Bread bread bread bread...

The consumption of grains for food has obviously been a part of human cultures for thousands of years. So, when I try to explain to people why I peel the bread off my hamburgers or don’t want bread sticks at the restaurant, I’m usually met with blank stares and puzzled looks.

Considering how little healthful qualities grains possess, I figure everybody else should explain why eating grains is such a great idea. I’ve written up a handful of basic arguments that I assume will generally crop up when people are put to the question:

Why should I eat grains?

People have always eaten grains and bread!

If by always you mean only in the last 10,000 or so years, then OK! The eating of grains coincided with the agricultural revolution, otherwise referred to as the “dawn of civilization”. But, humans existed for a long time before the point that they learned how to harvest some kind of sustenance from seed grains. In fact, grain consumption by humans has occurred on the brief tail end of a 2 million year period of evolution.

The commercials on TV say that whole grains are good for you!

Obviously, those companies are trying to sell you a product, and no company would ever sell a product to people that was harmful or not nutritious for them, right? If you honestly believe that then I’ve got some fabulous snake oil I’d like you to try.

Companies sell products that people want, and people have been conditioned to want grains, either physiologically or through misinformation. Often times, the research that food companies use to back up their claims has been paid for by themselves, and is likely to be biased.

The government made the food pyramid, and it says to eat plenty of grains!

Unfortunately, the government has relied on much of the same research that food corporations have in order to make decisions and promote “healthy” food choices. Or, you have massive lobbyist groups and special interests which pour money into Washington D.C. to encourage lawmakers to recommend that people eat the products that benefit the lobbyists. Many people would be quick express how little trust they would place in the government to manage their personal finances, but then those same people trust the government to give them sound nutritional advice.

Shall we appeal to an even higher power?

Yes! God put plants on the earth for us to eat, and he gave bread to his people in the desert!

God apparently doesn’t really like grains all that much because he rejected the offerings of produce by Cain but accepted the animal sacrifices brought by Abel. Cain, who soon after went into a homicidal rage might have been demonstrating the first ever documented case of vegan dementia. Obviously, if you need to give an offering to your god, make it something he’ll appreciate, like a nice rack of ribs!

But, but, I just like the taste of bread, OK? That’s enough for me to justify why I like bread and grains!

Really? When is the last time you ate a plain piece of bread? No butter, no cheese, no jelly. Or how about some corn on the cob without any butter? Some rice without soy sauce? If bread and grains taste so wonderful, why is everybody rushing to add some fat or salt to it?

It seems to me that bread really only serves one good purpose during a meal, and that is to provide some kind of edible substrate that you can put other tastier or nutritious food on for the sake of convenience. If you think about it, the new low-carb sandwich wraps that are so popular lately are really just an edible wrapper for something else.

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16 Responses to Arguments For Eating Grains

  1. Joe says:

    David, that crack about Cain and Abel had me doubled up. Absolutely brilliant.

  2. Dr John says:

    Grains are used to supply cheap inadequate calories to feed very lage populations; India, China
    And they need to be combined in order to complete their protein.
    IMHO grains are the “real” junk in our society.

  3. David Csonka says:

    I agree completely Dr. John. The ironic paradox is, those large populations would not be possible without grains and as such grains are required to sustain or at least keep the population alive at that size.

  4. Runners Passion says:

    Where do you get complex carbs if not from grains? I’m just trying to think how I’m going to carbo load for my next marathon without spaghetti.

  5. David Csonka says:

    Well, if you really love spaghetti I’m certain there are some brands out there that make a gluten-free variety. Obviously though, gluten-free will be more expensive.

    When I feel I need to do a carb feed after a tough workout, I will usually turn to sweet potatoes. As starches go, they are one of the most nutrient filled vegetables/tubars. As well, they have a pretty low fructose/glucose ratio which is a good thing.

  6. Jay says:

    Historically humans did not eat the same species of grains, esp wheat. We used to eat einkorn and emmer wheat, they are still used in some places.
    The modern wheat we have is hybridized and selected to be shorter and faster growing. Shorter stalk also means shorter roots and less nutrient absorption from the soil.
    The original stuff also has different glutens and proteins than what goes into your bread today.

  7. David Csonka says:

    I didn’t know that Jay, thanks for sharing! I’m going to go crazy on wikipedia now and learn more. :D

  8. Katie says:

    “Cain, who soon after went into a homicidal rage might have been demonstrating the first ever documented case of vegan dementia.”

    ROFL. This made my day.

