The 5 Reasons Why Grains Are The Hardest Food to Digest| Updated: Mar 09, 2019
Grains have been consumed for thousands of years by many healthy, degenerative disease free ancestral cultures without an issue. Why all of a sudden do folks need to stop eating them in order to arrest symptoms of autoimmune disease?
Isn’t there an easier way? The foundation of the Food Pyramid is “heart healthy” whole grains after all. Can’t a person even eat rice when on a gut healing protocol?
Let’s delve into this controversial subject and discuss what it is about grains that makes them so hard to digest for humans especially when there is any sort of compromise in gut function.
The truth is that all those “heart-healthy” grains are the hardest food for a human to digest.
That’s why they can blow holes in your small intestine, which wreaks havoc on your immune system with all manner of unpredictable autoimmune symptoms.
Grains are Seeds
All grains are really seeds. That’s right, seeds which are meant to produce a plant. They are not meant to be digested. They are meant to stay intact, until they arrive at the perfect conditions to grow another plant: soil, water, air, and sunlight.
That’s why 2,000 year old date seeds found during archaeological excavations in Israel were shockingly still intact when found. And they grew into a plant when given the correct conditions!
The idea of grains being built like a “containment center” has been a helpful analogy to me; a fortress which is not meant to be breached by our digestive system. Even cows are not supposed to eat grains under ideal grazing conditions, and they have four stomachs!
All Grains Contain Phytic Acid
Phytic acid blocks the absorption of minerals in your small intestine, and grains are particularly high in this anti-nutrient. This is a major problem! Humans need minerals right down to the cellular level. Think also our hearts, our bones….
Consuming grains that are not prepared correctly in the amounts that the USDA has encouraged for the past 30 some years—8-12 servings per day—can result in bone loss, due to all those minerals you did not absorb!
The vast majority of breads, crackers, bagels, rolls, sandwiches, croutons available on the supermarket shelf even if organic have not been prepared in a manner that you could ever digest fully without some sort of digestive compromise. YIKES! And whole grains prepared in a modern fashion are the worst of all for the digestive system. I’ll explain why later.
All Grains Have Enzyme Inhibitors
What are enzyme inhibitors and why should we care? Simply put, enzyme inhibitors inhibit the action of enzymes! Just think of the starter in your car: if the starter doesn’t work, the car doesn’t start. Enzymes act as catalysts for digestion. That is, they kick start digestive processes. One does not want one’s enzymes inhibited. Might the overconsumption of grains that were not prepared well be one of the reasons for the rise in pancreatic dis-ease and cancer? Hmmm. Worth a thought.
All Grains Contain Disaccharides
Disaccharides, or double sugars, are present in all grains. The compromised gut is unable to digest double sugar molecules because the lack of beneficial gut flora compromises the function of the enterocytes. The enterocytes are the cells that reside on the villi of the gut wall and produce the enzyme disaccharidase which breaks down the disaccharide molecule into easily absorbed monosaccharide molecules. When the enterocytes are not nourished and strengthened properly by adequate beneficial flora, they become weak and diseased and may even turn cancerous.
Compromised enterocytes do not perform their duties of digesting and absorbing food properly. The critical importance of the enterocytes to health cannot be overstated! Weak and diseased enterocytes also have trouble digesting starch molecules which are very large with hundreds of monosugars connected in long branchlike strands. People with weak digestion due to an imbalance of gut flora and messed up enterocytes have a terrible time digesting these complex molecules leaving large amounts of it undigested- the perfect food for pathogenic yeasts, bacteria, fungi and other pathogens to thrive upon.
Even the starch that manages to get digested results in molecules of maltose, which is – you guessed it – a disaccharide! This maltose also goes undigested due to a lack of the enzyme disaccharidase and becomes additional food for gut pathogens.
All Grains Contain Complex, Hard to Digest Proteins
Lastly, grains contain complex proteins. And guess what? Whole grains are the highest in these complex proteins!
The human body needs food to be in the simplest form in order to absorb and use it. The word “complex” means that there is work to be done by our digestive tract. Though it works and works, these proteins cannot be broken down. The worst offender? Notorious gluten. Gluten is a complex protein that the body cannot break down…and it’s even more complex than ever, after 50 years of hybridizing for increased gluten content!
Because human digestive tracts cannot break down complex proteins, they must be broken down prior to eating. That means sprouted, soaked, or fermented before cooking. Sprouting, soaking, and fermenting grain based foods are easy processes that not only pre-digest the proteins in grains, they also neutralize the other problems mentioned above. And they are easy peasy, once you know how.
If you’re in the process of healing your gut or have healed it by going off grains … you simply must learn about the magic of sprouting, soaking and fermenting which are the methods ancestral cultures used to prepare grains in order to consume them without ill effect. This is the first step on the joyous journey back to eating and enjoying your grains.
Learn More About Grains and Gut Health
Psst! If you’d like to get a jump on learning how to properly and traditionally prepare your grains by soaking, sprouting, or sour leavening so that you can digest them easily and enjoy them again, click here to check out my hand written and illustrated chart, Preparing Beans and Whole Grains for Ease of Digestion and Nutrient Availability on my website, www.simplybeingwell.com
Monica Corrado, MA, CNC is a teaching chef and holistic Certified Nutritional Consultant who is passionate about illuminating the connection between food and well-being. She is a dynamic teacher, speaker, consultant, and author who lives to share the tools, knowledge and inspiration to cook nourishing, traditional food. Monica has been teaching food as medicine for almost ten years after 18 years in sustainable food sourcing and preparation, menu design and management.