For many years, we have been told by experts to eat lots of grains. In the infamous 1992 Food Pyramid, we were told to eat 6 to 11 servings of bread rice, cereal, and pasta every day! And we listened… and turned America into the “Fat Nation” with 70% of us now overweight.
Even the Bible says that bread is the “staff of life.” But, it’s important to note, a completely different type of wheat was used in those times. On top of the traditional assumption that grains are good, brilliant marketers have been able to twist our view of grain products using phrases like “whole wheat goodness,” leading us to believe it must be a healthy choice.
As much as anything else, grains made America. The evidence is in the sheer acreage of farmland we devote to wheat, corn, barley, and sorghum and the excessive amount of grain we consume and export to the rest of the world. Grain-based foods are by far the number one source of calories in the American diet.
The grains that go into those foods— mainly wheat, corn, rice, and sorghum—are among the crops that receive billions in federal farm subsidies annually. So, even our tax dollars are devoted to keeping grain-based foods like bread, pasta, rice, cereals, cookies, cake, pizza, oatmeal, and crackers on top.
Most of these federally subsidized crops are also fed to livestock, which means that Americans are getting grains indirectly, too, from all the grain-fed beef, chicken, and dairy we consume.
The average American consumes 133 pounds of flour a year in their food (down from 146.8 pounds in 1995); that’s more than a third of a pound per person per day, and some of us consume much more. And that doesn’t include all the other grains and potatoes.
As I discuss in Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?, whole grains can be a great source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.While they taste pretty good, the toxic amounts we eat contribute to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and dementia. And most of the grains we eat, even whole wheat, are turned into flour products which have a higher glycemic index than table sugar.
In in my new book, you’ll learn all the pros and cons about grains to determine whether you can occasionally indulge in them, as well as which are the best grains and which are the worst. Here are 7 takeaways from that chapter of Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?
- You don’t have to eat grains to be healthy. In fact, you might be healthier if you didn’t. For nearly all of our history, humans consumed no grains, and our bodies are designed to work very well without them. Yes, there are plenty of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and fiber contained in whole grains, but you can easily get all those things from other sources including vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, and other foods that don’t have the baggage that comes with grains. There are essential amino acids from protein and essential fatty acids from fats, but no such thing as essential carbohydrates. Our bodies are perfectly designed to thrive without them. A small amount of a few specific whole grains is okay if you are not diabetic or obese.
- “Whole grain” is a marketing term. When we eat food with labels touting “whole-grain flour,” we automatically assume that we’re eating whole grains. We’re not. In Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?, I’ll tell you how to read a label so you can determine whether what you’re buying is marketing hype or actually healthy. Whole grain Cookie Crisp cereal with 22 grams of sugar is not a health food. Any whole grain flour is just like sugar.
- Starch and sugar are essentially the same thing. Flour acts more like sugar in your body than a whole unprocessed grain. In fact, eating 2 slices of whole wheat bread raises your blood sugar more than eating 2 tablespoons of table sugar does! Whenever you eat something containing wheat flour, you might as well be mainlining sugar.
- You’re not eating the same grains your grandparents ate. New hybrids have been developed that are much starchier than their predecessors and have a greater impact on our blood sugar than the traditional kinds of starch. (It actually promotes insulin resistance or prediabetes.) The new varieties also have more gluten, which is not doing us any favors. And while most wheat isn’t genetically modified, it is dosed with a chemical herbicide called glyphosate just before harvest, which increases its yield.
- Be careful, even with “healthy” grain products. I’ve seen bread from a major commercial bakery boasting not one, but several “ancient healthful grains,” like amaranth. But when you read the ingredients (in small print on the back), you see that that these grains are way down at the end of the list, meaning they are the smallest part of the mix. Chances are, you’re not going to get a whole lot of unrefined grain nutrition in that loaf.
- Oatmeal isn’t good for you. You probably know most breakfast cereals—even those with health claims on the front—aren’t healthy. But oatmeal? How could a food so boring also be unhealthy? The major problem with oatmeal is the same problem with every other grain: It spikes your blood sugar and makes you hungrier.
- Not all grains are bad. In Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?, I take aim at cereal, oatmeal, corn, wheat (because yes, gluten is a real issue for millions of people, which I explain in detail in the book) and other forms of grains. But there are some healthy grains. Whole grains like quinoa and amaranth that contain no gluten, have not been turned into highly refined, industrialized products, and will never be found in Twinkies, cookies, or pizza crust, are nutritious and delicious. They also won’t send your blood sugar soaring.
In general, we need to recognize grains for what they are—a recreational treat, not a staple. In Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?, I go in-depth about the history of grains and discuss how for most of our existence they weren’t part of our diets. I’ll reveal the best and worst grain sources, why going gluten-free isn’t always a great idea, and answer whether you really need to give up bread entirely. Armed with this information, you’ll have everything you need to make an informed decision about this confusing, contentious food.
In my book out February 27, 2018, Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?, I uncover the truth about the food we actually eat—what is healthy and not in each group of foods we eat—meat, poultry and eggs, dairy, beans, grains, veggies, fruit, nuts and seeds, beverages, and more, and guide to you to a science-based, sensible way of eating for life that keeps you, our planet and our society healthy. I also address the environmental and social impact of the food we eat.
Plus, I take the guesswork out of how to eat food that has the best information for your body, the best quality to make you feel good now and prevent and even reverse illness.
If you have ever woken up wondering what the heck you should eat, this book is for you. Check out the trailer and place an order at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, or get it at your local bookstore. You’ll also get a free video of the 4 biggest food lies out there!
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD