If you listen to the ideology of some mainstream diets out there, it would appear that grains are the latest diet villain, following in the footsteps of fats (healthy ones) and even fruits (because of their natural sugar). (And off the topic- still, still (!)- these typical mainstream diets never suggest that there is such a thing as eating too much protein. After all, they want to preserve the food they love- and their steak, even at the expense of kidney failure and colon cancer). Some diet plans tell us that it’s unnatural for us to eat grains, that they do more harm than good and that agriculture has thrown human digestion off its proper course for some time.
It’s not true. We’re designed to eat grains. We’ve evolved to eat them because the human body adapts in order to survive, and can get vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and even antioxidants from whole grains. The ability to eat grains is one of the miniscule differences between our digestive systems and our primate relatives’, which we’ll discuss more below—there’s about a one-percent difference.
Our Ancestors Ate Grains at Least 105,000 Years Ago
This of course, spans time during the Paleolithic period, which ended around 10,000 years ago.
All signs point to the fact that our ancestors were, in fact, eating grains very long ago. Much of human evolution happened in the savannahs of Africa—grasslands. Whole grains are seeds, usually from certain grasses. It makes sense to assume that they were already eating the grains before they knew they wanted to cultivate the seeds.
Scientific American and Science point out that there’s evidence that our ancestors were getting energy from grains as early as the Middle Stone Age, based on grass seed residue (wild sorghum) on tools found in Mozambique. That was 105,000 years ago.
A compilation of grain- and starch-based diets at EarthSave shows that barley and oats (which offer fiber, vitamin E, vitamin B, calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, copper, zinc, iron, and manganese and help fight cellulite) were eaten in the Middle East 11,000 years ago; corn was a mainstay in Central and South America 7000 years ago; rice and wheat were consumed in Asia 10,000 years ago; and for 6,000 years millet (helpful for easing migraines, metabolizing fat, repairing body tissue, and creating energy) and and sorghum have been consumed in Africa. Now the residue on those tools from Mozambique puts the sorghum consumption much longer ago than that.
Another report from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that Neanderthals, who disappeared around 30,000 years ago, consumed grains as well. According to this article, pollen records indicate that though plant availability fluctuated depending on the glacial cycle, the calorie-dense grass seeds and cattails would have survived even during the colder times. Teeth from Neanderthal skeletons found in Shanidar Cave, Iraq, and Spy Cave, Belgium had starch grains in their coatings.
Agriculture really took off around 10,000 years ago, during the Neolithic Age, but our ancestors were storing grains 1,000 years before that. Once they discovered they could create their own reliable source of food, they were no longer forced to wander to find things to eat. They could finally settle down, and the population grew. And because grain storage was possible (as it wasn’t with plants and meat), they could survive even during unfavorable times. According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a huge collection of grains from 23,000 years ago was found in Israel. Once people settled down and domesticated plants for food, they flourished.
Think about it: why would earlier humans spend the time and energy to cultivate things they weren’t already eating? Why would they shift their whole way of living for the sake of something that just “might” work? And how would the population have thrived if it were unnatural to eat grains? We’ve been eating grains for thousands of years with positive results! We’ve survived as a species because of the ability to grow them, store them, and use them for energy.
The Evolution of the Human Digestive System
Because of the need to eat grains for energy and possibly even to stay alive at all at times, the human digestive system evolved to better break them down. The human body was already designed to eat plants, so it wasn’t a giant leap when we began eating grains. Our digestive system is extremely similar to that of chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas, but we do one thing better than them: digest grains. As an article at Scientific American says, “Our guts do not seem to be specialized hominid guts; they are, instead, relatively generalized monkey/ape guts,” humans have evolved to have more amylase, which breaks down starchy foods. According to EarthSave, humans have six copies of amylase; apes have two. This additional amylase may have contributed to brain growth in humans because it helped break the starches down, supplying the brain with extra sugar (the brain’s preference for fuel). So in a way, grains aren’t just a natural part of our diet—they’re part of what made us who we are.
