Why Grains Are Bad: Part 3, Nutrient Density and Acidity

March 22, 2012 in Categories: , , , by

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Between their high lectin content and over-abundance of omega-6 fatty acids, we should have enough evidence for the wisdom of keeping grains out of our diet (see Why Grains Are Bad–Part 1,Lectins and the Gut, and Why Grains Are Bad–Part 2, Omega 3 vs. 6 Fats). But, there are still more reasons why it’s smart to avoid them: poor nutrient density and high acidity!

For a long time, grains (especially whole grains) have been promoted as nutritious foods, supplying important vitamins and minerals and enhancing the nutritional quality of our diets. This might be true if we compare grains to extremely refined products (like pure white sugar and industrially processed oils), but compared to the foods that make up a paleolithic diet (vegetables, fruits, nuts, meat, eggs, and seafood), grains are nutritional weaklings! For example, half a cup of oats (dry) contains zero or miniscule amounts of calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, pantothenic acid, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, potassium, and riboflavin. In fact, there’s only one vitamin it has in significant quantity (thiamin, 14% of the daily value). Meanwhile, a half filet of cooked wild salmon is rich in not only thiamin, but also riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B5, folate, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, selenium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, copper, and even has some iron and zinc… need we go on?

And that’s just one example! If we pick virtually any grain (even in whole form) and look at it side-by-side with any vegetable, fruit, nut, seed, or whole-food animal product (comparing both in terms of vitamin and mineral content), the grain will lose almost every time!

Grains in general are not nutritional powerhouses (contrary to what clever marketing may tell you). Even the healthiest whole grains can’t compete with vegetables in terms of vitamin and mineral content. The graph below shows the relative quantities of essential vitamins and minerals (so setting vegetables to 100% and expressing the amount in nutrition in grains as a percentage of what is found in vegetables), calculated from the average of eight entirely wholegrain, unprocessed foods compared to an average of 30 commonly-found vegetables. When compared to vegetables, calorie for calorie, vegetables contain double or more of every single vitamin (although both vegetables and grains are not high in vitamin D, with the exception of mushrooms). When compared to vegetables, calorie for calorie, vegetables are higher in most essential minerals (they are about equal to vegetables in sodium and manganese and grains do contain substantially more selenium, although selenium is even more richly found in nuts, seafood, meat, poultry and eggs). Oh, and vegetables and fruit are outstanding sources of fiber, about equal to grains. So, if a vegetable side dish or even a piece of fruit replaces a dinner roll or pasta side with your meal, you get equal amount of fiber and far more vitamins and minerals.
Vitamin and Mineral Compare Graphs

All this means that removing grains from the menu and replacing them with nutrient-dense paleo foods will automatically improve the nutritional quality of our diets. In turn, a higher intake of micronutrients can support numerous functions in our body and help safeguard us against disease!

On top of all this, grains are highly acidic foods (at the level of the kidneys, not the stomach), which means they have hydrogen ions to donate. Another aspect of paleolithic nutrition is to balance our intake of acidic and alkaline foods (read more about this in my post on the Acid-Base Balance). Generally, meat, eggs, and fish are acidic, and we balance this with lots of vegetables and some fruit, which are alkaline. When grains are in our diet, it’s nearly impossible to eat enough alkaline foods to maintain a healthy balance, and the result is strain on the kidneys, liver, and pancreas.

So, is there any reason to eat grains when we have access to nutritious paleo foods that are lower in lectins, lower in omega-3 fats, higher in micronutrients, and lower in acid-forming components? All signs point to “no”!






