The Whole Grain Myth:: An Insulin Nightmare

the whole grain myth

I swear lately, there isn’t a client that comes to me that doesn’t cite either oatmeal or breakfast cereal as their favorite way to start the day (that’s IF they eat anything at all!).  Bear in mind I believe that not everyone is the same metabolically.  SOME people (though not as many as you may think) do well with little protein and digest grains very well.  They also do well with beans and their nutritional profiles and blood profiles including insulin sensitivity are stellar.  They also have no zinc deficiency which means the anti-nutrients such as phytic acid are not affecting them.  Most of those people, however, happen to be from a few specific cultural groups, most in the lower hemisphere or from one of those cultural groups still eating a diet largely traditional to their particular culture. Of those cultures who thrive on a plant based grain heavy diet, it should be noted, those cultures generally soak, ferment, roast, or otherwise prepare the grain to lessen the amounts of anti-nutrients present in grain.

The vast majority of people, though they will scream, shout, cry and profess that they digest grains just fine and, even more to the point, that they only eat whole grains and “everyone knows whole grains are healthy, right?”  don’t digest them as well as they think.

Would it surprise you to know that there is more evidence that says this is wrong than says it is right?

In subsequent posts we will be talking about fructose, sucrose and glucose and going into more depth about how sugar is metabolized in the body and the real story on insulin and the problem of insulin resistance and development of Type II Diabetes with regards to sugar consumption.  Today, however, we are going to talk about how grains affect insulin production and the utilization (and consequent storage) of glucose.

Ignorance and confusion over the whole complex carbohydrate (being healthy) vs. simple carbohydrate (being something we should avoid at all costs) argument has led us into murky waters of polluted metabolism issues. Many dieticians go around telling people carbs are carbs and sugar is the absolute death of a healthy body and should be avoided completely.  What’s worse is they preach that whole grains should be the largest part of your diet and if you don’t eat whole grains as the base of your diet you aren’t going to get enough fiber which is going to give you colorectal cancer AND you must be some sort of “low carb” nutcase that should be strung up and quartered in the public square.  The fact is we are fatter, sicker, more hypothyroid, and more imbalanced in both our hormones and adrenals than ever before.

We have been so tricked to believe whole grains are healthy for us because they “absorb slowly”, when, in reality starch rather efficiently triggers insulin secretion and is broken down into glucose and activated  into glycogen (for stored energy in the liver) and fat (for future energy…  for times of famine… for times where energy is most needed) as well as is oxidated for use in cell metabolism (energy production).  It will surprise you to know that sugar doesn’t raise blood sugar levels faster than starches do.

The fact is, starches (even whole grains which are polysaccharides ) are exclusively broken down into glucose.  Since the body’s preferred fuel is glucose, you would think that would be a good thing, right?  Well, here’s the thing.  Because our bodies only require a certain amount of glucose to create energy, and because MOST of us are not active enough to even use the glucose we are ingesting with our grains and legume ingestion, all that extra glucose is stored as fat.

Root vegetables have been lumped into the same category as refined carbohydrates and the poor potato has been made out to be the bane of a healthy waistline.  While it is true root vegetables are mainly starch, they also contain some fructose along with a high mineral content.  They also contain none of the polyunsaturated fats and anti-nutrients that would make absorption of those minerals difficult if not impossible.  If people were to eat more potatoes and none (or at least fewer) grains, they would still find they could enjoy the potatoes and have a slimmer waistline, greater insulin sensitivity, and even, quite possibly, more balanced hormones and adrenals.

I bet you thought polyunsaturated fats were healthy??  After all, WHY oh WHY would our government be telling us canola, corn and sunflower oils are healthier than coconut oil, ghee, or butter (GASP!!!)?  Well, politics and farm subsidies aside, saturated fats have gotten a BAD rap and I will be addressing that rap very shortly.  Polyunsaturated fats are plentiful from the crops that exist in the US, indeed, the world today.  Something has to be done with all that corn and rapeseed!!  The problem is they oxidize quickly (go rancid) making them, essentially, poison, by the time they are eaten.  Polyunsaturated fats block the cell’s ability to utilize glucose as energy which causes blood glucose levels to remain high as the insulin is blocked by the cell receptors and is not allowed to do its important job of metabolizing glucose (helping it into the cells).   Glucose levels remain high which causes insulin resistance (where insulin receptors stop “listening”  to insulin), which leads to metabolic syndrome, the precursor to Type II Diabetes (where  there is too much insulin to be dealt with and fewer insulin receptors leading to a “mismanagement” of blood sugar).

Bear in mind,  modern  dwarf wheat (and, to a lesser extent, other gluten containing grains) also contain amylopectin, which is, in a sense, a “super starch” which is extremely fattening.  This starch is a big part of why our bread is fluffy and inviting.  (Think Wonder Bread)  Where it gets sticky (no pun intended)  is, because of amylopectin, two slices of WHOLE WHEAT bread will raise your blood sugar higher than eating two tablespoons of white sugar.  Crazy or what? Notice I am not even talking about white flour vs. wheat flour.  There is little difference in this case.  In fact, the “glycemic index” of a slice of  wheat bread vs. white bread is 71 vs. 72 respectively.  In Diabetes patients, both types of breads raise blood sugar levels 70 to 120 mg/dl over starting levels.

