MacronutrientsMicronutrientsPublic HealthWhole Grains

‘Healthy whole grains’ – really?!

This post is the logical follow-up to “The perfect five-a-day post“. In addition to being told to eat five-a-day, we are told to eat ‘healthy whole grains’. So let’s look at just how healthy these are – compared again to five genuinely nutritious foods.

Again, all information is openly available on this site. drawing from the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference

In the following two tables I have recorded:

– Essential fats (the term “essential” in nutrition means we must consume this substance – our body doesn’t make it);

– Complete protein (any food with a protein score over 100 provides complete protein – including the essential amino acids that we must consume. Any food with a protein score below 100 does not provide complete protein);

– 12 vitamins (the database doesn’t record biotin) and the main macro minerals and trace minerals. (Next to each vitamin and mineral is the US Recommended Dietary Allowance or “AI”, Adequate Intake, where an RDA is not given).

Table 1 has five foods that I would recommend as healthy – based on evidence of nutrient provision. Between them (and not always needing 100g for many nutrients to be acquired) they provide all the nutrients that humans need. Please note the nutrients that are most difficult to obtain. People should ideally consume 200g of oily fish each day to get close to the vitamin D and calcium requirements; the addition of steak to these five foods would be helpful to increase zinc intake.

Table 2 has the same information extracted for five example whole grains.

The yellow highlighter gives you a quick visual check of which food provides the most of each nutrient per 100g of product (across both tables). This is why I describe liver as the most nutritious food on the planet. Please let me know if you find a food with essential fats and complete protein, which is richer in vitamins and minerals than liver.

 Table 1

(All per 100g of product) Chicken Liver Sardines Eggs Sunflower seeds Kale
Essential Fats – omega 3 (mg) 6 1,480 74 74 180
Essential Fats – omega 6 (mg) 486 3,544 1,148 23,048 138
Protein Quality (100+ = complete protein) 149 148 136 88 92
A Retinol (900 mcg) 3,290 32 139 0 0
A Carotene (assumed retinol equivalent) 6 0 1 3 769
B1 (Thiamin) (1.2 mg) 0.3 0.1 0.1 1.5 0.1
B2 (Riboflavin) (1.3 mg) 1.8 0.2 0.5 0.4 0.1
B3 (Niacin) (16 mg) 9.7 5.2 0.1 8.3 1
B5 (Pantothenic Acid) (5 mg) (AI) 6.2 0.6 1.4 1.1 0.1
B6 (1.7 mg) 0.9 0.2 0.1 1.3 0.3
Folate (400 mcg) 588 12 47 227 29
B12 (2.4 mcg) 16.6 8.9 1.3 0 0
C (90 mg) 17.9 0 0 1.4 120
D (600 IU) (AI) (*) neg 272 35 0 0
E (15 mg) 0.7 2 1 33.2 0
K (120 mcg) (AI) 0 2.6 0.3 0 817
Minerals (M)
Calcium (1,000 mg) (AI) 8 382 53 78 135
Magnesium (420 mg) 19 39 12 325 34
Phosphorus (700 mg) 297 490 191 660 56
Minerals (T)
Copper (0.9 mg) 0.5 0.2 0.1 1.8 0.3
Iron (18 mg) 9.0 2.9 1.8 5.2 1.7
Manganese (2.3 mg) (AI) 0.3 0.1 0.0 1.9 0.8
Selenium (55 mcg) 54.6 52.7 31.7 53.0 0.9
Zinc (11 mg) 2.7 1.3 1.1 5.0 0.4


* Data for vitamin D is in IU’s – International Units. The USA has recently revised recommended vitamin D intakes to be 15 mcg per day (from 10 mcg per day). This is equivalent to 600 IU.

