More on the Grain Debate in NZ: Try Eating Against the Grain for Yourself

As Seen on New Zealand TV!Last Monday I participated in a short, nationally televised “grain debate” in New Zealand on NZ TV One.

You can view the video here.


The promotional copy and teaser for the segment says this:

Grain debate

We are told we need to eat more whole grains and cereals as the answer to a long happy healthy life. And then visiting nutritionist Melissa Diane Smith comes along and says grains are killing us. She says our love affair with breads and cereals is the cause of skyrocketing diabetes and obesity levels. She says in the last 30 years grain consumption in the United States has doubled… But Otago University nutrition expert professor Jim Mann says Melissa’s theory has no scientific evidence to back it up. Close Up spoke to both of them, asking whether people should be dumping grain from their diet altogether.

*Melissa’s book Going Against The Grain, how reducing and avoiding grains can revitalize your health, is out now.

It’s funny to me how I, who used to not make waves in any way, is painted as coming into a country and shaking things up so much! But the current dietary advice isn’t working, so I guess someone has got to speak up about it, right?

In the debate on TV, I tried to stick to the basics of grains and obesity and diabetes. (I knew there wasn’t time to cover gluten, a component in wheat and other common grains that many people react to and experience uncomfortable symptoms from eating without knowing the reason why.) The host, Paul Henry, kept trying to say this contrary information about grains was my “theory” that had no basis of evidence behind it. But, of course, eating against the grain is the natural diet of humans. Our earliest ancestors ate no grains. Neither did hunter-gatherer societies around the world who had no diabetes or heart disease until they were exposed to white flour and white sugar (refined grain products). It’s a fallacy to think that even after the advent of agriculture, the majority of the world’s population ate whole-grain wheat. Most of the world’s population didn’t. However, the United States, New Zealand and other western nations continue to promote eating guidelines that emphasize whole-grain foods like whole wheat products.

There is plenty I wanted to say in the Close Up appearance that I didn’t have the opportunity to say. (Because it was a debate, my time to talk was cut in half!) One simple thing: Grains are higher in carbohydrates and calories than vegetables. With more and more people overweight, it only makes sense that high-calorie grains should not be the base of the diet. Grains are fed to cattle to get them to fatten up and grains do the same to humans. (Those of you who are reading this in New Zealand probably aren’t as familiar with this information because fortunately for you, most of your cattle and lamb are pasture fed, not grain fed.)

Another point to consider: We know that whole grains have anti-nutrients, substances that interfere with the absorption or utilization of many nutrients. Societies that ate a lot of whole grains often developed nutrient deficiencies. (You can read more about this in my book Going Against the Grain.) Therefore, it doesn’t make good sense to tell people to make whole grains the base of their diet. If you follow that advice, you likely will develop new health problems.

I thought the Close Up host Paul Henry would come back to me one last time before he ended the interview. Unfortunately, he didn’t. He gave Professor Mann, the whole-grain proponent, the last word.

So, I’ll say now what I was going to say then: If you’re confused about how everyone tells you that whole grains are good for you and how I am saying something completely different, don’t take my word for it. Take the challenge. If you are really skeptical, try loading up on whole grains, just like the government tells you, for one week. Notice how you feel. Then, the next week or two, try eating completely against the grain – take wheat and other grains out of your diet and replace them with as many as vegetables as possible. If you can’t take all grains out, take wheat out and replace it with vegetables. See what happens.

Eating against the grain for a week or two is exactly what I challenge people to do in my book. This eating experiment really is telling for most people (except those with silent celiac disease). [Of course, I don’t advise the first part of the experiment for people who have celiac disease or know they have gluten sensitivity. But symptoms and weight changes speak for themselves. Plus, many of you outside the U.S. don’t have access to the gluten sensitivity tests that Americans do.] If you’re like most people, you’ll simply be amazed at how eating against the grain makes you look and feel so much better.

It’s too bad the U.S. government, the New Zealand government and other governments aren’t setting up diet studies like what I just outlined. Then the diet connection to obesity, diabetes and other health conditions wouldn’t be such a mystery. Fortunately, there already has been a study comparing the effects of a grain-free diet versus a whole-grain diet on waist size and blood sugar levels. You can read my post about that study here.

© Copyright 2008 Melissa Diane Smith

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