At last an explanation as to my PERCEPTION that even rice–which all the leaky-gut “experts” told me was okay–isn’t at all. And it explains why if I happened to eat a somewhat different form of rice or some other “safe” grain, it was as if I had been hit by a train. I’m combining this info with the excellent info on leaky-gut (and why acupuncture has FAILED ME) by Dr. Jake Paul Fratkin of Boulder, Colorado, combined with probiotics, an anti-viral (since I have high levels of Epstein-Barr), plus I’m finding an D.O.M. willing to use Fratkin’s approach to acupuncture. By the way, my leaky gut–likely hovering around the edges much of my life–is, I am sure, the product of heavy, heavy anti-biotic exposure as a child. One doctor even kept me on them when I was well, hoping to keep me from catching the next cold, absurd, since colds are a virus and antibiotics don’t fight viruses. But it makes me wonder how many people are out there as sick as I am from what I’m calling “dead gut syndrome,” or a digestive tract very nearly destroyed by modern medicine and made worse by my New Mexico doctors (mainstream AND alternative) who either won’t admit it exists or don’t know how to treat it!

Your posts are clear, easy to understand and extremely beneficial – I have been looking for a good synopsis on leaky gut and I found it here!! Thank you for your great work!!

Hi Sarah, I recently watched a video on youtube which attempted to explain gluten, leaky gut and autoimmunity in 20 minutes:


Can you comment on the video? Is the explanation one you are aware of, and is Joe Rignola (the presenter) correct with his information?

I was also reading an article by Chris Masterjohn the other day entitled ‘What No One Is Saying About Zonulin — Is Celiac About More Than Genes and Gluten?

You can read it here: http://blog.cholesterol-and-health.com/2011/04/what-no-one-is-saying-about-zonulin-is.html

This article came to the following conclusion:

“As I pointed out in my last gluten post, these ex vivo experimental results showing that gluten proteins increase zonulin and leaky gut in isolated intestinal tissues cannot logically be construed as evidence that gluten causes leaky gut in live humans without celiac disease. There are far too many factors that could intervene in a live human to change the result. And indeed, Dr. Fasano’s most recent study showing that people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity do not have leaky gut and the Australian study showing that gluten does not cause leaky gut in such individuals directly refute this concept”.

Can you comment on this?

This is awesome, but there are doubters a-plenty in my extended family (how can grain be bad for you if it’s in the bible?) Can you cite your sources? Thank you!

I can definitely add some references for this when I get a chance. My suggestion for a great place to start is Prof. Lorain Cordain’s The Paleo Answer. He has meticulously researched every aspect of the rationale behind a paleo diet and cites thousands of research articles to back up his case. I would also direct you to the research of Prof. Mat Lalonde at Harvard and Dr. Alessio Fasano at University of Maryland, both of whom have done outstanding work in this area.

You talking about dairy, how about organic grass-fed milk? and is it safe/safer to eat the grain if you sprouted it first or soak it for at least 24 hours before cooking? I would love to hear back from you.

I was diagnosed with a leaky gut a number of months ago after having a severe chronic fatigue crash and escalating gut symptoms (aweful reflux, gallbladder symptoms with no detectable gallstones on ultrasound). Anyway, the reflux is coming back, it’s so so so distressing.
Anyway, your explanation was really helpful! I’m going to keep reading!
After IgG tesing can’t eat dairy, egg whites or nuts and I already knew I couldn’t tolerate gluten. It’s interesting that seeds/ lentils etc aren’t so good. I’m feeling a little stressed about what to eat, I wanted to go vego, but it looks like this is not the time to do so. Sorry, needed to rant.

You are totally allowed to rant! I wish a doctor had told me about leaky gut when I first started having symptoms about 5 years before autoimmunity symptoms started. It would have saved me alot of strife! I eat meat, fish, non-starchy veggies and fruit. I still manage to find lots of variety and feel very satisfied with my meals, but it does take a little trial and error to figure out what is sustainable for you. Good luck!


I like your blog a lot, haven’t read a lot of it but from what I have, it looks very good!

I just have a question? In this article (http://www.thepaleomom.com/2011/12/which-fats-should-you-eat.html) you talk about eating seeds, but now I’m a little puzzled… 🙂

In this article you explain that seeds often contain lectins, which lead to explained symptoms. Why is it that some seeds don’t contain them? And how to distinct between both, eg cooking vs raw?

