Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
18 Feb

Will Eating Whole Grains Help You Live Longer?

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Friday Success Story to bring you a timely and critical look at this week’s Hottest Health Headline. And who better to tackle the research in question than expert study-dismantler Denise Minger? You may remember Denise from the recent article she wrote for MDA in which she went toe-to-toe with a study linking a high fat diet with breast cancer. Today she takes on our nemesis, our foe, our mortal enemy – the Whole Grain. And now, Denise…

A headline-grabbing study just hit the press, and on the surface, it looks like a home run for team Healthy Whole Grain. This chunk of research – officially titled “Dietary Fiber Intake and Mortality in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study” – followed a pool of over half a million adults and found that, across the board, the folks eating the most fiber had lower rates of death from almost every disease. But here’s the kicker: The only fiber that seemed to boost health was the kind from grains. Not veggie fiber. Not fruit fiber. Just grains, grains, grains.

Suspicious, eh?

I thought so too – but the findings are pretty robust. Compared to the folks who skimped on grain fiber, those eating the most of it had lower risk of death from:

  • all causes (22% lower for both men and women)
  • heart disease (24% lower in men, 34% lower in women)
  • cancer (17% lower in men, insignificant for women)
  • infectious disease (56% lower in men, 59% lower in women)
  • respiratory disease (31% lower in men, 46% lower in women)
  • rabid jackalope attack* (42% lower in men, 39% lower in women)

*Figures derived from my personal research; not yet peer-reviewed

By contrast, veggie fiber had only modest-to-neutral associations with mortality, and fruit fiber didn’t have any effect at all – except for a slightly positive relationship with death from infectious disease. (Oops! Maybe an apple a day actually lures the doctor closer.)

For those of us living gleefully grain-free, this study is a real head scratcher. At the very least, it’d seem like the fiber in vegetables – coupled with all their other protective substances – should be decent competition for whole grains, but clearly that isn’t the case. What’s going on here?

As usual, there’s more to the story than what the media regurgitated. Let’s dive in and see what this study really uncovered. It’s actually pretty interesting.

Red Flag #1: Confounder Attack

Lucky for us, the researchers managed to record some potential confounders – those sneaky diet and lifestyle factors that easily skew the outcome of studies like these. And confounders there were! Here’s a graph showing the major differences between the folks eating the most grain fiber and those eating the least:

If this doesn’t scream “people with healthy lifestyles choose whole grains,” I don’t know what does. The fiber-lovers were almost twice as likely to be vigorous exercisers (working out more than three hours a week), were much less likely to smoke, had lower intakes of alcohol, and were generally more educated than those with the lowest fiber intake. And we can see that the folks loading up on grain fiber were also cutting back on red meat – showing for the 80- or 90-billionth time that health-conscious people tend to be phobic of certain animal foods. (But that’s a story for a different day.)

Indeed, after the researchers adjusted for their battery of confounders, the protectiveness of grains diminished considerably. Before adjusting for anything, grain fiber was linked to a 47% lower risk of death from all causes – but after accounting for variables like smoking, drinking, and exercise habits, the risk reduction whittled down to only 22%. Ditto for mortality from individual diseases. In fact, because I’m such a graph-o-phile, here are two more showing how dramatically the risk reduction shifted as soon as the researchers corrected for various lifestyle factors. The vertical numbers represent the lowered mortality risk (in terms of percentage) associated with grain fiber – the higher the number, the greater the risk reduction:

Check that out! From these graphs, we can see that those wily confounders inflated the true effects of grain fiber. In fact, for women, the link between grain fiber and cancer mortality tapered off into insignificance as soon as the researchers improved their statistical models.

Of course, grain fiber still came out looking protective against most diseases – but keep in mind that it’s virtually impossible to account for the smorgasbord of changes people make when they shift towards a healthier lifestyle. The take-home point is that eating whole grains is ridiculously tangled with other health-conscious behaviors. It’s not a stretch to imagine that if the researchers had also adjusted for things like trans fat, vegetable oil consumption, and processed carb intake that the risk reduction from grain fiber would’ve slid even closer to nil.

Except, of course, for that odd relationship with infectious disease – which didn’t budge even after correcting for confounders. Which brings us to…

Red Flag #2: Fiber Protects Against Infection?

