Dr. Graham Simpson, the Chief Medical Officer and Founder of Intelligent Health in Dubai, outlines the latest trends in nutrition
From the beginning of our history until about 12,000 years ago, we were hunters and gatherers. Our diet was pure. We were eating how we were genetically programmed to eat – fuelling our body instead of slowing it down and making it sick.
So what changed 12,000 years back? The Agricultural Revolution took place. Humans started growing grain seeds in a manner that allowed them to put aside their hunter-gatherer ways and now feed large populations with ease. But it was a very different way of eating than we had been doing for hundreds of thousands of years prior.
Grains are just about everywhere today and in all our favourite foods. These include the breads and pastas and breakfast cereals and tortillas and pastries and cakes (AKA “empty calories”) that so many of us eat as part of our regular diet.
Why grains make us sick and fat
There are many reasons that grains are bad for us. One of the more significant negative effects is due to the phytic acid they contain, which will prevent our bodies from absorbing essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and iron. The effect grains have on calcium absorption is in fact one of the reasons osteoporosis is such a common problem today.
And then there is the biggie: The insulin response and the effect grains have on this. Chronically high blood glucose levels lead to chronic insulin spikes, which is the main cause of silent inflammation – the number one killer of our time. And yup, those grains which are part and parcel of our Western diet drive up blood sugars to ugly levels, which is the start of the process that leads to diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular illnesses, cancers, Alzheimer’s, and many others.
You may have also heard of “leaky gut” syndrome. We now know that all autoimmune disease is caused by leaky gut, which has its roots in grain and dairy consumption. Leaky gut is a condition whereby gaps occur in our intestinal membrane, allowing undigested food and bacteria to escape your gut and “leak” into your bloodstream. These undigested foods and bacteria then “cross react” with different tissues to cause various autoimmune diseases.
And of course grains lead to obesity. It is almost impossible to beat this one. Regular grain consumption (and regular does not necessarily even mean large amounts) leads to extra glucose floating around in the body, which, when not immediately used for energy, is stored as fat.
Just say no
Research has revealed an instant change in our health since the start of the Agricultural Revolution. Those early farmers were not as healthy, nor did they live as long, as the hunters and gatherers they replaced.
Now many will say well sure, but in the 21st century we are living longer, right? Yes we are, but this is due mainly to improved hygiene and medical science developments in the past century or two that have allowed us to master the art of “plugging the holes in a very damaged ship.” Medications may buy you more years, but living with these types of illnesses is not living much at all. Nor is living with the massive number of side effects that come with taking all those pharmaceuticals.
I always challenge my clients to go grain free – and yes, this means whole grains as well as the refined ones. I know it is hard at first, and I prepare them for this. Grain-based foods are after all so delicious in part because that blood glucose spike is followed by the brain releasing dopamine – that hormone and neurotransmitter that plays a major role in reward-motivated behaviour. Drugs like cocaine and heroin and nicotine all go to work on the dopamine centres of your brain in the same manner as grains do. So of course our bodies “think” grains taste amazing.
But cut back on grains – and eventually eliminate them – and you will be part of the minority that lives a much healthier and more enriched life. You will have more energy, better moods, nicer skin and a generally younger appearance, less body fat and more muscle, and a longer lifespan with far less risk for chronic illness.