Healthy eating - why grains are such a problem

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Grains are a common cause of symptoms, possibly because from an evolutionary point of view they have only recently been introduced into the diet of Homo Sapiens, partly because grains are so widely eaten and people tend to sensitise to foods eaten most often. At a recent medical meeting that I attended, the problems of wheat were discussed at length. I came to the view that wheat and related grains are a problem to eat for many reasons and perhaps as a Nation we should be avoiding them! The main problems arise for several possible reasons.

a) High glycaemic index.

b) Common cause of problems associated with allergy such as fatigue, IBS, migraine, depression, skin disorders, asthma and "candida".

c) They contain lectins - see Lectins

d) They contain endogenous opiate mimics which may be a problem in susceptibles eg autistics.

e) Most are grown with pesticides and have high levels.

f) Bran is high in phytic acid which binds and inhibits absorption of minerals such as iron and zinc.

g) They are shallow rooting annual plants, often grown year in, year out on the same patch of land. They are markedly deficient in trace elements.

Grains are a major source of carbohydrate and so cause all the problems of eating food with high glycaemic index. Please refer to Hypoglycaemia. They are digested in the gut to form sugars which may worsen a hypoglycaemic tendency or feed a yeast overgrowth. There is also a theory that wheat protein (gluten) is digested into short chain proteins which have endogenous opiate like effects (endorphines) and this upsets normal brain chemistry making one lethargic and slow.

However this diet addresses the issue of grain allergy and means no wheat, barley, rye and oat. Because a Western diet is so dependent on grains, especially wheat, this is not easy. A grain free diet is not the same as a gluten free diet. Gluten is simply the protein in grain. Many people reacting to grains have problems with the starch (associated with fatigue) and possibly lectins (associated with muscle pain) in the grain.

In people avoiding grains for reasons of allergy, I leave rice in the diet, but this is a high Glycaemic Index food and should be eaten in moderation.


Present in many foods namely bread, flour, biscuits, pastry, pasta, many breakfast cereals, gravy thickeners, sauces, cakes, many sweets, "cheese" biscuits, etc. You also need to avoid bran, wheatgerm, modified starch and monosodium glutamate. Many prepared meats contain wheat, i.e. sausage meat (contains rusk), burgers, fish cakes (breadcrumbs), tinned meats. Cheap coffee often contains wheat or corn products.


This certainly contains gluten. The main source in a UK diet is in beer and whiskey. Malt (barley sugar) is often used as a sweetener. Pearl barley is sometimes added to stews.


Rye usually just means no ryvita or pumpernickel (German black bread). Rye contains gluten and is very closely related to wheat and so wheat allergics are often rye sensitive as well. Even if you are not sensitive to rye initially, if you are wheat sensitive then you are likely to acquire sensitivity to rye as well. Rye bread nearly always has some wheat in it.


Not too difficult to avoid - obviously you have to check ingredients. If you are looking purely for a gluten-free diet then they do contain very tiny amounts of gluten, but the Coeliac Society reckon so little as not to be worth worrying about and recommend its use for coeliac disease. You will just have to suck it and see.


A difficult one. Corn is widely eaten in the USA and a common allergen there. It is less usual to see corn allergy in UK but perfectly possible. Corn does not contain gluten. Corn is obviously sweetcorn, cornflour, cornflakes, custard powder and corn syrup. It can be used as a glue, for example on postage stamps. It can be used to waterproof cardboard milk cartons.

It usually takes at least 4 weeks to notice any changes as a result of stopping grains, and sometimes up to 6 weeks to see the full benefit. Some people then find they can tolerate gluten free products, but react to 100% wheat.

Alternative Carbohydrate foods

Breakfast - Ideally breakfast should be a low G.I. meal and free from any grains. There are some mueslis based on rice flakes and millet flakes. Look out for tapioca bread and rice cakes.

Lunch - Ideally lunch should just have a small amount of low - use potato, such as baked potato, potato cakes, cold potato in salad, rice cake, cold rice.

Supper - One can be a bit more relaxed about the G.I. content of supper. This is because during the day glycogen stores in muscles and liver should have become depleted by exercise and are therefore available as a sponge to mop up sugar in the blood stream. See Exercise - the right sort. Again, use rice and potato, but there are many other useful seeds. Try buckwheat, millet, pulses (these are easiest tinned, such as chick peas, kidney beans, broad beans), sago, tapioca, amaranth seed, sweet potato flour, banana flour, chestnut flour, soya flour etc. Don't forget the root vegetables - parsnip, turnip, swede, carrot etc.

Use arrowroot or rice flour for thickening sauces or gravies.

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