Are Grains Really Dangerous to Our Health?

By Brane Žilavec, May 2015

5. Is the Elimination of Grains the Solution for the Present Crisis?

In the previous two chapters we have examined the evidence about positive health impacts of a gluten-free diet experienced by patients and health experts of the anti-grain movement. We have seen that dietary changes can be a powerful therapy in specific circumstances with specific people with specific health problems. Now the question arises: Can these examples serve as a basis for elimination of gluten grains – or even all grains – from human nutrition? We have already pointed out examples of misinterpretations of medical outcomes in the previous chapter. We have also seen that the reductionist approach which dominates modern medical and nutritional research has serious limitations when it tries to explain the causes behind the modern health crisis. Now we will explore few more aspects which need to be investigated before any specific dietary guidelines are promoted as generally valid for the whole population.

When we properly evaluate diets promoted by the anti-grain health experts, we find out that with the adoption of their dietary rules the people have to eliminate from their diets great amount of junk food. This is the case whether one eliminates grains – as is recommended in The No-Grain Diet – or whether one eliminates gluten – as is recommended in Grain Brain – or whether one eliminates wheat – as it is recommended in Wheat Belly. In each case we are dealing with the significant elimination of the prevalent American standard diet and replacing it with real food, such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, and meat from grass-fed animals.

Then we need to take into account that there are other diets which also claim astounding positive health impacts. For example, a raw food diet; and again we see that with switching to the raw food one must eliminate all junk food and replace it with real foods. In the past the macrobiotic diet was popular because of its very positive health impacts. With switching to macrobiotics one is also forced to eliminate all junk food.

These examples suggest that the main reason for the positive health improvements achieved by a gluten-free or wheat-free diet is the elimination of junk food. In his book In Defense of Food author Michael Pollan comes to a similar conclusion: "All of our uncertainties about nutrition should not obscure the plain fact that the chronic dis­eases that now kill most of us can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food: the rise of highly processed foods and refined grains; the use of chemicals to raise plants and animals in huge monocultures; the superabundance of cheap calories of sugar and fat produced by modern agriculture; and the narrowing of the biological diversity of the human diet to a tiny handful of staple crops, notably wheat, corn, and soy. These changes have given us the Western diet that we take for granted: lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of everything – except vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

That such a diet makes people sick and fat we have known for a long time. Early in the twentieth century, an intrepid group of doctors and medical workers stationed overseas observed that wherever in the world people gave up their traditional way of eating and adopted the Western diet, there soon followed a pre­dictable series of Western diseases, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. They called these the West­ern diseases and, though the precise causal mechanisms were (and remain) uncertain, these observers had little doubt these chronic diseases shared a common etiology: the Western diet.

What's more, the traditional diets that the new Western foods displaced were strikingly diverse: Various populations thrived on diets that were what we'd call high fat, low fat, or high carb; all meat or all plant; indeed, there have been tradi­tional diets based on just about any kind of whole food you can imagine. What this suggests is that the human animal is well adapted to a great many different diets. The Western diet, however, is not one of them." [1]

Thus we can say that the main healing diet is a junk-food-free diet. Or, in other words, "the human body has not evolved to consume a modern Western diet, with meals full of sugary substances and refined, high-calorie carbohydrates. Moreover, most of the wheat we eat today has been milled into white flour, which has plenty of gluten but few vitamins or nutrients, and can cause the sharp increases in blood sugar that often lead to diabetes and other chronic diseases." [2]

We need to keep in mind that we are dealing here with the overall cumulative effect of prolonged consumption of junk food. Only in such cases will any diet which replaces junk food with real food have such tremendous health effects as can be often witnessed. Of course, there can be variations because various diets put stress on various foods or nutritional principles, and because people differ in their genetic make-up (influenced by their racial origins), their cultural traditions (including the food culture they grew up with), and their individual characteristics.

It is hard to pinpoint which characteristic amongst all the bad characteristics of this Western diet is the 'main culprit'. "As noted by Dr. Joseph E. Pizzorno, founding president of naturopathic Bastyr University and former advisor to President Clinton on complementary and alternative medicines, 'toxins in the modern food supply are now a major contributor to, and in some cases the cause of, virtually all chronic diseases." [3] Among toxins can be counted herbicides, pesticides, GMO and "the 6,000 food additives – flavourings, glazing agents, improvers, anti-caking agents, solvents, preservatives, colourings, acids, emulsifiers, releasing agents, antioxidants, thickeners, bleaching agents, sweeteners, chelators – and the undisclosed 'processing aids' that are routinely employed behind the scenes of contemporary food manufacture." [4]

To this we can add that in recent years "research coming out of some of America's most respected institutions confirms that added sugars (primarily refined sugar and processed fructose) are a primary dietary factor driving chronic disease development. So far, scientific studies have linked excessive fructose consumption to about 78 different diseases and health problems, including heart disease and cancer. And it doesn't matter whether that sugar comes from food staples like soup and sauces, or cookies and candy. Your body treats it all the same. Ever since the saturated fat myth was born, processed food makers have removed the healthy fat and replaced it with sugar, and reading food labels can be an eye-opening experience. You think you're making a healthy dinner, but in reality you could be serving your family dozens of teaspoons of sugar once all the sources are added together... If you struggle with weight and/or health issues, replacing processed foods and beverages with unadulterated, whole, and ideally organic foods, along with pure water for drinking, you would be well on your way toward improving your health." (italics mine) [5]

So the first carbohydrates to eliminate from the human diet are white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and all other highly refined or artificial sweeteners. This would eliminate the vast majority of modern sweeteners which are causing havoc to the metabolism of carbohydrates. Only after such a step could we properly evaluate the possible negative health effect of modern grains. Till then the elimination of gluten grains must be regarded as a temporary rescue diet in the case of specific diseases and not as a general solution for the present health crisis.

We can conclude this chapter with the following question: Are not all present health problems linked to nutrition an evident sign of the loss of the healthy eating instincts? Modern human beings are evidently capable of exercising unhealthy eating habits for decades without noticing any negative impacts on their state of health, until they become seriously ill and then become more willing to change their diet – often as the last resort. When they start to eat real food again, the healing impact can be really dramatic and fascinating. What is often missed – as is the case with diets which eliminate (gluten) grains – is the awareness of the impact of the quality of food we consume. This is not a surprise when we take into account the level of ignorance of this aspect of modern nutrition, especially amongst the members of the medical establishment.


  1. Michael Pollan, In Defence of Food, Allen Lane (Penguin Books), 2008
  2. Michael Specter, Against the Grain – Should you go gluten-free?
  3. Dr Mercola, Special Alert! It's Make or Break Time – Act Now to Make GMO Labeling a Reality Across the US, May 11, 2015,
  4. Joanna Blythman, Swallow This, Serving up the Food Industry's Darkest Secrets, Fourth Estate, London, 2015
  5. Dr Mercola's Nutrition Plan,