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*Figures derived from my personal research; not yet peer-reviewed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

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154 thoughts on “Will Eating Whole Grains Help You Live Longer?”

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  1. Great post! I’m 100% sure I’ve got Celiac, plus wheat is on the list of foods related to a latex allergy I have. Even if I didn’t have those reasons to avoid wheat/grains – whole or otherwise, I would think twice. I’ve shared this with those I care about. I’m printing it out for my weight-loss group, too.

    1. Just found out yesterday that a very small amount of gluten can affect the body for up to six months in people that are sensitive. uhg.

      1. Do you remember where you read that, Karen? I am not officially diagnosed but am certainly ‘gluten-sensitive’ and would be interested to read more about how long it affects your body. I’ve kicked wheat (and grains) out of my daily diet but occasionally indulge in small amounts.

  2. Thanks for the breakdown! When did science artifically inseminate the PR department? Their spawn are so frustrating!

    The fact remains that, even if whole grains offer health benefits, those benefits are irrelevant for celiacs, the allergic, the wheat intolerant, diabetics, and all the other people I’ve read about on MDA, who quit grains and helped their arthritis, back pain, migraines, etc, etc.

  3. Very interesting!Its nice that Denise has the time (and the know how) to pull apart these studies. This post just gives me yet another reason to shun grains so I can eat more delicious bacon, salads, eggs, and other primal foods.

  4. Whole Grains — The lesser of two evils. Love that! That, to me, perfectly, succinctly sums up the thought that whole grains are healthy, when they’re probably just being substituted for something worse, but aren’t really.

  5. I don’t understand your paragraph about grains and infectious diseases.

    Your graphs of risk reduction (men and women) for infectious diseases show roughly the same risk reduction numbers (55 for men, 60 for women) for each of the two groups (low fiber and high fiber with grains).

    This looks like it is showing a 55-60 risk reduction regardless of what you are eating. (low or high fiber). Unless I’m missing something, none of that makes sense at all. You can eat whatever you want and achieve a reduced risk factor vs the “common man” for infectious diseases.

    Please explain.

    1. Sorry for the confusion! The last two graphs aren’t comparisons between low fiber and high fiber groups — they both show risk reduction for the people with the highest grain fiber intake, before and after adjusting for confounders. The association with grain fiber and infectious diseases didn’t budge even when the researchers accounted for smoking, drinking, exercise, etc., even though it changed for all the other mortality variables.

      1. And just to further clarify, all the reduced-risk numbers are calibrated against people with the lowest fiber consumption in the sudy, not necessarily the “common man.” So 22% lower risk of all-cause mortality, for example, means that the folks with the highest grain fiber intake had 22% lower mortality than the folks with the lowest grain fiber intake.

        1. Cool, thanks for the clarification. I’m not familiar with the medical publishing world, but it would probably be helpful to label the y axis as well as use different colors for graph 1 vs 2 and 3. Blue and red were previously used for low and high fiber groups.



  6. Denise, want to come write my school papers for me? I can never dissect scientific papers with this kind of thoroughness!

  7. But I’m confused about one thing… she says:

    “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”

    Well, aren’t these two groups probably made up of mostly the same people? If someone eats more whole grains, they probably eat less refined grains, right? And it is likely that the only people who are not in both groups are eating high amounts of BOTH whole and refined grains (assuming they’re not primal), which means they’re eating WAY too many carbs. And what happens when you eat an excess of carbs? You get high Triglycerides, low HDL, etc. What do you guys think?

    1. My wording was a little screwy… What I meant to say was that if a subject was in the high whole grain group, but not in the low refined grain group, then they’re just eating a lot of everything, which explains the adverse health effects.

    2. That’s a great observation — and you’re right, there are definitely some of the same folks in both groups, since whole grains refined grains tend to displace each other proportionately. The differences in the the percent of folks with high triglycerides, low HDL, etc. between the groups show that there must have been some newcomers in each group, too — enough to sway the blood markers.

