Important Data About Eating Whole Grains During Pregnancy
(image via Arthur Chapman on Flickr)
Are Grains the Hidden Reason for Many Modern Diseases including Tooth Cavities?
Wheat and barley were first cultivated 9,000 years ago – around 7,000 BC. Corn and rice were to follow 2,500 years later in 4,500 BC. Human fossil records show that prior to this time period, tooth decay was a virtually unknown ailment. Teeth dating back to approximately 5,500 BC from Pakistan show evidence of being drilled, probably because of dental cavities. The last 5,000 years have ushered in a rapid rise in the incidence of tooth decay, an effect that is especially marked in Native Americans who switched from a hunter gatherer lifestyle to a corn-based diet. The cultivation of grains allowed civilization to evolve and flourish, letting indigenous groups live together in city centers such as in ancient Egypt. Grains made it possible to assemble large armies because this readily-available food source solved the logistical problem of feeding thousands of soldiers.
Weston Price found in his field studies that a diet based on white flour, vegetable fats and refined sugar was disastrous to the health, teeth and gums of indigenous people worldwide. Based on this evidence, Dr. Price concluded that consuming grains in their whole form would solve part of the tooth decay dilemma. The whole world seems to have embraced the idea that whole grains are better for our health, from the natural health community to the US government and even massive food manufacturers.
Besides the telling fossil evidence which suggests tooth decay is connected to grains, there is more than a century of scientific research that connects whole grains with a wide variety of diseases and conditions. This evidence is only further strengthened by the nearly daily emails I receive from confused and stressed-out healthy eaters who just can’t figure out why their previously cavity-free children are now suffering from tooth decay. One clear response emerges over and over: whole grains.
Modern humans (also known as Homo sapiens) are only around 200,000 years old. With that in mind, it becomes evident that large amounts of grains are a relatively very recent addition to our collective diet. Our bodies are simply not designed to eat grains in their raw form, so we must use our intelligence to pre-digest the grains through the processes of fermentation and cooking. In the absence of careful grain preparation including fermentation, a host of diseases appear.
Edward Mellanby, a famous professor and doctor, wrote that “oatmeal and grain embryo interfere most strongly” with the building of healthy teeth. He called the effect of the germ of grains on teeth “baneful.” His studies found that a diet high in grain germ provoked nervous system problems such as leg weakness and uncoordinated movements in his dogs. Dr. Mellanby came to the conclusion that most grains contain a toxic substance that can affect the nervous system.
Dr. Mellanby noted that grains and legumes are connected to maladies like pellagra (niacin deficiency), lathyrism (immobility caused by bean toxins in certain types of legumes), and pernicious anemia (related to a Vitamin B-12 deficiency). Each of these conditions can be recreated in laboratory settings by feeding the subject whole grains, and each of these conditions can be effectively treated by feeding the subject animal liver.
The Anti-Scorbutic Vitamin and Your Teeth and Gums
Most of us are familiar with scurvy as a disease that was common among sailors. It struck during long sea voyages when sailors had no choice but to subsist on preserved foods, including dried grain products like hard tack. The symptoms of scurvy include soft and spongy gums which eventually lead to tooth loss, slow wound healing, poor bone formation, severe weakness, nausea and eventually death. Gum disease is a major factor in tooth loss as we age. We learned from dentist W.D. Miller that healthy gums protect teeth from tooth decay. Since tooth loss from gum disease is a symptom of scurvy, it is feasible that what causes and cures scurvy might cause and cure gum problems as well.
Researchers eagerly sought out and found an animal model on which to conduct scurvy experiments. Guinea pigs were fed a high grain diet and went on to develop a condition that appeared to precisely mimic scurvy in humans. To cause scurvy, guinea pigs were fed mostly bran and oats. Another scurvy-producing diet consisted of whole grains like oats, barley, maize, and soy bean flour. An exclusive oatmeal diet would kill a guinea pig in 24 days from scurvy. This very same scurvy-inducing diet produced severe tooth and gum problems in guinea pigs as well.
The fact that whole grains cause scurvy highlights the severity of plant toxins naturally found in grains. Guinea pigs on a diet of germinated oats and barley did not contract scurvy , suggesting that the sprouting process may neutralize the factors that cause scurvy. Eventually, scurvy research uncovered the anti-scorbutic (anti-scurvy) vitamin which we call Vitamin C.
Reintroducing vitamin C in the diet of guinea pigs with raw cabbage (sauerkraut would work for humans) or orange juice resolves the disease.
