- Can cereal grains contribute to weight gain?
- Did we have enough genetic adaptation to change from a “hunter gatherer to an agriculture driven, cereal grain based diet?
- Do cereal grains lead to certain auto immune problems such as Celiac Disease?
Cereal grains and weight gain – what is the problem with cereal grains?
As humans evolved as Hunters and Gatherers before the onset of the modern food processing era, our bodies have evolved to a diet rich in protein, fat from hunting animals, and mostly raw vegetables, roots, nuts, and a variety of naturally available foods.
From an evolutionary perspective, humanity’s adoption of agriculture, and hence cereal grain consumption, is a relatively recent phenomenon. It is believed that agriculture started about 5000 years ago, a time span considered relatively small in an evolutionary time scale.
On the one hand, this agriculture allowed the human civilizations to prosper as few people could produce large enough quantities of food to feed others. This allowed us to specialize in to other professions such as arts, science, and creating the civilizations that we know. On the other hand, it also has many untoward consequences as all grains have nutritional deficiencies.
Moreover, as we eat more and more grain products we tend to eliminate other nutritional meats, fruits, and vegetables. In about half the world, bread and related products provide more than 50 percent of the total caloric intake. In a few countries of Southern and South East Asia, Central America and the Far East and Africa, cereal products comprise up to 80 percent or more of the total caloric intake.
Unfortunately, cereal grains are not not balanced sources of nutrition as they lack certain essential nutrients such as some essential aminoacids, vitamins and minerals. Also, processing of these grains further drains them of the nutrients thus reducing the nutritional qualities.
Cereal grains contain undetectable amounts of vitamin C, B12, carotenoids, and other vitamins and minerals, and they tend to displace foods rich in these substances that are associated with a decreased risk of heart disease and many forms of common cancers. Moreover, cereal grains may actually inhibit the metabolism of these nutrients and cause autoimmune reactions.
According to this excellent paper by Loren Cordain, cereal grains also have certain “anti-nutrients” that prevent the absorption of certain nutrients leading to micro-nutrient deficiencies. Also, cereal grains also have phytons, and protease inhibitors which when absorbed can lead to auto immnune reactions leading to a host of auto-immune problems that are mostly seen only in humans compared to other animals.
Cereal grains also tend to be higher in glycemic index leading to increased requirements of insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas. Insulin allows the body to utilize the glucose in the blood and help store this excess glucose to fat for future usage. However, it is believed that over consumption of a moderate to high glycemic foods such as white rice, white breads, bagels etc. leads to insulin resistance.
The human body compensates well to insulin resistance by increasing the production of insulin. However, as insulin as a body building hormone, more insulin circulating in the blood leads to central and upper body adiposity.
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Studies have shown that belly fat increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, prediabetes and other chronic medical conditions. Belly fat also produces slow inflammation leading to increased risk of problems such as atherosclerosis of the arteries, and even increase the risk of cancers.
Limiting or reducing the cereal grains, avoiding all processed grain based products such as white rice, white breads etc. along with adequate protein and other minerals with vitamins is recommended for the above reasons.
According to Dr Prab R. Tumpati, MD, a leading weight loss physician and founder of W8MD medical weight loss centers of America, the best diet is a balanced diet that takes in to account the limiting factors of a cereal grain based diets, with a varied and colorful meals that include anti-oxidants, essential aminoacids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.