Excessive inflammation is one of the main drivers of cellular damage, aging, and chronic disease in the body. At the acute level, inflammation is responsible for the essential life functions like wound healing and fighting infection. Our modern lifestyle, however, has contributed to a profound dysregulation of these inflammatory functions. Many lifestyle factors can contribute to a chronic inflammatory burden, including diet, activity level, sleep habits, stress, and environmental toxins. The conventional medical community has failed to adequately manage this health risk precisely because it is a lifestyle-based, and therefore, complex and multifactorial problem. By taking the time to understand the less-intuitive sources of inflammation in our life (diet and environmental toxins), and taking the time to deal with more intuitive ones (adequate sleep, stress management, and exercise), we can take control over this important area of our health.
One of the most potent sources of inflammation in the modern diet are grains. First and foremost, the vast majority of our processed, industrial foods are highly refined, grain-based, carbohydrate foods. For most people, it will not come as a surprise to learn that highly processed, industrial foods are deleterious to human health. What may not be as obvious is that, despite what we may have learned via “the food pyramid” of past decades, grains in nearly all their forms and derivations, are doing more nutritional harm than good. Yes, this applies to “heathy whole grains” as well.
When we say “grains”, we are referring to the starchy seeds of domesticated grasses such as wheat, rice, oats, corn, and barley. Grains contain significant amounts of a type of plant protein called lectins. All plants have lectins in certain concentrations, but the subcategories of lectins found in grains have been shown to be particularly problematic.
Lectins have evolved in part as a defense mechanism to protect the seeds of grains before germination. When consumed, they inhibit some of the function of our digestive systems. Grain lectins block the action of our bodies digestive enzymes, damage our intestinal lining, and increase gut permeability. All of this leads to poor digestion and chronic immune system activation (inflammation). In addition to toxic lectins, grains contain a high proportion of pro-inflammatory Omega – 6 fatty acids, and are on the whole a calorie dense, nutrient poor food. By replacing the grains on our plate with nutrient and fiber rich vegetables, we can all at once decrease our toxic, inflammatory, and caloric load, improve our gut health, improve our metabolic health, and greatly increase the micronutrient content of our diet.