Today, we’re jumping on the grain train, but is it worth the ride? Whole wheat bread is a staple in most people’s diet. It offers fiber, wheat, vitamins and considered a healthy option for your sandwich, but there may be a dark side to our sandwiches. Recent research and findings are suggesting that bread is potentially toxic. But, it’s not really the bread itself, it’s the grains and their anti-nutrients that are waiting to attack our bodies, while we enjoy a “healthy” subway lunch. I don’t want to go so far as to say bread is bad. Some people may not react to bread in the same way as others, and there still needs to be more research on the negative affects of the anti-nutrients in grains. We can delve into the toxins that are present, how they affect us, and some alternatives if we want to avoid the toxins.
What are some of the toxins you’ll find sneaking into your body? Three of the most common are Phytates, Gluten and Lectins.
Most of us have heard of gluten-free options, but the other two are fairly mysterious. Mark of Mark’s Daily Apple, a Paleo diet enthusiast and self-educated health advocate, makes a great statement to sum up the point of this post, “We do not need grains to survive, let alone thrive. In fact, they are naturally selected to ward off pests, whether they be insects or hominids. I suggest we take the hint and stop eating them.” Thanks Mark. Now let’s look at why he said what he said this.
- Phytates: Starting with phytates, these are pretty serious. They actually STOP nutrients from being available to your body. Phytate is the name for the salt form of phytic acid, a phosphorus containing molecule in many plant tissues. Phytates specifically attack your precious nutrients during the meal you consume them, not throughout the day, which makes you feel better, but the point of eating is to consume nutrients…so these phytates are binding to minerals and keeping them from being absorbed into your body. Phytic acid specifically likes to connect itself to Zinc, Iron and Calcium, which if consumed in high amounts can cause deficiencies. Dr. Weston A Price has a website with the Weston A Price Association states, “Phytic acid in grains, nuts, seeds and beans represents a serious problem in our diets. This problem exists because we have lost touch with our ancestral heritage of food preparation. Instead we listen to food gurus and ivory tower theorists who promote the consumption of raw and unprocessed “whole foods;” or, we eat a lot of high-phytate foods like commercial whole wheat bread and all-bran breakfast cereals. But raw is definitely not Nature’s way for grains, nuts, seeds and beans. . . and even some tubers, like yams; nor are quick cooking or rapid heat processes like extrusion.”
Luckily, there are some options to eat nuts and grains without consuming the phytic acids. You can soak your nuts and grains overnight to break down and remove the phytic acid. This method allows you to consume the grains and obtain some benefits from their other vitamin properties, while avoiding the downfalls of the phytic acid. Here’s the basic method explained by Halle Cottis, Human Ecology Major with a specialty in food and nutrition and found of Whole Lifestyle Nutrition, “So the basic method of soaking nuts is pretty much the same with some slight variations. Basically you soak the nuts in salt water (salt is necessary to help neutralize the enzymes) and then you dry them. Be sure to fully dry your nuts or they could become moldy. You do not want to dry your nuts any higher than 150°F. ” For breads, you can purchase sprouted bread. Ezekiel Bread is the most common brand of sprouted bread you can buy for your sandwiches, and there’s a great article by Kris Gunnars, BSc and CEO/Founder of Authority Nutrition, “Why Ezekiel Bread is The Healthiest Bread You Can Eat” that explains the details and benefits of buying a sprouted bread like the Ezekiel brand.
- Gluten: Next we have the lovely Gluten. Gluten wins the popularity contest among grains, but many actually don’t know the details of what gluten is, or what it does to your body, and why we avoid it. We just like the phrase, “Gluten-free because we feel healthier, but we actually have no idea why eliminating gluten is healthy for our bodies. We’re going to skip the obvious Celiac disease factor, but that is a special case where specific people have very obvious and high intolerance to gluten. Focusing more on the majority of people, who don’t experience extreme symptoms and reactions from gluten, we can address how gluten can be unknowingly affecting the body on the inside, and why it’s a great decision to avoid it. Gluten is a chemical found in cereals and grains that is the binder or elastic texture of the dough. It’s technically a mixture of two proteins. Gluten and wheat together, have been shown to cause inflammation in the gut. “The proteins in wheat are gut irritants: they’re like that paper cut or splinter digging into the lining of your gut, causing an inflammatory response,” as stated in an article on Paleoleap.com created by Sébastien Noël, who’s made his life long mission to research and educate on the affects of specific foods on our bodies. Both Micheal Spector who wrote a great article, “Against the Grain,” for the New Yorker, and William Davis, a cardiologist whose conviction is so firm in his book “Wheat Belly”, stated that the protein has become a culinary villain. Davis believes that even “healthy” whole grains are destructive, and he has blamed gluten for everything from arthritis and asthma to multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia. David Perlmutter, a neurologist and the author of foundation texts for the gluten-free movement,
“Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar—Your Brain’s Silent Killers,” goes further still. Gluten sensitivity, he writes, “represents one of the greatest and most under-recognized health threats to humanity.’’
Here we have two medical professionals writing books on the negative impacts of grains and gluten. Here is a great video describing more of the research and reasons behind “The Grain Brain” book by David Perlmutter, and I think you’ll get the gist of the recent findings and negative effects that gluten has on our bodies.
3. Lectins: Finally, we find lectins. These guys bind to sugar and morph into the “glyco” portion of glycoconjucates of cell membranes. More simply, they are also a protein found in grains that help molecules stick together. Of course you find lectins in grains and legumes, but they are also found in some dairy products and vegetables too. So, what’s so bad about lectins? The problem is we don’t digest lectins. Our bodies actually have an immune response to lectins and create antibodies to fight them, putting the body into stress mode. Stress mode equals inflamed. Not only do our bodies not digest lectins, but our intestinal wall doesn’t like them either. They tend to actually prevent our gut from naturally repairing itself. Precision Nutrition describes this effect perfectly,
“Our cells can’t regenerate as fast as they need to in order to keep the intestinal lining secure. Thus, our natural gut defenses are compromised after the damage occurs and the gut can become “leaky,” allowing various molecules (including stuff we don’t want) to pass back and forth amid the gut wall. We may also not absorb other important things, such as vitamins and minerals, properly.
When enough lectins are consumed, it can signal our body to evacuate GI contents. This means vomiting, cramping and diarrhea. It’s similar to consuming large amounts of alcohol, which can damage the GI lining and cause GI evacuation.”
Ready to hop off the grain train? There are more and more books and studies discussing the effects of these chemicals on our bodies, and they found right in our favorite breads! The highly suggested way to test out if you are suffering from some toxic exposure in your grains is to eliminate them all together, then see how you feel introducing them back slowly. Some symptoms you are so accustomed too, you don’t even realize you are living with them.