Although Vitamin C could protect against scurvy, some researchers suspected that a Vitamin C deficiency was not the essential cause of the ailment. Rather, these researchers believed that Vitamin C protected the body against some noxious factor in the diet. Because the scurvy-inducing diet consisted largely of whole grains, the natural assumption was that the harmful factor was something in the grains. Today, we know that grains do indeed contain numerous plant toxins and anti-nutrients including lectins and phytic acid.
Phytic acid is the primary storage form of phosphorus in some plant tissues, particularly the bran portion of grains and other seeds. It can be found in significant quantities in grains, beans, seeds, nuts and some tubers. Phytic acid contains the mineral phosphorus tightly bound in a snowflake-like molecule. In animals with one stomach, including humans, the phosphorus is not readily bioavailable (able to be absorbed by the body). Besides blocking phosphorus bioavailability, the “arms” of the phytic acid molecule bind easily with other minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, making them unavailable as well. But when Vitamin C is added to the diet, it significantly reduces the absorption blocking effect of the phytic acid.
This understanding of phytic acid leads us to the conclusion that symptoms of scurvy, such as soft gums leading to tooth loss, are the result of a Vitamin C deficiency and over-consumption of grains or other foods rich in phytic acid. Perhaps the remarkable ability of Vitamin C to heal and prevent scurvy comes from its ability to aid in iron absorption, which was disturbed by improperly prepared grains rich in phytic acid.
Feeding a scurvy-inducing diet to rats and dogs did not result in scurvy; rather, it led to rickets. Rickets is a disease known to cause severely bowed legs in children. Some of the other symptoms of rickets include muscle weakness, bone pain or tenderness, skeletal problems and tooth decay. Dogs were fed a steady diet of oatmeal in a laboratory setting to produce rickets. Professor Edward Mellanby describes the results of his decades of research:
[M]ore severe rickets developed when the diet consisted mainly of oatmeal, maize or whole wheat flour than when these substances were replaced by equal amounts of either white flour or rice, in spite of the fact that the former cereals contained more calcium and phosphorus than the latter.
The diet which produced the most severe cases of rickets was a mostly whole grain diet including whole corn, whole wheat and wheat gluten. Rickets has been identified as a disease of calcium, phosphorous and vitamin D metabolism. In one study, hospital cases of rickets fell greatly in the month of June. As previously mentioned, Activator X-rich butter was shown to prevent rickets. This is because Activator X would appear in high quantities in June grass-fed butter. Germination of oats itself did not reduce the rickets- producing effect of whole oats. But germination together with fermentation of whole grains greatly reduced the severity of rickets. On the rickets-producing diet, teeth become abnormal. Rickets is known to cause an impairment of the teeth’s ability to mineralize; in rare cases, some children’s teeth fail to erupt. Rickets can be prevented or cured by having an adequate source of fat-soluble Vitamin D in the diet. This is because Vitamin D aids in the absorption of phosphorous and calcium in diets with or without phytic acid.
Scurvy and rickets are both produced in laboratory experiments in different animals using a diet consisting largely of whole grains. The connection between scurvy and rickets is not a random coincidence; it has also been observed in humans. Dr. Thomas Barlow of England carefully studied rickets cases in children, and published a report in 1883 suggesting that scurvy and rickets are closely related. Infantile scurvy is also known as Barlow’s Disease. Both scurvy and rickets are connected to serious problems with teeth and/or gums. It seems both possible and reasonable that whole grains can cause scurvy in the absence of vitamin C, and rickets in the absence of vitamin D.
Far from being a problem of the past, scurvy still occurs in modern times, and the cause is still the same. In one previously healthy individual, strictly following a macrobiotic diet nearly caused death from scurvy within one year. Her diet consisted mostly of whole brown rice and other freshly ground whole grains.
The Effect of Oats on Children’s Teeth
Tooth disintegration from whole grain consumption is not only seen in animal experiments. From 1924-1932, Dr. May Mellanby published several articles in the respected British Medical Journal regarding the connection between food and tooth decay. Multiple investigations were conducted to shows the effects of oatmeal consumption and fat-soluble vitamins on children’s teeth. The children involved in the studies already had several cavities each. In the study, children who ate a grain-free diet which was high in fat-soluble vitamins A and D from cod liver oil saw virtually no new cavities forming. In fact, the grain-free group even showed signs of their decayed teeth remineralizing. The children on the tooth-healing diet also consumed milk, eggs, meat, potatoes, butter and cod liver oil.