When I first perused this study with my Skeptic Hat on, the first thing that caught my eye was the steep correlation between grain fiber and reduced death from infectious disease – a stronger connection, in fact, than fiber had with any other mortality variable. That’s pretty cool, but it makes no sense. So I was curious to see how the researchers explained it in their paper:

“Inflammation, a predominant pathphysiologic response in many infectious and respiratory diseases, has been suggested to contribute to the progression of these diseases. Studies have shown that dietary fiber has anti-inflammatory properties. … The anti-inflammatory properties of fiber could explain, in part, significant inverse associations of dietary fiber intake with infectious and respiratory diseases as well a with CVD death.”

Ah, so they’re playing the “inflammation” card. Fair enough. Unfortunately, it doesn’t explain why fruit and vegetables – which, if anything, are more anti-inflammatory than grains – barely put a dent in disease risk in this study. In fact, the researchers’ Inflammation Proclamation makes their findings all the more puzzling.

My money’s on a different possibility: that the researchers failed to account for poor living conditions and socioeconomic status, both of which are huge contributors to infectious and respiratory disease. It’s well known that folks with lower income and social status also tend to have less healthful eating habits – including a lower consumption of fiber – and also have higher mortality from almost every cause. So rather than underscoring some magical pathogen-fighting properties of grains, this study’s link between grain fiber and reduced infectious disease is probably a symptom of some straggling, non-adjusted-for confounders. Dur.

The Grainy Seesaw

Apart from massive confounding, this study poses another interpretive problem as well. When people hike up their intake of whole grains, it’s not usually a matter of sprinkling wheat bran on their morning danish or chasing a Wonder Bread sandwich with a bowl of oatmeal. Instead, it’s an act of swapping: Folks reach for the whole-grain loaf instead of the white bread; they stir-fry brown rice instead of polished; they ditch the Froot Loops, get adventurous, and buy a special “regularity” cereal with 28 grams of fiber per serving (and then spend the rest of the day looking like an inflatable pool toy).

Heck, even the USDA – in its infinite nutritional wisdom – emphasizes that whole grains should replace refined grains instead of just dogpiling on top of them. Straight from the horse’s mouth: “It’s important to substitute the whole-grain product for the refined one, rather than adding the whole-grain product.” (If the USDA says it, you know they mean business.)

As a result, eating more whole grains (and grain fiber) inevitably goes hand-in-hand with eating fewer refined grains. And this is precisely what makes grain studies so squirmy and misleading: Measuring the effects of whole grains indirectly captures the effects of refined grains, too, and they’re hard to untangle.

So how do we wade through these webs of correlations and determine what’s really going on? Studies like the recent National Institutes of Health don’t offer a lick of help – epidemiology is notoriously sucky. Fortunately, we don’t have to look too far to find something more informative. A number of Healthy Whole Grain studies actually show that limiting refined grains is just as beneficial – if not more so – than increasing whole grain intake. For example, take a gander at this 2005 study analyzing the grain-noshing habits of over 800 men and women. As we might expect, the folks eating the most whole grains fared the best, while those eating the most refined grains had higher risk markers for disease. No news there. The researchers concluded: “Whole-grain intake is inversely and refined-grain intake is positively associated with the risk of having metabolic syndrome. Recommendations to increase whole-grain intake may reduce this risk.”

Same old, same old. But what the researchers don’t discuss is the intriguing trend that surfaced in one of their tables (viewable here). If we compare the folks who ate the most whole grains (at least 143 grams per day) with those who ate the least refined grains (less than 125 grams per day), the health perks are nearly identical – with the high-whole-grain group actually coming out less favorably in some cases. Compared to those who ate the least amount of refined grains, the abundant-whole-grain group spawned a greater percentage of folks with high triglycerides, low HDL, high LDL, hypertension, and metabolic syndrome. Yowza!

So what does this pattern tell us? For one, that scooting the refined grains off your plate may be more health-protective than eating more whole ones. And that, indeed, the alleged health benefits of whole grains could simply be due to eating less of their refined counterparts.

Of course, this isn’t the only study to unearth this sort of trend. If you’re in a Nerd Safari mood, hop over to this study to read about the lack of benefit whole grains have on inflammation and insulin sensitivity, or this study (PDF) to read about how a diet supplemented with wheat bran caused a slight rise in triglycerides and oxidized LDL. When you do a some digging, you’ll see the evidence supporting Healthy Whole Grains is surprisingly wobbly.