Table 2

(All per 100g of product) Wheat flour whole grain Brown rice (long grain) Wholewheat spaghetti/pasta Oats Whole wheat bread
Essential Fats – omega 3 (mg) 38 44 27 100 25
Essential Fats – omega 6 (mg) 738 1,000 529 2,200 574
Protein Quality (100+ = complete protein) 54 75 43 95 22
A Retinol (900 mcg) 0 0 0 0 0
A Carotene (assumed retinol equivalent) 0 0 0 0 0
B1 (Thiamin) (1.2 mg) 0.4 0.4 0.5 0.5 0.4
B2 (Riboflavin) (1.3 mg) 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.2 0.2
B3 (Niacin) (16 mg) 6.4 5.1 5.1 1.1 4.7
B5 (Pantothenic Acid) (5 mg) (AI) 1 1.5 1 1.1 0.7
B6 (1.7 mg) 0.3 0.5 0.2 0.1 0.2
Folic Acid (Folate) (400 mcg) 44 20 57 32 50
B12 (2.4 mcg) 0 0 0 0 0
C (90 mg) 0 0 0 0 0
D (600IU) This = 15μg (AI) (*) 0 0 0 0 0
E (15 mg) 0.8 1.2 0 0.4 0.5
K (120 mcg) (AI) 1.9 1.9 0 2 7.8
Minerals (M)
Calcium (1,000 mg) (AI) 34 23 40 52 107
Magnesium (420 mg) 138 143 143 138 82
Phosphorus (700 mg) 346 333 258 410 202
Minerals (T)
Copper (0.9 mg) 0.4 0.3 0.5 0.4 0.4
Iron (18 mg) 3.9 1.5 3.6 4.3 2.4
Manganese (2.3 mg) (AI) 3.8 3.7 3.1 3.6 2.1
Selenium (55 mcg) 70.7 23.4 73 28.9 40.4
Zinc (11 mg) 2.9 2 2.4 3.6 1.8


The whole grains have no complete protein; no vitamin A (retinol or carotene); no vitamin B12; no vitamin C; no vitamin D. Unlike with the 5 fruit & veg, this time there are two nutrients that are better provided for by 100g of a whole grain than the liver/sardines basket. Whole grain wheat flour wins for manganese and whole wheat spaghetti pasta wins for selenium. Neither nutrient is difficult to obtain from real food. These are also the only two examples where a nutrient RDA/AI can be provided by 100g of any of the whole grains. All other nutrients would require more than 100g of any of the five foods (in most cases many multiples of 100g) to meet an RDA/AI.

We would need to eat almost 1 kilogram of bread daily to get the calcium RDA (taking the best of the 5 whole grain sources of calcium). We would need to eat 340 grams of brown rice daily to get enough B6. We would need to eat 420 grams of oats daily to get our iron requirement.

There is another factor to consider with whole grains – their calorie content. People who know me know I don’t bother much with calories (more non-evidence based advice). However, calories from carbohydrates are important for a number of reasons: they are nutritionally inferior; they facilitate fat storage with insulin; they need to be used up as energy or they will be stored as glycogen/then fat; they can’t be used up for cell repair and the body requirements that fat/protein can satisfy and so on. It is thus important that 1,250 calories of brown rice would be needed for the B6 requirement (or 220 cals liver); 1,600 grams of oats for iron (or 230 cals liver) and c. 2,300 calories of bread for calcium (or 540 cals sardines).

If people listen to public health advisors and eat their ‘healthy whole grains’ instead of listening to granny and eating their liver, eggs and greens, populations will get fat and sick. And what has happened since we introduced this dietary advice?

So next time you hear the phrase ‘healthy whole grains’, your response should be – really?!

53 thoughts on “‘Healthy whole grains’ – really?!

    • Hi Vanessa
      It will be the same as all such association observations. People who eat (can afford) legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds, fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices are entirely different people to those who live on buy one get one free (BOGOF) junk offers and takeaway meal deals. The idea that if only the unhealthy people ate some lentils, they would enjoy the health and longevity of the educated, affluent, privileged people is absurd. This is, however, at the heart of every “eat nuts and be healthy” kind of headline!
      Best wishes – Zoe

  • “If people listen to public health advisors and eat their ‘healthy whole grains’ instead of listening to granny and eating their liver, eggs and greens, populations will get fat and sick. And what has happened since we introduced this dietary advice?”