Purely by accident, medical doctor J.D. Boyd greatly improved the decayed teeth of diabetic children by designing a grain-free diet. The diet was meant to control the children’s diabetes, but it turned out to also stop cavities and turn soft tooth enamel hard and glossy. The findings of Dr. Boyd’s research were published in 1928 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The diet consisted of meat, eggs, milk, butter, cream, cod liver oil, fruit and vegetables. It is important to note that both Dr. Mellanby’s and Dr. Boyd’s tooth-healing diets were developed in a time when milk, cream and butter were raw, farm-fresh and from grass-fed cows.
In two other feeding experiments, Dr. Mellanby fed children a low fat-soluble vitamin A and D diet with an additional ½ to 1 cup of oatmeal per day. This diet produced an average of six new cavities per child during the trial period. Their preexisting cavities did not heal in any way. A diet with less oatmeal and some fat-soluble vitamins produced an average of four and a half new cavities per child, with a few of the preexisting cavities healing during the experiment. The take-home message from these experiments is that oatmeal has a devastating effect on teeth, and that the maximum amount of bone growth and tooth remineralization in these studies occurred with grain-free diets.
Both Edward and May Mellanby’s decades of research show that oatmeal interferes more than any other grain studied with tooth mineralization. Intermediate interference of tooth mineralization occurs from corn, rye, barley and rice. Wheat germ, corn germ and other grain germs have a “baneful” effect on teeth. White flour interferes the least with tooth mineralization. That white flour does not interfere as much with tooth mineralization corresponds with Weston Price’s feeding experiments discussed in chapter two of Healing Our Children, in which cavity-ridden school children consumed two meals per day consisting of white flour, and one excellent meal per day with nutrient-dense foods. Even while consuming the white flour the children all became immune to tooth cavities. In human nutrient absorption experiments, in diets with mostly whole wheat flour (8% of grain solids removed) calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium were less completely absorbed than a more refined flour (with 21% of grain solids removed). If white flour interfered the least with tooth remineralization you might wonder why native people on a white flour diet succumbed to tooth decay. The answer lies in the fact that white flour in general either replaced more nutrient-dense foods or that in a context of a low mineral, high sugar diet, white flour was disastrous for teeth. Had white flour been consumed with cod’s heads and cod’s liver, or raw milk cheese the results would be different. (Note: I do not advocate white flour consumption.) Rather, white flour was consumed generally with sugar in the form of pastries, or with jam and jelly on toast.
Our modern belief that whole grains are healthy to eat comes from a long series of beliefs that do not actually look at the evidence. The problems with whole grains lie primarily in the toxic properties identified by Dr. Mellanby which reside in the bran and germ. Grain toxicity is exponentially magnified by the absence of vitamins C and D in our diet – the vitamins which protect us against grain toxins. Of course, overly processed and mishandled grains – white flour in particular – have their own set of health consequences. The secret to healthy grain consumption lies in the middle ground: not overly processed and not minimally processed.
Studies with sprouted grains have shown that oats and corn which are first sprouted and then soured at room temperature for two days (thus neutralizing large amounts of anti-nutrients) lost their ability to produce rickets. Although germinated and then soured grains do not produce rickets, they do not create optimal bone growth unless the diet contains sufficient vitamin D.
Problems with Unfermented Grains
Phytic acid inhibits mineral absorption in adults, particularly absorption of iron. It only takes a small amount of dietary phytic acid to lead to a significant impairment of iron absorption. Although grains, especially whole grains, are rich in phosphorus, up to 80% of this phosphorus is in the form of phytate, which the human body can not absorb. Phytic acid blocks enzymes that our bodies need to digest food, including pepsin, which is needed for the breakdown of proteins in the stomach, and amylase, which is required for the breakdown of starch into sugar. Trypsin, needed for protein digestion in the small intestine, is also inhibited by phytic acid. The types of enzyme inhibitors and their concentrations varies significantly between different types of grains. Grains also contain tannins, compounds which can inhibit growth, interfere with iron absorption, and damage the mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Additionally, saponins in grains may inhibit growth.
Because phosphorous is the mineral most important to tooth remineralization, our goal should be to eliminate from our diet as much as possible the phosphorous bound as phytic acid. When it cannot be eliminated entirely, then complementary vitamins and minerals from dietary sources should be used to counteract its effects: in particular, calcium, vitamin C and Vitamin D.
LSD in Whole Grains?
Most, if not all, whole grains seem to contain nerve toxins in differing concentrations. The highest concentrations of these toxins seem to exist in oats and wheat germ, with white flour containing much less. Dr. Mellanby called this unknown toxin “toxamin,” and noted that the substance is blocked by the presence of vitamins in the diet, particularly fat-soluble vitamins A and D.
