It's amazing that medical research has consistently demonstrated the healthy effect of whole grains on human health, but within the online community, whole grains are soundly trashed. These folks act as if it's all a government conspiracy to get us to eat more grain. Well, as you may know, I am not the least bit averse to believing in government conspiracies. I'm into JFK, MLK, RFK, Marilyn Monroe, 911, and others. However, when it comes to food, I think if there is a plot, it is to get us to eat more animal foods. Remember the "Got Milk?" ads? You paid for those ads, that is, if you are a taxpayer. The government runs those ads, and it's because the government buys so much milk to support the price of it. For decades, we have been supporting the over-production of milk and milk products in this country just to subsidize dairy farmers. It's ridiculous, and there is nothing like it pertaining to grains.
In a study, reported in the October issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers from Louisiana State University reviewed the evidence that consuming whole grains is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some types of cancer. Then, they analyzed current trends in whole grain consumption in the United States. First, they noted that among young people, average whole grain consumption is less than one serving a day. It was less than 2/3 of one serving a day. Think about that the next time someone tries to tell you that grains, including whole grains, are causing the obesity epidemic among children and young people. How could that be when they are not eating whole grains? And among American adults and seniors, average daily whole grain consumption was about 3/4 of a serving a day. Therefore, in no sector of the American population are whole grains being eaten abundantly. But for the small percentage of Americans eating whole grains regularly, the researchers found that it is giving them a significant nutritional boost in the areas of fiber, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants.
Regarding research on whole grains, I have never encountered a single study, not one, which purported to show that whole grain eaters did worse than others in regard to any aspect of health. The only negative reports you see in the scientific literature about whole grains pertains to gluten enteropathy,, otherwise known as Celiac disease. It's a very real problem, but it only affects a small percentage of people. According to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, about 1% of people test postive serologically for Celiac disease. But remember, that is a blood test, and not all of those people have symptoms or clinical manifestations of the disease. Some of them just have the immunoglobulins in their blood and that's all. In other words, the blood test tends to overestimate the true prevalence of Celiac disease.
However, diagnosing Celiac disease has become a very popular trend in Medicine, and especially in Alternative circles. And I suspect that trend is going to continue. Fortunately, there are many whole grains that are non-glutenous. Brown rice, millet, quinoa, whole grain corn including popcorn, amaranth, and others are non-glutenous. There seems to be some controversy about oats, but most researchers say that oats are non-glutenous. Spelt does contain gluten, but it's different from the gluten in wheat, and it may be better tolerated. Wheat, rye, and barley are the main glutenous grains.
I have never had a problem eating grains, including wheat, and I do eat them every day. And my favorite grain happens to be oats. I like oatmeal. I like oat cereal. And I even buy oat bread, although it also contains some wheat.
The importance that whole grains have in the diet depends on who you are and your circumstances. I do not suggest for a moment that whole grains must be eaten in order for a person to be well nourished. I realize that it is entirely possible to achieve optimum nutrition without them. However, if you are lean, as I am, and if you have a fast metabolism, as I do, and if you are very active physically, as I am, then I think whole grains are a must. I just don't think I could get enough food without them- unless I started eating things that I really do not want to eat, such as animal foods. Here is what I mean:
I am going to eat whatever amount of fresh produce I am going to eat, and that is not going to change regardless of what concentrated foods I eat. Beans and nuts are concentrated plant foods, and I think highly of both of them. However, there is a limit to how much beans and nuts you can eat. Beans are wonderful- but in small quantities. If you eat too many of them, you know the result: you get gassy, uncomfortable, and distressed in your stomach. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that. And raw nuts are fabulous- tops- but they are extremely rich, so you don't want to overeat on them either. If you do, they'll weigh you down, make you uncomfortable, and delay your digestion for hours. So, even though I eat nuts and beans regularly and prize them both very highly, I'm careful not to overeat on either one. Whole grains fill the gap for me.
Of course, the paleos like to point out that Man is (or at least was) a hunter/gatherer, and grains formed little or no part of his diet until after the Agricultural Revolution. And that wasn't that long ago- about 10,000 years. Be that as it may, I don't think it pays to get overly concerned about it. You could make the same argument about horses. They're not supposed to eat grains either. Horses are supposed to graze on grasses, clover- whatever fresh pasturage they can forage on. But, if you have a really active horse and you try nourishing him without grain, he will waste away. You'll be counting his ribs in no time. Horses can do very well on whole grains- as a small part of their diet- and so can people.
Finally, I want to point out that everything is relative. You can disparage whole grains, but if you eliminate them from your diet, what are you going to eat instead? I've already pointed out that there is a limit to how many beans and nuts you can eat. And if you are going to start loading up on meat and animal products, you are going to be inviting worse troubles than can come from eating whole grains. That seems like a sure thing to me.
So, I am going to continue eating whole grains. If they're good enough for horses, they're good enough for me.