    Are you saying there’s a causal link between wholegrain dietary advice and the obesity epidemic? That all those ‘fat and sick’ people are that way because they eat wholegrains?

    • Yes, that’s what she’s saying, “However, calories from carbohydrates are important for a number of reasons: they are nutritionally inferior; they facilitate fat storage with insulin; they need to be used up as energy or they will be stored as glycogen/then fat; they can’t be used up for cell repair and the body requirements that fat/protein can satisfy and so on.”

      Try not eating any food-like substance for a month that doesn’t contain flour or table sugar, you’ll be devastated to realize how much of your current diet contains it. It’s the secret cardiac killer and super fat accumulator. And that’s just because of it’s natural effects on the body. Never mind the chemical dousing of grain products highlighted in the post below.

  • The CBC brocasted The War on Wheat FEB 27, 2015 promoted me to do some of my own research. Here are some of my findings.

    They interviewed Dr. William Davis, author of the book Wheat Belly, Dr. Joe Schwarcz a chemist, myth-buster, & science-advocate from McGill University, health science expert

    I wrote a few letters to Dr. Schwartz as per my findings to which he did not agree. I also posted and a number of comments to the CBC

    Wheat is doused in pesticides from seed to storage

    Clearfield wheat is used currently. It was created to be resistant to herbicides. They did not use gene splicing, but chemical mu-tagenesis. They used sodium azide which is highly toxic to humans. They exposed the wheat seed to sodium azide inducing mutations which made it resistant to the herbicide they were using. You cannot control what the sodium azide did to the other genes in the plant. They made no other effort to assess what other changes happened to the plant. It is an uncontrollable, unpredictable, and crude way to change a plant. This predates modern genetic modification. Modern genetic modification is done by gene-splicing. This gene-splicing is actually an improvement on chemical mutagenesis.

    Sodium azide is best known as the chemical found in automobile airbags. An electrical charge triggered by automobile impact causes sodium azide to explode and convert to nitrogen gas inside the airbag.

    It is a common practice among conventional wheat farming operations to douse wheat seeds with insecticides and fungicides before they are even planted. Then, while the wheat stalks are growing, they are (sometimes repeatedly) doused with pesticides, insecticides and fungicides.

    Many of the common pesticides used have been found to have estrogen-mimicking properties, which can lead to hormonal imbalances, and may lay the foundation for breast cancer (and other hormonally-based cancers), endometriosis and early puberty in children.

    When the wheat has been harvested and is ready to store, collection bins are sprayed with insecticide. The wheat is sprayed again with “protectant” chemicals once in the bins. If insects are found in enough of the samples from the bins, they are then fumigated with toxic gases. Furthermore, some farmers apply plant growth regulators, often comprised of synthetic hormones, to their crops.

    Now the wheat is ready to be milled, here are just some of the chemicals added to white flour
    Emulsifiers lecithin, sodium stearoyl lactylate (SSL), glycerol monostearate, diglycerides, sucrose esters of fatty acids, monoglyceride and lecithin enriched in lysophospholipids, sucrose palmitate (sucrose ester), citrate ester of monoglyceride (citrate MG), polysorbate (polyoxyethylene sorbitan monostearate), carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC), stearyl palmityl tartrate, sodium alginate, kappa carrageenan

    Dough Conditioners diacetyl tartaric acid ester of monoglyceride (DATEM), calcium stearoyl-2-lactylate, calcium carbonate, monocalcium phosphate
    Flour maturing (oxidant) Azodicarbonamide In the UK it’s believed it may cause asthma, and may cause allergic reactions in those allergic to azo compounds.