The nerve toxins which seem to exist in many, if not all, beans and grains may explain their extremely damaging effects on our teeth. Dr. Mellanby postulated that the toxin in grains may be the same toxin which causes ergot poisoning when grains like rye are infected with a fungus. An interesting quality of ergot poisoning is that it is transmitted from mother to child through breastmilk. It affects the digestive system first, and then moves on to the nervous system. In severe cases, it can cause seizures and LSD-like effects.
By examining the diets of people with severe tooth decay, I have found two patterns. First, an extreme excess of sugar consumption, either from natural or refined sources. The other is moderate consumption of whole grains, regardless of whether the grains are soured or not. Ingesting whole grains appears to have effects on the teeth very similar to the effects caused by ingesting large quantities of synthetic fructose syrup.
Lectins are a sugar-binding protein, so it seems that the toxic substance in grains may be lectins or similar grain sugars. High concentrations of lectins are also found in beans. Many types of lectins are neutralized simply by cooking, fermenting, or digestion. Grain’s harmful effects on teeth may be caused by a combination of grain toxins like phytic acid and lectins working together. Some lectins are unable to be broken down either by fermentation or digestion and are poisonous to our bodies; other lectins are perfectly harmless to humans. Agglutinin is a lectin present in wheat germ that passes through the digestive tract and into the body, then provides intestinal inflammation.
Some lectins are extremely poisonous to humans. Ricin, the lectin in castor beans, is deadly to humans even in very small doses. It kills cells by inhibiting their ability to utilize proteins. All lectins can bind to the villi and cells in the small intestine, resulting in a reduced ability to digest and absorb nutrients. In particular, lectins interfere with hormone and growth factor signaling, which may explain why they promote cavities and other growth problems. A saliva test for lectins can indicate one’s susceptibility to tooth decay, further strengthening the connection between lectins and tooth decay.
The Effects of Soaking and Sprouting on Phytic Acid
Studies have been conducted to give us insights into how we can remove phytic acid from grains. Sprouting grains is a good start in the fermentation process, but it does not remove sufficient phytic acid. After two to three days of sprouting, the process usually removes between 20% and 30% of phytic acid from beans, seeds and grains under laboratory conditions at a constant 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Sprouting rye, rice, millet and mung beans was a bit more effective, removing around 50% of phytic acid. It was not at all effective in removing phytic acid from oats.
Soaking on its own removed about 5 to 10% of the grain and bean phytic acid content when it was done for 16 hours at a constant 77 degrees. When the foods being soaked were sorghum, quinoa, corn, oats, amaranth, wheat and some seeds, the soaking increased or did not reduce the phytic acid content. Although these statistics are illuminating, they do not illustrate the entire picture. Soaking quinoa increased its phytic acid content, but soaking and then cooking quinoa reduces its phytic acid levels by over 61%. The same is true for beans: soaking and then cooking removes about 50% of phytic acid. Soaking and then cooking lentils removes approximately 76% of phytic acid. Phytic acid can be reduced by about 40% in wheat, barley or green by roasting them. An interesting study reports that the value of grain and bean storage affects the amount of plant toxins: in warm, humid storage conditions beans lost 65% of their phytic acid content.
Grain Bran and Fiber
Grain bran is high in insoluble fiber that your body cannot digest. This explains the usual indigenous practice to remove grain bran through sifting or other methods. Bran is an acceptable food for mice and other animals, but the plastic-like substances are not good for human bodies. Even when bran is used as a fertilizer, it needs to first be fermented in order to release its vitamins. In indigenous cultures, food is processed to make it soft, tasty, and easy to digest. When I was younger I believed the purpose of eating bran was that it was healthy because it contained lots of nutrients, so I forced myself to eat bran muffins. Even with a large amount of unhealthy sugar added, the bran muffins tasted awful. When I was eating bran, I was not listening to what my body wanted and needed. My body wanted to spit the bran out, not eat it. The often-cited benefits of fiber from bran are unproven. The bulky material can irritate your digestive tract. Bran-enriched foods, particularly when they are made with bran that is not thoroughly fermented, have extremely high amounts of demineralizing phytic acid. Rather than focusing on foods that the government or television says are good for you (but by which your body feels repelled), focus on foods that taste good and are easy to digest and absorb.
Indigenous People’s Fermentation of Grain
It would be very difficult to sift through all of the available information on grain and legume toxicity and transform it into guidelines for making all trains safe to eat. Each type of grain has a unique botanical structure. Furthermore, each grain species also has regional differences; for example, there are over 50,000 known varieties of wheat. The concentration of grain toxins may vary widely based on the particular grain and its regional variety.