Why Whole Grains Are Only Half the Story

Grains are such an ingrained (pun definitely intended) part of our food culture that, in studies, the question is usually “Which form of grain is best?” instead of the more pertinent query, “Do we even need these lectin-filled suckers in our diet to begin with?”

The first question brings us swarms of studies that ultimately act as yes-men to the Whole Grain King. Yes, Whole Grain, you are superior! Yes, Whole Grain, you’re so much more handsome and charming than your nemesis Refined Grain. Yes, Whole Grain, you deserve praise and prominence in the USDA’s new dietary guidelines. Shall we massage your endosperm to celebrate?

But if we took an honest look at the second question, current research would veer in a much more interesting direction. Instead of tinkering around with the effects of rye versus wheat or frosted versus unfrosted Corn Flakes, we’d be comparing grain-filled diets with totally grain-free ones – in turn helping us discern, with cold hard science, whether whole grains are truly beneficial or simply less harmful than uber-processed forms.

Do grains contain some valuable nutrients? Absolutely. But so do tree bark, grass, twigs, and other foods that don’t jibe with human physiology. It’s not surprising that diets including whole grains result in better health outcomes than diets rich in refined grains, but that doesn’t mean they’re an optimal choice – just the lesser of some other Neolithic evils.

But back to our study du jour for a moment. Regardless of its findings, keep in mind that this research is correlative. All it does is say Thing One gets higher or lower in relation to Thing Two (in this case, grain fiber and various diseases). There’s no way – none, nada, zilch – to determine whether the relationship is accidental or truly cause-and-effect. The journalists who reported otherwise were being sloppy. Shame, journalists! Shame.

All in all, this is just one more drop in a tumultuous, misinterpreted sea of Healthy Whole Grain studies. If you want to stay afloat, I recommend using that fiber for building your boat instead of filling your stomach.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. What I get from this study is that it does not make any difference if you go primal or high whole grain. As long as you get exercise,see a doctor yearly and eat,drink and be merry in moderation. You will be golden

    Jack wrote on February 18th, 2011
    • Maybe you should read Denise’s post.

      Dana wrote on February 18th, 2011
    • The study did not consider the question of “grains vs no grains” or “whole grains vs no grains”. It barely supports its own conclusion. Reading more into it is not justified.

      Angela Quattrano wrote on February 19th, 2011
    • golden brown – ie – toasted like a slice of whole wheat wonder bread –

      no read the post and stop grains.

      ravi wrote on September 6th, 2012
  2. Awesome post that I will have to share with anyone who says whole grains are healthy. Its a length one but well worth the read.

    Its unfortunate that studies like this keep making the headline news.

    When is a primal or paleo study going to be done?

    Primal Toad wrote on February 18th, 2011
  3. I’m a Celiac, complicated with serious IBS. There is no way that I’m going back to grains. Since I’ve stopped eating grains I feel better, I look better, my skin is healthy. That’s not even delving into how much better my GI tract feels. Grains are healthy? For whom?

    Karin wrote on February 18th, 2011
  4. Hi,
    Thanks for the great analysis and breakdown of this study. I’m reading more and more blogs and material from the paleo community and I’m starting to worry that I’m not getting a well rounded objective information feed on nutrition. If it is appropriate, can anyone point me to some blogs that might provide similarly sophisticated analysis and criticism of the tenets of the paleo diet and lifestyle? I believe in testing my beliefs from more than one angle.
    Many thanks

    Chris wrote on February 18th, 2011
    • Look up PaNu and Whole Health Source on Google. They are wonderful.

      Dana wrote on February 18th, 2011
      • Thanks Dana, I have seen those sites and enjoy their content, however what I’m looking for are sites that present opposing views with a similar degree of rigour.

        Chris wrote on February 20th, 2011
    • Hi Chris,
      Honestly I haven’t seen this kind of analysis coming from other diet camps. You’ll have the mainstream reporting from which you may be able to get some details, but may still have to look up the study yourself. Or you have the vegetarian/vegan camps that mostly look for studies showing veg is healthier than meat eating or that unhealthy vegans are doing it wrong.