Thanks in advance!

Kind regards,

I will definitely write up the answer to this question in an upcoming post. Basically, all plants contain lectins. There are many different kinds of lectins and some are more damaging than others. Lectins in plants that you have to cook before you eat (like soy, wheat, rice, peanuts) tend to be much more damaging to the human digestive tract. So the rule of thumb is that if you have to cook it to eat it, it’s not safe. If you can eat it raw (you don’t have to), then it’s okay. That is why seeds and nuts are okay in small quantities (they still tend to be high in omega-6 fatty acids which makes them not the best food). I hope this helps!

I’m also interested in your source for the statistic regarding it taking six months to heal from one exposure to gluten. Thanks for your help!

Thank you, Sarah! I’ve seen this range mentioned before but was wondering where the statistic came from! LOVE YOUR BLOG!!! Am sharing it like crazy today on Facebook. Sounds like there are some other addicts out there.

Well in a way looks like nice article and there are good points,though statement ” gluten is lecithin” is a total crap! gluten is a protein found in most grains and probably is pretty unhelthy for us, but it has nothing to do with lecithin. Lecithins are usually phospho-lipids with certain chemical properties that are in no way related to those of gluten, regrdless of toxic properties of some of them.FYI eggs contain huge amounts of lecithin.NOT ALL OF THEM ARE BAD. So I think you should not spred false information just to promote the paleo diet, it is int he end contraproductive. And go learn about that stuff before you write more misinformation.

Failing to see where I call gluten a lecithin. This post is about lectins which is an entirely different class of proteins than lecithins. You are right that lecithin is only problematic in high concentrations. And actually, you’re statement of “not all of them are bad” applies to lectins as well. One of the nuances of lectins that is not properly discussed in this post is that many are inactivated by heat and many interact so weakly with the glycocalyx layer that they can not enter the body. For this reason, I go into far, far more detail about subtypes of lectins (mostly prolamins and agglutinins) in my book (those sorts of details are hard to distill in blog post format).

here: ” Gluten is both the best known example of a lectin, and also the most damaging. In many individuals (like those with diagnosed gluten sensitivity and celiac disease),..”
And I am implying again – LECITHINS ARE NOT PROTEINS and also I didn’t say high concentrations I said different types.

Right… it says lectin. not lecithin. Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins with fairly complex quaternary structures. Gluten belongs to a sublclass of lectins calles prolamins. Lectins are something completely different from lecithin and you are right, gluten is not a lecithin.

Will there be information about lectins in foods allowed in AIP also and how they interact with glyconutrients and how heat treatment effects them ? For example I experimented with raw pumpkins a while and found it gave me joint pains, I started to consume them cooked and I didn’t have joint pains years ago and the reason must be the inactivation of pumpkin lectins which bind glyconutrients, probably n-acetyl-d-glucosamine. Also, note that some plant lectins are aggravated with heat, such as nightshade lectins.
The most complete free information I could find about it is probably this one:
And the most complete information about it may be in this book:
But even the book doesn’t give information on how heat treatment effects different lectins.
I bought you book with a Amazon Prime trial which gives free shipping for 30 days and I want to buy a book about lectins and glyconutrients in food and how heat effects them also if your book doesn’t give the information. Can you suggest a source of information about it ?

I’m up early this morning, enjoying your blog, and I have to say that I tip my hat to you for responding to Sandra in such a professional manner. 🙂 Respect!

