The negative health repercussions of consuming grains has been covered to death, over the years. 1 2 3 I will not delve into the many issues with grains – suffice to say their problems have been well documented in many other pieces on this very website including the most recent Wheat Series. In fact, one of the seminal scientific research papers written by Dr. Cordain, “Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double Edged Sword” magnified the many problems of grain consumption.4 Enough said.
However, we are often asked about pseudograins, and if these might somehow be better to consume on a regular basis. The short answer is no. The common food choice is anything but ideal. But before we get to the why, which foods are considered pseudograins?
As generalists, we think of pseudograins simply as seeds and grasses which we commonly categorize as grains. The more complex answer, however, is that pseudograins are the seeds of broadleaf plants, within a group called dicots.5 Most common pseudograins that fall within this category are amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, and chia.
While they do not contain gluten, they contain a variety of other problematic antinutrients6 including lectins and saponins. 7 8 9 Pseudograins are added in surplus to processed foods and gluten free “creations” – despite often causing a similarly negative reaction within the body.10
Perhaps the main problem with pseudograins is they aren’t completely digested but rather pass through the gut barrier intact.11 This can lead to increased gut permeability, eventually leading to what is commonly referred to as a ‘leaky gut’12 where pseudograins can effectively damage the gut lining cells.13 Worse yet, once out of the gut, they can still cause an inflammatory response.14 15 16 Not good.
Another important issue with pseudograins is bacterial overgrowth. When partially digested or undigested food enter the intestinal tract in excess, it helps to feed your gut bacteria.17 18 I’ve previously discussed the physiologic importance keeping ‘good’ and ‘bad’ gut bacteria balanced and as modern science continues to make clear, this issue is fundamental to our overall health.19 20 21
How do pseudograins attribute to disrupting gut balance? The ‘bad’ bacteria feeds upon undigested food particles, and can cause many to develop bacterial overgrowth from regularly eating gluten or pseudograins. Eventually, you may even see a breakdown of the gut lining. Again, none of these processes and developments are good for your body – or your health. In following a Paleo diet you effectively eliminate the problems seen within these foods by excluding them and focusing instead upon complete proteins, healthy fats and nutrient dense carbohydrates.22 23 24 25 26 27
Stop settling for pseudo health. Regain your wellness.
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3. Flohé SB, Wasmuth HE, Kerad JB, et al. A wheat-based, diabetes-promoting diet induces a Th1-type cytokine bias in the gut of NOD mice. Cytokine. 2003;21(3):149-54.
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5. Van der kamp JW, Poutanen K, Seal CJ, Richardson DP. The HEALTHGRAIN definition of ‘whole grain’. Food Nutr Res. 2014;58
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22. Jönsson T, Granfeldt Y, Ahrén B, et al. Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a randomized cross-over pilot study. Cardiovasc Diabetol. 2009;8:35.
23. Lindeberg S, Jönsson T, Granfeldt Y, et al. A Palaeolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease. Diabetologia. 2007;50(9):1795-807.
24. Frassetto LA, Schloetter M, Mietus-synder M, Morris RC, Sebastian A. Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009;63(8):947-55.
25. Jönsson T, Ahrén B, Pacini G, et al. A Paleolithic diet confers higher insulin sensitivity, lower C-reactive protein and lower blood pressure than a cereal-based diet in domestic pigs. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2006;3:39.
26. Cordain L, Eaton SB, Sebastian A, et al. Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;81(2):341-54.
27. Berrino F. Western diet and Alzheimer’s disease.. Epidemiol Prev. 2002;26(3):107-15.