      Try and if you want to read more about the other side. I don’t think you will find it as compelling though. There may not be a consensus in the nutrition world, but as the consumer you have to look at what makes the most sense and who has the least to lose. That is- much of the science backs up primal type eating, it makes sense because when people try it they feel healthier and primal proponents have little to lose because it’s not tied to industry (like the usda) or an ideology (like vegan).

      Real Food RD wrote on February 18th, 2011
      • Thanks for the references! I’m of the mind that there is more than one way to be healthy and frankly this column and especially its responses set off a bit of a ‘zealosy alert’ and made me think that I need to balance my reading. And don’t kid yourself that paleo doesn’t resemble an ‘ideology’ and that people aren’t cashing in on it (nothing wrong with that if it is honest and virtuous).

        Chris wrote on February 20th, 2011
        • Chris: You won’t find any science that defends the non-paleo way of eating that is as rigorous or as robust. The fact of the matter is, as demonstrated by the article this blog post takes apart, there are no real scientific defenses of CW eating – just dodges and workarounds, statistical game-playing, and “oh, we hope you don’t notice those confounding factors that we conveniently forgot to take into account and which completely invalidate our hypotheses.”

          The reason you might hear zealotry here is because just about everyone who posts regularly to MDA has experienced the benefits of paleo eating, some of us for quite a long time. There’s no comparable set of success stories out there for CW. I know that what we’re doing works. I know that it will work for anyone who tries it wholeheartedly, not half-assed. I get angry when I see people like “smilinggreenmom” continuing to buy into CW bullshit that will eventually give them cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.

          Griff wrote on February 20th, 2011
        • Well, you could read Dr. Fuhrman or The China Study. They are both very much pro-vegan, so you are going to find the same amount of “zealousy alert” that you see here. THough in Dr. Fuhrman’s latest book he admits that his studies show that eating small amounts of meats do not adversely affect the health of his subjects.

          I always react with skepticism when some group wants to eliminate a whole food group. Some people can be healthy vegan. Some cannot. Some people have no problems digesting grains, beans, or dairy. Others have MAJOR issues. Overall, I like to look at studies about large groups of people. When I read about the evils of soy and grains, I look at the Okinawans. When I read about how healthy a vegan diet is, I am reminded that not a single “traditional” ethnic cuisine is vegan.

          Marcia wrote on February 21st, 2011
        • brendan brazier’s “thrive”. he’s an ironman athlete who is vegan. he does not touch gluten, corn or soy, though.

          bee wrote on February 22nd, 2011
    • Some recent columns on elite athletes with big money on the line espousing vegetarian eating have made me step back from the paleo diet reading that I’ve been immersed in and remember that there is more than one way to health.

      I also have alot of respect for the long traditions of macrobiotics and chinese medicine which have a key role for grains. The Enzyme Diet is a book by a doctor who has unique first hand experience with diet and health and he advocates grains and reduced meat consumption, it’s not based on science but observation of hundreds of thousands of colons. He stresses freshness of grains and points out that whole grains can oxidize.

      So far, I’ve been incorporating many paleo principles in my diet but I’m not ready to kick all grains to the curb yet.

      Chris wrote on February 20th, 2011
      • I definitely respect the notion that “there is more than one way to health”, in a global sense.
        In the first place, populations evolved in different environments and adapted to different dietary patterns. In the second, global travel means we’re much more “mixed”, genetically speaking, than we would have been as little as a couple dozen generations ago. (And yes, I do understand that there’s not a whole lot of genetic variation, when you consider the size and amount of info on the human genome. Still, genetic variation does exist, and evolution has no endpoint.)

        I liked Dr. McDougall for info on vegan-type diets without the pseudo-religious vegan rhetoric. Two years on a McDougall diet and I lost a lot of fat… but I never at any point felt “lean” or “strong”. I also got kinda nutty– irritable, obsessive, never stopped craving animal fats, and got to the point where I was literally thinking about food all day, every day, which developed and compounded a lovely array of emotional disorders surrounding food intake. That doesn’t mean he’s wrong, period, or that it won’t work for you.

