Inflammation and GrainsMar 05, 2022
There are many reasons for inflammation but as you will see below, what you are eating can contribute to chronic inflammation in the the body. There is a particularly strong link between inflammation and grains.
Here is your quick roadmap to this blog:
What is the inflammation and grains connection?
What are lectins and phytic acid?
Carbohydrates in grains, rice and legumes
What is inflammation?
- Inflammation is part of the complex biological response of body tissues to harmful stimuli such as
- damaged cells
- It is a protective response involving
- immune cells
- blood vessels
- molecular mediators such as histamine
- The function of inflammation is to
- eliminate the initial cause of cell injury
- clear out tissues that have been damaged from the original "insult"
- initiate tissue repair
- There are two types of inflammation, acute and chronic.
When an injury occurs, the cells of our immune system immediately travel to the site of injury or irritation and the inflammatory response begins.
This includes widening of local blood vessels
- This allows fluid and immune cells into surrounding injured tissues
- This causes
- pain at the site.
- We can see this acute inflammation at work or sometimes it is out of our sight, such as when
- bones are healing or
- there has been internal damage from surgery.
- We want this inflammation because it is healing in nature.
Chronic inflammation in the body is another animal and we do not want this type.
- This is the body's inflammatory response - from stress to the food we eat.
- It can eventually start to damage
- healthy cells
- Over time, this can lead to DNA damage, tissue death and internal scarring.
Dr. Erin Michos from Johns Hopkins says, "... sustained low levels of inflammation irritate your blood vessels. Inflammation may promote the growth of plaques, loosen plaque in your arteries and trigger blood clots — the primary cause of heart attacks and strokes. We all should be making an effort to reduce chronic inflammation in our bodies."
What is the inflammation and grains connection?
Modern life may actually be the main driver of gut inflammation.
- There is emerging evidence that the Standard American Diet, which is low in fiber and high in sugar and unhealthy fats, may initiate this process.
- In any case, staying away from an overabundance of grains and processed foods will help heal and maintain a healthy gut.
It is not my intention to demonize any particular food group.
My goal is to to report on some of the information available to us so that we can make informed decisions in order to make changes in our eating style or to not make changes, or to spur us on to do further research to see what is the most current information.
Current is the operative word here. More and more research shows that grains, rice and legumes are at the root of inflammatory conditions such as type 2 diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer's, cardiovascular diseases, skin conditions, autoimmune diseases and more.
Not every person will find this to be so, and more likely there is a spectrum of tolerance for grains either because of the person's general health or genetics. You have to make your own decisions. One size does not fit all, but it's important for you to have this side of the story.
What are Grains?
- A grain is a small, hard, dry seed with or without an attached hull or fruit layer.
- It is harvested for human or animal consumption.
- Grains are members of the grass family and can be thin leaf or broad leaf.
- Plants from the broadleaf family are called pseudo grains or pseudo cereals and are often safe for consumption even if you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
- Corn is a grain, not a vegetable.
- Rice and legumes are also under the grain umbrella.
The bonus guide with this blog, below, Five Steps Out of Diet Prison and the Four Lists You Need, has extensive lists of all grains, rices and legumes.
Whole Grains vs. Refined Grains
Cereal grains are whole or refined.
Whole grains are grains that have been minimally processed to still contain the bran, germ and endosperm, the three parts of a grain.
- The bran is the outer shell that provides a rich source of fiber, trace minerals, phytochemicals and B vitamins.
- The germ nourishes the grain and is packed with antioxidants, the B vitamins and vitamin E. It is also a source of heart healthy unsaturated fats.
- When grains are refined to make white flour, the germ and bran portions are removed, leaving only the endosperm. This process also removes the most nutrient-dense portions of the grain.
Refined grains come from the same plant as the whole grain but
- they are missing the germ, bran and all the nutrients that go along with them
- they have a longer shelf life than whole grains because the oily germ — which is removed when the grain is refined — tends to become rancid when exposed to light and heat.
When purchasing any bread or cereal product be aware of this from Dennis Thompson:
"Terms like 'multigrain,' 'contains whole grains,' 'honey wheat' and '12-grain' can be used to hawk breads, cereals and crackers as healthier options even if the product mostly contains refined flour. If they say it contains whole grains, it really does have to contain some whole grains. They would get into trouble if they made a claim that was outright false. But it's totally permitted to say it contains whole grains even if it's mostly refined grains."
What Are Lectins and Phytic Acid?
- Lectins are a protein in some plants and animal foods that bind to carbohydrates.
- They are given a bad rap because on the face of them, they are toxic and some are even lethal (like the ricin in the castor oil plant).
- However, cooking at high temperatures will destroy the lectins, making the foods safe to consume.
- An example of this is kidney beans, which contains a poisonous lectin, and when the beans are not cooked properly will cause severe stomach distress.
- Soaking legumes first, then boiling them at high temperatures will mitigate this poisonous lectin fallout, making them safe to eat.
- Some research shows that foods from the grain family will still cause gut problems.
- That being said, most of these lectin-containing foods are high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and numerous beneficial compounds.
- Phytic acid is a natural substance found in grains and legumes.
- It impairs the absorption of iron, zinc and calcium and may promote mineral deficiencies and is often referred to as an anti-nutrient.
- Soaking, sprouting and fermenting foods with high phytic acid will mitigate its effect, but there may still be a tie to gut health.