The way to make grains, nuts, legumes and seeds healthy to eat is to remove as much phytic acid and other grain toxins as possible. There is no universal instruction for every grain, nut, bean or seed because each is its own entity. How safe grains are to eat varies widely based on your age (kids are more susceptible to the hazards of wrongly prepared grains), how efficient your digestion is, your genetic lineage, and your overall diet.
Indigenous people went to great lengths to process their grains in order to make them healthy to eat. We do not go to these same lengths in our modern culture, and our health suffers as a result. In studying the proper preparation of grains and beans, the lesson I have learned is that there are no shortcuts. If you make one wrong move with them, your teeth may soon be crumbling apart. Food fermentation preserves food, enriches the vitamin and amino acid content, removes plant toxins, and decreases cooking times. Grains destined to be made into alcoholic beverages are first sprouted.
Rye, Wheat, Spelt, Kamut, and Barley
Indigenous cultures understood how to ensure optimal health by preparing grains and beans properly. During Dr. Price’s time, natives in the Loetschental Valley did not have doctors or dentists because they were not needed. The natives also consumed large amounts of sourdough rye bread, which provides a little more phosphorous in the daily diet than white bread. This does not represent the huge difference in nutrients that whole grains are supposed to have over white flour. The explanation for this is that the people of the Swiss Alps did not use whole rye grain.
Just like in many other cultures around the world, the Swiss natives began with a whole rye kernel. However, they then ground the rye slowly on a stone wheel, sifted the rye and removed approximately 75% of the flour mixture by weight of all impurities. Bran and germ consist of approximately 15-20% of the entire kernel. To be clear, if they started with one cup of flour, after sifting they would have 3/4 of a cup of flour remaining. This rye flour still probably contained trace amounts of bran and germ vitamins. Even without knowing the science of phytic acid and lectins, the Swiss natives removed these substances effectively. Fermentation removed the phytic acid, and toxic lectins in the germ and bran of the rye were removed by sifting out the germ and bran completely. It seems likely, then, that safe consumption of common grains like wheat, kamut, spelt and barley involves the same type of preparation these indigenous people used to prepare rye: a substantial or complete removal of the bran and the germ. These high Alpine natives produced a sourdough rye bread in large batches, which included four-and-a-half hours of hand mixing. While the people in the Loetschental Valley baked their bread once per month, a more ancient recipe was based upon only one single communal bread baking per year. After this one bread baking day, the bread hung on walls and aged for the rest of the year. Evidence suggests that aging grains under certain conditions removes phytic acid and may also degrade other grain toxins.
When we think about healthy grain consumption, we often overlook the importance of the other foods we eat along with the grains. How healthy a grain is to eat, and the effect of its consumption on your teeth, depends on how much phytic acid and other toxins are present in the grain and the amount of calcium in your diet. The Swiss natives who were nearly immune to tooth decay understood this and ate their rye bread with cheese and milk in the same meal. Combining calcium-rich and vitamin C-rich cheese and milk protected them against any residual grain toxins not destroyed by milling, fermentation, sifting, baking and aging the rye. The secret to the outstanding dental health of the Loetschental Valley people is their preparation methods which produced gains low in toxins. These methods were supported and enhanced by their consumption of grains in combination with dairy products which were high in calcium, phosphorus, and fat-soluble vitamins.
The high Alpine villages are not the only place in the world where eating wheat and dairy products together is seen. In Africa, a traditional food known as kishk is made from wheat that undergoes a laborious process to make it safe to eat. The wheat is boiled, dried, and ground. The bran is completely removed, just as in the case of the Loetschental rye preparation. Milk is soured in a separate vessel, and then the milk and bran-free wheat are soured together for 24-48 hours. Finally, the mixture is dried for storage.
Ancient beer recipes use the bran and germ of grains. Traditional beer uses a fermentation method that extracts the good, healthy vitamins from the bran and the germ without exposing the beer drinker to the grain toxins. Unfortunately, modern commercially-brewed beers do not follow these ancient methods and can cause cavities.
