Dissecting the Myth: Why Grains and Gluten Aren’t Bad for You

Home / Nutrition / Dissecting the Myth: Why Grains and Gluten Aren’t Bad for You

A new craze has been sweeping the blogosphere as of late, and it’s decidedly anti-grain. Naturally, after all the good things you’ve heard about whole-grains and their wealth of benefits, this came as a bit of a surprise. I wanted to know, why are people saying this? Is there any truth to it? Are grains bad for you? Is gluten bad for you? Is there any scientific evidence to corroborate this new way of thinking? In my quest to find out, I put together a detailed article examining where this myth came from, who’s spreading it, what they’re saying, and the the scientific evidence that ultimately proves them to be wrong.

Be forewarned. I’ll be going against the grain of current popularity in this article. (Ha! You like what I did there?… No? Awkward.)

The Perpetrators

After exhaustive research, it became exceedingly obvious that nearly all the anti-grain rhetoric found online came from the pro-Paleo crowd (if you’re unfamiliar with Paleo, have a look at my take on it here). This is unsurprising of course, because one of the very foundations of the Paleo philosophy is that grains are evil and to be avoided at all costs. I found it quite difficult, however, to actually find any scientific data which conclusively supported this Paleo-centered approach to grains.

Sure, there was the odd scientific publication that had a word here or a word there that, when taken out of context, could be used to further this anti-grain propaganda. But as for an overwhelming amount of peer-reviewed research that decisively and definitively axe grains as a healthy or even acceptable food group? It doesn’t exist. Not even close.

Have a look for yourself. Google “are grains bad for you.” Lo and behold, the first 3 results that pop up are Paleo. The first results that pops up for me? Marks Daily Apple. This is a blog run by Mark Sisson, one of the more famous pro-Paleo bloggers. He has written a book called the Primal Blueprint, and he makes his living by promoting the Paleo ideology.

Of the following 9 results on the first page, 7 of them are bonafide grain-bashers. Of those 7, all of them are personal blogs, run by one person, that support or promote the Paleo or raw/whole food diet. They all share a common belief that if the caveman didn’t eat it, it must be inherently bad for humans. Again, you can read why this theory just doesn’t hold up in my article, here. All of those websites either promote one of the main pro-Paleo books (like The Primal Blueprint, The Paleo Diet, or The Paleo Solution) which they make a commission on, or they sell their very own self-published book that promotes a Paleo-style diet which forbids grains.

Here is a batch of results that came up when I googled “are grains bad for you”:

Site #1     Site #2     Site #3     Site #4

Site #5     Site #6     Site #7

What Types of Sites are These?

It’s definitely interesting and important to note that none of these pages are from reliable, trusted institutions of research. These are websites created by one person, edited by one person, and written by one person. Legally, what they say is nothing more than opinion, it doesn’t have to be correct and they are accountable to no one. They don’t need to have evidence to support their claims because there’s no one forcing them to do so (in the interest of full-transparency, I am no different from the above sites, except of course in the fact that I don’t profit in any way from what I say in this article).

Even when a scientific claim slaps them in the face, straight from the mouth of the researcher himself, they often decide to ignore it. Want an example? Of course you do. Feast your eyes on this exert from Mark Sisson’s post on why “grains are unhealthy.”

“A few years back, scientists found that high-fiber foods ‘bang up against the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract, rupturing their outer covering” which “increases the level of lubricating mucus.’ Err, that sounds positively awful. Banging and tearing? Rupturing? These are not the words I like to hear. But wait! The study’s authors say, ‘It’s a good thing.’ Fantastic! So when all those sticks and twigs rub up against my fleshy interior and literally rupture my intestinal lining, I’ve got nothing to worry about. It’s all part of the plan, right?”

What Mark did here was link to this article published in Science Daily based on research done by Dr. Paul L. McNeil, a cell biologist at the Medical College of Georgia. What McNeil, the expert, the researcher, and the authority in this instance said was this:

“When you eat high-fiber foods, they bang up against the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract, rupturing their outer covering. What we are saying is this banging and tearing increases the level of lubricating mucus. It’s a good thing.” He goes on to say, “It’s a bit of a paradox, but what we are saying is an injury at the cell level can promote health of the GI tract as a whole.”

… But Mark took this and twisted it around. He then, without any evidence whatsoever, made his own conclusions about the matter. Worse still, he published these thoughts on his website, only to perpetuate these make-believe facts that have no basis in science. This, ladies and gentleman, is how rumors begin, and in my opinion, is ethically questionable. In case you missed it, you can find the article he’s referencing here (it’s always best to go straight to the source).

Home-Grown Pseudoscience



Granted, this is just one example of a Paleo-guru ignoring the facts. However, in my experience, it is representative of the attitude of many grain-bashing folk out there. They’ll take bits of information from here and there, combine it with a little bit of theory and pseudoscience, and whip it up into their latest argument against the evil little grains.

I can’t stress enough that this stuff is very much from the fringe of the pseudoscience community. Any talk about grains being bad for you is not from the experts, the researchers, the scientists, or the P.H.D.’s in the field. No, it’s from the lone Paleo bloggers, looking to buy his or her next Mercedes, bike, horse, or Flintstones-mobile.

Let’s take a closer look at what the grain-bashers have to say about grains. After all, if we didn’t analyze the facts, we’d be just like them now wouldn’t we. I’ll use Mark Sisson’s rant against grains as a framework to mount my rebuttal.

Science and Evidence

Mark states in this article that you do not need Grains for the following reasons:

Statement #1: You don’t need fiber, he uses this website as his proof.

Statement #2: You can get the vitamins and minerals from other foods.

Statement #3: They are “completely and utterly pointless in the context of a healthy diet”.

Statement #4: The Cavemen didn’t eat them.

Statement #5: Humans “cannot” handle grain consumption, because “we simply do not have the wiring necessary to mitigate the harmful affects of lectins, gluten, and phytate”. He cites about half a dozen articles that supposedly support his claim.

My responses to these statements are listed below:

Response #1: WebMD, The Mayo Clinic, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of California system, the Canadian Diabetes Association, Netdoctor, the National Institues for Health, The New York Times, ehealthMD,  and the Harvard School of Public Health disagree with you. Just to name a few… off the top of my head. Peer-reviewed research more your style? Have a gander: Health Benefits of Dietary Fiber.

Response #2: This is true. You can in fact get pretty much all of your vitamins and minerals from other sources. However, this puts a fair bit of pressure on you to eat a wide range of food items on a daily basis. It’s much more nutritionally sound to include grains in your diet, to make sure you have a wide range of vitamins and minerals at your disposal. This goes with all food groups. It’s best not to eliminate an entire food group from your diet without due cause because it puts a great deal of pressure on the remaining food groups to try to fill in the nutritional gaps.

That said, just because you can get the vitamins and minerals found in grains from other foods, is not cause in and of itself to cut grains out of your diet. Just because we may not need something in one particular light, does not make it inherently unhealthy.

Response #3: Thanks for the opinion, champ. Please refer to the sources in response #1 for my thoughts on the issue.

Response #4: Actually, that’s not necessarily true. A publication by the Oxford University Press called People, Plants, and Genes: The Story of Crops and Humanity tells us that there is indeed evidence that cereal grain has been processed and consumed by early humans as early as 200,000 years ago.

For the sake of argument, lets just assume that grains weren’t part of the diet of an average human being until around 10,000 years ago. Who says that’s not enough time to warrant an evolutionary change? On the flip side, who said grains are badass enough to require the human body to change at all? Where is the proof that grains are too much for the normal human digestive system to handle? Oh right, there isn’t any.

Response #5: So this is the big one. Gluten, Lectins, and Phytates have been vilified by the anti-grain and pro-Paleo communities viciously and without rest. These three molecules are the backbone of their argument against grains, and have hence been singled out to be proverbially hung on the gallows. Not surprisingly, maybe, because without a little bit of scientific jargon to confuse the more gullible Paleo follower, the Paleo guru’s money making machine would crumble at their feet. I’m going to tackle Gluten, Lectins, and Phytates one by one.


