36 Responses to “‘Healthy whole grains’ – really?!”

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  1. avatar Irene says:

    Thank you for your post.

    My questions have always been;
    1. are the nutrient contents, listed above, based on actual analysis of harvest after harvest…?
    2. or were those food items tested once and are we assuming since then that the mentioned nutrients are contained within….?

    Given the many, many factors that influence nutrient content of any food produced I, as a consumer, relying purely on food to have my essential nutrients covered, can I be assured that those food items really contain the nutrients listed above.
    I would love to get links on actual test results of food items tested.

    Thank you!

    • avatar Zoë Harcombe says:

      Hi Irene – all the data comes from the United States Department of Agriculture all foods database. You are right that many things impact quality of nutrients – not least cooking! I select the raw options when comparing foods, so that the cooking method doesn’t impact the results. However – this means that this data represents the most nutrition we can expect to get from each food. As you imply – poor soil in a particular area, a bad harvest etc – all of these will have impact. I don’t know the USDA methodology of testing. I use it as the best comparator of virtually any food (fake or real) you can think of – not because the methodology is perfect. An agricultural journal paper would be far more rigorous and would describe testing methods etc but would probably only review a few foods and therefore would fail the comparator test.
      Hope this helps
      Best wishes – Zoe

  2. avatar Maxx says:

    Hi there
    I discovered your website quite by chance today, and have spent the last few hours reading through the material therein. Wonderful to see that it backs up everything I have read over the past year. It’s accessible and down-to-earth: thank you.
    Just a quick question: my lovely doctor agrees that ‘high cholesterol’ won’t give me, as an older woman, a heart attack (thanks also to the wonderful Dr Malcom Kendrick), but has warned me that my cholesterol levels could be dangerous to my kidneys, as their function is down to less than 30% due to infections and antibiotics and generally poor health care. I did read that fat never clogs veins and arteries, so am hoping that the tiny kidney capillaries will not be affected. This is, at the moment, preying on my mind.
    Thanks for any information you might have.
    Maxx

  3. avatar Brian says:

    Do you have any sources for the nutrient levels besides the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference? Does Europe not have an organization that determines nutrient levels in foods?

    Their source was “Analytical or derived from analytical.” What does that mean?

    For “# studies,” they list “1″ for most nutrients. Why are you confident in basing your conclusions on the second-hand results of a single study? Do you have a description of how that study was performed?

    Why would certain foods consistently have the same amount of each nutrient? How exactly do those nutrients get in to foods?

    Do you have evidence that deficiencies in protein, retinol, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, folate, Vitamin B12, or iron are significant causes of major diseases in the Europe or North America?

  4. avatar Paul says:

    Hi Zoe,
    Love the site and all the posts. It’s great to find a UK site that talks sense. I’ve believed in low carb and no processed foods for over 10 years and I thank you for helping to understand the science.
    One question with regard to sunflower seeds; the vast majority of people on a western diet consume too much omega 6 and not enough omega 3, which can lead to inflammation and a whole host of ailments, a ratio of 1:1 is thought to be optimum. Why are sunflower seeds recommended as part of the optimum 5 a day when they are so high in omega 6? Even if you eat the sardines also the ratio is still way out.
    Thanks
    Paul

    • avatar Zoë Harcombe says:

      Hi Paul – it’s because of the vitamin E content. You don’t need many, but sunflower seeds are multiples beyond any other food for providing vit E. So much so that I wonder how we get enough vit E without them! Having said this – I am entirely open to the gov guidelines on vit E being wrong (RDAs) – not least because everything else the gov says on nutrition is wrong! I sprinkle a few on salads or in a stir fry :-)
      Best wishes – Zoe

  5. avatar Brian says:

    Zoe:

    Are your books available online? I went to Barnes and Noble (in Minnesota, United States) to purchase them but the staff told me that the two books that I requested were unavailable. I do not want to purchase books over the internet.

