Why “Against the Grain”?

Clearly, I am fascinated by how often our most widely accepted beliefs lay at the foundation of the behaviors that serve us least. So why “Against the Grain?”

Because what’s a good blog title without a clichéd double entendre?

The foolishness of official doctrine can be seen with devastating clarity in the effects of United States nutritional guidelines and food policy over the last 40 years. Indeed, there may be no realm in which supposedly well-intentioned, state-promulgated wisdom has proven more disastrous to human health.

History of Obesity Rates, by State (1990-2010), click to enlarge:

Obesity Map - 1990Obesity Map - 2000

Obesity Map - 2010

Nevermind the corporate-sponsored, convenience-centric mentality that now informs most Americans’ moment-to-moment decisions about what to put in their mouths. Even folks who go out of their way to “eat healthy” are often doing themselves more harm than good.

USDA_Food_Pyramid - large

But why?

Because the infamous 1992 USDA “food pyramid” might as well have been written upside down (recommending 6-11 daily servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta), and the modern-era “My Plate” recommendations (for mostly sedentary adults, 6-8 daily ounces of grains, at least half as “whole grains”) offer little, if any, improvement. Because when “whole grain” is defined to include such staples as whole wheat bagels and microwave popcorn, “government credibility” becomes even more oxymoronic.

Grain foods

Refined grains or whole? Just don’t ask the USDA.

Because as harmful as a diet high in refined and processed grains may be for people, one heavy in whole grains (no matter how they are defined) may be as bad or worse.
Because, when it came to identifying the nutritional causes of obesity and chronic disease, it’s looking more and more like John Yudkin was right and Ancel Keys was wrong.

Because dietary fat does not make you fat. Quite the contrary.

Because cholesterol is not only good for you, it’s essential.

Because not all calories are created equal.

Because sugar is a toxin.

Don’t take my word for it. I have no academic credentials or professional experience that ought to lend credence to my views on nutrition. I have done a fair amount of research (the links above are the tip of the iceberg) and six months of experimenting with how I eat. My results speak for themselves. I have lost 28 pounds (including approximately 23 pounds of body fat) while exercising no more then 30-40 minutes per week, and I improved a variety of biomarkers for disease risk, as indicated by a series of blood tests.

That said, every person is different. Do your own research. Experiment with different ways of eating. Track your results. Refine and repeat. Let me know how you’re doing and how I can help or support you.

There is a lot of information out there, but one thing should be clear. Nutrition and wellness need not be complicated, as long we are willing to eat, think and live “Against the Grain.”

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9 thoughts on “Why “Against the Grain”?

  1. My husband (who you obviously know) switched to a more Paleo style of eating right around the same time you did. Not only has he lost weight, but he (as someone who does a LOT of exercise) has noticed improvement in his energy levels and overall well being (less pain after exercise, chronic injuries clearing up).

    I have been a more recent convert. I have had digestive issues (GERD, IBS) for awhile now and have just started (within the past few months) keeping track of what I eat and how it effects my stomach to try to get to the root of it all. (I have been tested, have no allergies, celiac, etc.) I still have rice and other non gluten carbs, but I have gone from being a bagel a day person to an eggs and bacon person and I could not be happier. Whether or not it helps my stomach still remains to be seen. 🙂

    I am on the Wellness Committee at my daughter’s school and we have a lot of meetings about making the school lunches healthier. I would be curious to hear your views on healthy eating for children.

    Keep up the good blogging!

    • Thanks, Jenn. The question about how to feed our children is a great one, and something Sara and I are putting a lot of thought into these days. It’s a work in progress, and something I plan to do a post about in the future. In a nutshell, we want them to enjoy being kids with all that that entails (treats at birthday parties and holidays, an ice cream truck visit in the summertime, the occasional a pizza party, etc.), but given the concerns we have about how grain-based food has affected our own health, we obviously want them to develop healthier habits than those we’ve been overcoming. And truth be told, they’re adapting really well to having a different variety of foods in the house.

      For something a bit more fleshed out, I recommend Peter Attia’s blog post on this topic (“Hey Peter, What Does Your Daughter Eat? – http://bit.ly/1aT2JQT). Dr. Attia is perhaps my favorite source of practical information on the science of nutrition (as you can tell from the links to his blog in my post). His work has inspired some of the more experimental aspects of the nutritional/lifestyle choices I’ve been making over the past 6 months, and his rigorous scientific approach to questions of nutrition, cholesterol, body chemistry, etc. is made both accessible and compelling by his relatable writing style and humility.