Gluten is a protein complex of the two proteins, gliadin and glutelin. They are bound together by starch, and found predominantly in nature in the seeds of various grasses. Gluten-sensitive enterophathy, more commonly known as celiac disease, is an autoimmune inflammatory disease of the small intestine that is the result of eating gluten. In these individuals, the body treats gluten as if it were an invader, and subsequently mounts a significant immune response. It affects approximately 1 in every 250 people. It’s worth noting that the results of eating gluten in those with gluten-sensitive enterophathy are almost completely reversible.

There is also a growing number of people who have begun to label themselves as gluten-intolerant, or gluten-sensitive. The medical industry now refers to this condition as non-celiac gluten-intolerance. This is not the same as celiac disease in that eating gluten is potentially dangerous to gluten-sensitive individual, but much less worrisome for the gluten-intolerant person. There are no antibodies for gluten present in non-celiac gluten-intolerant individuals and there is no observed damage to the lining and architecture of the intestine, unlike their celiac counterparts.

If you are an individual who is sensitive to gluten, allergic to gluten, or if you have full blown celiac disease, then gluten will make you feel miserable. It’s responsible for a whole host of health problems in these individuals, from headaches to IBS. The affects of gluten on celiac individuals are not new, and medical professionals have been using a gluten-free diet to treat these individuals for over 40 years.

While there is no doubt that gluten causes problems in the minority of the population, there is no evidence whatsoever that gluten is problematic for the average, gluten-tolerant individual.

The Increasing Prevalence of Gluten-Intolerance

Still, it’s health affects have come under prominent scrutiny as of late, both from non-celiac gluten-intolerant folks and from those who believe that it is not “natural” to eat gluten. They point to the disputed fact that gluten wasn’t a major staple in the human diet until around 10,000 years ago, when agriculture underwent a major revolution.

Anti-gluten advocates also point to the growing prevalence of gluten-intolerant people in western cultures today. Indeed, some studies find that celiac disease and gluten-intolerance has increased four-fold in the last 50 years. Still, the problem affects the vast minority of the population, and there is no definitive answer as to why this increase in prevalence is occurring. Of course, there are many theories.

Something called “detection bias” may have something to do with the massive increase in diagnosed cases. The very fact that gluten is such a hot topic these days makes people (health care workers included) more aware of the condition. The more aware people are of a condition, the more people tend to look for it. The more people look for it, the more who find it. Before recently, non-celiac gluten-sensitivity had been under the proverbial medical radar.

Now granted, detection bias probably doesn’t account for the massive change in the amount of gluten-related illnesses in the past half-century. Another theory that potentially explains the increase is new-age genetic modifications and production techniques used within the food industry. Gluten is now widely used as a food texturizer, and can be found in everything from deli meat to candy to potato chips. The new nutrient combinations could be theoretically functioning as an immune trigger in some individuals. Still, the mystery remains, and as of 2013, there is no solid scientific evidence which definitively answers the question.

But Wait! Does Gluten Intolerance Even Exist?

Fast forward now to 2014, and the story has changed once again. Peter Gibson, the Professor of Gastroenterology whose original study in 2011 triggered the current gluten-free craze has went back to the drawing board. He wasn't satisfied with his original study as it left a whole host of triggers of gastrointestinal distress uncontrolled for. He devised a second study, one that controlled for these other triggers, known as FODMAPs, and came to the opposite conclusion of his initial study. He's quoted as saying, “in contrast to our first study… we could find absolutely no specific response to gluten.” In other words, when they controlled for every other substance that could possibly cause distress in the gut (the FODMAPs), gluten no longer remained a culprit. The lesson? Innocent until proven guilty, and gluten should be no exception to that.

This research leads to a particularly interesting finding, that is, that FODMAPs are a far more likely cause of the gastrointestinal problems normally attributed to gluten intolerance. Jessica Biesiekierski, a gastroenterologist at the Translational Research Center for Gastrointestinal Disorders was quoted talking about the participants in a recent study on the topic, “reduction of FODMAPs in their diets uniformly reduced gastrointestinal symptoms.” Generally, non-celiac gluten sensitivity is assumed to be the culprit when celiac disease is ruled out. But that is a “trap,” Biesiekierski says, one which could potentially lead to confirmation bias, thus blinding researchers, doctors, and patients to other possibilities. She goes onto say, “on current evidence the existence of the entity of non-celiac gluten sensitivity remains unsubstantiated. Much, much more research is needed.” The bottom line? Researchers aren't even sure if non-celiac gluten intolerance even exists anymore.

The Take Home Message About Gluten

As home-grown theories about the health affects of gluten abound, there is no credible scientific basis for it. As Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center  so eloquently puts,

“The potential adverse health affects of gluten in those sensitive to it have reverberated in cyberspace, creating the impression that gluten is a bona fide toxin, harmful to all. This is false; gluten is not ‘bad’ for those tolerant of it, any more than peanuts are ‘bad’ for people free of peanut allergy.”

He goes on to point out that avoiding gluten is justified for some, but unnecessary for most.

“The effort is well-justified for those who are truly gluten-sensitive, but potentially much ado about nothing for others just caught up in the trend. In addition, the exclusion of whole grain wheat, rye, barley and potentially oats from the diet might reduce overall diet quality and fiber intake. Again, a price worth paying when gluten avoidance is clearly necessary, but cost without benefit for others,” Katz says.

I’m glad Katz brought this up, as the hyper-abundance of anti-grain material sweeps blogs and forums across the nation, little is being said about the negative health affects of gluten-free diets. Registered dietitian Wendy Marcason said in a 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association that a gluten-free diet presents “many negative features, including the high cost of the diet, the difficulty following the diet, and the risk for developing amino acid deficiencies and conditions of bone loss.”

This small study even shows preliminary evidence that a gluten-free diet may in fact decrease the count of beneficial bacteria in the gut, and increase enterobacterial counts, which are microbial features associated with disease. More research needs to be done on the issue before anything can be conclusively decided.

Ultimately, the recent fad can be summed up nicely by Dr. Alessio Fasano, direct of the University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research. “The bottom line for gluten-sensitivity,” Fasano says, “is there are very little facts and a lot of fantasy.”


Lectins are a naturally occurring phytonutrient that plants use as insecticides to protect themselves from insects and other potential predators. Mark Sisson states that Lectins are toxic “antinutrients,” that attack the stomach lining of insects, bind to human intestinal lining, and maybe even cause leptin resistance.

Before I say anything else, I want to mention that “antinutrient” isn’t really a word. It’s not used by the nutritional or medical communities and you won’t find it in the dictionary. I can only conclude that he refers to lectins in this assumably negative way due to the fact that lectins, in some circumstances, have been shown to act as a toxin in the human body. Now, learn this.

Lectin is in all foods. Read it again grain-bashers. Lectin is in everything you eat. 

Most of the lectin we eat is rendered harmless by cooking, as the majority of lectins are deactivated by heat. However, some lectins, like those in carrots, apples, bananas, avocado, corn pumpkin seeds, wheat bran, wheat flour, dry-roasted peanuts, and more, are not deactivated easily by heat, so they’re often active when we eat them.

The lectins that do make it into our bodies in an activated state break down the membranes of cancer cells (reducing prostate, colon and other cancers), fungi, bacteria, and viruses (HIV-1 included).

Lectins only become a source of intestinal discomfort when they’re consumed in extremely large quantities. When you overload your system with lectin, it starts to affect your intestinal cells in the same way it does with cancer and virus cells. This affect is not new and is well documented in the medical community.

