Eat for Health: Cut Back on Grains

This is an excerpt from Dr. Fuhrman’s book Eat For Health.

As you well know by now, to eat healthfully, fruits and vegetables should form the base of your food pyramid. That means that grains should be consumed in a much smaller amount than you were most likely eating before you began this plan. Grains simply do not contain enough nutrients per calorie to form a substantial part of your diet.

Many scientific studies show a strong association between the consumption of white flour products, such as pasta and bread, with diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.1 Refined carbohydrates are also linked to enlargement of the prostate.2 These results continue to show that eating white flour and sweeteners is nutritional suicide that will undermine your health. Whole grains are the least nutrient-dense food of the seed family, and they do not show the powerful protection against disease that is apparent in the scientific studies of fresh fruit, vegetables, beans, raw nuts, or seeds. Just because a food is called “whole grain” or “organic” does not make it a good food. Many whole-grain cold cereals are so processed and overly cooked that they have lost most of their nutritional value. Because these foods were dry-baked to make them crisp, they are also generally high in acrylamides and other toxic compounds. Soaking, sprouting, or cooking grains in water, instead of eating pre-cooked breakfast cereals, is a much healthier and more nutritious way to eat them. Some of the healthier grains to consume include barley, buckwheat (kasha), millet, oats, quinoa, and wild rice. As a minor part of your diet, they can be water-cooked and used as a breakfast cereal with fruits and nuts or a dinner side dish.

White potato is also not a high-nutrient food, and many studies reveal an association between a diet high in white potato and obesity and diabetes.3 Granted these studies may be biased by the way potatoes are consumed, often fried or loaded with butter or sour cream, but, nevertheless, because of their relatively low-nutrient density and their high glycemic index they should play a minor role in your diet. Sweet potatoes, carrots, and peas are much healthier options.

1. Liu S, Sesso HD, Manson JE, et al. Is intake of breakfast cereals related to total and cause specific mortality in men? Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77(3):594-599. Liu S. Intake of refined carbohydrates and whole grain foods in relation to risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus and coronary heart disease. J Am Coll Nutr. 2002;21(4):298-306. Gross LS, Li L, Ford ES, Liu S. Increased consumption of refined carbohydrates and the epidemic of type 2 diabetes in the United States: an ecologic assessment. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79(5):774-779. Prentice AM. The emerging epidemic of obesity in developing countries. Int J Epidemiol. 2006;35(1):93-99.

2. Bravi F, Bosetti C, Dal Maso L, et al. Macronutrients, fatty acids, cholesterol, and risk of benign prostatic hyperplasia. Urology 2006;67(6):1205-1211.

3. Halton TL, Willett WC, Liu S, et al. Potato and french fry consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83(2):284-290.

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Comments (6) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Adrienne - November 2, 2008 4:56 PM

I don't understand why whole grains like quinoa and oatmeal should not form a substantial part of a person's diet since according to Dr F's nutrient density chart oatmeal ranks in at 53, just above mango, while sunflower seeds are at 45, walnuts are down at 29 and almonds are even lower.

So why should nuts and seeds be a substantial part of a person's diet but not whole grains?

Some people have difficulty digesting so many nuts because of the high fat content and do better getting in more calories by consuming more whole grains/starchy vegetables.

And as for white potatoes being high on the glycemic index, does that really matter? Isnt the glycemic index irrelevant? So many junk foods have a low GI ranking. The potato-eating people in Peru seem to remain slim and free of diabetes despite consuming this high-glycemic food.
Finally, in a 1995 study ranking the satiety index of common foods, potatoes ranked number 1. Isnt that a good thing, to feel full and satisfied hours after eating? So while white potatoes may not be the most nutrient-dense food, they certainly don't seem to be so bad.

Sara - November 2, 2008 8:51 PM

Nuts and seeds are important but NOT a sustantial part of the diet. They are eaten in small quantities because of their high caloric content. Grains are not bad just mediocre. The substantial part of the diet is vegetables-green or brightly colored. It is a vegetable based diet, not a grain based or nut based or fruit based for that matter.

Daniel - June 7, 2010 9:33 PM

What about cereals like shredded wheat and puffed wheat and corn? They have no sugar or salt and are 100% whole grain

Laura Staynings - June 27, 2010 9:37 PM

Shredded Wheat, puffed wheat and corn are high glycemic. Muesli or steel cut oatmeal is better, but still need to be eaten in moderation.

David Hiner - April 3, 2012 10:02 AM

Are Bran Buds and All Bran acceptable for breakfast when eaten with fruit such as mango, strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, etc.? The ingredients list "wheat bran" but do not list "wheat", which suggests that the white (and high glycemic) part of the wheat kernel is not included. Both cereals are very high in fiber.

Pierre Renevey - July 8, 2012 6:37 PM

I just want to say that when I eat nixed grains like birchermuesli without (raw, organic, whole, etc.) with soy milk and without any sugar added my blood sugar skyrockets at 180 mg/dl after 30 minutes. I've tried so called low glycemic organic spouted activated barley in soy milk and had my blood sugar raising to 165 mg/dl after 15 minutes. While after a typical meal I usually have high in protein and fat and vegetables like chicken (with skin) and salad, or steak/salad/pea, or tofu/salad/veggies, or fish/veggies and salad, my blood sugar after 30 minutes is only 107 mg/dl

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