Why Grains Are Unhealthy

wholegrainsBY: MARK SISSON

I find that grain bashing makes for a tasty, but ultimately unsatisfying meal.

You all know how much I love doing it, though. But no matter how often I sit down to dine on the stuff (and I’ve done it with great gusto in the past), I always leave the table feeling like I left something behind. Like maybe I wasn’t harsh enough about the danger of gluten, or I failed to really convey just how much I hated lectins. If I didn’t know better, I’d think the mere mention of grains was eliciting a crazy insulin-esque response and throwing my satiety hormones all out of whack. I was filling up on anti-grain talk, but I just couldn’t fill that void for long.

Well, I’ve got the hunger today, and this time I aim to stuff myself to the point of perpetual sickness. I don’t ever want to have to look at another anti-grain argument again (yeah, right). If things get a little disjointed, or if I descend into bullet points and sentence fragments, it’s only because the hunger has taken over and I’ve decided to dispense with the pleasantries in order to lay it all out at once.

So please, bear with me.

Apart from maintaining social conventions in certain situations and obtaining cheap sugar calories, there is absolutely no reason to eat grains. Believe me – I’ve searched far and wide and asked everyone I can for just one good reason to eat cereal grains, but no one can do it. They may have answers, but they just aren’t good enough. For fun, though, let’s see take a look at some of the assertions:

“You need the fiber!”

Okay, for one: no, I don’t. If you’re referring to its oft-touted ability to move things along in the inner sanctum, fiber has some unintended consequences. A few years back, scientists found that high-fiber foods “bang up against the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract, rupturing their outer covering” which “increases the level of lubricating mucus.” Err, that sounds positively awful. Banging and tearing? Rupturing? These are not the words I like to hear. But wait! The study’s authors say, “It’s a good thing.” Fantastic! So when all those sticks and twigs rub up against my fleshy interior and literally rupture my intestinal lining, I’ve got nothing to worry about. It’s all part of the plan, right?

Somehow, I’m not convinced that a massive daily infusion of insoluble grain fiber is all that essential. And that “lubricating mucus” sounds an awful like the mucus people with irritable bowel syndrome complain about. From personal experience I can tell you that once I completed my exodus from grains, the IBS completely stopped. If you’re not yet convinced on the fiber issue I’ll refer you to Konstantin Monastyrsky’s Fiber Menace. Anyway, there’s plenty of fiber in the vegetables and fruit I eat. Which takes me to the next claim:

“You need the vitamins and minerals!”

You got me. I do need vitamins and minerals, like B1 and B2, magnesium and iron, zinc and potassium. But do I need to obtain them by eating a carb-heavy, bulky grain? No, no I don’t. You show me a serving of “healthy whole grains” that can compete – nutrient, vitamin, and mineral-wise – with a Big Ass Salad. What’s that? Can’t do it? Thought so.

“But it forms the foundation of the governmental food pyramid!”

You know, I should have just started the entire post with this one. I could have saved my fingers the trouble of typing and your eyes the trouble of reading. Governmental endorsements are not points in your favor, grain-eater; they are strikes against you. An appeal to authority (unless that “authority” is actually a preponderance of scientific evidence, of course) does not an effective argument make. Conventional Wisdom requires consistent, steady dissection and criticism if it is to be of any value.

There’s a reason grains are first and foremost on the list of foods to avoid when following the Primal Blueprint: they are completely and utterly pointless in the context of a healthy diet. In fact, if your average unhealthy person were to ask for the top three things to avoid in order to get healthy, I would tell them to stop smoking, to stop drinking their calories (as soda or juice), and to stop eating grains. Period. Full stop. They really are that bad.

I’ve mentioned this time and again, but the fundamental problem with grains is that they are a distinctly Neolithic food that the human animal has yet to adapt to consuming. In fact, cereal grains figured prominently in the commencement of the New Stone Age; grains were right there on the forefront of the agricultural revolution. Hell, they were the agricultural revolution – einkorn wheat, emmer, millet, and spelt formed the backbone of Neolithic farming. They could be stored for months at a time, they were easy enough to grow in massive enough quantities to support a burgeoning population, and they promoted the construction of permanent settlements. Oh, and they were easily hoarded, meaning they were probably an early form of currency (and, by extension, a potential source of income inequality). And here’s the kicker: they were harsh, tough things that probably didn’t even taste very good. It also took a ton of work just to make them edible, thanks to their toxic anti-nutrients.