      • I agree with Brian about how we are trying to instill healthy eating habits with our children – going very low carb as a family definitely made packing lunches a challenge at first, but now I’ve found some things they really enjoy (fruit of any kind, celery or carrots with peanut butter, plain greek yogurt with a few drops of vanilla extract and stevia cheese, salami, nuts and the occasional homemade grainfree muffin are our lunch staples now – though I do admit sending cooked bacon strips sometimes!) I have a huge issue with school lunch in this country, but at the moment, we allow them to order lunch one day a week, a slice of pizza or a bagel. That allowance seems to keep the peace.

        Breakfast has become our latest challenge – it’s a hectic time and a bowl of cereal is just so easy and something they can fix themselves. It was our staple for so long and one that has been hardest to break. One kid is anti eggs (she’s also the one who laments the lack of bread in the house from time to time) so that makes it hard. She does a lot of yogurt, or PB with banana/apple. Homemade granola with seeds and nuts is also a hit if I happen to have time to make it. Paleo pancakes and muffins are very hit or miss – some taste good but don’t hold together well. Some look great, but lack flavor. Thankfully for me, our kids will try almost anything once and are very forgiving for now.

        We just try our best every day, and we happen to give up and serve noodles one day, we don’t beat ourselves up about it. Like everything else, it’s a journey.

  2. Like you, I began my diet experiment 7 months ago and saw immediate and sustained results. I had already lost my excess 20 pounds of body fat–the hard way, by means of calorie restriction, but since going LCHF it has been easy to maintain a healthy weight. My issue was metabolic syndrome. Now my blood lipids are greatly improved, having reached values my doctor claimed would be impossible for me to achieve. I was one of those very conscientious individuals who followed the food pyramid, believing that healthy whole grains were going to optimize my health. I am left with a sense of profound distrust and disgust in the medical establishment and government agencies. How did this fraud persist for so long?

    • Thanks for comment, Carol, and congratulations on your success in taking your health into your own hands!

      There are many reasons I can see for how our misguided national food policies have persisted. When digging through possible explanations for questions of this type, I try to subscribe to “Hanlon’s razor.” That is, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” And there is no shortage of badly executed and misinterpreted science in the field of nutrition (just ask Gary Taubes – http://youtu.be/HEWc5fL04o0?t=17s).

      But I’m afraid I tend to join your distrust and disgust with our government agencies on this front because, notwithstanding certain policy mistakes that were made with honest, good intentions, there are too many powerful interests in this country that stand to (and do) benefit from continued obfuscation when it comes to the pursuit of good health (in large part, I’m looking at the food and pharmaceutical industries here).

      I will repeat that I think conspiracy theories ought to be avoided where possible and held to the highest standards of proof where necessary. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t significant grains of truth (pun intended) in even the more slanted accusations and insinuations, particularly where our bureaucratic institutions are concerned (check out “The Men Who Made Us Fat” on YouTube – http://youtu.be/E6nGlLUBkOQ).

  3. Hey Brian,

    This is great – I had no idea the difference in obesity influenced by the food pyramid in 1990. I’d definitely be interested in learning how the FDA justifies these results and what made them introduce the food pyramid in the first place.

    That said, I’ve done a lot of experimentation on myself diet-wise, and have found getting as close to natural as possible does wonders for your body over time. Looking at how humans are designed to process foods in relation to nature has made a huge difference; even giving me some freedom from my Gluten intolerance.

    Organic unprocessed foods, particularly when produced locally, goes a really long way! Couple that with seasonal eating, and you are golden!

    Thanks for the post and data Brian!

    Enjoy Your Journey!
    Jes @ JesWithOneS.com

    • Thanks, Jes. I don’t know that the FDA or USDA (or any of the relevant agencies) even tries to justify it, other than to place the blame on people eating too much and not exercising enough. I see myriad flaws in this rationale; primarily, an overly simplistic reliance on the “calories in vs calories out” model of weight/body fat control.

      Fixing this would entail a publicly disseminated acknowledgement that the type of nutrients a person eats (and, as you note, the source of those nutrients) has a profound effect on how the body processes and stores energy. While this is different, from a biochemical perspective, in each person, it comes down to nutritional hormone regulation, which I’ll do my layman’s best to delve into in a future post.

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