        Also, thinking back on it, it’s interesting to me to note how few “superstars” there were in that community, in terms of people who had lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off, being happy and fully settled into that lifestyle. I can recall only one or two who stood out. Everyone else there seemed to be working very hard to maintain and remind themselves why they were doing what they were doing, and were almost exclusively only there because they wanted to lose weight. The whole “feel” of this community here at MDA is very different. The glorious array of success stories is different (from folks with a great deal of excess weight to lose, to fit, athletic people who get even more-so), and the general feeling of satiety and happiness is different, too. That tells me a lot.

        I guess all I’m trying to say here is that I can read the more sound “opposing” arguments and accept that they have value for some segment of the population. I don’t believe there is “one true way”. But just because I find some of those arguments sound in principle, doesn’t mean I was able to find the principles sound in personal practice. In other words, it doesn’t have to be an either/or for 100% of the global population. You can accept more than one eating pattern as valid in a global sense, but it’s only going to be personal experience that dictates what’s right for you, personally.

        PS: “Chinese medicine”? I loves me some herbalism, am as big a midwife-hugger as it gets, and I recognize that there are plenty of routes to health that don’t require a pill from Merck, but… “Chinese medicine”? China’s rates for just about every health statistic are dismal. You’d be far better put to look at Mexican, or Swedish, or Japanese medicine ;0). No offense intended.

        mixie wrote on March 28th, 2011
  5. Denise, that’s excellent work, thanks, but … you had me with ‘followed a pool of people.’

    Aren’t they ever going to give up on these epidemiological studies and get serious with the intervention studies so that ‘we’ can learn the truth about causation?

    I am glad there are people who can break these studies down, and are willing to share their understanding – thank you!!

    And thank Mark for pointing out Denise’s work

    Paul wrote on February 18th, 2011
  6. please forgive the complete off-topic – but this is **very** important information!

    THIS NEWS IS JUST BREAKING – an open letter to the USDA has been just made public by COL (Ret.) Don M. Huber, Emeritus Professor, Purdue University title: Glyphosate Roundup or Round Up Ready Crops May Cause Animal Miscarriages – and the revelation is shocking .THIS IS WHY RONNIE CUMMINS of the ORGANIC CONSUMERS ASSOCIATION IS 100% CORRECT IN HIS ABSOLUTIST STAND – Read the letter here:
    Ravi Wells
    Discoveries for a Full Life

    DaiaRavi wrote on February 18th, 2011
  7. please forgive the complete off-topic – but this is **very** important information!

    THIS NEWS IS JUST BREAKING – an open letter to the USDA has been just made public by COL (Ret.) Don M. Huber, Emeritus Professor, Purdue University title: Glyphosate Roundup or Round Up Ready Crops May Cause Animal Miscarriages – and the revelation is shocking .THIS IS WHY RONNIE CUMMINS of the ORGANIC CONSUMERS ASSOCIATION IS 100% CORRECT IN HIS ABSOLUTIST STAND – Read the letter here:
    Ravi Wells
    Discoveries for a Full Life

    DaiaRavi wrote on February 18th, 2011
  8. Nice to know about your post its very useful for healthy.
    Thank you for post…

    exercise to lose wrote on February 18th, 2011
  9. I like her blog. At least I did when I had a bout with eating raw animal products.

    It’s strange Mark asks her to write for MDA, her diet is nothing like PB.

    But her posts on the China Study were great!

    NSWM wrote on February 19th, 2011
    • She’s not writing this article because her dietary philosophy is the same as Marks. It’s her skills at interpreting data that got her this gig.

      Sue wrote on February 19th, 2011
  10. So basically the study was saying a pack of Marlboro Ultra Lights a day won’t kill you as quickly as a pack of Marrlboros a day.


    Tim Morales wrote on February 19th, 2011
  11. “We need to find Denise a source of funding so she can do this full time.”

    Has/can Denise put a PayPal link on her blog — I’d be DELIGHTED to send her some grad student cash to keep her going!! I was laughing delightedly all the way through her essay above, and making up a list in my head of people to send the link to! Thank you Denise for your superb work — and your charming and clear writing — and thank you Mark for posting it in your Apple!

    Elenor wrote on February 19th, 2011
  12. I have no idea what I just read:(

    Sally Moore wrote on February 19th, 2011
  13. I am more than eager to jump in and be primal all day everyday but some of this analysis gives me pause. I am concerned as Denise, no offense, has no recognized credentials in this field of study other than seeking a graduate degree. If I am not mistaken, she has an undergrad in English which likely makes her an effective writer but not qualified to dissect scientific studies. Additionally, I have not seen any reference to the source of her data used to adjust the study’s findings. Please don’t get me wrong, I think the study is wrought with issues but, I can’t say I think Denise’s authority should be blindly accepted either. Diet is an important part of all or our life long health and I think some skepticism on all fronts might be warranted here.