As with many things in life, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing, and lectin is no different. Saying that a food is toxic or harmful to the human body because it contains lectin is a little like saying carrots or apples are toxic or harmful to the human body because they contain arsenic. Yes, arsenic is a toxin. Yes, it can kill you. No, the arsenic in an apple or a carrot is not unhealthy. It’s misleading to think like that, not to mention incorrect. Heck, even water will kill you if you drink too much of it in too short a time span. Life is all about balance, and lectin is no different. When ingested in its natural amounts, as part of whole foods, it is not something you need to actively fear or avoid.

It can become counterproductive when you try to micromanage the nutrients in foods by avoiding certain ones. Sure, if you isolate lectin and ingest a large dosage of pure lectin, it will cause an adverse reaction in the body. Often times when you take one constituent of a whole food and isolate it, you’ll indeed find that it’s detrimental to your health in large amounts.  Fortunately, this isn’t a very useful or realistic analysis; lectin isn’t isolated when you eat it with food. When you eat lectin in food, with all it parts intact, you achieve balance and reap its health benefits.

The evidence accusing lectin of any ill-affects on the body simply isn’t there. Eat on, brethren.


Phyates (also known as phytic acids) are antioxidants found in legumes, nuts seeds, and whole grains. Phytate-bashers claim that phytates make minerals “biounavailable.” Again, this is not a real term. What the anti-phytate crowd is trying to say, is that phytates render all the nutritious minerals and vitamins you eat useless. At least, that’s what Mark Sisson says in his article.

What Mark is likely alluding to is that fact that phytates can bind to certain dietary minerals and subsequently slow their absorption into the body. While this is absolutely true, saying that by consuming phytates you’ll basically neglect the body of vitamins and minerals is complete and utter hogwash.

Phytates in your everyday meals are not something you need concern yourself with, so long as you’re eating a balanced diet. The average American gets enough minerals in their diet to more than make up for the relatively small amount of minerals that get bound to phytates.

The important thing here is to recognize that phytates are broken down by a large degree by cooking, and unless you’re eating a diet made up predominantly of grains, they pose no negative health risks.

The Benefits of Grains

Not only are any negative claims about grains untrue for the gluten-tolerant individual, the many proven benefits of grains have been completely ignored by those who spread these nutritional myths. In my hunt to discover the truth, I needed to seek out the opinions of recognized institutions in the health industry. This is what I found out.

Diets high in grain have been shown to significantly lower the risk of developing heart disease and stroke, increase IVF success in men, protect you from high blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity by lowering insulin levelssignificantly reduce heart failure riskreduce risk for blood vessel disease and cancerreduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, and help to lose and maintain weight. Indeed, the health benefits of whole grains are simply too good to ignore.

Do we need grains? No. Does evidence prove, barring any gluten-sensitivity, that including whole-grains in our diet is a healthier option than leaving them out? The answer is unequivocally, undeniably yes. 

Now, where is my sandwich?

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  • Josh…thank you for all of this information in this article. I am SO tired of all the pseudo-science on the web that attempts to tell people what and what not to do. You can find ANYTHING on the internet. Whatever agenda someone has they will state unsupported “facts” to support their agenda. I do realize that this goes both ways; however, all I know after 40+ years of life is that trends come and trends go. This anti-grain FAD will be gone in 10+ years and will be replaced by another. STOP people. Eat balanced diets. Do not eat too much of anything and do NOT worry so much about what you eat. Here is the one and only FACT that I know is 100% true: We will all die one day. Again, thanks Josh for your article.

    • Josh Vales

      You’re very welcome Tim! Glad you found it helpful. It’s true, you can find nearly anything on the internet. That’s why it’s best that when it doubt, look for sources that have backed up their claims. Even better, do your own research.

      I would agree with you that this whole movement against grains is very much a fad.


  • kat

    again, for someone who is so vocally against pseudoscience, you don’t seem to do any research other than “googling”.

    Here’s a link to a study from Colorado State, with over 300 citations of scientific publications, about how many diseases – more than just celiac – are directly attributable to excessive grain consumption.

    If it’s too long for you to get through, here’s the summation paragraph:

    “Cereal grains are truly humanity’s double-edged sword. For without them,
    our species would likely have never evolved the complex cultural and technological innovations which allowed our departure from the hunter-gatherer
    niche. However, because of the dissonance between human evolutionary nutritional requirements and the nutrient content of these domesticated grasses,
    many of the world’s people suffer disease and dysfunction directly attributable
    to the consumption of these foods.”

    • Josh Vales

      That is a link from Dr. Loren Cordain himself. He is the grandaddy of the Paleo movement, and this article is not a study, it is an article. It is quite old now, and has been picked apart by various sources for various reasons. There’s not a whole lot of sound scientific evidence at all, unfortunately.

      If you were in the science profession, you’d know that a paragraph like the one you quoted would never be in the conclusion of a research publication.

      • I think the key phrase here and one you hit on Josh is:

        “Here’s a link to a study from Colorado State, with over 300 citations of scientific publications, about how many diseases – more than just celiac – are directly attributable to excessive grain consumption.

        Again, anything that is consumed excessively is likely bad for you. You’d think some people would read and process their information BEFORE they make themselves look like idjits.

        Anyway, great read!

        • Josh Vales

          Thank you Angie! I agree, I feel like many people who comment on this issue haven’t even fully read the article! Moderation is key, thanks for dropping by the site.


          • Let me start off by saying that I am a paleo “dieter”… and I agree with you guys that there isn’t a lot of actual scientific research out there. Especially with Cordain. There are a lot of “articles” that grab information and then throw it together to support the cause. This is a huge problem with me as I work in the medical industry, and this simply isn’t enough. I wouldn’t say that I’m entirely against grains, as I eat them from time to time and do ok, BUT I would say that there is better. You can get more vitamins and minerals per calorie from veggies and fruits than a piece of bread, whole grain pasta, brown rice, oats, etc. Not to mention, if veggies and fruits lack phytates and gluten, wouldn’t that be better??

            I have seen NUMEROUS people go paleo and do just fine without grains and dairy–in fact they flourish. They loose weight, sleep better, lower triglycerides, lose chronic headaches, increase muscle mass, decrease cholesterol, etc. The problem is that most people cut out grains and don’t supplement this loss of calories with healthy fats and veggies. So they end up cutting calories to an unhealthy deficit, get too hungry and burn out.

            I’m not really trying to argue that grains are terrible and that you should stay away from them… but you make three statements that I’d really like to address.
            #1: “unless you’re eating a diet made up predominantly of grains, they pose no negative health risks.”
            I don’t know if you’re around “average” Americans a whole bunch, but they eat predominantly grains. Breakfast includes oats or cereals or granola bars, lunch includes sandwiches (like you said yourself), dinner includes pastas, brown rice, breads, etc. The fact of the matter is that because people and governments rave about the benefits of grains, veggies and fruits usually go by the wayside.

            #2 “This small study even shows preliminary evidence that a gluten-free diet may in fact decrease the count of beneficial bacteria in the gut, and increase enterobacterial counts, which are microbial features associated with disease. ”
            I looked at this study, which seemed very interesting, and while they do state that a gluten free diet decreased the amount of healthy gut bacteria, they don’t discuss WHAT the gluten free diet is they put on the 10 healthy people (with no randomization, small population size, no differing treatments, etc). They also state that “The reductions in polysaccharide intake associated with the GFD could explain the observed changes in the microbiota, since these dietary compounds usually reach the distal part of the colon partially undigested, and constitute one of the main energy
            sources for commensal components of the gut microbiota.” Polysaccharides come in many paleo sources, such as: starches (yams, sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips… basically root veggies or tubers), cellulose (skin of fruits like apples and pears, leafy veggies such as spinach, and even nuts and seeds), and pectin (nuts, flax seed, oranges, apples, carrots)… which your article also talks about a high amount of dietary fiber increases butyric acid, which creates a hostile environment for gut bacteria.