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Toxic Taste

Toxic Taste

Today, half of America will be wiped out by a new plague—chronic metabolic disease—and Obamacare doesn’t address it.

Today the diseases of metabolic syndrome generate close to 75% of the nation’s healthcare costs. Despite having the most expensive healthcare in the world, the United States remains among the least healthy nations.The current medical business model is unsustainable. Medicare is staring at bankruptcy in 12 years.

Processed Diets
The U.N. secretary-general announced in 2011 his plan to target tobacco, alcohol and “bad diet.” But what about our diet? What’s gone wrong? As the United States went low-fat in the 1980s, we opted for foods that cut the fat, which ushered in the processed food “Western diet,” which has rapidly spread across the planet to become the “industrial global diet.” This is an attractive diet for its stakeholders, due to convenience, palatability, lack of depreciation and cost. But it’s killing us.
There are (at least) eight things wrong with our processed food diet:

1. Too Little Fiber Fiber limits the blood glucose rise, which limits the insulin response, which limits how much energy is stored in fat cells and which reduces cell proliferation, which reduces blood pressure, heart disease and cancer.

2. Too Few Micronutrients Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, all of which prevent cellular damage.

3.Too Few Omega-3 Fatty Acids Omega-3 fatty acids prevent inflammation, which drives chronic metabolic disease, and may limit risk for cognitive decline. Examples of foods containing these are wild fish and flax.

4. Too Many Omega-6 Fatty Acids Omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation and drive chronic metabolic disease. Nutritionists suggest that the optimal ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids should be about 1:1. Currently our ratio is about 25:1. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in seed oils, such as corn and canola.

5. Too Many Trans-Fats Trans-fats are synthetic fats that we can’t metabolize for energy. Thus, they line our livers and our arteries instead. Last November the U.S. Food and Drug Administration declared trans-fats were no longer “generally recognized as safe,” ensuring their eventual disappearance from the American food supply.

6. Too Many Branched-Chain Amino Acids Valine, leucine and isoleucine are essential amino acids that help build muscle protein. But excessive amounts turn into liver fat and impair insulin signaling, driving metabolic syndrome. These are found in abundance in any animal fed with corn—beef, chicken and fish (and that’s all commercially available protein).

7.Too Much Alcohol A little alcohol is good (one glass of red wine for women, two for men), but a lot is not. Alcohol’s effect on metabolic syndrome is dose-dependent. Excess alcohol is turned into liver fat, driving high blood triglycerides (which cause heart disease) and insulin resistance.

8.Too Much Added Sugar This is the most actionable component of our diet because it’s the one the food industry specifically adds for its own purposes. When the industry cut the fat, the food tasted like cardboard, so producers started adding the sugar. Of the 600,000 food items in the American grocery store, 80% are spiked with added sugar. Excess sugar is turned into liver fat, which also drives triglycerides and insulin resistance, and revs up the cellular aging reaction, further driving metabolic syndrome.

Can’t we just solve this with a pill? Can’t Big Pharma rescue us? We’ve got pills to treat hypertension, diabetes and heart disease (not so much for cancer and dementia). And Big Pharma loves nothing better than selling chronic therapies for chronic diseases. The medicines may slow the downward spiral, but we reach the abyss in any case. There’s only one way out. It’s called prevention—a one-word name for real food.

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Is Tabata All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

Exclusive ACE-sponsored research evaluates the physiological responses to the popular high-intensity interval workout known as Tabata.

By Talisa Emberts, M.S., John P. Porcari, Ph.D., Jeffery Steffen, Ph.D., Scott Doberstein, M.S., and Carl Foster, Ph.D.

It all started with the Japanese Olympic Speed Skating Team. Head Coach Irisawa Koichi created a high-intensity interval-training workout for his skaters that consisted of eight rounds of 20 seconds each of intense work on a cycling ergometer, followed by 10 seconds of rest, for a total of a four-minute workout. Koichi asked one of his training coaches, Izumi Tabata, to analyze the effectiveness of this short but grueling workout. The result is a landmark 1996 study that found, in just six weeks of testing, a 28 percent increase in the subjects’ anaerobic capacity, plus a 14 percent increase in their VO2max.