The Gaelics of the Outer Hebrides seem to defy what we know about oats. These indigenous people regularly consumed large quantities of oats but did not suffer from scurvy, rickets or tooth decay. In contrast, rickets was extremely common in more modern parts of Scotland where oats were also consumed. There were two significant differences between the two oat-eating groups: the fat-soluble vitamin content of their diets, and how the oats were prepared. Oats were stored outdoors for days or even weeks after harvesting, where they were allowed to partially germinate in the rain and sun. The outer husk was then collected and fermented for a week or more. This may have been used to produce an enzyme-rich starter for souring oats. Oats could have been fermented for anywhere from 12-24 hours to as long as an entire week. It is not clear whether the bran was removed or the oats were consumed whole; likewise, it is not entirely clear how these oats were prepared. The typical diet in the Outer Hebrides was extremely rich in fat-soluble vitamins A and D from cod’s heads stuffed with cod livers, which protected against phytic acid. This diet was also very rich in minerals from consumption of shellfish which could replenish minerals lost or blocked by any phytic acid remaining in the oats. The combination of soil tending, careful oat preparation, and a diet rich in minerals and fat-soluble vitamins allowed oats to be a healthy staple for the isolated Gaelic populations.
Even the organic whole oats you can buy in the store today are no match for the carefully harvested and stored oats of isolated cultures, and they certainly are not left in the fields to germinate and dry. Oats are heat treated because the grain’s high fat content can easily cause it to go rancid during storage. The heat treating causes oats to lose their entire phytase enzyme content, so soaking or souring oatmeal prior to cooking will not destroy any phytic acid. A surprising percentage of people I have spoken with who have cavities or who have children with cavities are heavy consumers of oats. This confirms what Mellanby found over years of human and animal trials. In the rickets experiments, oats that were first sprouted and then soured for two days lost their ability to produce rickets.
In order to prepare truly healthy oats to eat, you need to special order oats that are still alive in order to sprout them. It is not clear whether it is possible to make heat treated oats safe for the health of your teeth. My suggestion is to sprout oats for two days, then dry them and remove the oat bran through grinding and sifting or flaking. Then, sour the oats at a warm temperature with a starter for 24 hours before consuming. The consequences of eating oats which are not expertly prepared for our teeth are a documented cause for concern.
In rice-eating countries across the globe, rice is rarely consumed in its brown form, with the whole bran. In a quest to find the most ancient and traditional preparation methods, I found several accounts of partially polished rice. Rice is traditionally stored in its husk, and then fresh pounded before cooking. How much bran is removed in traditional brown rice preparation seems to be dependent on the type of rice, and the other foods available in the diet. Ancient rice preparation included low tech milling, such as tumbling the rice with stones to remove a significant portion of bran and germ from the rice. However, some portion of the bran and germ remain. That exact amount of bran to be removed will depend on how long the rice is fermented and the specific type of rice used. A good guess would be 50% of bran should be removed from rice. Milled rice has usually a little bit of germ, while polished rice has no germ.
Rancid rice has a bitter aftertaste. Several nutrient absorption studies have shown that brown rice consumption does not lead to more nutrient absorption than consuming rice with the bran removed. One specific study compared brown rice with milled rice (rice without most of the bran and germ, but not polished totally white). Even though the brown rice contained more nutrients, there was no difference in nutrient absorption between the two. This seeming contradiction could be explained by the phytic acid and other anti-nutrients present in the rice. One study showed that the anti-iron phytate levels in the rice were disabled by the vitamin C in collard greens. In rice-eating cultures, rice is stored in the husk or stored as white rice because it goes rancid quickly or is eaten by insects and rodents otherwise. It is very difficult to find brown rice in the majority of rice-eating populations across the world.
Rice toxins are neutralized in rice-based diets by sour fruits high in vitamin C, land or sea organ meats rich in fat-soluble vitamins, and sometimes by the fermentation of rice or beans. White rice, which is completely bran-free and germ-free, can cause a vitamin B-1 (thiamine) deficiency in a diet that exists mostly or entirely of white rice. This condition is known as beriberi. Beriberi was a rare occurrence in people eating partially milled rice which retained a small portion of the bran. I know of people in rice-eating cultures with beautiful white, cavity-free teeth who grew up on white rice.
Brem is a type of rice-cake bread from Indonesia. It undergoes an incredible fermentation process in which the rice is fermented for 5-6 days, then dried in the sun for an additional 5-7 days. Millet and rice are also traditionally fermented with fish, pork or shrimp for several weeks to produce fermented condiments.
Even more than rice, the healthy preparation of corn as a grain is largely dependent upon the variety of the corn being used. This leads to a wide variety of traditional corn preparation methods which range from simple roasting to fermenting for two weeks.