  9. Vashu says:

    For the record, I like bread. Plain ol’ bread, with nothing on it. Rye? Wheat? White? Corn? Challah? Naan? That crazy wholegrain stuff from organic stores? Love it.

    Not really a fan of pumpernickel, but I can’t please everybody, lol.

  10. Frank says:

    I think KFC has it right with the double down! No bread, just meat between more meat! ;)

  11. Andrew says:

    Jay & David, not only were the grains selected for growing properties, they were selected specifically for higher gluten content. The common durum, or “Pasta wheat” is a human concoction that was bred for increased elasticity (i.e. gluten) for pasta that didn’t fall apart and for softer, stretchier bread.

    So… humans were introduced to gluten slowly, which would have limited natural selection in earlier populations. This is important from an “is it food?” cultural perspective. If the first wheat eaters had experienced noticeable symptoms, it might have been tossed in the “not food” category. The gradual gluten change was an unintended side-effect that lagged behind the cultural acceptance of wheat as food.

  12. Alissa says:

    @runners passion

    I just did my first marathon and all during my 18 weeks of training I managed to stay gluten free paleo. This means, instead of the “normal” carbs like bread and pasta before a long run, I carbo loaded with sweet potatoes. It was a delicious alternative and I noticed my recovery time after long ones was dramatically quicker!

    Also, I’ve done half marathons and triathlons in the past where I carb loaded with breads and pastas and I was often sick during training. With paleo, I hardly get sick anymore!

  13. Alissa says:

    Yeah I did. That was really the only thing that wasn’t strict paleo. I used a gel every 4-6 miles out of convenience. I know there are ways to do it otherwise, such as making your own but I don’t plan on making running marathons a frequent event :) I also used a sports drink for refueling. All of these seemed to aid my performance quite well.

  14. David Csonka says:

    That’s pretty remarkable Alissa! I know a lot of runners struggle with the idea of not using bread or pasta as their carb fuel source. Did you use anything during the race, like gels?

  15. Jacob says:

    While modern bread is highly processed and I can see the drawbacks of eating that, wouldn’t real bread and pasta contain the same chemicals as tubers, the staple of a hunter-gatherer society? I mean, humans went from eating starch-rich tubers on a daily basis, with seasonal fruit as a side dish and the occasional meat windfall, to eating starch-rich rice or bread on a daily basis with a side of seasonal fruit and the occasional meat windfall (slaughtering animals was an infrequent occurrence for most of human history).
    My second point is the high fiber content of whole grains. I don’t need to explain fiber health benefits, here.
    Thirdly, the point about plants not wanting animals to eat their reproductive parts also applies to the stems you eat in tubers, or to any vegetable, really. In fact, the selective breeding of vegetables by humankind has made them more edible, not less. For example, breading cyanide out of almonds.
    Fourthly, Humans CAN adapt to a change diet in a relatively short period of time, Given our history as omnivorous gatherers and scavengers, our ancestors had to eat anything. My example is the evolution of lactose tolerance. The majority of the human race is lactose intolerant in adulthood, but in Europe groups of humans retained the ability to digest lactose into adulthood, allowing them to eat milk products from their cultivated cows with no side effects. (Of course, artificial chemicals are an entirely different kettle of fish, and I doubt it would take us anything less than a million years or so to evolve the ability to make such things healthy for us.)
    My last point is cooking. The human digestive tract is too short to supply energy to it’s enormous, calorie-hogging brain with a reasonable supply of raw food. Cooking evolved as a way of turning less edible or inedible food into easily digested food, and we have been doing that for over a million years. Wouldn’t the process of cooking the grains render them much more edible?

    Just a few questions…

    • David Csonka says:

      Tubers are nothing like gluten-based grains. A comparison here is a non-starter. One is a modified stem mechanism and the other is a seed.

      One doesn’t need to eat bread to get fiber. There is an enormous amount of fiber found in vegetables, and those sources don’t contain junk like phytates and gluten.

      One of the defensive mechanisms of a tuber is the fact that that it is underground. And yes, selective breeding and cooking leads to safer tubers – the potato is a perfect example of that. Sadly, humans have selectively bread wheat to contain more gluten, not less.

      To some extent soaking and fermenting makes gluten-based grains safer and more useful, but not completely. Even so, they’re a poor food source in comparison to other more bio-available and benign sources.

      As you suggested correctly, cooking is a key component of human evolution and advancement. Soaking and fermenting, or making sourdough bread does to some extent make it less harmful. This however is not 100%.

      As well, one really should consider the amount of labor involved with making gluten-based grains edible and useful. Quite an investment in time and effort for paltry returns.