Now I'm going to really freak some people out, are you ready? Brace yourself... I don't eat grains. At least not a lot of them. If I do, it's usually white rice with my sushi or other Asian food. Yeah I love Asian food. But at the most, I eat white rice 2-3 times a week. Other than that, I don't eat grains at all; no bread, no pasta, no bagels. I definitely don't eat whole grains. Yes I said it. I. Do. Not. Eat. Whole. Grains. And I'm proud of it.
Let's imagine I tell one of my professors about this. I can only imagine the response, since this is a completely fictional story, but I can be 99.9% sure she'll be concerned. I'd put money on it. I can see the expression of shock on her face, even if she's trying to hide it. She can't imagine a life without grains. Where on earth would I get my B-vitamins?? She's genuinely worried for me. I'm at risk for pellagra and beri beri from B-vitamin deficiencies, she says. B-vitamins are important for energy production, how am I going to metabolize glucose? And what about the fiber? Whole grains are full of fiber, how will I ever get enough of it? And worst of all, there will be a chronic, giant hole in the upper right quartile of my dinner plate. That can't be good.
How will I get my B-vitamins?? Gee, I don't know. How did we ever get B-vitamins before grains? From meat of course! Let's do a little experiment to see if my professor's concern is warranted. I've looked up two whole grains and two red meat sources on fitday.com. Here are the nutrition labels for 2 slices of whole wheat bread, 1/2 cup cooked brown rice, 100 g sirloin steak, and 100 g pork tenderloin (that's 3.5 ounces, for you Americans). Check it.
|1/2 cup cooked brown rice|
|100 g pork tenderloin|
|100 g sirloin steak|
|2 slices whole wheat bread|
There you have it. Two whole grains and two meats. Those meats look pretty high in B-vitamins don't they? But I can see that's a lot of information to take in. I'll make it a little easier on the eyes, so you can really see the comparison. What I've done here is to average the vitamin and mineral quantities for the grains, and compare them to the average for the meats. I figured this would yield a better result that's more indicative of the food group as a whole, rather than just one food. The caloric content of both groups was the same. Oh, and I also went ahead and incorporated the fact that the iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc in grains don't get absorbed (they're bound to phytates). Here ya go...
Wow. Is it just me or did whole grains just receive a beat down? Looks like the B-vitamins in meat are juuuust a smidge higher than in whole grains? Yeah, much higher. Gosh, I guess I'm getting plenty of B-vitamins then. Looks like meat is a lot higher in other important nutrients too, like iron, zinc, magnesium, selenium, and potassium. And this doesn't even consider grass-fed meat, which is higher in vitamins A and E, and probably other vitamins as well. Sorry, whole grains. The only micronutrient higher in whole grains is manganese, which isn't pictured here. I've never met anyone who worried about manganese.
At this point, you may be asking yourself... why the hell am I eating whole grains? I would answer your question with an emphatic "I have no frickin' clue." But if you were under the impression that they're a nutrient-dense health food, you sir/ma'am are barking up the wrong tree. Maybe you're a vegetarian and you've gotta get your calories from somewhere. Maybe you really like bread and pasta. Maybe it's just convenient because every convenience food in the world is based on grains. There are a lot of reasons people eat grains... being healthy should not be one of them. They're cheap, nutrient-poor foods; even the whole grain variety.
As for that fiber issue... that one doesn't even deserve my time, but I'll give it one minute. Where else am I going to get my fiber?? How about (deep breath)... broccoli, lettuce, bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, avocado, bananas, oranges, blueberries, raspberries, sweet potatoes, white potatoes (exhale CO2). Need I go on? Thank you.
Let's sum it up. Here's the lo-down on grains...
- They're convenient
- They're cheap
- They require minimal preparation or cooking
- They taste good to most people
- The food industry loves them because they can be made into just about anything and they have a long shelf life
- They're low in nutrients
- They're high in empty calories
- They displace more nutrient-dense foods in the diet
- There hasn't been enough time, or selection pressure, for humans to adapt to them since their introduction into our diet
- The prolamine proteins in grains (especially gluten) are difficult to break down and can be irritating to the gut
Get it? Got it? Good. Grains are high in calories, low in nutrition, and they're completely unnecessary in the human diet. You could do far better if you're trying to eat a healthy, nutrient-dense diet. But I still have to deal with that gaping hole in my dinner plate if I'm not eating grains... maybe we need a new plate. How about this one... I give you the Paleo Plate: