Grains tend to form a very prominent part of the modern diet. However, you may be surprised to know that they’re also potentially health-harming in a number of ways, even in their natural, unprocessed state. They can cause fatness, blood sugar disruption and cravings for sugar, amongst other things.
What are grains?
Grains come in two states: Processed grains include foods made from refined flours, like confectionary, pies, pastas and breads (even the whole-wheat versions). Whole grains consist of rice, millet, quinoa, amarinth, cornmeal, spelt, wild rice, barley, buckwheat, oats, rye and kamut in their natural form, as well as any of these grains that have been ground whole into flour (called stone-ground).
The problem with grains
A word of warning: regular consumption of both processed and whole grains can result in high insulin. This can lead to insulin resistance, diabetes and heart disease, as well as ‘overweight’ or obesity.
By way of explanation, grains belong to the macronutrient group carbohydrates (the other macronutrients are proteins and fats). Carbohydrates are the only foodstuffs able to alter blood sugar because they break down very quickly into sugars in the body. Processed carbs are broken down more rapidly into sugar than their whole-grain counterpart, making them even more problematic.
Simplistically put, when blood sugar rises, the pancreas produces insulin, which results in a signal being given to various cells to ‘open’ to receive this excess glucose. Usually the muscle cells will be ‘asked’ first, but they’re invariably full from your previous meal (unless you’ve just finished a moderate to heavy training session). Next is the liver cells, but they too tend to be full – waiting to convert their own stores of glycogen back into glucose to feed to the muscle cells when they run out of fuel. This means that the fat cells are free and eager to pick up and convert the excess glucose into fat!
If the above pattern happens frequently enough, the cells can become ‘deaf’ to the insulin signal (called insulin resistance) and so require more and more insulin in order to react. Given enough time, the pancreas can fail to produce enough insulin to maintain homeostasis in the blood and so diabetes (pancreatic failure) occurs.
To achieve good health and ideal body weight, you’ll want to develop insulin sensitivity in the cells. In other words, you want cells that ‘hear’ insulin’s signal immediately and are able to take up and store as much glucose as possible.
How much carbohydrate can you handle?
Your metabolic type (MT) will have a significant bearing on whether or not your body can tolerate grains well. In other words, certain MTs handle the blood sugar response very well, whereas others don’t at all (leading to weight gain and/or the other conditions previously mentioned, as well as a reduction in energy and well-being).
Establishing your MT will help you understand more about your ideal dietary mix of carbs, proteins and fats and is done very simply through a questionnaire.