Excellent post! What really caught my attention here, was the bit about how gluten can affect wound healing. My other half takes weeks to heal even small wounds and there is no other reason found for this, such as diabetes or zink deficiency. Still waiting for your book to arrive, but once it has, it will be a strict AIP kitchen in our house! Keep up the good work by the way. Your wealth of knowledge is so valuable… Much love, Angel xxx

[…] of them!) , but has yet to pervade medical practice (like so many nutrition-related health issues). How Do Grains, Legumes and Dairy Cause a Leaky Gut? Part 1: Lectins. (Created as a guest post for The Paleo Parents) One of the fundamental principles of paleolithic […]

[…] is made even worse by two other compounds found in these foods: saponins and protease inhibitors. How Do Grains, Legumes and Dairy Cause a Leaky Gut? Part 1: Lectins. (Created as a guest post for The Paleo Parents) One of the fundamental principles of paleolithic […]

[…] Lectins are a sugar-binding protein contained in all plants, protecting them against predators. There is variability in the effect of different dietary lectins have on our digestive system, ranging from pro-inflammatory (e.g. promotion of a leaky gut) to completely harmless (e.g. therapeutic properties). Similar to zonulin, the pro-inflammatory variety of lectins (e.g. nightshades, legumes, dairy, grains) inhibit proper digestion by allowing toxins and undigested food particles to be transported across the intestinal tract. This in turns causes the body to trigger an autoimmune response and attack these pathogens as foreign bodies. For more detail on how lectins impact digestion refer to this in depth post: http://www.thepaleomom.com/2012/03/how-do-grains-legumes-and-dairy-cause.html […]

thanks paleomom. great info and so easy to digest. any idea why the asian population who lives on rice seems to do so well on a lectin diet?
are eggs good or bad for us, i though you said somewhere free range eggs are ok ?

Saw your presentation on the For Women Only Weightloss… Conference and have come to glean more info from your blog. Thank you for all the time and energy you have committed to sharing your expertise and research.

The burning question that can’t wait until your book arrives: where do beans fall in a diet for someone just now showing evidence of Hashimoto’s?
I love beans, corn tortillas, and calabasitas (mixture of zucchini, yellow squash, onions, cheese) but have deleted them from my diet–save the squash–for over a month now. I’ve read that if soaked at a given temperature for 18 hours, rinsed twice during that time, then cooked, the “bad” lectins will be diminished up to 70%. Does that even matter for those of us with minor autoimmune troubles?

Thank you for another dose of your incredible insight. I have one question concerning sprouted seeds and grains. I have read from other sources that the harmful digestive enzyme inhibitors are “disabled” when the seeds, grains and nuts are sprouted, and even after soaking for 1-2 days in the fridge.

Is there anything to these claims or should I still avoid all.

I have a 7 year old celiac and it’s not easy getting him to eat paleo food. He loves his bread (gluten free), oats and dairy

Have you tried replacing his dairy with kefir? I seem to react to all gluten free baked products, it’s so hard to find substitutes. I’ve given up on ever having oats or bread again. Sorry y’all have this struggle.

I was always under the impression that lectins were *seperate* from gluten. At least that is the case with wheat germ agglutinate (WGA). Does that mean that there are other lectins in wheat, besides WGA and that those lectins are found in the gluten component of wheat kernel?

This diagram shows something different:


Thanks for helping me to understand!


Excellent article. Can you expand upon exactly which legumes? Does this mean all beans are bad? What other good sources of protein do you recommend? Looking forward to the second half of this article.

Thank you so much for making your articles so easy to understand.
From suffering with an Autoimmune disorder myself and working over the past 3 years to heal my leaky gut and getting my Autoimmune to a point now where I am symptom free I value your articles so much as a way to continue learning 🙂

I’d love to know your thoughts on seeds like Buckwheat? I don’t seem to tolerate Quinoa at all, but I find that buckwheat doesn’t seem to set of my Autoimmjne response. Is it safe to continue eating, or should I try limiting from my diet?