      Although it’s possible that some members of the high-whole-grain group were eating the most refined grains too (there isn’t enough data to know for sure), that isn’t the norm in epidemiological studies like this one. The researchers actually divided everyone into quartiles based on grain intake, so there were four groups with very low, low, moderately high, and very high intake of whole grains, and the same for refined grains. As a result, people who weren’t in the “lowest intake” group weren’t necessarily lumped into the “highest intake” group, and vice versa — they may have fallen into the middle groups. (Hope that made sense!)

      The important point is that it seems refined grain intake is just as important, if not more so, in influencing disease risk than whole grain intake. Adding more whole grains (supposedly so wonderful and health-boosting) can’t counteract the damage from refined grains, and probably isn’t the real source of better health outcomes in epidemiological studies, even though the researchers always interpret it that way.

      While I was writing this, I also came across an interesting study comparing the effects of whole-grain sourdough bread vs. white bread, in equivalent amounts. Lo and behold, the whole-grain bread actually *raised* triglycerides, LDL, and apo-B while worsening other cholesterol ratios compared to eating white bread! Full text here:


      In the other study, I wouldn’t rule out that whole grains themselves could worsen the health outcomes for some people, regardless of the added burden of refined grains.

      1. I wonder if it was traditionally fermented sourdough. If it was industrial sourdough, they basically added lemon juice to regular bread dough and did the usual rising and baking. That’s not gonna do diddly to the antinutrients in the grain. Whereas with white bread, a lot of what contained the antinutrients has been stripped away. It’s not the starch (endosperm) that contains all the phytic acid and so on.

        1. The study says the sourdough bread was “commercially available” and didn’t mention anything about it being traditionally fermented, so my guess is it’s industrial.

      2. Denise,
        Are the data for this study publicly available? How did you do these analyses? Can you provide a link to this dataset?

        1. Hi Ashley, the study is accessible from the Archives of Internal Medicine (https://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/archinternmed.2011.18). I wasn’t able to find it posted for free anywhere, and right now it’s $30 to purchase — but once it gets indexed by PubMed (hopefully within a few weeks), it might be available through public library systems.

          I did the analyses by simply looking at the numbers the researchers presented in their paper — particularly how the risk ratios changed after they adjusted for the confounders they documented. Nothin’ fancy involved — I didn’t re-crunch any of their numbers, just described their findings without the “whole grains must be healthy” bias.

  8. Whole grains are high in phytic acid which does get into the blood stream. Phytic acid has the uncanny ability to chelate Iron (as well as ALL other minerals in your body) and this MIGHT offer an antibiotic effect in terms of fending off infectious diseases. Still, I don’t touch the stuff even if I’m starving.

  9. Yeah – I think anybody adhering to this website and lifestyle, need little convincing that grains are far from a ‘health’ food.

    Now – how about tackling a real problem out there:

    I train athletes for a living (great job) and one thing I keep hearing from these collegiate athletes that come back to me in the summers: “We are told to drink CHOCOLATE MILK after training, because it helps us to recover.”

    YIKES…..are you kidding me!!!! Kind of like the “carb loading myth’. Awful advice for these young athletes!!

    1. Actually, that’s not really a myth, although it is awful advice. Fructose replenishes glycogen stores in the liver faster than any other carb source. (See “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” a great video lecture from Dr. Lustig of UCSF.)

      Yet another reason why being an elite athlete does not necessarily mean perfect health.

      1. Mostly good for replenishing fat storage per the insulin response. Glycogen is usually depleted after 12 seconds of maximum effort – thus replenishing glycogen has little bearing on most sporting activities, except maybe 100 meter sprinters.

        I trained an elite level female soccer player that weighed 160 lbs, after following the ‘chocolate Milk’
        advice of her ‘strength coach. And believe me, she was FAT. After getting her off the poison for 3 months – she was down to a ripped 135.

        But you are right – being an elite athlete, does not always equate to ‘healthy’.

