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You know how you see “Whole Grains Are Good for You!” emblazoned across cereal boxes, crackers, and even bags of chips (made with “whole grains!”) at the grocery store? Or how commercials on television tell you that eating Special K twice daily can help you lose weight because “whole grains!” are part of a healthy diet and assist in weight management?

I call hogwash on this. A couple things here: Know what they feed cows to fatten them up? Grains. Corn. Oats. Know what grains break down as in the body? Sugar. Know what manufacturers do to grains they add to cereals, crackers, and chips? Process them, often stripping away the bran and adding fortified synthetic vitamins that the body does not recognize as natural. Processed & refined grains break down even more quickly as sugar and send your blood sugar & energy levels on a roller coaster.

So here’s the issue: “whole grains” that you’re eating in Cheerios are actually processed with other junk like modified corn starch, so don’t be fooled by the marketing. Even the highest quality, least refined, organic cereal in a box is still processed to a degree–likely heated or puffed, proteins denatured, sugars or stabilizers added. The more processed the grain, the more of its natural bran stripped away, robbing it of its fiber and inherent vitamins and minerals. That’s why synthetic vitamins are added back in. Long story short, AVOID THE BOX. Finding whole grains in a box is a myth. Even if they use the whole oat, it has still been processed with other chemicals/additives to appear as a little Cheerio that you see in your bowl. This is not a whole food, and you’re not getting whole nutrition from eating it–these foods create blood sugar imbalances and actually rob the body of its vitamin and mineral stores, creating cravings and causing deficiencies.

My second point is that we have never been fatter as a nation. This is not only due to our processed food, corn syrup, and fast food consumption, but also due to the amount of processed carbs and “whole grains” we consume. Remember how we fatten up cows? By feeding them grains. Same goes for humans. Eating all those carbs at the bottom of the food pyramid–which is what the USDA is recommending for us– is making us fat. The USDA is recommending that the base of our diet be “whole grains” like bagels, pastas, rice, cereal, and crackers, and the majority of these foods have been processed or refined. These foods, especially when packaged, break down as sugars, the excess of which is stored as fat. Sugar raises insulin, the fat storage hormone. Combine this with the staggering amounts of sugar we consume in the form of sodas and candy, and we have an obesity and diabetes crisis on our hands.

Look, I don’t have a problem with a bowl of whole oatmeal once in a while. But ditch the cereals, ditch the bagels, ditch the pastas, and ditch the processed foods. Also, grains are not easily digested by most folks; we as a species evolved eating mostly plants and a little meat. Many people are gluten intolerant and sugar or grain sensitive, and these folks will particularly suffer from subsisting on whole grains. If, after your bowl of oatmeal, you feel sleepy or end up with sugar cravings later, this is a sign from your body that it’s not the right food for you. Food should energize you!

Good ole Michael Pollan says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” He’s not talking about Cheerios. Here is what I propose: a plant-based diet filled with veggies and fruits, nuts and seeds, meat on the side. How much you need depends on your physiology. Beans & legumes and fine too, if you can digest them. Grains are fine in moderation, but use REAL whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, whole oats, and soak them overnight before cooking to increase digestability. I recommend avoiding gluten-containing grains because so many people are sensitive to gluten and are unaware.

The bottom of my food pyramid is all kinds of veggies; the middle rung is organic meat; then legumes, whole gluten free grains; seasonal fruits; nuts & seeds; good fats; teas & broths. Don’t forget about spices, spirulina & chlorella, and probiotic foods like cultured veggies. Avoid the box!