Grains, the uncomfortable truth
One topic of frequent debate in terms of nutrition is whether or not grains should be included in a healthy diet. In this article we will provide perspective that will allow you to make an informed decision for yourself.
What Classifies as a Grain
In this article we will specifically be referring to grains derived from grasses (in their whole form). The whole grain includes the bran (outer layer), the germ (interior), and the endosperm (interior).
Some of the major grass grains include:
While this is not an exhaustive list, any other grains in question can be easily researched online.
What impact do grains have on the Human body?
One of the number one issues with grains from a Functional Patterns perspective is that grains are hard to digest and tend to promote bloating. Now, before we continue, consider this line of questioning:
- Is it possible to have a stable spine and pelvis if the core is not engaged adequately?
- Might chronic bloating inhibit core activation to some extent?
Now consider the following:
When you place a handful of grain (oatmeal for example) into a bit of water and let it sit, it will slowly absorb the water and swell drastically.
One of the fundamental functions of the deep core (or transverse abdominus) is to retract the navel and help provide stability to the pelvis and lumbar spine. Imagine attempting to retract your navel (pulling in your belly button) while you are bloated.
If you have grains in your intestines that are swelling and creating outward pressure against your abdominal wall, activating the deep core will become more difficult.
Chronic bloating due to daily grain intake seems to promote a firm round belly that completely loses the ability to retract – which then promotes arching in the lower back and ultimately increases the likelihood of pain to occur. In our field experience, cutting out grains is a critical step in eliminating certain types of chronic lower back pain.
This alone seems like a compelling reason to avoid grains if you wish to have optimal core function. That said, there maybe other reasons grains may be negatively impacting your health.
Inflammation is an important tool that the immune system uses to promote healing in the body. For example, if you injure your knee, it will become inflamed and the body will rush critical resources to that area to help it heal as quickly as possible.
If you continuously inflame a tissue, however, this makes healing a more difficult process for the body and can instead lead to further injury.
Research has shown that grains can inflame the intestinal barrier and promote a condition called leaky gut (1).
Leaky gut is when the intestines become overly permeable due to chronic inflammation. This can then promote an over-activation of the immune system and chronic inflammation throughout the body. This chronic inflammation sets the stage for a multitude of issues related to autoimmunity (2). When compounded with biomechanical issues, you get a recipe for chronic pain.
Joint compression caused by faulty movement patterns already has an inflammatory effect on the body. When you combine faulty movement patterns with an overly active immune system, you get accelerated degeneration in those tissues.
There are several conditions in which autoimmunity and chronic pain intertwine. These include: rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, Guillian-Barre syndrome, and many others (3).
Restoring proper gut barrier function is a critical piece in shutting off the chronic inflammation response in the body (4).
Nearly all grains contain irritating compounds in them that promote intestinal inflammation. This means that cutting out grains should be considered as an important step in calming the inflammation response of the body overall and reducing the factors contributing to chronic pain.
When we are born, we are roughly 70% water. This percentage gradually decreases as we get older.
Water is critical to the body because it allows our cells to carry out chemical and electrical processes effectively.
Since aging and a reduction in our ability to retain water are associated with one another, we must consider if partaking in behaviors that promote dehydration may also promote aging.
When this question is posed, the conclusion seems rather obvious. Dehydration is not a state of health and will promote accelerated aging.
Going back to the visual provided earlier in this article, when grains are placed in water they absorb that water and swell. This means that, to some extent, grains will draw water from the intestines and potentially from the body entirely.
While this assertion is more speculative. It is an aspect of grain consumption to be considered. When it comes to building a healthy body that does not experience pain, it seems that the more the body retains water within the muscle and fascia, the better.
How Can You Tell if Your Gut is Inflamed?
Oftentimes people will claim that grains do not have a negative impact for them specifically. They claim that this is because they can’t feel anything wrong with them in terms of their digestion when they consume them.
While you may not always feel obvious indications of intestinal inflammation, these are some signs to look for:
- Food allergies
- Heart burn
- Skin problems (acne, psoriasis)
- Aching joints
If you don’t have any of these symptoms try these two experiments to investigate further whether or not your gut is inflamed:
If you think you may be dealing with intestinal inflammation, consider cutting grains from your diet for a period of time and periodically repeat the experiments above to look for signs of improvement.
What Are the Best Alternatives to Grains?
The best alternatives to grains are carbohydrate sources that provide maximum nutrient density with minimal insult to the gut. While there will be some variability from person to person, fruit and root vegetables both seem to be generally tolerable for most people.
While grains have been a major part of the human diet for thousands of years. This does not mean that they are ideal for consumption.
In fact, based upon recent research and what we have discovered about human biomechanics, grains seem to be a direct impedance to achieving a truly regenerative state of being.
Not only do grains inflame the gut and lead to a range of issues related to chronic inflammation, but they interfere with deep core tension and the intrinsic stability of the spine.
Once the stability of the spine is compromised, your biomechanics will become altered and lead to yet another source of chronic inflammation and pain.
In this light, grain consumption may not just contribute to pain but may actually have a compounding effect towards biomechanical dysfunctions already present in the body.
If your goal is to achieve a closer approximation of optimal health, chances are grains should not have a place in your diet.
Oftentimes the most effective steps towards optimizing your health are the ones that involve removing the biggest impedances towards your success.
Until next time, this is Functional Patterns reminding you to Eat Intentionally, Not Habitually.