Corn is universally nixtamalized when prepared for consumption as flour. This process involves soaking corn in an alkaline solution to release niacin (vitamin B-3) and then hulling. Modern corn tortillas, chips, and corn meals have either no corn bran or germ, or have very little corn bran or germ. They also are nixtamalized. Although typical corn products with the bran and germ removed are lower in phytic acid and toxic properties than whole grain corn, I cannot clearly advise on how much of these products is safe to eat in relation to dental health. Their safety seems comparable to unfermented, unbleached wheat flour. If a food includes the entire corn kernel and has not undergone a thorough fermentation process, it probably includes high levels of anti-nutrients like phytic acid and lectins. I am certain that food products containing whole corn kernels, even sprouted corn, should be avoided. Another issue of concern is genetically modified corn. Due to cross pollination, even corns which are not genetically modified may have some genetic alteration. Animals typically refuse to eat genetically modified (GM) corn unless they are forced to do so. The animals that do eat it have had reproductive problems, among other issues.
Ogi, a traditional fermented cereal from West Africa, illustrates the efforts needed to make corn, sorghum or millet safe for children to eat. To begin, the grains are dried in the sun after harvesting and stored in their hulls. The corn is then soaked for 1-3 days. The corn bran, corn hulls and corn germ are completely removed. Then the mixture is fermented for 2-3 days, cooked, and dried for storage.
Pozol is a fermented corn dish from South America. The corn is cooked with calcium hydroxide to release niacin. The hull, or pericarp, of the corn is removed. Pozol is fermented for 1-14 days.
However, not every indigenous grain recipe removes the grain’s bran or even ferments the grain. Injera is an Ethiopian bread traditionally made from teff, an Ethiopian lovegrass. The recipe I have for injera uses whole grain sorghum. The sorghum is fermented with an enzyme-rich starter for 48 hours. Chapati is an unleavened Indian flat bread made with whole wheat. In both of these cases, it appears that the cultures took a recipe that worked with one grain, such as teff in Ethiopia and rice in India, and adapted the recipes to incorporate more recently introduced grains. Over the past several hundred years new levels of trading, immigration and adoption of customs from other cultures have created whole grain recipes that appear superficially to be traditional, but are in fact adopted and do not effectively remove grain toxins.
Sometimes, finding truly ancient and holistic grain recipes requires digging deep. There are many examples of time-consuming and energy-intensive traditional grain processing methods. If it had been possible for indigenous cultures to prepare healthy grains with less work, or to retain a higher yield by keeping the bran and the germ, I am certain they would have done so. The sensible conclusion, then, would be that these slow fermented and time-consuming ways of preparing grains, typically with the germ and bran removed, are the ways that will produce the greatest degree of health.
Characteristics of Indigenous People’s Grain Preparation
- Biodynamic soil practices.
- Careful grain harvesting, including slow drying in the sun.
- Aging of grains.
- Storing grains carefully, many times with the outer hull to preserve freshness.
- Grinding grains fresh before preparation.
- Combining grains with other foods.
- Generally removing the bran and/or germ from the grain.
- Use of starters in low-phytase grains.
Phytic Acid Content of Popular Foods
Avoid Commercially Made Whole Grain Products – Yeasted breads have 40-80% of their phytic acid intact in their finished product. Yeasted breads made with unbleached white flour, however, do not contain much phytic acid. I have mentioned numerous examples of the problems with grain bran and germ, and I have explained that these problems are eradicated by the removal of the grain bran and germ. Our health suffers when we do not remove most of the bran and germ from the grains in the grass family including wheat, rye, kamut, spelt and probably barley. Several cases have been reported of whole wheat sourdough with spelt causing severe tooth decay. This is because fermentation, although it is good at removing phytic acid, does not neutralize all of the grain toxins like lectins in certain types of grains. This leads me to believe that it is best to avoid all commercially prepared breads, crackers, pastas, cereals, health food bars and anything else in the grocery store that contains whole grains – no exceptions. Because quinoa and buckwheat are pseudo cereals and not exactly grains, there is a chance that they can be consumed safely, provided you remove the phytic acid first. However, without knowing the exact toxin in the grains causing severe tooth decay, and without specifically testing each particular store-bought food, it is not possible to say for sure whether any whole grain foods from the store will keep your teeth safe from decay.
Avoid sprouted grain breads – Another deadly food for teeth is commercially made products made from sprouted whole grains. The whole grain plant toxins are not sufficiently neutralized by sprouting and these foods can cause severe tooth decay.
Avoid most gluten-free grain products – Many gluten-free products are made with brown rice. Brown rice will be very high in phytic acid and these products should be avoided. Gluten-free grain products made from white rice, on the other hand, will not have much phytic acid or grain toxins.