            #3 “Grains are undeniably necessary for a healthy diet”
            In my quest to discover any reliable studies that looked at a paleo diet to a grain based “recommended by health care professionals and the government” diet, I found this study (http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1475-2840-8-35.pdf) which looked at these two diets and their effects on diabetics…

            In short, grains aren’t necessarily terrible, but they’re not the end all, be all, best source of foods and they are not unequivocally, undeniably necessary for optimal health.

    • I really don’t want to be a grammar nazi but its coming out.
      The word is “lo” not “low” “lo and behold”
      And you can’t say “vast minority”
      Vast means big. Minorities are small. You could say tiny minority but not vast.
      Sorry. Carry on.

      • Josh Vales

        Don’t apologize, good eye!

      • “Insignificant minority.”

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  • I’ve been looking for a quality criticism of Paleo since I became interested in the diet, and this seems the closest and most well-informed. So, props!

    However, one thing is still bugging me: Are the benefits of grains simply a push for whole grains over processed / refined grains? In this case, I have no doubt that whole grains are healthier.

    Do you have any proof that backs up the benefits of eating grains compared to eating no grains?

    • Josh Vales

      Thanks, Nicole!

      You might find this an interesting read: http://wholegrainscouncil.org/files/ASNsummary2010.pdf
      It’s a summary of the benefits of whole grain consumption, as opposed to both eating non-whole wheat grains and no grain at all. Nutritionally speaking, not eating grains at all and eating “white” grains are almost the same thing, as white grains don’t have any nutritional value at all; they are empty calories.


      • If you’re supplementing not eating grains with eating fruits and vegetables, it would not be the same as not eating grains at all since those are not empty calories…

  • So, that guy up there can’t argue against grains by linking to Cordain, but you can argue for grains by linking to the WHOLE GRAINS COUNCIL? I’m sure they’re totally unbiased 😛

    • Josh Vales

      The link was actually to a study published by the Journal of Nutrition. The contents of the study were presented at a symposium of the American Society for Nutrition. The Whole Grains Council just linked to that study, and that’s the link I put up out of convenience. Maybe click on the link next time 🙂

  • Strange timing that I searched on this topic only a week after its publishing. Even stranger that I clicked on this link before any of the anti-grain stuff. Thanks for saving me from filling my head with that other biased garbage!

    • Josh Vales

      Anytime, Grainy McGrainerton.

  • I just want to thank you so much. I felt like you gave me the best resource of information on this matter. For the past few months I have been trying to figure out the truth behind grains. I love to eat and stay healthy. And now I can eat healthy in moderation without the nagging question is grains good for me?

    • Josh Vales

      You’re very welcome Elizabeth! Thanks for dropping by,


  • Grains don’t seem to be an essential part of our diet and they do seem to carry some risk of elevating blood sugar, so why not just leave them out of our diet. There is more than enough nutrients to be had from non starchy vegetables with little argument from either the dark side or the light whichever be the wiser. 

    • Josh Vales

      Well, they do seem to have some health benefits, as you can see at the bottom of this article, therefore, I’d argue that you should include them in your diet if possible. Food will elevate blood sugar levels after you eat no matter what – this is normal and and unavoidable. It’s large spikes, such as those from refined carbohydrates and sugars that should be avoided when possible.

      • Being a type 1 diabetic I can watch a serious spike in blood sugar after consuming grains. Doesn’t matter if they are whole grains, refined, etc. The spike is pretty significant, like with most complex carbohydrates such as white potatoes.

        Removing those grains from my diet resulted in less fluctuation of blood glucose, resulting in less dependency on insulin. This therefore lowered my insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is attributed to a number of health consequences (Type 2 Diabetes comes to mind). I replaced the missing carbohydrates with more vegetables and healthy fats.

        Am I missing some benefit from the 20 or 30 links you pasted from places like Mayo Clinic touting how important grains are for our diets? Plenty of cultures around the world don’t have grains readily accessible and don’t eat them, they aren’t dropping like flies.

        I’m not a hardcore plaeo fanboy, I’m just someone who removed gluten/grain and noticed an improvement in my auto-immune function (type 1 diabetes) and better blood sugar control/insulin requirements. I also lost some weight which wasn’t intentional but interesting. Blood sugar A1C and vitals actually look better across the board…I think the issue I have with critiques of these lifestyle changes is you are approaching this from a macro position, not taking into account other benefits of such a lifestyle change on the micro or individual level. Sure you found a bunch of links that show how grains are good (from reputable sources) and how grains are bad (from non reputable sources) but with enough Google grease I could probably do the same. Maybe the approach is to find out what works for someone, analyze why, and then draw some conclusion. Simply citing research on either side of the fence isn’t that interesting.

        • Josh Vales

          In your case, since you are Diabetic, being vigilant with your carbohydrate intake is ABSOLUTELY necessary. You stand FAR more to gain but reducing your spikes in blood sugar by regulating your carb intake than you do by including carbs in your diet.

          In this article I simply state for the average healthy individual, there is no reason to completely shun grains completely. They have their place, both out of convenience, taste, and health. However, there is nothing saying you have to eat them to have a healthy life.


      • Jim

        90% of the grains we consume are in the form of Bread, Cereal, crackers, and Pasta. All of these are refined carbohydrates. No one is out there pulling wheat out of the ground and eating it fresh from the stalk. Even the so-called whole grains we consume are semi-processed. The whole rational behind processed vs whole grain is very flawed. If you were to just swallow WHOLE unprocessed kernels of grain 99% of the grain would simply pass through you undigested and nothing would happen. This is by design. Mother Nature created the lectin that is in the outer shell of grains/nuts/seeds for the purpose of protecting the seed. LIKE YOU SAID, it is the seed’s built in insecticide. It also protects the seed from being digested. Just Google “Define Lectin”. By definition, a lectin is a complex protein-carbohydrate that BINDS to anything and everything it can attach to. The lectin in the seed’s outer shell (the BRAN) binds with the mucus in your small intestine. This coats the seed with mucus and the seed passes through undigested. You can try this at home and see for yourself that when you swallow most seeds they exit the rectum looking just like they did when you swallowed them. THAT’S NOT A PROBLEM!! The problem occurs when you GRIND these seeds up into powder to make them edible. The only way to get any nutritional value out of these seeds is to grind them into powder so the digestive tract can break them down. Now we are back to eating processed grains again (refined carbohydrates). When this happens ALL of the Phytates, Gluten, and Lectins that were concealed inside the grain/seed have full access to your digestive tract. In other words, by eating that sandwich with 2 slices of bread you released more toxic lectins/gluten/phytase in your body than you would have if you had swallowed an entire gallon of wheat seeds/grains.

        I preached mostly on lectins here and little on gluten and phytates. The reason phytates are a problem is the ABSCENSE of Phytase Enzymes. Phytase occurs naturally in most seeds and coexist with Phytic Acid. When a seed is dropped on the ground the Phytase enzyme breaks down Phytic Acid and starts the germination process. This is why you SOAK many grains and legumes before processing and/or cooking them. Soaking them activates the Phytase Enzyme and over time will neutralize the phytic acid. How do you think bread was made before yeast was discovered?? Whole RYE grain has the highest Phytase enzyme to phytic acid ratio which is why it works for most people doing a Low-Carb diet. Rye bread is the original bread for those dieting (even before the days of Paleo and Low Carb). This goes back to Biblical times. Rye grains would be mixed with wheat grains to make flour. No one knew why back then, but the Phytase in rye will neutralize the phytic acid in wheat. When this happens a gas is released and you see bubbles. That’s when they knew it was ready to bake. Yeast does not neutralize Phytic acid this way. That’s why the bread we eat today is more toxic than the bread eaten before Jesus Christ. So, it’s as simple as adding rye grains to the mixture when you make bread…….NOT! We can’t do this today because PROCESSING rye grains to make rye flour DESTROYS all of the Phytase Enzymes. You have to have fresh rye grain and grind the rye at the time of use and it must be used right away. Just air coming in contact with the rye grain starts the break down of the VITAL Phytase Enzyme.

