What's So Wholesome About Whole Grains?
Eating most grains is not advised on phases 2 and 3 of the 123Diet, nor is it advised on some other popular diet programs like "Paleo" and "Whole30." This makes sense, given that people don't actually need grains to survive or to be healthy; like animal milk, grains are something we started eating only fairly recently in our evolutionary history, around 23,00 years ago.
Grains, also sometimes called cereals, are plants from the Poaceae family. Also sometimes called grains are a few "pseudo-cereals" that are technically in other culinary categories but nutritionally similar, like quinoa and buckwheat.
True grains are made up of three parts: the bran, germ and endosperm. To make typical white flour, grains are milled, which removes the bran and the germ, which also removes nearly all of grain's important nutrients, including B-vitamins, iron, and dietary fiber.
This process gives the resulting flour a finer texture, a longer shelf-life, and a resistance to pests. The pests, unlike us, realize how unhealthy these grains have now become!
The B-vitamins and iron are often added back in to grain products in in a process called enrichment, but the fiber, which can help combat constipation and reduce your risk of colon cancer, is usually not.
While a whole-grain product is certainly a better choice than the monstrosity of a food that results from the grain refinement process, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a good one. Whole-grain foods are lower in calories and higher in fiber and nutrients than refined grain products, but not in comparison to the fruits and vegetables that you really ought to be eating instead!
While some studies have found positive health effects in people who increased their consumption of whole-grains, most of these studies are observational rather than experimental, meaning we don't know why the subjects ate these whole-grains or what they ate them with. Since whole grains are commonly considered healthy foods, the benefits seen in these subjects could easily be due to their overall healthier diet without whole grains themselves having a significant positive effect.
Even whole-grains are, like nuts, high in anti-nutrients, including lectins, saponins, phytates, and amylopectin. These compounds are unaffected by most conventional methods of cooking, such boiling, frying, and baking. They also won't be destroyed by our own stomach acid.
Anti-nutrients in grains can be reduced by pressure cooking, although most commercial whole-wheat does not go through this process. Two grams of grain flour contains enough phytates to almost completely block zinc absorption, and three and half ounces of grain flour contains enough to decrease iron absorption by 80-90 percent.
Worsening these issues is the fact that today's grains aren't exactly your grandma's grains. Thanks to selective breeding and genetic engineering, grains produced today are higher in fattening and problematic compounds like gluten, which some experts suspect could be dangerous for almost everyone. A quick look into the health status of grass-fed cows vs grain-fed cows should tell you a lot about whether we should be eating the stuff.
A product labeled whole-grain might also still be filled with sugar and additives, and not every wheat product that initially appears "whole-grain" actually is! A piece of brown bread might have been colored by molasses or brown sugar rather than made with actual whole-grain flour, and some commercial "whole-wheat" cereals are made with whole-grains so pulverized that they may as well be refined!
If you've gotta have some grains, a whole-grain food might be best eaten on its own as a quick pre-workout snack, or with a vegetable like tomato that it's anti-nutrients are less prone to interfering with.
Saying no to grains also doesn't mean saying no to baked goods and to tasty, filling foods that have textures similar to the bread you're used to. Alternatives for grain flour include raw nut flours, chickpea flour, and coconut flour.
You should also keep an eye on which grains you choose when you do indulge; look for those that are high in micro-nutrients and in resistant starch, a kind of carb that acts more like fiber. Good choices include some less popular grains, like amaranth, which is high in Vitamin C, and teff, which is high in calcium.
Whole-grain foods would be perhaps most wisely used as an occasional addition to a fruit and vegetable rich diet rather than an excuse to toss your more colorful plants aside. However, if you find that you feel better without ungainly grains on the 123Diet, you're perfectly free to leave them out of your life for good!