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Old 10-16-2008, 07:07 PM   #1
Fenthis Glusos
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Default A case against 'whole grains'

Much of the advice from both mainstream and holistic health sites and books still recommend that people have high fiber diets using whole grains. But is this advice based on common medical dogma or on sound scientific evidence? Just because some studies show that some people, perhaps even a majority of the population, may benefit from a high phytate, high fiber diet, it does not then logically follow that those types of diets are beneficial for 100% of the population. In fact, for people like me, they may do more harm than good.

For much of my life I followed conventional medical dogma and ate a high fiber, whole grain laden, low fat diet. Yet I really wasn't very healthy. I had fibromyalgia, heart palpitations, low body weight, and numerous maladies that I realize now are associated with zinc, vitamin K and magnesium deficiencies. When I stopped eating whole grains and got more fat and meat into my diet, my health improved dramatically.

An acquaintance of mine had a similar experience. She went on a weight loss diet and, upon the advice of a popular diet program, started eating whole grain crackers and bread for snacks. As a result, she also developed insomnia, heart palpitations and anxiety problems, which all stopped as soon as she cut off the whole grain, high fiber diet and went back to a lower grain, lower carb diet. All of her symptoms are medical issues that have commonly been linked to deficiencies of magnesium, and there have been medical studies that show that high fiber, whole grain diets can lead to decreased absorption of magnesium and other important minerals. So the symptoms linked to her diet changes may have logically been attributed to her increased consumption of whole grains.
Personally, I've never noticed any problem with high fiber foods that were not whole grains. It's only whole grains that my body seems to have a problems with. Fiber from cooked beans, fruit and vegetables seems to be fine.

Many medical web sites state that while foods like whole wheat have phytates that may bind with minerals and make them less absorbable, the amount of minerals contained in the food makes up for this. I would say this dogma does not correlate with my personal experiences nor those of my friend. So I checked PubMed to see if there have ever been any actual studies on this subject.

Interestingly, I found a study just on this subject from researchers at the Research Department of Human Nutrition, Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Frederiksberg, Denmark. The study abstract was entitled Zinc, copper and magnesium absorption from a fibre-rich diet. The researchers examined selected mineral absorption and retention from a high fiber and high phytate diet of conventional foods in 8 healthy subjects. At the end of their study, they concluded that absorption of zinc, copper and magnesium from the fiber rich diet was not sufficient to cover intestinal and urinary losses of these elements, resulting in negative balances.

"Because whole grains and milk maintain the next to the lowest nutrient density rankings, displacement of fruit, vegetables, lean meats, and seafood by these staple food groups lowers the overall micronutrient density in the diet."

from Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

So this study confirmed what my acquaintance and I had both suspected from high intakes of whole grain foods. Perhaps for some people who may not be at risk for mineral deficiencies, these negative mineral balances would not pose a problem. In fact, consuming whole grains have been shown to be a great way to lose weight. Whole grains contain enzyme inhibitors that interfere with metabolic efficiency, causing the body to burn extra calories just to digest and absorb whole-grain foods. If you are overweight and not nutritionally deficient, then maybe this type of food is ideal for you. However, for people like me who always seem to be on the cusp of nutritional deficiencies, especially those of zinc and magnesium, I've learned that high grain fiber, high phytate diets are not the best food choice.

Interesting to note considering how whole grains are most often touted as the ideal substitution for the more refined ones (white rice/bread, etc.).

I actually found that since having incorporated whole grain oatmeal into my diet for breakfast on the days I eat it, that I tend to have heart palpitations during the day -- which could be, as the article above states, from the whole grains blocking the absorption of key minerals like magnesium, vitamin K, etc.

Going to go back to a fruit and nuts breakfast now, screw the oatmeal.

I also remember reading somewhere that whole grains are worse for the GI tract as well when compared to white flour products.

Chime in!
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Old 10-16-2008, 10:00 PM   #2
Steven Low
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Yeah, a lot of people have at least some type of inflammatory response to grains in the GI tract. Robb Wolf has written a bit about this on his blog before if you wanna check that out.
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Old 10-17-2008, 06:29 AM   #3
George Mounce
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You had oatmeal with the hull on (hence "whole grain")?

Irish and Scottish oats have the hull removed but require the long cooking times. I eat these with no problems, but I have them maybe once or twice a week a most. I do understand they will have a different effect on people, so definitely they should be removed if they are causing problems. Quick-cook and instant oatmeal is right out. I do not eat any other type of grain, and after almost 2 years of doing that, have been very pleased at how it has enhanced my ability to workout, and perform in everyday life. I do notice that the oatmeal I eat has an amazing ability to reduce my desire to eat carbohydrates later in the day, which is normal with the production of serotonin right after eating them.

For people who are trying to lose weight, I have for a long time told them to get weaned off of dairy and grains and see what happens. To date the amount of pounds total shed by this advice is in the hundreds by people I know.

As you mentioned dairy, I do drink whole organic kefir (1-2 cups a day), as the culturing has had great benefits for my stomach. Other than kefir and the occasional yogurt, I don't often have straight milk.

Fruit and nuts sounds like a great breakfast, I tend to add in some type of protein as well.
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Old 10-17-2008, 08:26 AM   #4
Garrett Smith
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I have heard that soaking steel cut oats overnight in their to-be cooking water with a spoonful or two of yogurt added can improve their "digestability" even further, possibly by decreasing/destroying some of the antinutrients (in theory, at least).

I do plan on trying it this weekend. Steel cut oats are a weekend treat breakfast around my house (they also supposedly help my wife's milk production as well).
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Old 10-17-2008, 08:39 AM   #5
Daniel Olmstead
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If you have a slow-cooker, put some steel-cut oats and water into it with a handful of dried fruit and leave it on low overnight. In the morning, you will find A) the whole house smells wonderful and B) the best oatmeal you've ever tasted.
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Old 10-25-2008, 01:56 PM   #6
Fenthis Glusos
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my problem turned out not to be the oatmeal but these whole wheat breads I was having on occasion -- so it is either white or nothing for me. Still, I dumped the oatmeal for rice.

I eat both brown and white rice without problems
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Old 10-25-2008, 02:45 PM   #7
Mike ODonnell
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Originally Posted by Fenthis Glusos View Post
my problem turned out not to be the oatmeal but these whole wheat breads I was having on occasion -- so it is either white or nothing for me. Still, I dumped the oatmeal for rice.

I eat both brown and white rice without problems
I can eat rice all day no issues....2 spoonfulls of oatmeal and my stomach wants me to puke. I can eat normal pizza and wraps no issue....have a "whole wheat" anything and my joints kills me and I feel sick. Nice huh?
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