I get a lot of questions from clients in Houston, TX about the potential of grains affecting their digestive health. Grains are extremely difficult to digest. It’s easy to understand why grains are difficult and could be troublesome to digestion. They are seeds and seeds have hard outer casings. Many seeds were created that way to encourage spreading the plant to different areas. The casing doesn’t digest, protecting the seed through the process to be eliminated elsewhere, conveniently in it’s own supply of fertilizer. That hard shell is what helps the plant survive, but also can cause digestive problems.
Survival is the ultimate goal of all living things.
Grains contain phytic acid, which may be part of that ultimate plan for self-survival or just an unhappy coincidence. It affects how the body absorb minerals. Phytic acid blocks the absorption of important nutrients in the small intestines and potentially lead to bone loss. The modern way of processing grain can increase the potential for damage to digestion.
Complex proteins are hard to digest.
Grains contain complex proteins, which are hard to digest. One of those proteins is gluten. Recently, there’s been an awareness of how it can affect the body negatively and create health issues that range from digestive to neurological. One reason people have become more aware of the problem is that people seem to be more affected by it. It might be because the amount of gluten in wheat has increased. In the 1960s it was hybridization to create a variety with bigger grain, improving the yield. Since then, it’s become the prominent and almost exclusive variety grown. It contains higher amount of gluten. It’s hard for the body to break down that protein, so it wreaks havoc on the digestive system. The disaccharides in grain are equally difficult to process, creating another digestive problem.
Grain may interfere with the digestive enzymes.
Your body needs enzymes to digest food and seeds use enzyme inhibitors to help prevent sprouting when conditions aren’t right. Those two facts go together to create a problem in the digestive system. Grain enzyme inhibitors don’t just block the seed enzymes, they block the digestive enzymes, too. In order to get rid of the inhibitor, you have to prepare grains properly. That can mean soaking, sprouting or fermenting them. Modern grain products don’t use those methods.
Digestion requires an enzyme to act as a catalyst.
All digestive actions start with enzymes. Since grains are seeds, they contain an enzyme inhibitor to help prevent the seed from sprouting if conditions are good for growing. These inhibitors may help the seeds to grow in the right conditions, but they certainly don’t help your digestion. By ingesting grains that aren’t prepared properly, we’re passing on these inhibitors to the digestive system, slowing or halting the process of digestion.
- Leaky gut, a newer complex of conditions, is thought to be related to the more prevalent appearance of grains in the modern diet. The symptoms of leaky gut often include somewhat unrelated symptoms.
- There are some examples of grain products on the market that use older techniques to rid the grain of enzymes, sour dough bread and sprouted bread are two. Since legumes contain the same substance, it’s always important to soak dried beans before preparing them.
- Giving up grain entirely can help you find out if your digestive troubles come from it. If your symptoms disappear, you might consider re-adding them using more ancient alternatives, such as amaranth, sorghum, millet and kamut.
- Not only does the preparation techniques of soaking, fermenting and sprouting help eliminate the phytic acid in grains, it also makes the disaccharides grains contain easier to digest.