        1. wtfruit are you spouting off about here?

          Total calorie intake is what matters here.

        2. Rhys, you’re wrong. It’s not about calories at all. It’s about what kind of calories you’re taking in. I take it you haven’t looked at the Primal Blueprint 101 posts; I suggest you start there.

  10. As a University Statistics teacher, I will be sharing your analysis with my class.

    This is exactly the way I want my students to approach studies when they are released.

    Thank you.

  11. If confounders related to healthy lifestyles inflated the association with whole grains, why was there no similar effect on the association with fruit and vegetables? Healthy people eat more fruit and vegetables as well as whole grains.

    This lack of effect makes it unlikely that the “healthy lifestyle” confounder effect and explain the results of this study.

    1. Good question, this should also be addressed by the author (of the MDA article).

    2. I think the idea is that most people don’t actively avoid grain sources of fiber.

      So under CW, anybody whose primary fiber source is fruit and vegetables is generally going to be somebody who isn’t focused on getting fiber — and therefore isn’t super health conscious.

      I also doubt the people in that group got nearly as much fiber/fruit/veg in a day as anybody who hangs out around here does. They just fell into that group because they weren’t bothering to eat tons of grains, essentially.

      1. Some studies have examined the association between “attention to a healthy diet” and people’s intake of fruits and vegetables or their intake of fiber.

        For example “Healthy dietary habits in relation to social determinants and lifestyle factors.” Br J Nutr. 1999 Mar;81(3):211-20.

        This saw a about the same association for both variables, with people who paid close attention to a healthy diet eating more fiber and also more fruits and vegetables.

    3. This baffled me as well, and is the main reason the study seems so strange.

      My impression is that the changes in mortality risk were due mainly to the absence or presence of refined grains and had little (if anything) to do with fiber itself. From the full text, whole grains were initially correlated with fruit and vegetable intake, but the researchers adjusted for that in their statistical models — thus isolating the effects of grain fiber (an indirect marker for the absence/presence of refined grains) when fruit and veggie intake was held constant. As a result, the mortality risk ratios show the changes occurring based on refined vs. whole grain intake independent of fruit and vegetable consumption.

      Even though whole grains appear protective based on how the researchers analyzed their data, it would probably be easy to rank folks based on refined grain intake rather than grain fiber intake and show that more refined grain increased the risk of death — perhaps even more convincingly than grain fiber reduced it.

      The relationship between mortality variables and fruits or vegetables was probably neutral because fruits and veggies don’t have the same “whole vs. refined” dichotomy as grains do. For example, you’ve probably never had to choose between eating a whole spinach leaf and a “refined” one before (baby food notwithstanding). And while people tend to swap refined grains for whole ones, not everyone who eats more whole fruit cuts back on “refined fruit” (ie, juice), for instance. So out of all the fiber-containing foods, grains had the strongest potential to create a spectrum from truly hazardous (refined grains) to less hazardous/closer to neutral (whole grains).

      1. Denise,

        I don’t want to be toooo damn cynical here – but do you ever get the idea that these studies happen 1) because there are funds laying around (or easily obtained via some grant or something and even NEED to be spent)
        2) almost arbitrarily designed so as to simply gather some kind of organized data pool so they can 3) find SOME kind of result that could create a politically-correct headline so the researchers/school/institute can 4) proudly point at yet another hugely publicized study thereby attracting yet more grant money?

        jus’ speculating…

        1. Indeed, the need for researchers to come up with results that support prevailing assumptions in order to provide access to future grants is a major biasing factor at all levels, from study design to drawing conclusions. It is also true that a disproportionate number of studies that support the prevailing assumptions are published. If your study challenges them, it will likely not be published, and it will hurt your chances of getting future research money.

          I think the biggest scandal of all is that so many papers report results that is unsupported by the data, and their claims are never examined by peer review or credulous media, because they are hearing what they want to hear.

