also associates dietary whole grain consumption with lowered total mortality and decreased mortality due to cardiovascular disease. Specifically, the outer bran portion of the grain, and not the inner germ is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, due to the antioxidant phytochemicals and magnesium often present in the bran (6). A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that for every additional 40g per day of whole grains consumed, long term weight gain was reduced by 1.1kg. They also found that the bran portion of the grain had a significant effect while adding any germ or refined components had no impact. These data would seem to show that consuming whole grains, especially the bran, would prevent the diseases that proponents of grain-free advocates are confident grain-less eating will prevent.
What It All Means for You
Both camps primary argument is that nutrient deficiency is terrible and leads to many problems in both the healthy and in people with chronic illness. As referenced with 80% reliance on grains, the undeveloped world, have significant challenges stemming from nutrient deficiencies. Those same nutrient-deficient problems such as rickets and type 2 diabetes are becoming more and more prevalent in populations that would usually be mostly healthy, such as American children. Does that mean everyone should eat less pasta, whole grain, gluten-free or otherwise? Potentially, but more important, and both sides will agree on this, is to eat less soda, pizza, and bagels too. At the end of the day, nutrition is a highly individual system. Without further research, experiential learning is best. If eating grains is working for you, then keep doing it. But if you’re sick all the time and don’t feel your best, you might want to try changing something.
At the end of the day, nutrition is a highly individual system. Without further research, experiential learning is best.
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Key Resources and Further Reading List:
This article was originally written by Coach Will H. Hansen and has been repurposed and published here by the author.