On September 12, a reader commented on a conversation we were having about my post Grains vs. Meat. I was waiting to get some time to properly respond, and I’m glad I did because a review on grains and cardiovascular disease was just published.
Sure it’s possible to be healthy and still consume grains. It’s also possible to be healthy and eat doughnuts and drink Pepsi every day, or smoke marijuana every day. That doesn’t mean that doughnuts or marijuana are particularly healthy though. Grains are basically just empty calories, and are basically just less unhealthy versions of cookies. You say that they have beneficial effects on blood sugar, but that’s definitely false. Grains have a huge glycemic load, so their effect on blood sugar is not much better than cookies. And I don’t see why binding to cholesterol in the bloodstream is a good thing, the pregnenolone derived from cholesterol is necessary to create testosterone, so I think dietary cholesterol is very healthy. Considering there’s no connection between dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, decreasing your intake of cholesterol has no benefits. Some people say that grains are a good source of fiber and nutrients, but you’d have to consume a ton of calories from grains to get the same amount of fiber and nutrients that you could get from a small amount of fruits and vegetables. Sure it’s possible to be healthy while consuming grains, but I don’t see why anybody would. They’re just empty calories and are better replaced with protein, fruits, and vegetables.
A literature review on many of these subjects just came out by Harris and Kris-Etherton, Effects of whole grains on coronary heart disease risk (1). In it, Table 1 lists the benefits that have been found from various whole grains:
Wheat – Improves glycemic control and insulin sensitivity, decreases inflammatory markers, decreases blood pressure
Oats – Lowers LDL and total cholesterol, improves glycemic control and insulin sensitivity, decreases blood pressure
Barley – Lowers LDL and total cholesterol, decreases visceral fat
Rye – Improves glycemic response
> Grains are basically just empty calories,
While I agree with you that there are much more nutrient dense foods than grains, whole grains are not just empty calories. They have small amounts of many nutrients, and some have large amounts of some nutrients. The much maligned corn is quite high in folate and potassium. All whole grains have decent amounts of magnesium (though the fiber and phytate will decrease its absorption somewhat). Barley is a decent source of a range of nutrients.
But even a cup of white spaghetti, while not having many vitamins and minerals without enrichment, has 8 grams of protein along with a lot of slowly absorbed glucose which I personally like before and after a workout.
> And I don’t see why binding to cholesterol in the bloodstream is a good thing, the pregnenolone derived from cholesterol is necessary to create testosterone, so I think dietary cholesterol is very healthy.
Judging by my receding hairline, I don’t know if I need any more testosterone. Seriously, what make you think you need, or can even produce, more testosterone by having more dietary cholesterol?
> Considering there’s no connection between dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, decreasing your intake of cholesterol has no benefits.
Here is what Harris and Kris-Etherton say:
Beta-glucan is a type of viscous fiber in barley and oats that increases fecal loss of bile acids, which are derivatives of cholesterol. About 90% of the bile acids entering the small intestine for fat absorption are reabsorbed in the ileum. Beta-glucan reduces the reabsorption of bile acids, thereby increasing bile acid excretion, lowering the bile acid levels in the liver, and increasing the conversion rate of cholesterol to bile acids. The liver obtains the additional cholesterol by upregulating LDL receptors and increasing LDL particle uptake, thus reducing circulating LDL-C. A viscous fiber intake of 10–25 g/d is recommended by the National Cholesterol Education Program’s Adult Treatment Panel III as an additional diet option to decrease LDL-C. An intake of 5–10 g/d lowers LDL-C by about 5%.
> Sure it’s possible to be healthy and still consume grains.
My point was, if you enjoy eating them and they are not harming your health, then why not do it? And according to the research above (and the research I linked to in my original post), whole grains might help prevent diabetes and heart disease.
1. Harris KA, Kris-Etherton PM. Effects of whole grains on coronary heart disease risk. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2010 Nov;12(6):368-76.