From my days in university, I remember treating a patient who preached about how fantastic the Paleo Diet was and wanted my opinion on it. I actually didn’t have a problem with it!
For those of you unfamiliar with the Paleo Diet, here are the seven main principles in a nutshell:
- Eat high amounts of animal protein
- Eat more carbohydrates from fruit and vegetables (no grains, starchy vegetables or refined sugar)
- Eat a large amount of fibre from non-starchy fruits and vegetables
- Eat a moderate amount of fat
- Eat foods with a high potassium content and low sodium content
- Eat a diet with a net alkaline load (why is it important to be alkaline? read my ‘How Alkaline are You?‘ post)
- Eat foods rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals
Great, a diet that promotes eating whole bunch of fruit and vegetables! It also focuses on alkalizing foods that help buffer acid levels in the body – a big tick in my book!
I wondered though; why does the diet advocate the removal whole grains?
I went home, bought ‘The Paleo Diet’ book by Dr. Loren Cordain and read it. You know what the author said?
“Whole grains and legumes don’t have enough vitamins and minerals” and they also contain “anti-nutrients – chemicals that prevent your body from absorbing the proper nutrients and can damage the gastrointestinal and immune systems.” Cordain also goes as far to say that “one of the great dietary myths in the western world is that whole grains are healthful. The truth is that these foods are marginal at best.”
Whoa. Hold on. Don’t believe everything you read! There are literally thousands of studies that back up the health benefits of whole grains.
Phytic Acid: Anti-nutrient or Antioxidant
Yes, grains do contain a substance called phytic acid which binds to minerals and prevents their absorption. But, most people don’t know that nuts also contain phytic acid (which the Paleo diet advocates). The trick is to soak your grains and nuts before eating them so that all the anti-nutrient ‘chemicals’ (if you want to call them that) are removed. This is also known as ‘activating’ your nuts, which some Paleo Diet books do specify to do before eating them. This doesn’t necessarily mean that if you don’t soak your nuts and grains you won’t be reaping the health benefits. In fact, all of the studies I have read don’t soak anything before testing them on subjects and they’ve still had great outcomes.
Phytic acid in grains and nuts is also considered beneficial by researchers. When phytic acid binds to minerals in the gut, it prevents the formation of free radicals. This makes it an antioxidant. Phytic acid is also beneficial as it can bind to heavy metals like cadmium and lead, enhancing their excretion from the body.
Whole Grains are a SUPERFOOD
A recent study in published in ‘Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition‘ (2013) marked whole grain oats as a potential nutraceutical because of their powerful therapeutic properties. Oats possess different pharmacological activities – they contain antioxidants, are anti-inflammatory, promote wound healing, boost immunity, prevent diabetes and reduce cholesterol.
Oats have also been praised in medicine for their ability to prevent obesity and reduce abdominal fat whilst improving lipid profiles and even boosting liver function. Eaten daily, oats could act as a complimentary therapy for metabolic disorders. Read more about the study here.
A 2012 meta-analysis confirms that whole grains are very powerful when it comes to disease prevention and weight-loss. The study found that intake of whole grains is inversely associated with the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Compared to those who rarely or never consumed whole grains, those who ate 3 -5 servings (48-80gm) per day had a 26% reduction in type 2 diabetes risk and a 21% reduction in CVD risk. It was also found that whole grains have a beneficial affect on body weight; those who ate 3-5 servings of whole grains per day had consistently less weight gain over time.
Reduce Your Cancer Risk
Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the world. And, guess what? Only three dietary factors have been found to increase the risk:
- Processed Meat
- Red Meat
Can you guess what prevents colon cancer?
Yes, humble whole grains.
A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the BMJ (2011) found that for each 10gm/day of total dietary fibre and cereal fibre there is a 10% reduction in risk of colorectal cancer. For each three servings of whole grains daily, there is a 20% reduction in risk, and further reductions with higher intake. The study also reiterated what was found in previous studies; whole grains prevent type 2 diabetes, obesity and CVD.
In light of these findings, whilst the Paleo diet aims to implement healthy eating, the removal of whole grains isn’t aptly justified.
What are your thoughts on the Paleo Diet? Have you tried it? Would you reconsider adding whole grains back into your diet after reading this? Join the conversation below or email me firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂 Feel free to ask any questions.
I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend!
Love Stace x
*All studies are sourced from reputable medical journal articles. I only ever use evidence based medicine as a reference for my blog posts.
**Want to know more about whole grains and which ones are the best to choose? I love Precision Nutrition’s article ‘The Safe Carbs.’ It’s worth a read.