        So, to conclude my rant I have to AGREE with you that REFINED carbohydrates are the problem. The oxymoron here is that 90% of the grain based foods we eat are refined. To promote a grain based diet after discrediting all the processed versions is an oxymoron. None refined grains don’t exist in any grocery store and you can’t go out and pick it off the side of the road. Getting it straight from a farmer has it’s own risk with pesticides. So how do you discredit Paleo? It seams to be the safest way to eat.

  • The Paleo hysteria about ‘antinutrients’ does get annoying, thanks for putting this out there Josh!

    • Josh Vales

      Not a problem! I agree, it annoys me too. Thanks for dropping by the site!

  • Just wanted to say, good job. Your article didn’t delve into the issue of highly refined carbohydrates which I think is a key element in the arguments I have seen against grains. There is a lot to be said for recommending people not eat something like white bread. This has to do with the glycemic index. Typically, the less processed a grain, the more healthy it is and has less adverse effects? I think. In other words, you should be making a differentiation between whole grains (or sprouted grains) and highly refined grains. Refined grains are the dreaded carbs everyone is talking about. These are typically the stuff in anything made with white flour (or white flour with a little coloring to make wheat bread.)

    Also, I am always blown away when people make comments like, my aunt cut out gluten and now she is great. So, did your aunt actually go to a Doctor and get confirmed as being celiac or gluten intolerant? You say that your aunt is much better after following the edicts of a diet? Well, praise be. Everyone who follows a diet will probably feel better simply via the benefits of watching what they eat. What these people seem to be saying is, she is more conscious of what she eats, ergo she is watching her calories and minding the things she is putting into her body. Plus, the diet also probably suggests they exercise more. Watching what you eat and exercising make 99% of people feel better. Wow.

    Furthermore, I always have a problem with people saying they have no energy. Do they have a regular exercise routine? If someone doesn’t have a regular exercise routine, then they probably feel like crap more than someone who does exercise regularly. Beyond that, once you start exercising, you realize unless you eat a balanced diet from morning till night, you are not going to have the energy necessary to keep up the routine. This is usually when the PALEO people come into play. I kid you not, instead of telling people they should switch to whole and sprouted grains, they simply tell people to stop eating carbohydrates altogether.

    Good article. Thanks for writing.

    • Josh Vales

      Thanks for the great comment, Seth. I agree with you that I am blown away when people making sweeping comments about how they feel exponentially better and blame it solely on grains. There are usually a whole multitude of things that are different, including eating a greater variety of fruit and vegetables in place of those grains, as well as what you said, an exercise regimen. I think that all this anti-grain sentiment should be aimed at refined grains, not whole grains – but people seem to buy into this “Paleo” idea without much persuading.


  • As a paleo supporter I would like to congratulate you. You have found every single flaw in the paleo argument. Some of the more “Sensible” paleo supporters understand that Mark Sisson is one man and is quite frequently wrong. I completely agree with the idea of moderation. You may not have known, but paleo people still eat grains, As often as 3 times a week. The major problem us paleo supporters have with society is that they are eating too many grains. You even acknowledged that to many grains can be harmful. My main concern is that many Americans are eating too many grains. Lastly paleo covers other health concerns specifically GMO food and artificial additives. I salute you and your informative and accurate analysis. I leave you with this question.

    If an idiot wants to jump of a bridge for what they believe in, why stop them?

    Great read thanks!

    • Josh Vales

      Thanks for the great comment, Colin. As with most decisive issues, there are two sides to everything, and both sides usually have their own merits. The Paleo diet isn’t all bad, as I’ve said, and people can definitely learn some great eating habits from it. Thanks for dropping by!


  • There is, actually, evidence in the literature that gluten (the gliadin fraction) is damaging to the guts of non-celiacs.

    Here’s the paper:

    Title: Gliadin, zonulin and gut permeability: Effects on celiac and non-celiac intestinal mucosa and intestinal cell lines.

    Conclusion: “Based on our results, we concluded that gliadin activates zonulin signaling irrespective of the genetic expression of autoimmunity, leading to increased intestinal permeability to macromolecules.”

    Meaning: gliadin leads to leaky gut, even if you’re not a celiac or gluten sensitive person.

    Any thoughts about this paper?

    • Josh Vales

      There is VERY little research done on “leaky gut” – which is a favourite scare tactic used by Paleo Gurus. Even that paper you posted says that there is very little research on the subject. From the research that I have encountered, it’s on in Celiac and Crohn’s cases that this is even an issue. The fact is, there is no such thing as “leaky gut” per say, it’s often just something undiagnosed. Read: http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/features/leaky-gut-syndrome

      • (I swear I replied to this thread… is it perhaps in some spam queue? :S)

        • Josh Vales

          Sometimes that happens!

      • “Even that paper you posted says that there is very little research on the subject.”

        The vast majority of scientific papers say in their introduction that there is very little research on their subject. It is a standard way of suggesting that their research is significant. It says nothing about the validity of the conclusions.

        • Josh Vales

          I’ve read through my fair share of scientific papers in a variety of different disciplines, and although I’m sure most researchers would love to think their research is significant, your statement simply isn’t true. The vast majority of studies build on other studies, adding a small but valuable piece of information. It’s rare to find areas which haven’t been studied thoroughly.

  • Good article. Unfortunately there is too much hype and cult like followers in the different modalities of eating. Pseudo science is detrimental and undermines everyone. Phytic acid or IP-6 or Inositol Hexaphosphate can be of great importance to our health. See here for a very quick primer; http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/complementaryandalternativemedicine/dietandnutrition/inositol-hexaphosphate

    What we should all do is read the study anyone mentions and see for yourself if the study backs up the stated opinion. Bias is the worst “filter” (or blinders) anyone can have.

    • Josh Vales

      G. Suarez, good advice! Thanks for dropping by.


  • You can go up and about, both you and the Paleo gurus. You can take out your swords and fight. I know only one thing, and one thing only: the Paleo diet saved my life. It didn’t only fix my gut, but a whole host of other problems I had. I was with one foot to the grave.

    • Josh Vales

      I’m glad it helped you, Eugenia!

  • Dan

    Hey Josh,

    The high protein, low carb diets have been around for a few decades now, so it’s probably no longer accurate to brand them as ‘fad’ diets. Personally, the most interesting aspects of grain cultivation was the impact that it had on the development of modern civilization and beer, not necessarily in that order.

    A few points worth pondering…

    As the total amount of grain, grain oils and grain sugars have increased as a % in the American diet (both directly and as animal feed), so have obesity, diabetes/metabolic syndrome and autoimmune disorders. This is a creating a healthcare and economic crisis.

    While in no way a conspiracy theorist, the US government does seem to plow quite a bit of money into ‘Farm Bills’ and farmer support at the behest of underpopulated farm belt senators, largely to the benefit of Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland and Monsanto. Granted, you do stress that only whole or sprouted grains be consumed, but that’s not what the vast majority of grain calories consumed are.

    So, I think we can agree that the overwhelming majority of grain based products consumed today by Americans have a negative impact on heath.

    I think the 5 points rebutting the need for fiber is a strawman argument. Since Paleo diets typically recommend eating, in addition to wild fish, game or pastured meat, as much non-starchy vegetables and non-tropical fruits & berries as one can consume, the fiber issue is pretty much moot.

    On Lectins generally, and grain and bean lectins specifically, it seems that the jury is still out. I’m not sure what data or studies you’re referring to when you say ‘The lectins that do make it into our body’s in an activated state break down the membranes of cancer cells (reducing prostate, colon and other cancers), fungi, bacteria, and viruses (HIV-1 included).’ Are you really saying that lectins cure cancer, fungal, bacterial and viral infections, including HIV?