Why reject grains and pretend that the evolution involving increased amylase in our saliva never happened? If we weren’t designed to eat starches and grains, why does our bodies naturally produce the enzymes to break them down?
The Health Benefits of Grains
Grains were obviously more than something to fill our ancestors’ stomachs to take the edge off of hunger as they hunted and gathered. They were a valuable source of nutrition in a powerful, tiny little package. Grains contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber and have no cholesterol while being low in fat.
Some arguments against grains lament the presence of phytic acid, something that is said to block the body’s ability to use zinc and calcium. Not only does some research show that phytic acid serves a purpose in the human body (it works as an antioxidant, helping to protect against heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other diseases according to EarthSave), but once the grains are leavened, the phytic acid’s negative effects no longer apply.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, whole grain consumption “substantially lowers total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or bad) cholesterol, triglycerides, and insulin levels.” That means a decreased risk of heart disease. The fiber triggers anticoagulant production which then prevents blood clots, and the antioxidants interfere with an interaction between LDL cholesterol and oxygen, an introduction that could contribute to the clogging of the arteries. In addition, Harvard points out that the fiber decreases the likelihood of experiencing constipation and helps sweep toxic residue out of the body.
Grains Also Make You More Beautiful
Beauty Grains, including millet, quinoa, amaranth, brown rice and buckwheat, are gluten-free, high in fiber, rich in minerals and digest easily. They’re the absolute best choices for grains.
In addition to migraine relief, help in metabolizing fat, tissue repair assistance, and energy creation, millet helps create strong bones, keeps the thyroid gland healthy, can calm your nerves, and regulates the secretion of glucose and insulin.
Quinoa assists in tissue growth and repair, relaxes blood vessels and muscles, and helps you push toxins out of your body.
Buckwheat provides fiber and protein along with amino acids for tissue and collagen repair. It can also stabilize blood sugar, and lower blood pressure and cholesterol. It’s especially easy to digest when it’s soaked and sprouted.
While those aren’t the most ubiquitous grains in restaurants, you can opt for brown rice, wild rice, or soba noodles (they’re made from buckwheat) when you go out to eat. Just be sure to skip wheat products. Wheat is not as nutritious as it once was due to inferior soil quality, plus it is often contaminated with pesticides and sometimes even molds and fungi. Wheat also contains gluten, a common allergy that will drain your Beauty Energy.
One Caveat: You Must Eat Whole Grains
I’m not telling you to run out and stock up on white rice and sugary cereals (despite many of those cereals’ “health” or “whole grain” claims), nor am I saying you should base your whole entire diet on grains, and eat huge amounts of them at every meal. Remember all your Beauty Detox principles. Start the day with Glowing Green Smoothie. Eat salads to start lunch and dinner, or entree salads. Eat vegetable soups, veggie dishes, fruit, seeds, nuts, and yes some grains. If you need more ideas, check out the recipe section here or in Beauty Detox Foods.
Refined grains are stripped of most of their nutrients, leaving you with empty calories and very few health benefits. Like a house built on sand! When you eat refined grains, you’re just cheating yourself of Beauty food.
You’ll be missing out on the bran and germ and only eating the endosperm portion of the grain. In the refining process, the B and E vitamins, fiber, minerals, and phytochemicals from the bran and germ are stripped away, leaving only the carbohydrates and protein from the endosperm for consumption. Just as you need to eat whole grains as part of a diet balanced with vegetables and fruit, you need the harmony of the bran, endosperm, and germ’s nutritional benefits—not just those of one part.
The proof of whole grains’ place in our diet is in our history. Grains are a big reason we are the way we are today. Agriculture—grains–made it possible to settle down, become more social, store food for later, rapidly increase the population, and possibly even expanded our brains. How could something with so many benefits, so many nutrients, be detrimental to us? Remember, we most likely weren’t going to start cultivating something we weren’t already eating. As long as you’re consuming whole grains with everything nature intended still intact, you’re doing your body a favor each time you dig into a bowl of oatmeal or serve up some spiced quinoa next to a plate full of veggies.