          We need to find Denise a source of funding so she can do this full time.

      2. This was my initial thought as well, however some similar epidemiological articles (Jacobs, et al 1998; Liu, et al 1999) found that the whole grain effect on coronary artery disease was independent of refined grain consumption. As you mentioned though, it’s impossible to adjust for every confounder out there, so who knows what’s really going on.

  12. Mark, I teach HS Biology, and I’m considering about using some of what you mention in this post when I teach principles of the scientific method. Very nice indeed!

    1. I’m thinking along similar lines. I teach math and this would be great for a mathematical literacy course.

      1. It’d also be great for any class that deals with statistical and research methodology. I’m a sociologist, and I try to sneak in the PB information whenever I talk about methods, biases, and spurious correlations.

  13. Fab job! And how ridiculous to compare wholegrain eaters with refined grain eaters and say the study shows benefits from eating wholegrains. Eating wholegrains instead of refined grains, yes it does, but that’s all. A real study into wholegrains would have to also compare those eating no grains at all, obviously 😉

    1. And I can just see the scientific community clutching their pearls, that anyone got published who claimed there are a significant enough amout of people who don’t eat grain for an extended period of time! Enough to form the control group of a credible study on the evils of whole grains???!

  14. Awesome analysis. Almost all the studies, not just in health, but in economics, and everywhere the results are skewed to what the authors want to show us.

  15. ***”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.”***

    Poor people are less likely to have insurance and go to the doctor when sick. A simple upper respiratory or bronchial infection, that could have been treated at onset, can quickly turn into pneumonia which can kill you.

    And another thing, correlation is not causation. The people eating less fiber, were therefore consuming more digestible carbohydrates in the form of refined flour. We know that refined flour and sugar cause inflammation.

    Holy confounding variables batman!

  16. Jackalopes are the reason I went primal. I need to run fast to escape their wrath.

    Thanks for skewering another “study”.

    1. the above comment is why this website needs a “like” button…. 🙂

  17. I’m curious about the health effects of “ancient” grains like quinoa, amaranth, spelt, etc. I suspect that those would be a little better for you than whole grains and definitely better for you than refined grains. But is a no-grain diet definitely better than one that includes ancient grains? (Forgive me is this question has been answered before. I’m new to being primal and to MDA.)

    1. Quinoa is a seed, not a grain, so it doesn’t have the harmful effects of grains, but has too much carbs, so be wary. On the other hand, spelt, etc. are just other forms of whole grains with all the same problems. Grain-free is best.

      1. Any seed is going to have a certain level of antinutrients in it because it’s a seed and doesn’t “want” to be eaten. But some seeds are worse than others. You can actually get more of an insulin/blood sugar response to wheat than you would to the same quantity of, say, potatoes.

        1. I’m not so anti-potatoes anymore as long as grain is removed from the diet.

      2. what about flour made from chia?

        AFAIK, no gluten, but is it healthy as opposed to just not bad (like whole grains)?

  18. Journalists report? If you read a handful of the biggest news sources each day you will see that most of the stories are nothing more than regurgitated press releases. Stories are pulled from the wire that is populated with PR, and propogated like little rabbits. There is no reporting or analysis – another myth to be aware of as you Primalize your life.

  19. do ya think the USDA would hire Denise as a consultant? (And, when exactly will hell freeze over?)

    THANKS AGAIN Denise – and Thanks to Mark for giving Denise a huge and much-deserved audience!

    1. They wouldn’t hire her. She recently wrote a critique of the research they are claiming support current nutritional recommendation showing it is basically crap.

  20. This is so timely. Just heard about this study on the evening news a couple days ago and I was wondering…

  21. because whole grains have a higher percent of fiber, they have a lower percent of digestible carbohydrate. Therefore, eating more whole grain means eating less digestible carbohydrate. Thus, this study simply confirms that eating less digestible carbohydrate reduces your risk of disease. Vegetables have negligible carbohydrate so their contribution to most peoples total fiber and starch intake is so small that it won’t affect risk one way or the other when their signal is drowned out by grain carbohydrates.