    There is evidence that Lectins affect gut permeability and perforated guts are linked to a host of autoimmune disorders. However, according to WebMD, ‘Leaky gut’ is still largely unstudied. See Web MD on ‘Leaky Gut Syndrome”


    Wikipedia, though hardly the final authority, has a succinct summary that includes the following:

    Digestion and immune distress

    Foods with high concentrations of lectins, such as beans, cereal grains, seeds, nuts, and potatoes, may be harmful if consumed in excess in uncooked or improperly cooked form. Adverse effects may include nutritional deficiencies, and immune (allergic) reactions.[9] Possibly, most effects of lectins are due to gastrointestinal distress through interaction of the lectins with the gut epithelial cells. A recent in vitro study has suggested that the mechanism of lectin damage may occur by interfering with the repair of already-damaged epithelial cells.[10]
    Lectin and Leptin Resistance

    Lectin may cause leptin resistance, affecting its functions (signal have high levels of leptin and several effects gathering to protect from lipid overload), as indicated by studies on effects of single nucleotide polymorphisms on the function of leptin and the leptin receptor.[11] Such leptin resistance may translate into diseases, notably it could be responsible for obesity in humans who have high levels of leptin.

    In short, I think the jury is still out on the role of grains and beans in healthful nutrition and/or endemic obesity, Metabolic Syndrome and other autoimmune disorders.

    • Josh Vales


      Yes, we do eat far more grains now than we did before. But, because of that, we probably eat far fewer vegetables, fruits, and other healthy foods. It’s hard to say what is the cause and effect here. Could modern diet be suffering because of a lack of health fruit and vegetables? From over consumption of calories (likely), or from the ingestion of grains?

      Also, of course I am not saying that Lectins can cure any of those things. All I’m saying is that they are beneficial when it comes to breaking down cells walls of foreign invaders.

      Thanks for the comment!


  • Kez

    I have used my own brain to realize this is another fad. That is how I found this and many other pages about the gluten-free lifestyle. It’s IN grains. IN them, not added. Perhaps should not be used in other foods as an additive but like we use flour and water as glue in paper mache and other crafts, they realized it had other possibilities. I know people that cant eat mangos because they are allergic to pistachios and its a similar or same enzyme – does that mean mangos are bad for all human consumption?? Just use your head and think these things through.

    • Josh Vales

      I agree Kez. Just because something may not work for one group of people, doesn’t mean the entire population should shy away from it. Thanks for dropping by!


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  • I find your site refreshing. I am sick of seeing all the preachy health gurus pointing fingers at what is right and what is wrong. Diet is such a personal thing. I am currently changing my diet to help level out blood sugar and do have some grains but not a lot. I have started having a more paleo type breakfast but mainly because I want to start my day off on a more savoury basis so I can get used to not craving so much sugar since giving it up. I like sites like yours, where you voice with passion the alternative view on these topics. Thanks again!

    • Josh Vales

      Hey Kelly! Thanks very much for the compliment, I really appreciate it. Stay well,


  • al

    i would be interested in your investigating the notion that one can cure tooth decay with diet alone. all the experts agree that it is impossible (and laughably so), but anecdotes of success abound (mommypotamus blog as a good post on it). as the parent of a toddler with tooth decay, this is a stressful and pressing issue for me. i don’t have the luxury of waiting for science to study my situation. studies say sedative drugs may be harmful to developing brains so it is beyond important to me to do what i can to avoid dental work at this age. i bring this up because the cure tooth decay crowd is also anti grains (grains must be pre-digested (soaked or fermented) first). your article makes it sound like the only reason to buy into the anti whole grains thing is because you’re not a critical thinker (or have a specific intolerance). i believe whole grains must be bad because though my son has no obvious food sensitivities or allergies, he developed cavities on a completely healthy diet and the only thing bad he ate (or drank) according to anyone was whole grains.

    at any rate, if i believed your research was conclusive, (or if i dismissed anecdotes and only looked to proven science) i’d have to resign myself to filling baby teeth possibly under general anesthesia. as it is, we’ve been able to contain the decay, and my own teeth have shown signs of improvement. diet is not the only change we made, of course, and you can always dismiss anecdotes no matter how numerous, and that is great for scientific rigor, but not so good as far as being helpful to people who need help. (sorry if i’m rambling….)

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  • Jenny

    An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a co-worker who has been
    doing a little homework on this. And he in fact bought me dinner because
    I stumbled upon it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this.
    … Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending time to talk about this topic
    here on your site.

  • What ever happened to a balanced diet? i.e. Canada Food Guide? Its all gone out the window I guess. I am a sixty year old woman. I have no health issues. I eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and grain. I eat some meat, but not a lot. I never feel lousy after eating anything with grain in it, but on occasion I feel crappy when I eat too much meat at one time. I just don’t understand all this nonsense of taking certain food groups out of one’s diet completly. It is very drastic. I won’t do it. I love my bread and healthy grains. I say, its all about balance, with vegetables and fruit being #1. (and the occasional glass of vino).

  • In terms of celiac, levels of ALL food allergies are increasing. As far as I know, no one has tried to argue other common allergens like nuts or shrimp are bad for everyone though.

    In terms of the fiber article in question, it’s a little bit out of date and most fiber researchers are now focusing not on “bulking” qualities of fiber, but on fiber’s effects on the microbiota. Particularly on how it can feel good bacteria that produce inflammation-reducing short chain fatty acids. Learning about this was one of the things that convinced me to eat grains again. There are many types of grains (and pseudograins) and many types of fiber in grains. Not all of them are the type of fiber that were irritating my GI tract. In fact, eating things like oatmeal and buckwheat finally got rid of the stomach problems that had only gotten slightly better on a grain-free diet. I occasionally receive emails from other people who had the same experience.

  • Check google trends for “paleo diet”….it is not a fad.
    Things that get this popular are not just some money generating scheme by Mark Sisson….

    However I’m sure you got plenty of hits from taking this “controversial” stance clearly aimed at just driving angry paleo-types to your site. You got me, for one.

    • Josh Vales

      Had to laugh when I read your comment… “check google TRENDS for ‘paleo diet’… it is not a fad.” A trend is almost undoubtedly a fad. The two are one in the same. And no, this article is not aimed at driving angry people to my page. In fact, I’d rather they didn’t say anything at all.

  • How to prove than any food is good for you: Google “food x is bad for you” and then complain that you didn’t find any peer-reviewed journal articles.

    • Josh Vales

      Had to chuckle at this.

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  • I could argue that TREND and FAD are NOT one and the same…….a FAD is a TREND that ends……if it’s still TRENDING it is headed towards not ending up as a FAD…..

    • Josh Vales

      I believe a trend ends too.

  • commenting system broken?

    • Josh Vales

      Not that I’m aware of!

  • Very interesting stuff. I’m reading this because a friend of my mom’s gave me the Whole 30 book and they really want me to try it out, but some warning bells went off when I read that I couldn’t eat grains, legumes, etc.

    Sadly, my mom has celiac so she really can’t have gluten and her stomach lining must be just about destroyed or something because there are a lot of foods she can’t have without getting sick. She keeps saying that it can be reversed – like you note in your post – but it’s been four years and from what I can see, she’s just getting worse. She doesn’t do the Whole 30 or Paleo thing, by the way, she just stays away from gluten (and also soy because she has an allergic reaction whenever she eats soy).

    Anyway, this was a good read, and I liked the abundance of health websites you linked to for your rebuttal.

  • Hey, I am very surprised your radar did not detect Dr William Davis and his Wheat Belly (blog, book, cookbook). I have been wheat free for 9 months, and my health got MUCH MUCH better. I am not carb free, I do eat some (pseudo)grains like buckwheat or quinoa, and eat a lot of rice. I eat a lot of fibers as well, not because I feel I need it but because I eat real foods which do contain some. Anyway, having removed wheat or gluten bearing grains, PUFAs and refined sugar has been the best diet move for my health. Having these items removed from my daily WOE is easy and I don’t feel like a social outcast if I refused this or that food that is proposed to me. The thing is: I do not feel like eating those. What’s wrong with that ? I am not trying to be primal or paleo or whatever you want to criticize here, I am just eating nice healthy whole foods which satiate me very well and which I find delicious and supporting my well-being. And to be honest, I don’t care what other people eat. You like wheat ? be my guest.