    On another topic, why do you assume that everyone has the same nutritional needs? Some people argue that populations have evolved digestive capacities that conform to their climate. For example, people in northern Europe and other cattle-raising areas tend to be lactase-persistent. As another example, people from hot climates arguably seem to tolerate spicy foods better than people from cold climates–because spicing meats helps to counter the food-spoiling effects of heat. Furthermore, I would think that people from continental areas might not benefit from fish as much as people whose ancestors lived on island nations. (My understanding is that the Omega 3/6 craze was generated by a Japanese study.)

    With respect to grains, my sense is that central European countries like Germany and Poland have historically relied heavily on grains for their food. Thus, they are, arguably, well adapted to eat that food. Underscoring its reliance on agriculture, Poland uses sixty percent of its land for agriculture. Norway, on the other hand, uses only three percent of its land for agriculture. Norway relies much more heavily on fish and game to meet its nutritional needs.

    Also, what evidence exists that micronutrients are as important as you assume? I was a vegan for twenty years, but it was gastrointestinal and arthritic problems that led me to quit, not deficiencies.

    • avatar Zoë Harcombe says:

      Hi Brian – you could walk into a book shop in the UK (or Russia bizarrely!) and get my books but not the USA sadly.

      On the nutritional needs – at one level we do all have the same nutritional needs. We need essential fats, complete protein, vitamins and minerals. Different needs for different ages, genders, pregnancy etc – but not that much variation. There isn’t a human on this planet that can get away without the essential nutrients! As for my advice – the first principle is real food. I follow vegan real foodies on twitter and Paleo real foodies. I celebrate commonalities more than differences.

      This blog post is about facts, not opinions. Whole grains cannot compete with the most nutritious foods. I can understand people not wanting to eat liver (I hate it personally) but that does not change the fact that it is the single most nutritious food there is.

      I’ve emailed you to send you a book!
      Very best wishes – Zoe

  6. avatar Julie says:

    Hi Zoe

    I’m sure you’re aware of the current scientific consultation on Carbohydrates and Health put forth by the SCAN. I was wondering if you’ll be adding your voice to the consultation? It would be good to have a voice of reason in there!

    http://www.sacn.gov.uk/reports_position_statements/reports/scientific_consultation_draft_sacn_carbohydrates_and_health_report_-_june_2014.html

  7. avatar Mich says:

    It seems things are finally moving forward when it comes to recommending too many grain foods. Like everything that comes from government, they will eventually have a totally different view in five years and then blame the ‘misconceptions’ of a healthy diet on ‘people’s views’ without taking any responsibility.

    The new Australian Dietary Guidelines have an increased focus on foods and food groups, instead of nutrients, making them more user-friendly. They also have an increased focus on the effect of food on health outcomes, in particular weight gain, heart disease and some cancers.

    The new dietary guidelines have:

    an increased recommendation for serves per day of Milk, yoghurt, cheese and alternatives and Lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans food groups, and
    a decreased recommendation for serves per day of cereal (grain) foods.

  8. avatar Beatrice says:

    Hi Zoe
    Taking grains out of a diet has been difficult for me, because of the way I feel – guilty. It’s the same as my relationship to fat. Having a public health background I’ve always been a puppet (I know now) to mainstream dietician advice the source of which is heart foundation and so forth. Eating more fat has meant overcoming the guilt and feeling bad. Taking grains out of my diet has also had some kind of mental conflict for me, on one hand being indoctrinated into how needed and great they are but on the other, knowing that they are the source of so much digestive problems and anemia. I confess to playing with the Paleo diet, and never felt better in my life. This morning I woke up feeling arthritic and tired again, and know it is from sliding back into the normal diet (the rest of the family follows). I keep a food diary not for energy input, but to monitor my diet and observe my own behaviour and plot health problems. It’s been so valuable, I actually plotted a reduction in headaches, arthritis pain scale, digestive bloating, tiredness as I progressed on paleo. The last three weeks has seen the introduction again of wholegrain toast and oats, and symptoms, and so now it’s back to paleo again. I lost weight on paleo without dieting taking out cereals for breakfast and breads and grains and replacing with green veggies and avocado. I still feel the echoes of eating a ‘bad diet’ rumbling through my psyche though. But the pain of my body is guiding me to go with what makes me feel good and gives me energy. Any advice about the guilt of going against mainstream nutrition advice?

