20 March 2011

the truth behind grain

During my Whole30 experience, Cliff has been asking a lot of questions about the scientific reason behind the Paleo diet. I am of course also interested not only for the obvious reason that I want to continue eating in this manner but also that I don't think you should do something without reason.

So here is my soapbox: if you lack purpose for an action then don't do it. Be excited about your life and the things you are involved in.  Do what makes you happy and do the best possible job you can at it. From the coolest president ever: 
"Whatever you are, be a good one."
Abraham Lincoln

Moving on, why does the paleo diet cut out grain?
(Please keep in mind I am not a nutritionist nor do I have any formal education in the following subject. Here is interesting information but please take it with the knowledge that again: I am a design student NOT a nutrition expert). 

According to this article, "avoiding grains", it's because grains contain the following bad guys in the food realm:

1. Phytates-part of the "antinutrient" group. The claim is that the phytates gang up on "calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc" which are also hypothetically the nutrients the grain would provide to the body. It then acts as a bouncer to your digestive track. Not only does it deny access but it can storm through and kick out other nutrients already in the club. They are also said to hinder protein digestion. 

2. Lectins. These little d-bags are the reason peanuts, legumes and soy beans are cut from both Paleo and Whole30. These are said to wreck the microvilli. If you don't remember that from way back in 7th grade biology, then here is a little microvilli background:

They are described as "hair-like" structures that line the surface of the small intestine (for our purposes). I guess they are also in your ear but that is irrelevant for the discussion of protein absorption. They exist to increase surface area of the small intestine and therefore help with digestion. If you really want to get in depth, google image search for it. I tried to put a picture but people are really strangely strict with their microvillus copyrights. Watch out! Someone might use your biology diagram to learn! 

3. Gluten. The article states that in animal studies, gluten has irritated the digestive track every time. 

So I googled for hours and hours looking for scientific studies to fact check that article. While I'm putting my personal rants into blog form, let's pause on this topic for a second. If you have a blog and you are displaying information as correct you BETTER be fact checking it. If it's controversial, put that out there! Also, while we're on this, SPELL CHECK too! It's 2011. Most programs even underline misspelled words with red lines. Come on.

The findings:

1. Phytates. Incorrect. According to "Food Phytates" by N. R. Reddy and Shridhar K. Sathe, phytates will mostly be harmful to cases in third world countries where people are living off grain. In these cases, the phytates become a problem because they are consumed in much larger amounts with grain being the main nutrition source. 

In addition, red meats contain tons of iron which is making it subject for investigation as a carcinogen. In this case, phytates are possibly beneficial for removing some of the excess iron. Further research is being done to find the benefits of phytates.

Last to debunk: Paleo and Whole30 cut out peanuts, soy and legumes for the reasons above. But according to research of phytic acid by percent in certain foods, pumpkin and squash both contain 4% with soybeans only at 1.55%. (There are many more examples like that one).

2. Lectins. I think there is some substance here but it's been a challenge to dig up some hard facts. It's even harder to find specific applicable information. I'm going to keep looking and update this post further later but here is what I've got for now.

It seems pretty well agreed upon that lectins can be pretty resistant to removal (soaking, boiling, even stomach acid). It appears that the "avoiding grains" article was spot on with their assessment that lectins damage the small intestine through the microvilli and inhibit proper digestion and absorption. 

According to Dr. Laura Power, "Lectins can also disrupt carbohydrate absorption and metabolism. Lectins can reduce intestinal glucose uptake by 50%." (Read on here.) Another big problem for me is that in this research the following foods are listed that contain damaging lectins: coconut, bananas, celery, strawberries, salmon, and the list goes on. Clearly these are all paleo endorsed foods. This seems contradictory to me. 

One more little wrench to throw in the mix: "The irony of this is that high-lectin diets are also high-fiber and whole-grain diets, which contain more nutrients needed for better health. High-fiber diets have been associated with low incidence of bowel cancer, ischaemic heart disease, and diabetes." (Also from Dr. Power's information.)

Clearly, I have more research to sort through.


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