    Curious wrote on February 19th, 2011
    • I beg to differ – this is not a blind acceptance. Denise is actually probably more qualified than someone with letters after their names because she’s been doing this very thing, and recently (instead of people who learned it twenty years ago and forgot). Can you defend the current study?

      It’s this dependence on people who are supposedly “qualified” that got us into the dietary mess we’re in now as a population in the last sixty years. You do not need letters after your name to know how to take apart bad science – far from it – and Denise has done a masterful job at saying “hey, those conclusion aren’t nearly as hard and fast as you thought they were.” You don’t need a degree to know how to do that.

      Griff wrote on February 19th, 2011
      • “Probably” more qualified? There is no such thing and the fact you cannot say for certain is exactly my point. Qualifications are a means to establish a basic level of authority on a matter. When you need to have oral surgery, you don’t go to a person that read about it a bunch and has pulled a couple of their own teeth out in practice, you go to a dentist. With credentials. Please don’t misunderstand, I have no problem with Denise, I am just concerned as her rebuttal seems lack sufficient references and data to be “scientific” as many are saying.

        Curious wrote on February 20th, 2011
    • Denise is pulling the study apart and has a real knack doing it. She doesn’t need credentials IMO.

      Sue wrote on February 19th, 2011
    • About “the source of her data used to adjust the study’s findings”…

      To be perfectly clear, the adjustments were made by the study’s authors, not by Denise. It’s their data, not hers.

      Alchymist wrote on February 20th, 2011
    • No offense taken — I’m well acquainted with that criticism. 😉

      I sincerely hope no one blindly trusts what I say — just as I hope no one blindly trusts what the team of PhD’s at the USDA says, or what the PCRM’s panel of vegan medical doctors say, or what T. Colin Campbell (with his decades of research experience and acclaim) says. My goal with blogging and dissecting studies like these is simply to inspire critical thinking — to show that even the credentialed authorities are not infallible, that a PhD isn’t protection against bias, and that we often need to go to the source of the data ourselves to figure out what it really says.

      It’s true that I’m self-taught in nutrition research (although I was a science major prior to switching to English), and I know that’s enough to make some people skeptical of what I say. But there’s also danger in dismissing information based on that alone. Hopefully no one boycotts Microsoft products just because Bill Gates was a college dropout, for instance.

      For the record, I didn’t adjust any of the study’s findings. The graphs and numbers in this blog post are from the researchers’ own analyses, not mine. Everything was pulled from the full text of their paper, linked at the beginning of this blog post (

      Denise Minger wrote on February 20th, 2011
      • I really do appreciate your honesty and openness. I apologize for the references to “adjusting” the study as I glossed right over the reference to the original study. That was my mistake. Sorry about that.
        Ultimately, my comments stem from a basic risk averse personality and want there to be a person with unquestionable credentials and experience to make it easy for me to follow what sounds so right and appealing to me. Maybe I wish you had a wall full of degrees and published research as I do sincerely like what you have to say and what you are doing. I don’t hold those with credentials in such high esteem as to consider them infallible. By their very nature, most PhDs are biased. But, their methods are supposed to be held to a certain standard based on that designation and that basic expectation of reliability which I agree with you, has been a little less than upheld by these researchers and media reports.

        Curious wrote on February 21st, 2011
        • Hi Curious,

          I agree with you and have the same reservations about this post and Denise’s earlier post. I would also like to emphasize that I don’t have any problem with Denise or her efforts to keep scientists (or at least their reports) honest. However, I also read these articles with a pinch of salt because of course Denise herself isn’t unbiased in her approach and this is blatantly clear in the article, but conveniently ignored by most readers (or at least by most commenters). Again, don’t get me wrong, I’m on this webiste and supporting this approach to food and lifestyle because I disagree with the current status quo, so I’m on the same side. And I admire Denise’s interest, initiative and keen eye for detail in looking at these studies, but do find that there is a very unscientific taste to this. And the only reason that matters at all is because the article itself is criticising something else for being unscientific!