    • Josh Vales
    • Alex

      I wouldn’t recommend you to start eating wheat. However, the problem the author addresses is misinformation and I agree with him. You made a big change of diet. Even just watching what you eat makes a huge difference. Reducing sugar in itself has been proved to bring about great changes. Removing all wheat and gluten from your diet can be extremely beneficial because you stop eating a lot of processed foods, a lot of chemical-containing foods, but also, a lot of inadequately processed wheat. Increasingly through the last hundred years, wheat has been processed differently: fermentations are cut short or eliminated, natural leavening has been substituted by leavening agents that don’t reduce the sugars in wheat and that don’t produce lactic acid which is beneficial for digestion and the processing of gluten before you eat it (and of phytic acid). A lot of traditionally unyeasted breads have become whole wheat in the last decades (whole wheat is tougher to digest if you don’t ferment it with natural yeasts of wheat, but worse yet if you don’t ferment them at all. I concede all this makes eating wheat today potentially harmful for everyone, but the issue remains that the anti-gluten propaganda remains being inaccurate. it is not the gluten as much as the process (and the things around it).

  • Thanks, Josh, for sharing this information with the world online. We’ve found at Happiness Series in our recipe testing and research with healthy diets that a diet including grains, like black & brown rices, steel-cut oats, quinoa, and other whole grains, make us feel (and look) good. I’ve been skeptical of the Paleo thing since it came to my attention. Any diet that pushes that much protein seems to encourage imbalance & a great diet is all about balance! Just like life. So thanks for stepping into the ring and going a round for grains.

  • I think this article was ironic, in saying that most of the antigrain articles are opinionated, as is this site, but I think this site was very informative, and I agree with you all the way.

    Here’s another BS grainbashing article


    I don’t disagree with her assertions, but they are very weak, in summary,
    Grains are bad, m’kay

    -They’re not the most nutrient dense
    -They cause “leaky gut syndrome”
    -30% to 40% of European descendants are gluten intolerant, and therefore, you must be too, because as we all know, everybody on earth is European and gluten intolerant.
    -They’re inflammatory
    -They’re new.
    -They’ve got phytic acid
    -They’ve got carbs

    So, according to her logic, I should avoid folate-rich lamb liver (inflammatory) beans and nuts (phytic acid) fruits and vegetables (they have carbs). So I should just take all my nutrients intravenously.

    I wish you had assailed this article.

    • Josh Vales

      I’ll have a look at that article Tray!

  • Josh,
    I think you brought up interesting points, particularly on pointing out some possibly misleading anti-grain bloggers out there. It helps to have a reminder that we shouldn’t be blindly trusting all the bloggers out there, even if they have a huge following.

    I did want to comment on the article you linked on Gluten-sensitive enteropathy. You stated it is completely reversible but when I read the article, I did not get the impression that they meant you could get back to eating gluten. They stated that you would have to cut gluten completely out of your diet to reverse the chronic symptoms (weight loss, anemia, fatigue, etc.). I wouldn’t think that means you would no longer have problems with gluten (or did I misinterpret what you were meaning when you said it could be reversed?). Thoughts? Thanks for your article!

  • You seem to be pointing at Loren Cordain a lot for psuedo-science and lack of references yet at my last check Loren Cordain’s paper http://www.direct-ms.org/pdf/EvolutionPaleolithic/Cereal%20Sword.pdf on grains had 323 references to scientific journals. Another point is that it the paper does point out the health benefits of grains but then goes ahead to give good information on the ways it can be harmful. So balanced, well argued and well referenced; not unlike actual science.

    I am in no way saying that “paleo” is the best way to eat but it has opened a lot of peoples eyes to the fact that they are not eating whole foods anymore and that the recommended dietary requirements may be wrong. It seems that this is an article that is used by people to justify their own way of thinking.

    I do agree though that there is a lot of misleading information out there and it can be a minefield to navigate through the “chaff”.

    • I think Loren Cordain’s paper says it all–342 sources. Is that enough for ya, Josh?

      • Josh Vales

        No, sorry. 350 is my minimum.

  • Thanks for your article. I appreciate the scientifically backed health info and the caution about looking more carefully at web based sources of health information. I worked in natural health publishing for several years and many fads, and saw first-hand how pseudo science is used to manipulate. We all should be more skeptical about nutritional advice recommending extreme measures or that cuts out several food groups. Legumes and grains are staples in many cultures and for good reason. They are the cheapest source of proteins and carbs. With 1 in 8 people worldwide going hungry, our focus should be on how to feed more people rather than creating diet plans too expensive for most people to implement.

  • Where to start? I think its correct to be concerned with the increase in obesity/diabetes/ heart disease. To isolate particular causes seems somewhat political to me. Alot of smoke screens in different individual and group agendas.Things I do believe. Our food supply has been tampered with too much. Too many chemicals and too much processing away of the nutrients. A large portion of our water supply is polluted. The soil is depleted. The Industrial Revolution is taking its toll. Our society has changed too much. Everything has to be fast. Too much greed. We need to demand better things for ourselves. Help each other. The big question is can all of the damage be reversed?

  • Oh… where to begin?

    First of all, thanks for writing this article. I found it by googling “why are grains bad for you?” As you mentioned, I was bombarded by Paleo blogs.

    I love grain. I am an endurance athlete with a penchant towards plant-based raw foodism–I admire intelligently applied raw food diets… but I am not an adherent because grain is a marvelous, time-efficient way to replete glycogen. I am not addicted to grain. I don’t crave it. I eat it (in whole form, without smearing fat and sugar all over it) because it is convenient, cost-effective, and time-efficient. And I feel very good.

    The raw food “gurus” don’t like grain unless it is sprouted (it has to be alive); the fruitarians don’t like it at all (it isn’t fruit); paleo folks don’t like it (because it inevitably, it sabotages low-carb lifestyle).

    Everyone in the comment thread needs to remember a few points before they spout off on the same tired arguments:
    1) We KNOW correlation isn’t causation.
    2) Recent disease data reflecting an era of higher carb, lower red meat and fat consumption in no way represents a population eating grains in their whole form and keeping away from sucrose/HFCS consumption, and refined oils. The paleo crowd inappropriately interprets this data every chance it gets (thanks, in large part, to Gary Taubes).
    3) Carbs alone–be they fast or slow–do NOT cause diabetes. Show me a diabetic primate that isn’t human–they are 80+% carb. Anyone?
    4) The author ADMITTED to being another one-man-wonder blogger (and though I agree that some of his trusted institutions are often influenced by a political agenda–what isn’t?).
    5) If you eat only grain, of course you’re going to be unwell. There are a billion malnourished people doing just that.
    6) The SAD diet includes wheat, corn, soy, sugar/HFCS, potatoes, pork, beef, chicken, eggs, and dairy… and that’s about it. You can blame the wheat for the deficient diet, or you could blame something else, or you could load up on fruits and veggies and displace ANY of these foods and see a benefit. This is what EVERY diet book does: raw, paleo, vegan, 80-10-10, macrobiotic, etc. ANY TIME YOU ELIMINATE PROCESSED FOOD AND REPLACE WITH LOTS OF PLANTS YOU SEE AN IMPROVEMENT. So was it the (insert title) DIET that saved your life? Or the whole plants themselves?
    7) We seem to have forgotten that prehistoric man MUST have eaten grain in order to decide to cultivate it later. It would be silly for any one of us to accuse grain cultivation as NOT being an improvement. And believe it or not, some agricultural societies were better nourished than their hunter-gatherer neighbors; but the reverse is also true. It just depended on the area.

    Good job, Josh, whoever you are. We need more people to step it up on this side of the argument.