Both lectins and phytic acid contribute to leaky gut and poor gut health.
General Gut Health
A study from Columbia University Medical Center found that some people develop a systemic immune reaction and intestinal cell damage after eating wheat, even though tests have established that they do not have celiac disease.
It is estimated that this condition may be more prevalent than celiac disease. Lead researcher Armin Aledini, Ph.D. has been quoted as saying that the study did not confirm that gluten was the cause of this immune reaction and intestinal cell damage.
I mention this study because while even the most conventional of doctors will not argue with celiac disease which can be tested and measured, there is still controversy over general gut health issues such as leaky gut. There is a lot of truth in what Hippocrates said which was, "All disease begins in the gut."
A very interesting article from Global Journal of Digestive Diseases carries the discussion further: "Despite the fact that Hippocrates was mistaken in proposing that all malady starts in your gut, proof shows that numerous constant metabolic ailments do. Your gut microbes and the uprightness of your gut lining firmly influence your wellbeing."
What is Leaky Gut?
Inside our bellies we have an extensive intestinal lining covering more than 4,000 square feet of surface area. When working properly, it forms a tight barrier that controls what gets absorbed into the bloodstream.
- An unhealthy gut lining may have large cracks or holes, allowing partially digested foods, toxins, and parasites to penetrate the tissues beneath it.
- This may trigger inflammation and changes to the gut flora (normal bacteria) that could lead to problems within the digestive tracts and beyond.
- Increased intestinal permeability plays a role in certain gastrointestinal conditions such as
- celiac disease
- Crohn's disease
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
The biggest question is whether or not a leaky gut may cause problems elsewhere in the body.
- Some studies show that a leaky gut may be associated with autoimmune diseases such as
- type 1 diabetes
- multiple sclerosis
- problems not classified as autoimmune such as
- chronic fatigue syndrome
Dr. Peter Osborne has coined the term "Grainflammation" which is perfect for this topic. In that article he talks about vitamin and mineral deficiencies, altered intestinal bacteria, leaky gut and gastrointestinal damage and mechanisms of gluten-induced damage, even without celiac disease.
A word about the other side of the story
- In reading about grains being good for us, a lot of the research behind that viewpoint is funded totally, or in part, by
- cereal companies
- animal activist groups
- religious groups
- strong agricultural and farming lobbies.
- That does not mean that the results of that research are falsely presented.
- It does mean that the research is highly biased.
- Furthermore, these groups that are represented in government have powerful and deep pockets to move a lot of these findings into policies.
The food pyramid was pushed through by lobbyists and politicians, not doctors and scientists. Calories had to be maximized for both cost and density and the answer to that was carbohydrates — mostly heavily refined into breads and cereals.
Carbohydrates in Grains, Rice and Legumes
If you take all this research out of the picture along with any controversy that comes along with it, you would still do well to eliminate or limit your consumption of grains, legumes and rice to reduce, or eliminate, chronic inflammation in the body.
The sheer carbohydrate content of these foods will keep you in diet prison because you will have to be weighing, measuring and tracking your portions to make sure you remain within your daily allowance of carbohydrates (or calories).
- One cup of rice contains 45 grams of carbohydrates.
- One medium ear of corn contains 22 carbohydrates.
- One cup of cereal, like (original) Cheerios, contains 20 carbohydrates.
- One cup of cooked kidney beans contains 41 carbohydrates.
If you are following a Keto plan, even if you are generously counting net carbs and not total carbs, even one of these foods will bring you over your daily allowance.
If you are following a low carbohydrate plan you have a little more leeway, and if you are careful with portions and have something from a grain, legume or rice list no more than once a day you might be good to go, but you will have to be careful about everything else you may be eating that day.
The Bottom Line
Grains, rice and legumes should be limited for better health
Yes, limiting or eliminating them will put out the fires of inflammation and grains and go a long way in healing your gut.
But as you can see from some of the carb counts of these foods, just cutting down will help you get out of diet prison and help you to get some footing with intuitive eating where the amount glucose produced by these foods does not constantly bathe your system to trigger cravings and urges to eat. (See my blog where I talk about the connections between sugar intake, insulin and hunger.)
Furthermore this is sustainable eating especially because you do not have to markedly change your family meals.
If you come from a grain-heavy culture there are some great websites for you to get started to find ways to cook for your family with the flavors and foods to which they are accustomed.
Unless you are strictly limiting your carbohydrate intake you may add your familiar "starches," but as a side dish, not as the whole show. In my course, Breaking Free From Diet Prison: The Roadmap to Low Carb and Keto Success, I will guide you to cooking for the family. Here are a few websites to get you started:
Mexican: Dailychela.com. Dominican and Latino: Dominicancooking.com. Asian: Asianketokitchen.com. Italian: ketosummit.com.
Do whatever you can to reduce chronic inflammation in the body. Heed the connection between inflammation and grains. Do take the time to learn about the connection between inflammation and grains. Even if you do not cut out grains, rice and legumes, monitoring and limiting your intake will go a long way to better health.
Learn more about this with my book and course:
Book Breaking Free From Diet Prison: Common Sense Keto and Low Carb
Course Breaking Free From Diet Prison: The Roadmap to Low Carb and Keto Success
Download the FREE bonus guide to help you break out of Diet Prison! This gives you the lists of grains, rice and legumes.