It should be noted that starchy carbohydrates (such as whole grains, legumes and to a lesser extent, starchy vegetables) can raise blood sugar so quickly that they will cause blood sugar regulation issues such as hyperglycemia and later, hypoglycemia, which triggers the adrenals.  If this cycle is too dramatic over a long period of time we see the negative effects of  high cortisol and adrenaline thus exacerbating adrenal fatigue.   You may think you are perfectly healthy but you might be surprised that some studies indicate 1 in 3 adults (and a growing number of children) are, at least, insulin resistant.  If you are female and having any kind of menstrual irregularity and you eat grains, this could apply to you.

Oh and by the way, whole grain bread IS processed.  It has to be milled (often fine milled) to become flour which is a process, and to that, in most brands of bread, vast amounts of sugar and chemicals are added to that processed bread to give it “mouth feel” and taste appeal.  We have gotten too lazy even to chew bread.  We want it to melt in our mouth.  The fact is, the wheat of ancient days may have been vastly more digestible than the modern wheat of today.

You should also consider that gluten also causes its fair share of digestive nightmares which lead to a host of inflammatory and chronic diseases INCLUDING obesity and Diabetes and grains actually can cause microtearing in the lining of the gut leading to malabsorption of key nutrients.  Grains are not looking so healthy after all, are they?   A glycoprotein or lectin (combination of sugar and protein) called agglutinin, found in its highest concentrations in whole wheat dramatically increases whole body inflammation as well. This is independent of autoimmune reactions and Celiac’s Disease  but can be just as dangerous increasing risks of fatal heart attacks and stroke. It bears mentioning that gluten as well as insulin resistance can have vastly negative impacts on thyroid function and the majority of patients diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease, are able to be diagnosed as having Celiac’s Disease.

Don’t get me wrong, grains do contain some nutrients and even, in their whole state, many nutrients, but the anti-nutrients present in the grain naturally prevent many of these nutrients from being properly metabolized.

Just to prove my point, how many of you are carboholics?  Does the thought of having to give up grains throw you into a cold sweat??  Have you ever tried to give up grains?  It’s like giving up crack!!  Seriously!!  Just like a drug can be addicting (and being addicted to something is NOT because it is healthy and your body needs it) grains are engineered (GENETICALLY engineered) to be addictve.  The powers that be do not want you to stop eating that pasta and all that bread because it lines the pockets of your HMOs and make you sicker so the pharmaceutical companies can make more money on all those drugs they have to prescribe as a result of the issues that insulin resistance cause.

I must note, I am not picking so much on buckwheat (which can be roasted and/or fermented to lower anti-nutrients) or quinoa (which contains saponins, an anti-nutrient, that can be rinsed) because these are “pseudo grains” or grasses, and not specifically grains.  Black rice and wild rice also gets a pass for the same reason.

Again, we are only talking about the effects of starch from grains and legumes (and to a lesser extent starchy vegetables which get a pretty big pass in reasonable amounts especially when eaten with a healthy fat) in this post.  Some carbs are difficult to digest and only raise blood sugar levels by negligible levels such as cellulose laden green vegetables.  We will be discussing the effects of fruit and vegetables on insulin and explaining the “fructose scare” in more detail in subsequent posts.

For all you nay sayers out there, I am NOT a “low carb nut” nor do I particularly consider myself “Paleo” and I do indulge, every once in awhile, in the odd grain and even wheat treat.  I do understand that I will pay for that treat in some way for the next few days.

What do you think?  Are grains your poison?   Could you ever give them up if it meant better health?


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  1. mary says

    Ashamedly I raise my hand to being a carboholic…..I know, I know I should know better!
    I blame it on my Irish upbringing – lots of buttery potatoes and soda bread (and yeah all kinds of bread!) Love my cereal in the morning too BUT I have branched out into eating less wheat – eating more spelt, some quinoa, etc so I guess that’s better than nothing. I may get the guts to try and go grain free at some point as you never know til you try – though as I feel reasonably healthy I guess the motivation to go grain free isn’t strong enough. However, I am sure you are right – and the evidence is strong! One day, one day….!

  2. says

    I found that grains & I don’t mix at all, so I flat out don’t eat them. For breakfast I eat eggs, and roasted acorn squash with butter & cinnamon instead of cereal. Lunch is usually some kind of cold meat (tuna, sliced turkey breast, leftover chicken or steak) & raw veggies with avocado and black pepper. Dinner is usually meat and steamed or roasted veggies. Before I started eating this way I fought with my weight, had a hard time controlling my appetite, and often got low blood sugars. Now I’m thinner than I have been in 10 years, I love the exercise I do, and I don’t have to fight hunger constantly. It saved my life!
    The rest of my family eats a small amount of soaked white rice (with plenty of fat), or the occasional gluten-containing treat, and I make a loaf of soaked/fermented flour bread for them each week, but that is pretty much the limit on their grain consumption. I’d like for all of us to go grain free, but they all seem to be thriving on this diet, so there is no need to force the issue.