    • avatar Zoë Harcombe says:

      Hi Beatrice – I’m struggling with this one as I can’t connect feeling guilty with rejecting bad advice – feeling angry that you’ve been duped, yes, but guilty – no way!

      The best definition of guilt I’ve seen is “The overwhelming sense of having done wrong.” What have you done wrong? You have been wronged rather than having done wrong. Don’t ever feel guilt unless you have done wrong. (That’s general good advice for life, not just this circumstance. Humans – women especially – feel way too much guilt when we’ve done nothing wrong and had no intentions of doing wrong).

      Another thing that may help is to read as much as possible about how we got into this mess – whether the journal literature of the time (Ancel Keys vs Yudkin, randomised controlled trials in the 1960′s-1980′s on dietary changes, etc) or more recent reviews of what happened (Gary Taubes, Nina Teicholz, Barry Groves, Hannah Sutter, John Briffa, Michael Eades, Tom Naughton and many, many more). The more you read, the more likely you are to feel anger than guilt and that’s a far more useful emotion as it can be channeled outwards into making a difference, whereas guilt goes inwards and destroys you.

      Hope this helps!
      Best wishes – Zoe

  9. avatar Julie says:

    THanks, Zoe, my doc also recommended this book along with Grain Brain. Another question. Does your diet fit in with a ketogenic diet?

    • avatar Zoë Harcombe says:

      Hi Julie – they’re different diets. They will have things in common (real food; don’t fear fat; manage carbs) and things different (we don’t count anything or limit carbs to the extent of a ketogenic diet – we just eat real food and manage the 3 conditions that the book talks about.)
      Best wishes – Zoe

  10. avatar Julie says:

    I am ecstatic that I found your site this morning! Twice in the last year I had cardiac stents put in for a total of 7. The cardiologist told me that it’s hereditary and then proceeded to prescribe a handful to meds. My MD/naturopath took me off of them and instead recommended a ketogenic diet for life,suggested supplements to help balance my hormones and to manage my heart issues. More importantly, after all the testing, I learned that I am double heterozygous for MTHFR gene mutations. According to my doc and other research, these mutations alone predispose me to all manner of disease. I am 59 and have outlived all my family who all died of heart disease, cancer and drug overdose. As a woman who loves to make and eat whole grain, home made bread, it has been a steep learning curve while changing my diet. Your site, more than any other I have come across, explains the whys for me. I do have a question about einkorn. My doc says that that is perhaps the ONLY grain that could be eaten in small amounts since it has never been modified. Although I can’t have the additional carbs, I would like to know your opinion of einkorn as an alternative to other grains, nothwithstanding the fact we are talking about weight loss here. Julie

    • avatar Zoë Harcombe says:

      Hi Julie – you need to read Wheat Belly! I’ll email you a review I did of it for our club
      Bye for now – Zoe

  11. avatar Tabby says:

    Im a bit confused. Arent grains allowed on P2 and P3 of the Harcombe Diet or has that changed? The sensible attitude to ‘good’ carbs was one of the things that appealed to me about the plan. This post seems to demonise them.

    • avatar Zoë Harcombe says:

      Hi Tabby – grains are fine from Phase 1 on The Harcombe Diet (brown rice). This post is just saying that there are more nutritious foods than whole grains. It’s written because I’m fed up with public health advisors telling people to base meals on these foods. The evidence is that they should be promoting liver/sardines/sunflower seeds/eggs and kale not fruit and fibre.
      Best wishes – Zoe

  12. avatar Tabby says:

    Im a bit confused. Arent grains allowed on P2 and P3 of the Harcombe diet? Or has that changed?