    Bleaching (oxidant): Benzoyl
    Chlorine, chlorine dioxide. Chlorine (gas) is always used to bleach cake flours and mixes. Chlorine is not allowed in most European countries.
    Nitrogen peroxide. Discontinued everywhere but the USA and Australia.
    acetone peroxide. Not permitted in the U.K.
    Dough Conditioners (oxidant, increases volume)
    Potassium Bromate. This chemical is known to cause cancer in animals. In California there must be a warning label if this is in the baked goods (Weiss, Amendola). It’s added to make the dough stronger and quickens mixing and fermentation. It isn’t allowed in Canada, Europe, Brazil, Peru, Nigeria, etc.
    Calcium bromate, calcium iodate, calcium peroxide, calcium dioxide, calcium sulfate, ammonium sulfate, potassium persulfate, ammonium persulfate, potassium iodate

    Reductants & enzymes reduce the mixing time so more baked goods can be produced.
    Reducing agents: L-cysteine, glutathione (GSH), bisulfite salts.
    Enzymes: amylase, lipoxygenase, transglutaminase (strengthens dough)

    Preservatives: Calcium Propionate
    BHA and BHT Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) may cause cancer
    Food colorings: Blue 1, Blue 2, Red 3, Green 3, Yellow 6. All of these are linked to cancer.
    Center for Science in the Public Interest says Acesulfame-K, artificial colorings blue 1, red 3, yellow 6, and transfats in baked goods should be avoided because they are “Unsafe in amounts consumed or very poorly tested and not worth any risk.” .

    One or more of: increase dough yield, resiliency, improve texture and shelf life, thicken, gel, stabilize: xanthan gum, guar gum, gum arabic, locust bean gum, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC), high ester pectin

    Leavening agents: calcium phosphate

    Mold inhibitors: salts of propionic acid

    Amendola, Joseph, et. al. 2002. Understanding baking: the art and science of baking. John Wile & Sons.
    Figoni, Paula. 2007. How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science. Chapter 5. Flour and Dough Additives and Treatments. John Wiley and Sons.
    GAO. Feb 2010. Food Safety. FDA should Strengthen its Oversight of Food Ingredients Determined to Be Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). United States Government Accountability Office. Report to Congressional Requesters.
    Kent, Norman Leslie, et. al. 1994. Technology of cereals: an introduction for students of food science and agriculture. Woodhead Publishing Toxic Chemicals, the cost to our health.

    Toxic Chemicals, the cost to our life.
    Smith, J. Scott, et. al. 2004. Food processing: principles and applications. Wiley-Blackwell.
    Tenbergen, Klaus. Nov 1999. Dough and Bread Conditioners. Culinary Connection
    Wartman, Kristin. 27 Apr 2011. Are you enjoying your daily chemical cocktail?
    Weiser, H. 2003. The use of redox agents. German Research Centre of Food Chemistry, Germany. Woodhead Publishing Limited.
    Weiss, Jean. ( Jean Weiss. 12 Food Additives to Avoid. MSN Health and Fitness.
    In the last few days theWorld Health Organization declares herbicide Round Up (glyphosate) a probable cancer promoto…/who-report-links-ingredient-in-rou…

    How in good conscience can the Dept of Environment and Health Canada allow our citizens to be poisoned by these chemicals?

    Wheat proteins may cause inflammation beyond the gut
    One group of proteins found in wheat – amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) – has been shown to trigger an immune response in the gut that can spread to other tissues in the body
    New study links protein in wheat to the inflammation of chronic health conditions
    good references here
    The Dietary Intake of Wheat and other Cereal Grains and Their Role in Inflammation
    Bread and Other Edible Agents of Mental Disease

  • Pingback: People and Carbs in the Metabolic Syndrome Era | Jeff's Health Notes

  • What about K2 (menaquinone) as opposed to K1 (phylloquinone)? Your table only shows vitamin K without distinguishing between the two.

    • Hi Murray – that’s all the USDA info has – I suspect the K that they do document is K1 as it is showing up in plant, not animal foods. The data is by no means perfect, but useful for broad comparisons
      Best wishes – Zoe

  • Hi Zoe,

    I love the Harcombe diet. I have a question about Flax seed. Not sure if it’s a grain or not?

