Does conflicting diet advice leave you frozen in the grocery store? Here at the Oldways Whole Grains Council, we hear our fair share of wild rumors; so today we’re busting some of the biggest myths about grains and health.
Myth 1: Whole Grains Make You Gain WeightWhile eating too much of anything can make you fat, grains play no special role in putting on the pounds. Experts from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the Harvard School of Public Health, the American Heart Association, and many more all agree that whole grains are an important part of a healthy diet, along with a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Sensationalist pop-science books may attempt to pin obesity on grains, but research and common sense tell us that no one food can be blamed for all diet-related illnesses.
Moderation and a variety of less processed plant foods (including whole grains) are the hallmarks of healthy diets and the old ways of eating. This traditional eating pattern is time-tested and research-tested, but not new, and therefore, not sexy or newsworthy. Weight problems are almost never the fault of one food; it's total diet and lifestyle that matter. If you eat a healthy diet comprised of whole, minimally-processed foods in reasonable portion sizes, you do not need to fear succumbing to the imaginary "wheat belly!"
Myth 2: Everything Will Be Great if We Stop Eating GrainsGrains are the most important source of food worldwide, providing nearly 50% of the calories eaten, and are some of the least intensive foods to produce. Fruits and vegetables, while very nutritious, aren't as energy dense as grains and are harder to grow, transport, and store for year-round enjoyment. So to make up the necessary calories in fruits and vegetables, much more food would have to be grown. Similarly, raising animals for meat production requires a substantial amount of land and water. For example, beef production uses 2.7 gallons of water to produce 1 calorie of food, compared to only ½ gallon per calorie of fruits, 1/3 gallon per calorie of vegetables, and 1/8 gallon (only 2 cups) per calorie of grains. Shifting diets towards grains and away from more energy intensive foods is one of the best ways to preserve our planet's precious resources.
Myth 3: Today’s Wheat Has More Gluten and GMOsAccording to research from Donald Kasarda, PhD, a scientist with USDA's Agricultural Research Service, the gluten content in wheat has NOT increased over the past two centuries, but has remained relatively stable. That being said, the average consumption of gluten is rising, especially in the last 15-20 years, but that’s because gluten is being added as an isolated ingredient in so many processed foods. (Either way, 93-98% of us have no problem digesting gluten.) Claims about GMO wheat are similarly unfounded. While some misinformed fear mongers claim otherwise, there is no GMO wheat commercially available – in large part because U.S. farmers have fought hard against GMO wheat, out of concern that it would put a damper on the export market. -- by Kelly Toups, MLA, RD, LDN / Program Manager