  13. avatar Karen Dobson says:

    Hi Zoe

    Thought you might like to read my email to my doctor after 3 requests to come for a cholesterol test.

    Thank you for your reminders about cholesterol testing and I really do appreciated your concern. However over the past year I have been researching the diet heart hypothesis and have come to the conclusion that there is no longer any scientific basis for the hypothesis that a diet high in saturated fat, or even a ‘high’ reading on a cholesterol test is a risk marker for a heart disease so long as the hdl/triglyceride ratio and crp numbers are optimal. Rather, it is the over consumption of carbohydrates / sugars in the western diet which is the biggest culprit contributing to proliferation of small, dense, atherosclerotic LDL particles, inflammation in the body and metabolic syndrome. Consequently my diet has changed to reflect this. I am happy that there is no causal relationship between cholesterol and heart disease but thank you once again for your concern.

    Interesting article:
    http://m.europe.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303678404579533760760481486?mobile=y&mg=reno64-wsj

    Kindest Regards

    Karen

    • avatar Zoë Harcombe says:

      Hi Karen – brilliant email! I’d love to see if there’s any reaction! Most docs seem immovable on this topic. We’ll sue them for it one day :-)
      Very best wishes – Zoe

  14. avatar Jessica says:

    “If a food stuff has to be cracked, smashed or milled, perhaps we ought to think twice about eating it because it was probably not involved in shaping our DNA.”

    I would agree, except in the case of nuts! Which also answers Sonia’s question. Can you add nuts to your diet?

  15. avatar Isabel Natrins says:

    Thanks Zoe…the Chookingham Palace ladies will be very pleased with themselves! x

  16. avatar Robin Willcourt says:

    Consider your DNA- it (the genome) and the epigenome that turns genes on and off, have evolved over millions of years. Modern humans may be about 2 million years in the making. Our foods iinformed and shaped our DNA as much as any other forces out there.

    Grains and dairy have been used by humans from 10 to 5 thousand years ago. Not long in the scheme of things and these foods would not normally be expected to be recognized by our bodies in the same way that ancient foods (read animal fat and meat) would. Now there must be proteins in milk, for example, that are similar some of the proteins in meat but is so they are few and far between. Just because we can utilize them doesn’t mean we should. That might be a coping mechanism rather than a nutitionally sound metabolic process.

    Fruits that we would consider sour were much more likely to have been the norm, and not even close to our “modern” fruits. And they too were only available to eat, on ripening — that really means in the the fall (autumn)-so not an every day of the year event.

    It’s so easy to construct a real food diet! Grass fed, open range. Eat according to the seasons in your locale.

  17. avatar Mary Eide says:

    So a paleo diet is the best way to eat?

  18. avatar Isabel Natrins says:

    Hi Zoe,

    Really enjoy reading your posts – your analyses are always spot on! Zoe, I’m a big fan of grass/pasture-raised animal proteins and fats, but from your tables I’m puzzled about the issue of omega 3:6 ratios. I’d really appreciate your help to understand this – especially in regard to the eggs since I have 14 hens and eat loads (of eggs, I mean!)

    From various material I’ve read, I understood that, historically, a ‘perfect’ ingested ratio of omega 3:6 for we humans, was 1:1 respectively; and that a ratio any higher 1:4 had been shown to be associated witf health problems. I understood that omega 3s were anti-inflammatory and that 6s were, largely, inflammatory.

    Eggs are hailed as one of nature’s ‘perfect’ foods. However it seems that ‘fake’ supermarket eggs (i.e. from intensively raised, grain-fed hens) can contain omega 3:6 in ratios as high as 1:20, while ‘real’ eggs (i.e. from organic, truly free-range pasture-raised hens) can contain an inverse ratio as high as 5:1.

    So, my conclusion was that eating lots of REAL eggs was really good for you! Have I got this all wrong? Thanks, and go well Zoe!