    1. Since grains supply more total carbohydrate than vegetables, shifting from refined to whole grains reduces your dietary intake of carbohydrate more effectively than increasing vegetables. Thus, fiber from grains gets associated with lower mortality because it most effectively reduces total carb intake in the context of a grain-based diet.

  22. So I guess another week with no success story? My favorite part of the website.

    1. This was a great bit of information to share with my make-your-own-bread friends, and I’m very impressed with Denise’s ability to break it down. But I’m with “hdizzle”, no more skipping the success stories! I love them. 🙂

  23. I really appreciate this. I get so tired of my friends saying about my diet: “Well, but whole grains are good for you.” I’m so tired of trying to explain it, even to those who are genuinely curious. My feeling is exactly what Denise says here, that whole grains are only “better” for you if you’re eating lots of refined grains. But once our body breaks them down, there’s just not much difference. Except maybe bigger BMs…
    Thanks Denise! I’m also just so tired of the media not knowing how to interpret research properly. Especially when it comes to dietary research. How can anyone possibly tease out one confounding variable from real conclusions?

    1. Tom Naughton on his Fathead-Movie blog has a great analogy that I’ve used with a little success: people who smoke filtered cigarettes may have a lower rate of cancer than people who smoke unfiltered, but that doesn’t mean filtered cigarettes PREVENT cancer.

      It’s fun to watch the other person get really quiet as they contemplate that one.

      1. This is a pretty damned-good way to think about it. I CANNOT wait for people to really dig in and use a control group on these studies that completely removes the items in question from the diet. People get stuck in a “everything in moderation” zone and fear completely cutting something out of a diet.

        1. Don’t hold your breath. That’s not even something they’re considering doing, because they figure they already know the answers to those questions.

          Besides, definitive studies where they control people’s diets are very expensive to run and hard to get compliance of the subjects. The only way to get grain-eaters to give up grains would be to provide them with all the food they would be eating, and it would be hard to keep them on the diet very long even if they paid them a lot of money.

      2. Ooh, somehow I missed that. I’m going to use it from now on. Thanks for the pointer!

  24. Why not include the adjusted low fiber results in the chart for comparison? Seems to me they would also be adjusted downward, no?

    1. All of the low fiber results — both before and after adjusting for confounding — were calibrated at a risk ratio of 1 (neutral), so graphing them would just show a bunch of bars with the exact same length. 🙂

      1. Denise can you suggest a book or other reference to learn about pulling apart data as you do.

  25. I’m glad we got people like Denise who have the skills and patience to go tear apart studies like that.

    It sure would be interesting to see a study comparing whole grains vs no grains, although I would also like to see a study comparing wheat vs. no wheat since a lot of people seem to think that wheat is the truly evil grain.

    Anyways, in most of those dietary studies, the confounding factors seem to be so many that it’s hard to draw any definitive conclusion from them.

  26. Amazing….I still can’t get over the Conventional Wisdom crap out there! I actually tried to tell someone what we absolutely did NOT need to eat grains, and they got made at me. I wonder what they think when they see that I am still walking, talking and very much alive in my grain free world! 🙂

    1. The fact is that most people have an emotional investment in their diet that makes it hard for them to view other diets without feeling challenged. Even people who have been medically diagnosed with celiac, for whom gluten grains are known to be toxic, are constantly pressured by their loved ones to eat wheat.

      The response often heard boils down to “you’re just doing this to annoy me.”

      The level of scientific illiteracy out there is unbelievable. Ignoring that that people around the world seem to do perfectly well on many different diets, most people are convinced that their own continued survival is sufficient proof that their diet is right and all others are wrong.

    2. That’s pretty much true of everyone out there. Vegans are adamant that you don’t need meat or animal products. Primals are adamant that you don’t need grains or beans.

