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Great Grain Robbery

Milling whole wheat into white flour may cause as much as a 300-fold decrease in phytonutrient content.

September 6, 2010 |
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In 2007, whole grains were linked to a healthier body weight in people both young and old. Whole grains are the very staples of human civilization. The Aztec empire had amaranth, the Incas had quinoa, Asian empires were built on rice and buckwheat, African empires had millet and teff, and wheat, oats, rye and barley kept Europe going. You should be able to find any of these whole grains in bulk at your local natural food store. When whole wheat flour is milled into white flour, at least 25 nutrients are removed and five are chemically replaced to "enrich" it. It is the Great Grain Robbery! And that's just the vitamins and minerals. There is also 2 to 300 fold loss in phytonutrient content. So, if we have a choice, never again white bread, white pasta or white rice. Instead eat the grain, the whole grain and nothing but.

A healthy body weight is important but more important than the circumference of our waist is the circumference of our carotid arteries that supply the blood to our brain. Researchers at Wake Forest University followed a thousand people for five years and measured the amount of plaque in their carotid arteries. This is what our blood flow should look like. This is what our blood flow should not look like. Those eating whole grains had a slower progression of their atherosclerotic disease. These were all omnivores who ate meat so the plaque in their arteries continued to grow but those eating whole grains had slower growth, slower closing off of their arteries than those just eating refined grains. To use diet actually to stop the plaque from growing, to reverse the disease and actually start opening up our arteries, they'd have to have gone on a nearly completely plant-based diet and eliminate cholesterol and saturated animal fat.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

For some context, please check out my associated blog post:  Plant-Based Diets for Metabolic Syndrome

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/louisef/ LouiseF

    What idiots invented white rice!? Ugh

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      It actually resulted in millions of deaths from a vitamin deficiency called beri-beri, Louise. A very dark time in nutrition history. See this recent Medical History review and check out my other grain videos.

    • rocket77777

      Rice is great food when combined with bean,egg,fish, meat, vegetable etc.
      Bread need things like sugar, butter, mayonnaise etc.
      So I would say eliminating white bread and processed food is better.
      Of course there’s brown rice and whole wheat too.

      Rice allow high population and density. For example china, india, and japan.

      • DStack

        But refining rice had nothing to do with feeding more people, it just made a tastier food and a less healthy population!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/lisa21012/ Lisa21012

    When I read the food label, how do I know I’m getting whole grains when I buy bread? Do I need to buy Ezechial or the like that is a sprouted whole grain or is it ok to buy whole wheat flour? It’s all very confusing.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      That is a wonderful question Lisa. My favorite questions are always the most practical ones. All you have to do is make sure it actually has the word “whole” in the first ingredient. They’ll try to whip out all sorts of fancy words for white flour, like “semolina from durum wheat,” but don’t be fooled. The FDA actually regulates the term “whole” and they can’t use it (legally) unless it is actually a whole grain product. I’m so glad you asked! Now if you want to take it to the next level, then yes indeed Ezechiel and sprouted grains are even better.

      • Valnaples

        Trader Joe’s also sells a Sprouted 7-Grain bread in a pink wrapper, just to let anyone know…not quite as expensive at the Ezekiel’s but their sprouted bread is wonderful too!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/flaviosilveira/ flaviosilveira

    I use to put a variety of raw whole grains (oatmeal, wheat, flaxseed, quinoa, amaranth, barley) with soy milk, bananas and a spoon of cocoa powder in a mixer and make a delicious beverage. Is it ok to eat these grains raw? When I eat all of them at the same time, am I absorbing all the nutrients? Or would it be better to eat each one separately? Thank you!

    • rocket77777

      I know some wheat and rice starch are not digested when not cooked. Probably lots others are too. To me not digesting starch is a good thing, but not particularly sure if bacteria and excessive gas would result from this. Obviously, you are not getting gas so probably it is not issue.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/BoNovak/ Bo Novak

    Hi Flavio. Eating a variety of grains is great, and it’s good that you’re eating whole grains which include gluten-containing wheat (gluten is much maligned, yet absolutely fine for the vast majority of us to consume: see http://nutritionfacts.org/video/update-on-gluten/, as well as protein-rich quinoa and amaranth – which are actually pseudograins, as they are closer to seeds. It’s a good idea to soak quinoa as the seeds have a coating of saponin, which is a slightly soapy coating. And flaxseed is always better ground first as the hard shell is very tough to digest (more about flaxseed here: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/just-the-flax-maam. Otherwise, if you have a really high powered blender, the raw grains can be reasonably well broken down. But for maximum nutrition and digestability, it’s a good idea to soak or sprout grains and seeds beforehand. Soft oats only need a few hours. Harder wheat can do with overnight. Any longer than that and you’re into sprouting territory – which is also interesting territory to explore. If you have a mill or high speed blender, you can also take the raw grains and process them into a flour, which you can then add water to to make a smooth and nutritious porridge – a change of texture from smoothies. Top with cinnamon and fruit and enjoy.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/veguyan/ Veguyan