          Credentialed authoroties are not unbiased, that’s true. But the reasons for this are various and complex (as mentioned by several others) including difficulties getting funding. These articles paint scientists as either malicious demons at worst, or as lying fools at best, who always have an ulterior motive and don’t necessarily want the best for the lay person. This may not be deliberate on Denise’s part, but that is the end result. I’d just like to point out that the reasons behind scientists doing this are many many. And remember that most scientists’ salaries are measely. We are generally not that rich or profiting much from our work (unlike say agri business executives).

          And finally there really is some meaning in listening to someone with credentials. Yes, the vast majority of scientists tend to tow the party line and they shoudn’t be, but even in this area of paleo style living there are fine examples of how it should be done. The best amongst the recent ones I think is Stephan’s (wholehealthscource blog) blinded wheat challenge self experiment in January. He is scientifically trained and it shows in both his method and results interpretation in every post. This is also true at PaNu blog with Dr Harris. Though not totally unbiased, their approaches are much more objective.

          MR wrote on February 22nd, 2011
        • If it makes you feel any better, there’s a university-level statistician elsewhere in the comments that thought this was a good analysis.

          Jenny wrote on February 22nd, 2011
  14. Wonderful post, only it is too unfortunate that you’re preaching to the quire, the people who (I think for the most part) are sold to the point that some rinky dink study isn’t going to sway us even if we couldn’t make sense of it (which you did a wonderful job of clearing up).

    What I wish is that we could somehow get this out to the public, that article should be followed by this one in the newspaper. Alas, I guess I’m prattling on uselessly though, the powers at large are what make spreading a movement such as the true proper human diet and lifestyle difficult.

    Jeff wrote on February 19th, 2011
  15. Oh my gosh – our family loves whole grains and we have really worked hard to eat a mostly whole foods diet. What a great post – the graphs and the stats speak for themselves on why it is so important. I am thankful my kids love whole grains and that is all they know and love. Our favorite is Kamut Wheat since it is packed with nutritional benefits and tastes so yummy too – plus we love quinoa and wild rice as well! So many good ones :)

    smilinggreenmom wrote on February 20th, 2011
    • Wow. The point apparently went right over your head, “smilinggreenmom”. Here’s the point: GRAINS ARE NOT GOOD FOR YOU, PERIOD. Don’t eat them. Ditch them. You are setting yourself and your kids up for all kinds of health problems later in life.

      Griff wrote on February 20th, 2011
      • oh please

        Marcia wrote on February 20th, 2011
      • No, the point (here) wasn’t that whole grains are bad, it was that the study fails to show that they are good.

        Note that Denise suggests that No, the point (here) wasn’t that whole grains may be good *relative* to refined grains.

        (She has spoken strongly in favor of ditchin wheat, in particular.)

        Alchymist wrote on February 20th, 2011
      • You know, not everyone thrives on a grain free diet! I went grain free over two years ago (for a short time because of affects) and have been having problems that I NEVER had before! Even going back to my normal gluten free diet, the problems that started when I went grain free are STILL there! I get SO tired of people acting like grain free is THE ONLY WAY!!! I have tried numerous times to cut grains out and my problem gets worse EVERY time~just sayin’! And no, I’m not sharing my personal health struggles, I just know grain free is NOT for me!

        Kimberly wrote on February 21st, 2011
  16. I know what you mean! The other day for a post on my blog, I decided to compare whole grains to a vegetable (I chose broccoli.) I looked at the website of the whole grain bread company, and what they were touting as the NUTRITIOUS parts of the bread. But when you compared it to an equal amount of broccoli, the bread got blown out of the water. It just doesn’t make sense to replace our veggies with less nutritious food. :) Thanks for the leg-work on this one. Even doing that small bit of research had me exhausted! Haha


    Matthew Myers wrote on February 20th, 2011
  17. Very interesting post and all the comments! I’m curious whether any good studies exist looking at traditionally prepared grains (ala Sally Fallon at Weston Price Foundation) where grain is sprouted and/or fermented prior to consumption.

    Irene wrote on February 21st, 2011
  18. Yet another example of things going a little overboard around here… The whole “people who eat whole grains in general lead healthier lifestyles” is fair enough, but even if that diminishes the effects, it is still an effect, however small.