“Originally I thought this type of training was just for speed skaters or other highly motivated athletes because it is very painful and tiring,” says Izumi Tabata, now a professor and researcher at Japan’s Ritsumeikan University. “However, I found that there were groups of people interested in building muscle and therefore doing short high-intensity exercises that trained their muscle, but not those exercises that improved their aerobic training. When this regimen came along, they began to realize they could train both at the same time.”

Though Tabata didn’t actually design the workout, due to the widespread interest in his findings the workout was coined the “Tabata Protocol.” In recent years, legions of exercisers have been inspired to do high-intensity Tabata-style workouts, including most notably the CrossFit community, which now uses the protocol in a popular workout they call “Tabata This.”

“It seems like everything high-intensity is now called Tabata Training,” says John Porcari, Ph.D., head of the Clinical Exercise Physiology Program at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. “The original Tabata study was done on a bicycle, but people are now doing that 20-second/10-second format with resistance training, plyometrics, calisthenics…with almost anything.”

Because of all of this recent interest in Tabata-style workouts, the American Council on Exercise enlisted Porcari and his research team to gauge just how effective a Tabata-style workout really is.


To analyze the intensity and calorie burn of a Tabata-inspired workout, the research team, led by Porcari and Talisa Emberts, M.S., used the Tabata Protocol to create their own 20-minute, full-body calisthenics workout consisting of exercises like push-ups, split squats, box jumps, burpees, jumping rope, jumping jacks and more. Next, they recruited 16 healthy, moderately to very fit male and female volunteers, ages 20 to 47. All subjects first underwent a treadmill test to determine maximal heart rate (HRmax) and VO2max, with ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) assessed at the end of each stage and at maximal exertion using the 6—20 Borg scale. Then, they each practiced the Tabata routine until Emberts deemed each subject proficient at each exercise.

Once prepared, each subject began with a five-minute warm-up followed by four rounds of Tabata (eight reps of 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest) with one-minute of rest between each round, and a 10-minute cool down. During the 20-second phase of high-intensity exercise, subjects performed as many repetitions as possible. HR was monitored throughout, while blood lactate levels were tested with a finger prick blood test after every four-minute segment of exercise. RPE was also evaluated after each four-minute segment. In all, each subject completed two 20-minute Tabata workouts.


Immediately following both testing sessions, the researchers crunched the data. On average, this study showed that, during a Tabata workout, subjects averaged 86 percent of HRmax (range of 84—88 percent) and 74 percent of VO2max (range of 67—81 percent)—both of which meet or exceed established industry guidelines for improving cardio fitness and modifying body composition.

As for calorie burning, the 16 subjects burned between 240 and 360 kcals during the workout, for an average of 15 kcals per minute burned. Again, Tabata met established guidelines for calorie expenditure for improving health and facilitating weight loss. On average, subjects also anecdotally perceived Tabata to be pretty darn tough. The average RPE was 15.4 (rated as “hard”). Meanwhile, blood lactate levels averaged 12.1 mmol/L following the workouts, suggesting that subjects were working out well above their lactate thresholds.


“The great thing about Tabata is it’s a short workout—only 20 minutes—and it incorporates your total body, so it’s working every muscle group that you possibly can,” says Embert, referring specifically to the Tabata-style workout she designed.

Basically, if you work hard enough, even for just four minutes, you really should be able to get into decent cardiovascular shape. Do the full 20-minute workout shown here and your results will be much better.

“I think with his research, Tabata was trying to prove that if you work people hard enough—if you work at high enough intensity—you can get in shape in a very short period of time,” says Porcari. “The flip side is, if you’re in good shape and you’re limited on time, you can definitely maintain your fitness. It’s just another trick in the arsenal of helping people get and stay in shape.”

That said, based on the intensity of a Tabata workout, the average non-exerciser should be very careful with this type of training. “It could be potentially dangerous for them to be working this hard,” he says. “Before people even attempt Tabata they probably need to have a pretty decent baseline level of fitness.”

Thus, Emberts recommends only doing Tabata-style workouts two to three times a week with 48 to 72 hours rest between each session. And Porcari puts it all into perspective: “People need to realize that to get into shape, to really reap the benefits of Tabata training, it’s the intensity part that gets you into shape, not the four minutes.”

Four minutes to fitness? Maybe not, but clearly, based on the evidence, short-burst, high-intensity training is the real deal. And adapting Tabata-style training to fit your client’s workouts is without a doubt another very effective approach you can employ to help them achieve their goals.

This study was funded solely by the American Council on Exercise.