I am new to the paleo diet. I have an autoimmune disease called Uveitis. It’s where my immune system attacks the tissue in my eye. Do you have any advice for me or have you ever heard of anyone being able to determine what’s triggering the attack? I can’t even really formulate what my question is, it’s just so frustrating that the drs don’t seem to know anything or even believe there’s a relation between my eye and my gut troubles.
We believe I have celiacs disease as it runs in my family and I’ve probably had it for many, many years, definitely much longer than the uveitis. I think untreated celiacs is what triggered the uveitis into play. Since going gluten free a year and a half ago, I have noticed HUGE improvements in all aspects of my health but, I’ve felt like something was still bothering my immune system/digestive tract. Your blog may just save my life and my eyesight!
Thank you so much for caring enough to put this information out there so people like me have options and can take our health into our own hands when the drs are clueless.

hi, I been following you for a while now. LOVE everything you write about.
I don’t seem to find anything solely about why we should avoid dairy and the damages it does to us.

Hope to get an answer.
Many thanks

I’m wondering if there is any way to make beans less of an issue, such as sprouting them? There is such a push from the medical and nutrition community to include beans for their benefit on blood sugar control, fiber, etc. A friend of mine just completed the Loma Linda one week dietary intervention, and beans are strongly recommended/required. Also, my son-in-law (who is a blood type O) gets a blood sugar response to beans, not rice. Which I think is strange … but it’s what happens.

If beans are so bad for the gut lining, then it would seem like Mexicans and people from other Latin American countries where beans have been a staple for centuries would ALL have leaky gut syndrome. I recently read a report that makes a lot of sense concerning “gluten sensitivity” also. The article stated that it is not the gluten in wheat that people are sensitive to, it is the way wheat has been harvested over the past 25+ years. Instead of allowing the wheat to dry naturally before harvest, farmers are now spraying the wheat with glyphosate, Round Up weed killer, to speed up the drying process. The plant absorbs the poison into its cells and once the chemical is embedded within all the plant cells, that’s where it stays. People ingest the wheat, along with the glyphosate and that is what is causing inflammation in the gut. Glyphosate is a carcinogen. In countries where it is banned, no one seems to have “gluten sensitivity.” Americans who are “gluten intolerant,” but eat pasta while on vacation in Italy, for instance, don’t have “allergic reactions” there like they do here in the USA. I found that information quite interesting.

Wow!! I tend to believe that. Again chemical induced America!! It’s no wonder so many people are sick. Autoimmune disorders are on the increase. No wonder. And why? Just to make the quickest buck? Yes I’m angry and frustrated! But I am going to try the Autoimmune Paleo cookbook. It’s only been a couple of weeks and I’m feeling better already! Thank you for all your research, long hours studying, and your own story that your sharing with people like me who have been miserable way to long.

To me it is outrageous and obvious you don’t understand the first thing about physiology (or anatomy, apparently,) and fell asleep during biochem and you are doing a great disservice to all by acting like you were awake. Of course ninety eight percent of what you say is spot on but the two percent you have wrong is so outrageously off course… You have all thes poor woman terrified about eating lectins!!! Capsaicin is neuroprotective! No matter, just seeing your reference list was enough for me to say Quack Quack Quack!

I appreciate that you include so many citations in your writings, but I’m concerned that you ignore the large amounts of scientific literature that disagree with your conclusions (especially concerning gluten).

I’m also concerned that you may be extrapolating beyond the data in many cases. For example, chemical x can negatively impact humans at the cellular level. Therefore we shouldn’t eat it. That’s a big jump to the conclusion that we shouldn’t eat chemical x. I think an apt analogy would be to say that because all cells require glucose, we should eat a lot of glucose. Yes, that sounds silly when you already know how damaging eating large amounts of sugar can be, but is the logic really that different from much of what you use establish your dietary recommendations?

I know there’s a lack of long-term studies on the health effects of the Paleo diet, but many cultures have relied very heavily on grains and legumes for thousands of years. If the story were as simple as “grains and legumes cause leaky gut”, shouldn’t we have MUCH more damning evidence against them than “gluten is bad for people with Celiac’s”?

Don’t get me wrong, I think that your diet can, does, and will help a lot of people, but I also think it has a ways to go yet as far as the science is concerned.

Great article and I look forward to reading your book. I have read in several places that lectins can be completely deactivated by pressure cooking. What does your research say in this area?


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