    Anyway I have recently come across Hemsley and Hemsleys Flax bread recipe which is delicious. Please can you tell me if I can incorporate this in to the Harcombe way of eating? If so would it be a fat bread rather than a carb bread as it contains mainly Flax seed?

    The ingredients are:
    120g ground almonds
    375g flax seed
    6 eggs
    75g butter
    Lemon juice


      • Dear Zoe,
        I clicked on the above link & noted that you used peanuts as an example in discussing the carb content of nuts. However, peanuts (& cashews) are not nuts, but legumes, hence their higher carb content. (Peas are also legumes, & not vegetables, as many people regard them). I haven’t looked into what your diet entails, but it sounds like it’s not keto if you’re worried about the fat content of nuts, since a keto diet is both very low carb (under 50g per day – & for some people, under 30g) & very high (fat 70% of what is eaten), although perhaps you’re referring to the lower amount of fat that is consumed in the weight-loss phase when body fat is being burned?

        • Hi Lindy
          I can’t see any mention of nuts in this post – my books refer to peanuts as legumes.

          My diet isn’t keto (not sure why you think it would be?) It’s 1) Eat real food 2) Choose that food for the nutrients it provides (which tends people towards meat especially red, fish especially oily, eggs, dairy, veg/salad, but that doesn’t mean that other higher carb foods can’t be consumed by most people – people would benefit from knowing which foods are the most nutritious. Most people don’t need to go as far as keto.) And 3) Eat no more than three times a day (especially if T2D or trying to lose weight).

          I don’t have a problem with the fat content of nuts. I have a problem with the fact that nuts (and seeds) are the only natural foods that have a high carb/fat combo (other foods tend to be carb/proteins or fat/proteins) and the fat/carb combo is irresistible and more’ish. Fake food is based on the fat carb combo principle. For most people trying to lose weight, nuts are not their friend. All this keto baking (bread, muffins, cakes etc) with nut flour and fat combined is really unhelpful for weight loss in my view.

          Best wishes – Zoe

  • Dear Zoe,
    I have just read your book “Why do you overeat? when all you want it to be slim” and there brown rice is allowed in Phase 1 while whole grain products are allowed in Phase 2. After reading this post I am confused. Can we eat brown rice in Phase 1 and whole grain products in Phase 2 & 3?
    Thank you for your answer.
    Best wishes,

    • Hi Danai
      Brown rice/whole grains/oats are all fine – the point of this post is to show that there are healthier options and that you’ll need to make sure you get meat/fish/eggs etc or you’ll struggle to get the nutrients you need for great health. The blog is primarily to counter the government dietary advice that we should make whole grains the priority in our diets because we shouldn’t. We should make the things with the most nutrients the priority. You’ll also notice that brown rice/oats are limited in Phase 1 and most people find the fat meals in Phase 2 more filling than carb meals and they find them better for health and weight loss too.
      Welcome to the diet!
      Best wishes – Zoe

  • Good morning Zoe. Have you read the book “Wheat Belly”? If not you might like to have a look; it is an eye-opener about farinaceous products.

    • Hi Ian – I have indeed! I wrote a long article for our club members on it when it came out in 2011. Great book :-)
      Best wishes – Zoe

  • 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!

    • 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

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

    • 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

  • 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.

    • 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

  • 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.

  • 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?

    • 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

    • You might find Dr Georgia Ede’s website useful. Suffering from IBS, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, & migraines, she progressively eliminated many foods from her diet, progressing through paleo, keto, & eventually settling on carnivore. She has written many carefully researched blog articles about the compounds in foods that potentially cause harm, despite the health claims attributed to these foods. She also found that this diet improved her mood & concentration & reduced her anxiety, so she now uses diet to treat her psychiatric patients.

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

    • 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

  • 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

    • 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

  • 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.

    • 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

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

  • 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:

    Kindest Regards


    • 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

  • “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?

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

  • 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.

  • 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!

    • 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

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

    • 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

  • 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!

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


    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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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