      Truth is, people are different. For some people vegan diets work (though I’ve known people to get very sick on them). For some people, grains and dairy are a pathway to disease and illness. Others are fine eating them.

  27. The correct answer to this post is that:

    Being one of the whole-grain eaters in this study makes you live longer.

  28. I wonder why they haven’t done a study on “healthy whole grains” and osteoporosis or dental health or leaky gut, etc.

    1. Wikipedia:

      “Currently, a considerable amount of research is being conducted into treatment of these conditions. According to a report from Frost & Sullivan, the total payouts by an alliance of leading pharmaceutical companies for drug discovery contract research in the autoimmune/inflammation segment from 1997 to 2002 totaled $489.8 million, where Eli Lilly, Suntory, Procter & Gamble, Encysive, and Novartis together account for 98.6 percent of payouts by that alliance.”

      Hey look! They’re trying to develop drugs. Doesn’t THAT count?

  29. Ed and labbygail,

    My 13yo daughter is a pre-olympic swimmer and they are really pushing the lowfat chocolate milk as the BEST post-workout recovery drink. Can you direct me to info I can take to the coaches to refute this trendy conventional wisdom? And recommend something better?

    1. Can you just refuse to drink the milk. I wonder if a protein shake would be better or nothing at all. Or do stuffed at that level need a post-workout drink?

      1. Stuffed – athletes at that level
        Sorry writing on my iPad and don’t know why stuffed came up.

  30. My Rule Number One:

    If I can’t eat it raw, it’s worse refined.

    The foods I eat can be eaten raw, if one so desires: beef, eggs, vegetables, fish. (Yeah, yeah, I know, raw meat and raw fish can have serious pathogens or parasites but if “clean,” they can be eaten raw.) Bacon is refined of course, but when cooked it still fits my menu.

    1. The human digestive system is not evolved to digest cellulose. Cooking makes fibrous vegetables more digestible, so for some vegetables their nutrition is more available when cooked.

  31. Excellent job Denise!! Can’t wait until your first book comes out. I love your humor mixed in with the factual.

  32. Awesome deconstruction, thanks!! I’m new to Primal eating, and soaking up all the info I can get. Whenever new science comes out that doesn’t include socioeconomic and cultural data, the doubts creep in right away.

  33. Once again, an impressive ferreting out of the evil co-founders. Brilliant.

    Ever consider writing a book on critical thinking, Denise?

  34. 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

    1. 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.

    2. golden brown – ie – toasted like a slice of whole wheat wonder bread –

      no read the post and stop grains.

  35. 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?

  36. 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?

  37. 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

      1. 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.

    1. 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 JackNorrisRD.com and DrMcDougall.com 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).

      1. 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).

        1. 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.

        2. 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.

        3. brendan brazier’s “thrive”. he’s an ironman athlete who is vegan. he does not touch gluten, corn or soy, though.

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

  38. 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

  39. 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

  40. 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

  41. 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!

    1. 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.

  42. 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.


  43. “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!

  44. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. “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.

    2. Denise is pulling the study apart and has a real knack doing it. She doesn’t need credentials IMO.

    3. 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.

    4. 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 (https://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/archinternmed.2011.18).

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

        2. If it makes you feel any better, there’s a university-level statistician elsewhere in the comments that thought this was a good analysis.

  45. 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.

  46. 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 🙂

    1. 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.

      1. 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.)

      2. 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!

  47. 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


  48. 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.

  49. 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.

  50. 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?

  51. 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?

  52. 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”?

  53. 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.

  54. 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 !;-)


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

  56. 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

    1. 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 🙂

  57. Indigestible fiber is the #1 reason for colon cancer.
    Gluten is the #1 reason for celiacs disease and malnutrition.
    Grains are the #1 reason for rapid tooth decay, especially oats which are high in phytic acid.
    Grains are the reason for glandular dysfunction.
    Diet high in grains and low in fat results in gall stones. And the list goes on and on and on…
    (Fiber Menace by Konstantin Monastyrsky, Cure Tooth Decay by Ramiel Nagel)

  58. I followed the link to the table and I don’t really understand what I see – what are the quartile categories? I’d like to see for myself that low grain consumption is healthier than a moderate whole grains consumption but I don’t understand that table.

