Grains: junk food with pretensions

(versión en español: pinchar aquí)

It is often said that grains are a great source of nutrients (see or see). Is that so?

Suppose we take the same amounts of different foods (meat, fish, cereals, etc.) and we count how many calories they have and how much nutrients they provide. Forget for a second that not all calories are equal, and forget also that grains contain anti-nutrients that will prevent the absorption of food, and forget also that grains are addictive (especially wheat) and forget all other health problems associated to consumption of wheat. Were it true, and it is not, that the only things that matter are the nutritional content and the calories, would be grains, under those conditions, a good food for humans?

If we represent foods on a graph that considers the energy content and the nutritional content, the best foods would be those that provide lots of nutrients with little associated energy, while the worst foods would be those lacking nutrients but providing a lot of energy:

nutri2

The “king” of all foods is sugar: no nutrients, plenty of energy. What a gem!

Let’s compare (source) meat, fish and dairy foods (green triangles) with grain products (red circles):

cereals

Please note that the horizontal scale is logarithmic! (The middle point of the graphic corresponds to the nutritional score 100, while on the right side of the graphic the score is 1000, a ten fold difference). The best score for a grain is around 200, while the best food (liver) scores 900, with the same energy density.

Even the best grains can’t compete with foods like liver. There are dozens of foods in the above graph much more nutritious than grains. Whole-wheat bread (see the graph bellow), for example, is worst than almost all green foods. Lots of energy and low in nutrients. But sure, what a great marketing campaign!

Selección_069

As we have seen, when these two parameters (calories in food and nutritional content) are considered, the conclusion is that grains are junk food.

Finally, do not forget that this comparison is flawed: nutrients and calories are not the only things that matter. Wheat in particular is not only harmful because of its lack of nutrients and excess energy (see links at end of this document).

The main mistake we’ve made with grains is including them in the category of food for humans. They are not. They were not until a few thousand years ago. They can be used as food for birds or rodents, but grains are harmful for human’s health.

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