Is Consuming Grains Bad for You?

I recently got into a debate online with a fanatical user who was claiming that consuming grains was the root of all evil and led to increased estrogen levels in men, male pattern baldness, you name it. I try not to get sucked into these childish debates with fanatics since I realize that they often become emotionally attached to their ideals however there were a lot of other folks reading this nonsense and I felt it was my duty to prevent these impressionable folks from being sucked into the vortex.

With that said, here is my post in its entirety…

I’m simply going to supply the data that exists on this topic so that educated folks reading this thread are armed with more than one person’s opinion which was presented as fact. If, after reading through my posts on this topic, you still feel that grains are the devil then that is fine…self experimentation is always going to be the best course of action.

For whatever reason, folks have a tendency to get emotionally attached to viewpoints and I’ve found this to be even more pronounced in the nutrition field. Years of arguing with various sects such as Paleos, vegetarians, and vegans has really taught me to leave emotions out of debates and just provide the objective data. Over the years, most folks I’ve found to be as emotional as (username removed) rarely change but there have been a few times where I’ve been surprised and folks have actually been open to data which doesn’t fit into their belief systems. With that said…

Let’s show some studies and meta-analysis which actually demonstrate that grains do have health benefits (either by association or directly):


Aune D et al (2011) “Dietary fiber, whole grains, and risk of colorectal cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies.”

Flight I, Clifton P (2006) “Cereal grains and legumes in the prevention of coronary heart disease and stroke: a review of the literature.”

Jensen MK et al (2006) “Whole grains, bran, and germ in relation to homocysteine and markers of glycemic control, lipids, and inflammation 1”

Venn BJ, Mann Jl (2004) “Cereal grains, legumes and diabetes.”

Association studies and meta-analysis papers demonstrate a positive correlation however they can still leave topics open for debate. Here you can see that grain consumption has demonstrated a positive correlation with things such as decreasing cancer risks, heart disease, stroke, lowering inflammation markers, and lowering chances of developing diabetes. Next, we’ll dive into some of the studies which directly demonstrate positive health benefits. These types of studies provide even more value than the ones included in this post.

Now, let’s move onto the studies which directly demonstrate that grain consumption leads to positive health benefits.

We should also realize, before reviewing the studies, that the term grains covers quite a few sub-types such as rice, oats, barley, rye, wheat, corn, quinoa, etc. Many folks unfairly lump all of these together when forming conclusions so this is something that should be considered when making blanket statements that “grains are bad”.


Maki KC et al (2010) “Whole-grain ready-to-eat oat cereal, as part of a dietary program for weight loss, reduces low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in adults with overweight and obesity more than a dietary program including low-fiber control foods.”

Katcher Hl, Legro RS et al (2008) “The effects of a whole grain-enriched hypocaloric diet on cardiovascular disease risk factors in men and women with metabolic syndrome.”

Rave K et al (2007) “Improvement of insulin resistance after diet with a whole-grain based dietary product: results of a randomized, controlled cross-over study in obese subjects with elevated fasting blood glucose.”

Kelly SA (2007) “Wholegrain cereals for coronary heart disease.”

Pereira MA, Jacobs DR Jr et al (2002) “Effect of whole grains on insulin sensitivity in overweight hyperinsulinemic adults.”

Jang Y, Lee JH (2001) “Consumption of whole grain and legume powder reduces insulin demand, lipid peroxidation, and plasma homocysteine concentrations in patients with coronary artery disease: randomized controlled clinical trial.”

As you can see, these are primarily peer-reviewed clinical trials which all demonstrated direct positive health benefits associated with grain consumption under controlled settings.

Okay, now let’s move along to something I’ve seen mentioned a few times and that is grains contain anti-nutrients (namely phytates, lectins, and oxalates) which prevent the body’s ability to absorb nutrition from other food sources.

One thing we need to make very clear is that grains are far from the only food group that contains these anti-nutrients. How many consider leafy green veggies such as spinach or fibrous veggies like broccoli bad? Well, guess what? They also contain these supposed nutrient absorption stoppers (1) and I would dare say that the majority of folks would not consider veggies a food to avoid (unlike username removed who has stated he avoids veggies as well, LOL).

A group who would likely be at high risk here would be vegetarians since they are more prone to eat larger concentrations of grains and leafy vegetables than your typical omnivorous eater. Studies have continually demonstrated that even vegetarians, who often will have lower iron and zinc levels (moreso because they don’t eat animal PRO sources as opposed to anti-nutrient reasons) demonstrate no adverse health effects from it (2). If we were to make the huge leap here that phytates and oxalates block mineral absorption, it doesn’t even appear that this is cause for alarm based on the data we see here.

Okay, but does this mineral blocking effect even exist from grain consumption? Randomized cross-over trials demonstrated that calcium absorption wasn’t affected (3). Wheat bran did not have an affect on mineral consumption at all as it related to calcium, zinc, and iron (4). And another study found no effect on subjects consuming oat bran as it related to zinc absorption (5). So, as you can see, the literature is pretty clear here in that it shows there is no “mineral blocking” properties related to consuming grains.


When forming conclusions, the science on a given topic is great however bodybuilders also like to see results “in the trenches”. Real-world applicability is going to go a long way when it comes to the validity of a theory.

So, what better way to put this anti-grain fear mongering to bed than to look at civilizations that are the healthiest, with the longest lifespans?

Earlier, I alluded to the Okinawans who (although recently passed) were for a long time the longest living culture in the world. Sho did a great analysis of the Okinawan lifestyle and talked a lot about their diet. In addition to ample amounts of leafy green veggies (which above you’ll see contain all the supposed anti-nutrients we are being told to avoid) also eat roughly 840g/day of white rice (1). So, even with the ample amounts of leafy greens and grains, they are still living long and healthy lives. Hmm…

Has anyone heard of the “French Paradox” (2)? The term was originally coined because of the saturated fat fear mongering started by Ancel Keys (topic for another day) however the reason I bring this up is because the French are known, as a culture, to consume copious amounts of white bread as part of their daily dietary intake. The irony here? They also, as a country, have one of the lowest rates of coronary heart disease in the EU.

Lastly, let’s look at the Blue Zone Countries (3). Look over the societies that make up the list and start researching the dietary characteristics of these places. See how many have grains, lentils, and other “forbidden” foods as the staples of their diets.


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