  59. This is generally a cogent analysis. I do think there is one very serious error, however (which doesn’t damn the rest of the analysis): when Denise mentions “the intriguing trend that surfaced in one of their tables”, she’s actually linking to the tables in a completely unrelated study, carried out by completely different researchers in a completely different population: not AARP members in the USA, but “a representative sample of residents of district 13 of Tehran”:


    … so that particular objection really can’t hold water, even as soluble fiber.

  60. Just thinking about eating habits of people I know who eat whole grains, my best guess would be Denise is right, that the whole grainers in this study were mostly substituting for refined grains, thus burying what is probably the most interesting aspect of this issue too deeply to tease out explicitly.

    This leaves us with only informed speculation or awkward inference across other studies.

    That said, my opinion is clearly with her, that the whole grain alternative really just trades one set of evils for a somewhat different set.

    In a perfect world, the ideal study I’d really want to see would be a comparison of 12 groups:

    1 higher-carb, predominately refined grains, higher sugar
    2 higher-carb, predominately refined grains, lower sugar
    3 higher-carb, predominately whole grains, higher sugar
    4 higher-carb, predominately whole grains, lower sugar
    5 higher-carb, low all grains (tubers instead), higher sugar
    6 higher-carb, low all grains (tubers instead), lower sugar
    plus 6 more, with similar carb mixes to the above, but lower total carbs.

    large, significant n’s in each group, good randomization of potential confounding factors across groups, and good measurement of these factors to enable plenty of adjusting and slicing and dicing, all correlated to plenty of disease outcomes and other reliable markers, all over a decent period of time.

    sadly, that ain’t gonna happen any time soon for any number of reasons. (hint: $$$)

    but what the heck, maybe Denise should email the USDA with a helpful suggestion 😉

  61. “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.)

    Hmm, I thought their business was selling grain this seems to go against their mission.

  62. Wow. This is really useful, Denise. Not that I understand a whole lot of it being a mere art historian/musician/actress type but I get enough of it to help support my in”grained” cynicism when it comes to “scientific studies”. And overuse of “quotation marks” of course.

    I know success stories are fascinating to read and helpful when you have those moments of “WTF am I doing here??” but honestly, the research and dissection of conventional wisdom proles is just as helpful for me. While I try to avoid engaging those of the whole grain/low fat/chronic cardio ilk because I suck at debate, I still have enough awareness to begin doubting my own decisions.

    Thanks to Mark and Denise.

  63. I just want to say that Denise’s analysis is dangerous.

    As a previous commentor mentioned, the study did was not set-up to ask the question of whole grains versus no grains.

    Therefore, one should not try to make sense of a study, in which it was not intended to answer.

    When Denise said that adding whole grains “probably” doesn’t help versus no grains – there is no scientific basis to make that claim out of the article and it is a baseless opinion.

  64. O got chronic diarrhea after cutting out gluten and introducing “healthy grains” such as buckwheat, quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, old fashion oats, steel cut oats. After maybe 3 weeks on a gluten free diet I felt horrible. Abdominal pain, stomach pain, gas, diarrhea and so on. I feel ok with gluten pasta (not wholewheat) or instant oats or white rice. What is my problem? Why I can’t digest whole/ healthy grains?

  65. What if getting enough carbs helps us to live healthier? Unfortunately, interpreting results isn’t that simple.

    When a person is satisfied, it should be easier to quit drinking and smoking, and eat healthier foods.

    High intensity exercises burn mostly carbs. If the muscles have enough glycogen, this is possible. Think of VO2 max intervals. Studies show that the higher it is, the younger our fitness age becomes. After those workouts, we’ll need more carbs.