How to Eat Grains

A look at lectins, and the importance of preparing food properly

August 21, 2021

The Plant Paradox is a book that I've found myself having to get familiar with since my parents have decided to take it seriously. It's author, Dr. Grundy, spends time teaching us that a lot of the food which is being touted as healthy really isn't which is a statement I agree with as do many others, but of course not all people who hold that belief are in agreement with each other. The focus of Dr. Grundy's diet is the elimination of lectins. Lectins are proteins found in plants designed to protect them, they are generally most concentrated around seeds because that is of course the most important part of any plants. We should avoid eating lectins because they act as anti-nutrients and inhibit our digestion, if you've ever eaten corn then seen whole kernels of corn in your poop the next day that is the work of lectins that prevented you from properly digesting that corn. At a surface level Dr. Grundy's diet makes a lot of sense, of course we want to limit eating any substance that disrupts with our natural digestion which is obviously something that can lead to more complex health problems (eating too many lectins is known to cause leaky gut and blood clotting and people like Dr. Grundy theorize that it could contribute to the development of things like diabetes).

Now before I dig deeper into Grundy's diet it is only fair to discuss what my idea of a healthy diet is. My diet beliefs line up with those of the Weston A Price Foundation which has a focus on traditional diets. Dr. Price (who I've written about before) was an early 20th century dentist who found that the healthiest people on earth were not people in modern industrialized societies but instead it was the people living in much more primitive cultures and he found that this was due to the fact that they were eating traditional diets that greatly differed from the foods that the modern people of his time were eating and differed even more from the junk that modern people today eat. It makes the most sense to me that the same foods that humans thrived off of for thousands of years before anything resembling modern medicine and technology could save them from the consequences of eating a bad diet are the same foods that we should be eating today to be healthy and thrive independent from modern medicine.

And coming from that standpoint there are a lot of things that Dr. Grundy gets right, he tells people to eliminate vegetable oils, he advises people to buy the right kinds of meat and dairy (although I find his recommendation on how much meat to eat a bit low), and he of course says to avoid all the junk foods everyone already knows are bad. The part of his diet where I begin to have problems is on the topic of grains.

Grains are high in lectins, this should not be a surprise to us since grains are seeds, the part of the plant we expect to see the most lectins, so Dr. Grundy naturally tells us to avoid eating grains. But humans have been eating grains since the dawn of civilization, in fact most historians agree that the farming of grains was the main factor that enabled the dawn of civilization to happen. We see constant references to bread throughout the Bible, and if we read in the Doctrine and Covenants it is clearly stated that, "All grain is ordained for the use of man  , to be the staff of life". [1] Grains have clearly been a part of the human diet for thousands of years and they are clearly something that is meant to be in our diet.

But Grundy puts all of this historical context aside and, as I said before, advises against the eating of grains. And he even goes so far as to say that if for some reason we had to eat bread we should opt for white bread made with highly processed white flour rather than whole wheat flour because that will have more lectins. And when he tries to convince people of this he does manage to bring in a historical argument stating that white bread was first adopted by royalty so it must be better than the wheat bread peasants ate. Of course this argument falls apart once you realize that the same can be said for foods like ice cream. The wealthy of the past were almost certainly not the healthiest people of their time.

But however counterintuitive his arguments may be, Dr. Grundy is right when it comes to the question of white vs wheat bread, whole wheat and grains are filled with multiple types of anti-nutrients, phytic acid is another one of these whose purpose is to prevent premature germination in seeds, and it is damaging to our digestive system the in the same way that lectins are. Today's methods of bread making do nothing to neutralize anti-nutrients such like lectins and phytic acid found in wheat, so if we are strictly looking at bread baked with today's methods white bread will be the superior choice because processing grain into white flour removes the parts of the grain with the highest concentration of anti-nutrients.

But that of course only applies to breads baked with today's methods, white flour is severely lacking in nutrients when compared to whole wheat flour which has been prepared in a way that neutralizes the anti-nutrients. Historically a lot of the bread humans ate was sourdough, the proper preparation of sourdough bread is a process which provides a lot of time for fermentation where micro-organisms break down all the things like lectins and phytic acid, they predigest the food so that by the time we eat it it is in a state that is friendly to our digestive system. And bread is not the only thing that received this treatment, all over the world we can find history of all sorts of fermented grains.

And fermentation was not the only process which was used to make grains more digestible. Take a look at oatmeal, traditionally oats were soaked overnight in warm slightly acidic water. Warm slightly acidic water mimics the ideal conditions for seeds to sprout, so as they soaked they'd begin the sprouting process which starts with the all of the phydic acid and many of the lectins breaking down. By the time morning comes around the oats will be in a much more digestible state.

Of course grains are not the only things which were traditionally prepared differently than they are today. Beans are another thing high in anti-nutrients that Dr. Grundy tells us to avoid despite being an important part of many traditional diets around the globe. Thinking about this reminded me of a boring documentary I watched years ago titled Living on One Dollar where four young filmmakers went out to live in a remote area of South America and live off of a dollar a day for a period of time. During their first week or two all they really ate was plain rice and whole beans and they were constantly low on energy and hungry. Eventually a number of charitable women in the village they lived around decided to help them out by teaching them some skills and among the first things they taught them was how to make refried beans. Once the filmmakers transitioned to eating refried beans rather than whole beans they felt a lot better and had much more energy. And while I don't know the science behind refried beans like I do with sourdough bread and oatmeal, it is clear from this example that the traditional wisdom that these women held did a lot to combat the anti-nutrients that modern science has discovered.

Dr. Grundy is of course right about lectins I am not trying to disprove that, nor am I trying to discredit the experiences of all the people who have benefited from following his diet plan since it is undoubtably better than the average person's diet (although that isn't saying much). The point I'm making here is that the problems with our modern diet are unique to our time and while there are many modern solutions (like Dr. Grundy's) out there it makes a lot more sense to move to a time tested traditional diet rather than one of those. Sure our ancestors wouldn't have a clue what a lectin is, but it wasn't important to them because their food preparation techniques eliminated the threats that they didn't even have the technology to find. And in the case of grains it makes much more sense to prepare them properly than it does to avoid them altogether.

[1] D&C 89:14