    Also, “For those of us living gleefully grain-free, this study is a real head scratcher. At the very least, it’d seem like the fiber in vegetables – coupled with all their other protective substances – should be decent competition for whole grains, but clearly that isn’t the case. What’s going on here?” is about as close as you can get to the definition of a confirmation bias.

    I just really think going after bigger issues, like processed foods and sugars are battles much more worth fighting than a war on relatively healthy foods like brown rice and other fibrous, gluten-free grains.

    steve wrote on February 21st, 2011
  19. Hi Denise!
    This is my first time here and I’m enthralled. I’ve never been diagnosed as allergic, but I stay as far away from wheat and its relatives as I can because I am very sensitive. Just the other day I had some farro and felt sick for a few days; headaches, bloating, irritability. It’s really fascinating.
    I do have one question for you though: What do you think of “grains” like quinoa, millet and amaranth? Quinoa is a seed, not a grain, but is still a great source of B vitamins and protein. Do the other two, millet and amaranth, fall under the “whole grains” category? Does the article specify grains containing gluten and those that do not?

    Sarah wrote on March 5th, 2011
  20. Fantastic analysis!!! I invariably go through the same sort of thought process when reading the latest mass-media health announcement, but never in so much detail. I really enjoyed this, and will be coming back regularly – keep up the great work!

    Can I send in links to new health announcements for equally in-depth analysis? Please?

    Siobhan Landis wrote on March 7th, 2011
  21. I’m just passing through, while doing a search on organic pesticides. I’m honestly surprised by all the intensity surrounding whole grains. Can someone explain why there’s so much “negativity” towards whole grains? If they don’t work for you, don’t eat them… certainly, if you have celiac disease, don’t eat gluten-rich foods. But that doesn’t mean that the majority of those who eat whole grains are suffering or getting ill. My family and I eat a very balanced diet that includes whole grains, lots of fruits/vegetables, fish & chicken. We rarely get sick– our family of four can go all year without even a cold, no missed days of school or work, etc. We fit the profile of those who eat this type of diet– healthy lifestyle, non-smokers, barely drinkers, and loads of education (both husband and i have Ph.D.s).

    I’m asking earnestly– I’m genuinely curious to know why so much energy goes into proving that whole grains are “bad”?

    Leanne wrote on March 20th, 2011
  22. I like the part of your article that’s a pladoyer for taking a closer look and not taking an observational study as final evidence.

    I’m not at all sure that any of this means that grains should be put off the table in general. Seems like a very fast thought from looking at tables from singles studies and studies looking at parameters rather than clinical endpoints.

    mh wrote on April 20th, 2011
  23. Mark,

    really it’s not about whole grain so much as rather which grain, like wheat opposed to Barley or Oats for example.

    Barley is not only high in soluble fiber and low in calories, but additionally it’s extremely alkalizing …

    Great stuff!

    Have a Good One !;-)


  24. Yes grains are bad and bacon is good for you. Do you guys even pay attention to yourselves?

    martinella wrote on June 29th, 2011
  25. I am trying this new way of I have been on it for 2 weks. Low Carb way of life I am a 48 year Hispanic from San Antonio TX I need to lose over 100 LBS I weigh. I am looking for any help that come my way as far as advise and how to stick to it. I have quiet diet sodas bread tortillas corn and flour and sweets I have been doing prety good so far I have lost 8lbs in 2 weeks. I think I am going through the carb flu cause my stomach fells weird and i feel like I am comming down with something

    ernest wrote on July 17th, 2011
    • Don’t be afraid to add plenty of fruit. Don’t starve. If you try and cut calories at the same time of cutting carbs it will be twice as hard to stick with this.
      Eat as much fruit as you want when you first start out. Also making your own little baked goods out of coconut flour helps, too. Your brain wants the BAD carbs really, really badly! You’ll have headaches, pissy mood and a constant strong craving. Give in to it, give your brain what it wants but not with the wrong kind of foods.
      Some people find that a little bit of RAW milk helps them over the hill.

      You can do this. If you fall off the wagon 1 day, just get back on the very next day. Don’t feel like you’ve failed, we all cheat on our primal diet once in awhile.

      Oh and welcome to the Primal Community :-)

      Primal Palate wrote on July 20th, 2011

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