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Why Whole Grains are Bad for You

A long… long time ago I posted about our new endeavor, the “tooth healing diet“. Well, I don’t think I called it that, but that’s what it is. We started, if you recall, with drinking lots of water. Now that we have a system in place for that, which we are loosely following… hmm… anyway now we are going to start on our next phase – grains.

Grains have always been so confusing to me. They were on the bottom of the food pyramid… so that means we’re supposed to eat a lot of them, right? But then I got older and everyone told me that carbohydrates (cough… bread… cough) were bad and made you fat so… lay off the grains! Then there are so many different kinds of grains, should I choose whole grains or white bread? Obviously cake isn’t good… and the packaging isn’t always clear, does this just contain whole grains or is it actually whole grain?

Even doing research on the topic only brings up more questions than answers. Some people say that whole grains are actually bad for you, that they’re too difficult to digest. Many even recommend white rice over brown rice for this reason. Others say grains aren’t people food anyway, so we shouldn’t be eating them at all. But most of the main sources, doctors, etc. still claim that whole grains are the way to go. After a while of this, my head was spinning….

I needed to pare down the competition. Worldview check: Are grains inherently bad for you? Scripture consistently talks highly of grains; we are even commanded to eat bread in the Lord’s Supper… obviously not inherently evil. Ok, grains are good, so now we just need to figure out which kinds and, most importantly, how to eat them.

Even in disagreeing sources, everyone agrees on one thing. If you’re going to eat grains, they need to go through a preparation process to be edible and digestible. Ramiel Nagel has a thorough article on just this topic that you can read here. I am not going into quite so much detail, but I will outline the basics. He does not have a quite comprehensive step-by-step solution in his article, (I think you’d have to buy the book for that) so I had to do a little more hunting to find everything I was looking for. All of which I will be sharing with you over the next several months as my family embarks on our own journey to cure tooth decay.

So, let’s get to the good part; why are whole grains bad for you? Two words: phytic acid. What is phytic acid? According to Wikipedia: it “…is the principal storage form of phosphorus in many plant tissues, especially bran and seeds.” Mr. Nagel explains that the problem with phytic acid is its snowflake-like molecule. In the middle is phosphorus, which is more or less stuck inside the phytate because we humans only have one stomach and do not have the ability to fully process it. This makes the phosphorus in the food unavailable to us. Furthermore, the “arms” of the phytate molecule easily bind with other minerals in our body (such as calcium and iron) making those nutrients unavailable as well. These are the anti-nutritive properties of phytic acid and the reason why it is dangerous to our health.

That’s all good and well but… what does it have to do with my teeth? Quite a lot actually. In my last post I clued you in on two of the main causes of tooth decay: a dry and/or overly acidic mouth.

There is one other extremely important element that cannot be overlooked, nutrition. We all know that your body needs nutrients to function properly; it is the same with our teeth. Just as with water, when your body is low in other nutrients, it will take those nutrients from less critical areas (like your teeth!!) and transfer them to your vital organs. This can cause your teeth to be less protected, weakened and more likely to develop cavities.

Also, if you are already experiencing tooth decay it is imperative to have a nutrient-dense diet in order to give your teeth the extra nutritive boost they need to remineralize. Teeth can and do remineralize, but that obviously takes quite a lot of extra minerals to do so. How are your teeth going to get extra nutrition if there isn’t enough nutrition to go around in the first place?

So, we need to fix the dangerous anti-nutrient properties found in grains, so that they do not steal precious vitamins and minerals from our bodies and teeth. If you remember from the definition of phytic acid, it is found concentrated mostly in bran and seeds. Where do you find bran? In whole grains. But, the bran has so much fiber! Don’t we need that? Isn’t it good for us? Well, yes and no.

There is some scientific research to show that actually too much fiber, specifically fiber from whole grains, can be dangerous. Konstantin Monastrysky details the dangers of this particular kind of fiber in his book “Fiber Menace“. If you go to the link you can read under the book description several of the institutions which have published studies on just this problem.

Obviously, and more well-known, is that white grains (wheat, rice, etc.) are not good for you. In white grains the husk, bran and germ are all removed, leaving precious little nutritive benefit, as most of the nutrients are found in the germ. In whole grains only the husk is removed, preserving the bran and the germ. But remember, this is bad because the bran has anti-nutritive properties. So… deciding between white and whole grain is almost like deciding between not good for you and bad for you food. Where’s the happy medium?

This question is answered differently for all the different types of grains. Besides choosing the best grain, we also must take into consideration how to prepare our grains in a way that minimizes phytate content and maximizes digestibility. Each grain is unique and should be considered as such.

These are the basic considerations I have taken into account in developing our new diet.

As a family we are taking one grain at a time, two weeks per grain. This week is week one in our home for oats, which is the first grain we are revamping in the kitchen. Week one is spent identifying foods with unhealthy oats and purging them from our home, next week we will focus on learning the proper preparation methods for the oats that remain.

My next post in this series will deal with what you should look for in an oat product to make it both nutritional and digestible, and I will show you which products from our home we are ditching for good.

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