    • Don’t know what to say to this besides “Amen”!

  • Just wanted to thank you for your article. I personally went paleo about 8 months ago, and found that I did feel better after eliminating grains. However, I recently decided to start incorporating them back into my diet for a couple of reasons. First of all, I started becoming ‘orthorexic,’ which is to say obsessive over all the food I ate. I had to make sure that I was eating paleo 100% of the time, or I’d get anxious and that really prevented me from living my life in enjoyment and freedom. Second, I figured I’d see if eliminating grains really were to cause of my feeling better. I just began eating rice and oatmeal and guess what? – I don’t feel worse! In fact, I really missed those foods and am eating them everyday now with no problem! I think I’ll incorporate all grains again, but thanks to paleo I have broadened my taste buds and eat a variety of food now, so I have paleo to thank for that. I do think the reason many people say they feel better is simply because they eat a variety of good foods rather than focusing heavily on carbs.
    One more thing. Heart disease and the myriad health problems we are facing today is likely NOT due to grains; people 50 years ago were MUCH healthier than we are today (in general), and they ate plenty of grains. What was different is the fats. While back then our omega 3:6 ratio was much higher, today we have very little omega3 and way too much omega 6, which leads to oxidation. I think this is the primary concern, not the grains. Everything in moderation, and I think we can live a healthy life.

  • Eugenio

    Very great post. I juzt stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I
    have really enjoyed surfing around your post
    In any case I will be subscribing in your feed and I’m hoping you write once more soon!

  • This guy knows what he’s talking about.

  • I have started to follow you on FB. I am sooooo tired of the constant barrage of people talking about grains and grass-fed animals only. why can’t people realize animals need grain, people need grain, our ancestors ate grain…. their ideology is worthless. anyway, I’ll stop ranting. Thank you for your post, looking forward to more.

    • Josh Vales

      Thanks AnnMarie! There’s lots more to come.

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  • The irony is that you critique Mark Sisson and other paleo guru’s for basing their blogs’ information on opinion, but you are doing the same here, although both of you are basing your opinion on documented research.

    Don’t get me wrong, as an aspiring vegetarian, I don’t really appreciate the paleo diet that much, but I just thought that the first time reading this article, this irony was note worthy.

  • did you mention Dr, Mercola and his no-grain diet?

  • I have read both sides of the story and this one seems to make the most sense logically. I believe grains are good for you. We all need fiber in our diets. This is a no brainer. We all need protein. Protein helps in muscle building which leads to a higher metabolism and in turn leads to burning unhealthy fat. Some people may be allergic to gluten. And if that is the case they need to avoid it. However, in general there is nothing wrong with
    gluten and eating the grains which contain the gluten.

  • Josh,
    You are a champ.
    I Am a retired chef and have seen plenty of these fads, (also known as trends) come and go.
    Wasn’t too very long ago that we watched Atkins nearly implode.
    And I quit cooking professionally for a great deal of reasons, but the main one being health and safety.
    When is the population going to wake up and see that it’s not at all the gluten, or dairy, or carbs, or whatever that’s making people sick,
    But the food itself is?
    Nearly all of our food is processed to some degree, our land has been over chemically fertilized for year’s, our tap water is riddled with poisonous fluoride, our animal protein is full of growth hormones, even the most trusted organics are littered with carcinogens, pesticides and more.
    But it doesn’t even begin to slow there.

    We bring these toxic foods from the market, cook them in aluminum pots and pans, that are scientifically proven to cause anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and more.
    Then after they boil in a depression chamber, we take them directly from a heat source to a plastic, Tupperware container. That’s also carcinogenic receptacle?
    How about all of you quit whining as to whether grains are bad
    (They aren’t)
    And realize it’s the toxic fuck!ng sludge we feed our animals, and grow our vegetables in that’s the REAL problem.

  • Thanks for your article. I have been wondering whether the ‘no grain’ diets have any merit to them and have attempted to investigate further so that I could make a decision as to whether I should follow suit. In reading your article, you’ve given us enough information to go back to the original references and track the scientific evidence. To be honest, I haven’t found this to be the case with the anti-grain articles. In most cases I find them to be mere blogs, with ‘claims’ but no actual citations or references to credible sources, this is not to say there aren’t any out there, I just haven’t yet come across them. For this reason I will continue to include grains as part of my ‘balanced’ (being the key word) diet. Thanks again.

  • Kim
  • why

    I don’t know why people keep spouting lies about phytates. If the phytic acid is already bounc to minerals it will give up the minerals in order to chelate heavy metals. It has no affinity for minerals we need. It’ll only grab onto heavy metals, and free calcium/iron ( where they shouldn’t be ) an chelate it out of the body. Only if you take isolated IP6 can it it have negative effects, and even then it doesn’t have a need for minerals we need.

    IP6 cleanses heavy metals
    IP6 attaches to heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium, as well as loose iron, copper and calcium. [J Agriculture Food Chemistry 47: 4714-17, 999] IP6 is a selective chelator — it does not attach to potassium, sodium or magnesium, important electrolyte minerals required for heart rhythm. IP6 does not remove calcium from bones or iron from red blood cells. Once chelated (attached), these excess minerals are excreted via the urinary tract. [Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 35:495-508, 1995]”

    You sir are spouting pseudo science yourself. Any phytate food YOU GET ALL THE NUTRIENTS from them. It all depends on how well you digest it, but it will not be inhibited by the phytates themselves.

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  • Lue

    Great article! We will be linking to this particularly great content on our website.
    Keep up the good writing.

  • Farida AL-Rimawi

    i’m truly impressed by this post, too good information and science citing, thanks a million! i add you to G+ but i dont see you post often

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  • Nice article 😉

  • Carissa Oswald

    Pseudoscience is a bitch ain’t?! I wish people didn’t consume such BS!!!!!

    • Josh Vales, CPT

      I agree!

  • Alex

    There are a few other things you might want to point out. There are many books by renowned authors (best example is Wheat Belly) waging war against gluten, mostly because they’ve seen incredible changes on patients who have done that, just as some posters here have experienced. The problem with that is that they inadequately use gluten as the enemy. A diet that is gluten-free brings many positive changes in someone’s life mostly because it is a complete change of behavior. People start watching what they eat, but most importantly, they eliminate from their diet thousands of products that contain gluten, which also contain a lot of junk, or highly processed and are often contain a lot of sugar.
    With all this, gluten is indeed harsh on the organism if it is not processed adequately. For thousands of years, gluten, as well as phytic acid in grains, soy and rice, have been consumed through an adequate processing (souring, long fermentation times) that breaks down gluten for healthy human consumption and/or removes part of it and the phytic acid through some refinement. A diet that is very rich in wheat and other grains that haven’t been fermented adequately can have negative effects, especially if the high gluten consumption follows the established trend of “whole is better” (whole can be better if adequately fermented and processed). Worse yet, a lot of the whole wheats are being used with no fermentation at all (cookies, biscuits, cakes, muffins, bars, cereals…) The battle against gluten solves the problem by simply not eating anything that could be processed inadequately, but is not accurate and might misinform the public.

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  • I switched to eating sprouted grains about a year ago, and definitely feel it now whenever I eat whole grains or processed grains. I think we’ve been eating grains for a very long time, and our bodies are fully prepared to digest them (though of course some people have allergies to just about any food). But I do believe we traditionally soaked our grains long enough to make them more easily digested. There is an awful lot of indigestion, GERD, etc. going on, and this could be the reason. I think sometimes people think they are gluten intolerant when really they are just getting older, so they have fewer digestive enzymes, so either need to supplement with more enzymes or eat foods that are more easily digested.

  • cammy2014

    Thank god (or goddess!) for your voice of reason! Great article. I often wonder just how Paleo fans are so sure of what paleolithic humans normally ate and how healthy and long-lived they were. My guess is they ate whatever seemed like a good idea and that they were probably lucky to make it to 45.