    Dr. Mercola warns against leaky gut.
    “There’s no human requirement for grains. That’s the problem with the USDA recommendations. They think we’re hardwired as a species to eat grains. You can get by just fine and meet every single nutrient requirement that humans have without eating grains. And grains are absolutely poor sources of vitamins and minerals compared to fruits and vegetables and meat and fish.”
    “Grains are the seeds of a plant. They’re its reproductive material, and plants don’t make their reproductive material to give away for free to other animals. If they did they’d become extinct, and so the evolutionary strategy that many plants, particularly cereal grains have taken to prevent predation is to evolve toxic compounds so that the predator of the seeds can’t eat them, so that they can put their seeds in the soil where they’re meant to be to grow a new plant and not in the gut of an animal to feed it.”

    • DStack

      Nuts and seeds are also the reproductive material of plants and they are both a staple of the ancient human diet (most likely) and a nutrient and calorie-dense food. So that bit of the argument goes out the window. A sprouted grain is basically a plant in its earliest stages of life and is quite nutrient-dense, so I don’t think Mercola really has that much of a point here, at least in my opinion. I agree that eating bread and cereal isn’t nearly as healthy as eating fruit and veg all day long, even if it is whole grains you’re eating, so that much is valid. Also, it’s clearly a bad idea to raise animals for any use, so we indeed shouldn’t be feeding them the grains either.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/dayquasar/ Dayquasar

    Hi, I currently eat a vegan/plant based diet and I’ve recently been looking into gluten, wheat, and grains, I found a lot of people think that they are bad for our stomachs and reak havoc to our insides and I’m stumped, I thought they were good and fight cancer etc. I’m trying not to stress so much about it but I am tired of the conflicting research, is wheat/grains bad for us? I just want to live the healthiest lifestyle available and I can’t find any answers. What is your take on wheat/grains are they good or bad?, I did also hear this about some beans as well.
    Thank you, Becky

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=37002740 Michiru Nagatsu

    I heard that unrefined rice (brown rice) has lots of oxalic acid? which prevents vitamin and mineral intake, making brown rice not better than white rice. Is there any evidence for this?

  • Valnaples

    My internist is BIG on the carotid scans and I had mine done last year…clean as a whistle!! He was very happy but not too surprised because of my blood work and he knows I grow (some) of my own food and love to cook (and eat raw too!)  I’m over 50 and I do include whole-grains in my diet…need to bump up my quinoa IQ though to be honest…nice video!

  • Ken

    What about oatflour? Good, or bad?

  • Tobias Brown

    It’s pretty cool how the Vitamix can be used to make flour in seconds — from whole grains. So, what are the downsides of using homemade flour? Is baking with these flours a wide open culenary frontier for us?

  • cpgraettinger

    What is a sprouted grain and why is it “better” (to use Dr. Greger’s term)?

  • sandra

    Dr. Greger-appreciate this wealth of info, passing along to my family/friends-THANKS! MUCH

  • rocket77777

    I am thinking millet is one of healthier food. By not cooking, starch and thyroid toxin will not be digested by the body.
    Baking soda is used for alkaline water.
    So how about making dried uncooked cracker from combining water/baking soda/millet? And perhaps adding uncooked milled beans too?
    Would that be ultimate staple? Could be tossed on top of green salad with olive oil and herbs.

  • Ry176

    What does Dr. Greger think of the book Wheat Belly by William Davis? Should we avoid wheat and even whole grain wheat? The book came out after these postings and this video.

  • Marina Grubic

    In the Ross Horne’s book “Improving the Pritikin you can do better”, Ross explains how Pritikins followers started suffering from hardened arteries from too much proteins from grains. How do you comment that?
    Thanks!

    • JacquieRN

      Hi Marina, did Horne cite research?

      • Marina Grubic

        Hi JacquieRN! Horne was an adherent follower of Pritikin but then he saw many people getting cancers and having their arteries going sclerotic from too much grains.

  • Marina Grubic

    Hi Dr. Greger! I would like to hear your opinion on the Ross Horne’s book “Improving on Pritikin -. You Can Do Better” in which he evidences how high grain diet caused sclerotic (hardened) arteries from too much proteins in grains. Ross Horne shows how Pritikin was right to reduce fat intake but made a mistake in promoting a high grain diet – a diet that birds are designed for. Thanks in advance!