    • avatar Zoë Harcombe says:

      Hi Isabel – I have the same reference numbers as you – between 1:1 and 1:4 as a ratio is considered ideal and we have strayed to more like 1:20 with vegetable oil madness. Seriously unhealthy…

      I’ve also seen the Mercola references to grass fed vs supermarket eggs – 5:1 to 1:20. I use the USDA database – which doesn’t distinguish between different egg sources – hence the ratio in this post. It’s only fair to compare all foods on 1 database and not pick and choose with one-off sources. I do think grass fed eggs are superfoods. If Mercola says they have a ratio of 5:1 – I would trust that they have more omega-3 than 6 – whether 5 times as much or just a bit more. They’re great for way more than essential fats – complete protein, vits and minerals etc – so eat away :-)

      Very best wishes – Zoe

  19. avatar sonia says:

    how about for vegetarians? if we don’t eat meat, what should we be eating when we cut out carbs?
    thanks

    • avatar Zoë Harcombe says:

      Hi Sonia – eggs and dairy products (milk, yoghurt, cheese etc) are the best sources of nutrients available to vegetarians. Combinations of pulses can also be useful – kidney beans and brown rice as in veggie chilli; refried beans and corn tortillas – that kind of thing. Cultures with vegetarian cuisine naturally combine the right foods to provide the best possible protein option. You’ll notice that all combinations listed are high carb – this is inevitable when trying to get non animal source options of nutrients. There are books/sites (recipe advice etc) for low carb veggies. The main problem is probably boredom – there’s only so many egg meals a day that someone may enjoy! I was veggie for c. 20 years and was inevitably much higher carb than I am now – porridge for breakfast/cheese salad for lunch and brown rice/rice pasta dinners were my staples.
      Hope this helps
      Very best wishes – Zoe

  20. avatar Robin Willcourt says:

    Damion- there is no evidence that ancient grains were any more nutirious than those of today but they were less toxic, see: Br J Nutr. 2014 Feb 13:1-8. Effect of Triticum turgidum subsp. turanicum wheat on irritable bowel syndrome: a double-blinded randomised dietary intervention trial.
    Sofi F1, Whittaker A2, Gori AM3, Cesari F3, Surrenti E4, Abbate R3, Gensini GF3, Benedettelli S2, Casini A1.

    As Zoë says, find something more nutritious than liver out of any grains. If a food stuff has to be cracked, smashed or milled, perhaps we ought to think twice about eating it because it was probably not involved in shaping our DNA.

    Agree that corn fed meat is not ideal because of its distorted omega-6 content, antibiotics and other toxins, it is still a better food than bread! Look for grass fed always!

  21. avatar Hilary says:

    But you’re talking about *eliminating a whole Food Group!*

    Ahem.

    Selenium in spaghetti – that depends on where the grain was grown, doesn’t it? I believe the US has selenium-rich soils for the most part, but in the UK if you want selenium, you’re better advised to eat a brazil nut or two.

  22. avatar Macey says:

    Thanks for bringing clarity to this. It’s so frustrating listening to health professionals and tv adverts banging on about healthy wholegrains. There’s also the gut damaging gluten and phytic acid to consider when eating a deeply unsatisfying wholegrain food. They taste horrible so must be good for you factor.

  23. avatar Damion says:

    I’m not questioning the above argument but it seems that all grains are grouped together and vilified. Mass produced meat is terrible and probably no good for you. What about heirloom/ancient grains versus the mass produced/high yield varieties that have very little going for them. What are your views on fermented grains? There is evidence that when well hydrated and fermented these foods are more nutritious with more vitamins and minerals made available.

    • avatar Zoë Harcombe says:

      Hi Damion – fermenting grains makes them more digestible (and therefore what nutrition they have more absorbable) and less toxic, but it still won’t make them any better than listed in the post above. Here’s a good post on the general topic. Find an heirloom/ancient grain that beats liver and I’ll be impressed!
      Best wishes – Zoe

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