    • thedetoxdiva says

      You need to incorporate a LITTLE more fat into your diet though if you eat a lot of poultry. I suggest coconut oil. Your weight would be even easier to control than what it is sans grain. I am glad you at least soak and ferment the grains you feed to your family. Some people do ok with small amounts of grain, properly prepared, of course. It really is person specific. You might try subbing wild rice or red rice for their white rice sometimes, or even quinoa which, properly rinsed, is a pseudo grain.

  3. soconfused says

    Hi, I started my health journey a few years back after my dad had a stroke. I started reading Tosca Reno’s books and I decided to go to school to become a R.D. After reading Tosca’s books I started buying organic chicken and organic grass fed beef and byson, organic cage free eggs, organic milk, organic fruits and veggies and so on and so forth. Here I am thinking I’m being healthy. Not to long ago I came across the documentary Hungry for Change and I bought Kriss Carr’s books as a result. I also came across Karyn Calabrese’s book Soak Your Nuts and bought that as well. Then on pinterest I came across your website and read your point of view on nutrition and now I can officially say I AM MORE CONFUSED THAN EVER. I haven’t gotten into deep in my studies yet to even comprehend all the complex scientific things you talk about (which also now scares me because I know I’ll have to learn all that stuff). I also bought me a juicer and recently started juicing and just becoming more confused on this whole nutrition stuff. It’s very frustrating. I decided to stop drinking milk after reading Karyn’s book and drink almond milk but now I’m confused because you say we shouldn’t eat nuts or certain types of nuts. When all this time we are told to eat walnuts and almonds and blah blah blah. And I also was one who would always eat steel cut oats with walnuts and bananas and organic milk for breakfast and then I read your post on how you say your clients tell you they eat that for breakfast and it’s not good. I just want to be healthy and fit and not go down the same path as my dad. I don’t want you to take this post offensively I just want to know what I can eat cause I am SO CONFUSED! Please HELP!

    • thedetoxdiva says

      Please understand there are millions of diet “theories” out there and they are all confusing, including mine. Yes, there are scientific reasons for my views and since most people don’t do well with grain, a lot of nuts (some in moderation are OK and macadamia are the best because of the fat profile), and even things like raw cruciferous vegetables. You are going to have to sort through a lot of the hype by trial and error. Learn to intutively eat instead of jumping on bandwagons. Veganism, isn’t, for instance, the ONLY answer. In fact, many animals are killed each year in our plight to grow more grains because more people are eating them exclusively. (and causing a stripping of the land from monocrop planting and lack of plant rotation.) All these labels make us forget what our bodies are telling us we need. I don’t drink milk unless it is raw but I do drink raw milk that has been milked from grass fed cows. My body does better on grass fed beef, a little organic chicken, bison, and wild fish, along with other wild meat sources. Cage free, pastured eggs (not supplemented with grain), organ meats, fruits and veggies, these are all things most bodies love but each body is individual.
      You are going to have to really get into biochemistry (which is precisely what I have done) to understand fully how foods really affect your body. Kriss Carr’s book is her viewpoint on what helped her through her health crisis. It works for her up to now. Soaking your nuts does help eliminate phytic acid but it doesn’t completely eradicate it and the wonderful nutrients packed into them are not easily assimilable, plus they are little polyunsaturated fat bombs which is not good for those with thyroid issues or blood sugar issues. They should be eaten in moderation. Everything in moderation. Unfortunately in our culture we are looking for instant cures for perfect health, youth and vitality. Magic bullets simply don’t exist. We have made food our greatest neurosis and lost something intrinsic about nourishing ourselves on all levels including psychologically! Don’t let this all make you crazy and simply ask yourself what makes your body feels the best!!

  4. soconfused says

    Thank you so much Detox Diva for replying. I want to restate again that I hope you didn’t take my post offensively and I am not at all trying to argue with your pov. I enjoy reading your blog and am continuing to learn new things everyday. I took my dad to the neurologist this morning and as I was sitting there I couldn’t help but think,” I do not want this for myself, I need to take care of myself in every way possible.” The body is truly amazing and scary at the same time. Because of my dad never drinking water, only drinking homemade sugary tea and diet cokes, stress and no exercise, fast food and “healthy home cooked” meals his body just couldn’t take it anymore. It is a very sad and depressing thing and hopefully a huge lesson learned for myself on how IMPORTANT it is to take care of yourself. I will continue reading your blog and just soaking up all the knowledge I can and I also thank you for sharing your knowledge with everyone.

    • thedetoxdiva says

      The body is absolutely amazing at knowing how to care for itself though, please know that… I of course didn’t take offense by your comment. I appreciated it. It is absolutely key to do whatever you can to minimize anything that can go wrong with the body due to diet and exercise BUT not take it all so seriously you forget to enjoy your life!

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