Avoid breakfast cereals – These now have bran or whole grains added to them for the advertised fiber and supposed health features of bran. Cereals with whole grains will be very high in phytic acid and likely high in other grain toxins.
Avoid health food bars – Many contain whole grains that are not properly soured and are very high in grain toxins. They also contain lots of sugar.
Limit popcorn – Popcorn has some phytic acid. Definitely avoid it if you have tooth decay. Moderate amounts of popcorn are safe to eat for people who are otherwise healthy.
Safe Grains Guidelines
Grains Low in Phytic Acid and Lectin
Here are some easy-to-follow basic guidelines to help you reduce or eliminate the possibility that grains will harm your teeth. The grains that you eat should be as free from plant toxins as possible. These guidelines are for grains that are easy to obtain and safe for the health of your teeth. Many of the readily available grain products in supermarkets are compromise foods. Therefore, I do not recommend them as part of an ideal diet but they may be adequate. For the reader who wants to see excellent improvement in dental health without spending hours in the kitchen fussing with grains, this section is for you.
Semolina is the part of the wheat left over after removing the bran and the germ. It is used to make pasta and couscous. Although it is unclear how healthy these unfermented processed grains are to eat, they will be low in phytic acid as long as they are not made from whole grains. Couscous and pasta are traditionally made from semolina or other bran-free grains which are soured or fermented. Unfortunately, these traditional recipes do not seem to be available commercially.
Any type of bread made with unbleached white flour will be low in phytic acid. Fermented sourdough bread is the best way to consume unbleached flour. Sourdough bread made with unbleached flour and with a sour taste is the best grain product available in the western world. Not all sourdough breads are created equal, though. The bread should be soured for at least 16 hours and have a sour taste. Some artisan bakers even grind the whole wheat or rye themselves and remove the bran and germ to produce an outstanding soured loaf.
White rice has low levels of phytic acid. White jasmine and white basmati rice (found in health food stores) seem to retain a tiny portion of the rice germ because of their brownish color. White rice does not seem to have the same negative effects on health that white flour does. The ideal type of rice to consume is rice that is first aged for one year, freshly milled to remove at least half of the bran and germ, then soured. Because most of us are unable to do this ourselves, the second best option is to choose between high-quality white rice or brown rice prepared with a phytase-rich starter. The brown rice recipe can be found in the recipe section. If you cannot soak your rice with a phytase-rich starter, then it is best to choose white rice.
Just like other grains, corn products should be fermented before consumption. There are plenty of corn tortillas and other corn products in stores that do not contain the corn bran and germ. These products should be low in phytic acid and should not promote tooth decay. However, if you eat any of these compromise foods, keep in mind that any consistently consumed unfermented grain has the potential to cause negative health effects in your long-term health.
Calcium – Just as in the Loetschental Valley, grains go well with cheese. Calcium blocks many negative effects from eating grains, nuts and beans. If you eat bread, have it with a large slice of cheese, a cup of raw milk, or both. Lentils go great with some yogurt on the side. The rickets-producing effect of oatmeal was limited by calcium. When vitamin D is low in the diet, even phytic-acid-free grains can deplete levels of calcium. This gives us an important clue to safe grain consumption: have calcium-containing foods with your grains.
Vitamin C – Vitamin C significantly counteracts the negative effects of grain anti-nutrients. Have vitamin C-rich foods with meals that have grains, nuts, beans or seeds in them. High quality unpasteurized dairy products have some vitamin C.
Vitamin C in Food
Vitamin C Milligrams (mg)
|Persimmon, Papaya, Strawberry||60|
|Mandarin Orange, Tangerine, Raspberry||30|
|Raw Cabbage, Lime||30|
|Raw Milk 4 Cups||19|
Folic Acid may play an important role in working with vitamin C to neutralize the anti-nutritional effects of grains. High levels of folic acid are found in liver from a variety of animals as well as in beans, spices, seaweed, leafy greens and asparagus.
Vitamin D – The anti-calcifying effects of whole grains are greatly reduced by consuming vitamin D. The more grains you consume, the more vitamin D your body needs, especially if you consume oatmeal or whole grains. There is an upper limit to how many negative effects of whole grains can be blocked by vitamin D. So even with plenty of cod liver oil, people consuming a diet high in whole grains can have tooth decay problems. That is why it is important to consume grains that do not contain phytic acid or grain toxins. The combination of low phytic acid grains with vitamin D produced optimal bone growth and protection against rickets in diets that contained grains.
Protein – Traditional nut preparation combines roasted nuts with meat stews. Having protein with grains, nuts, seeds or beans may reduce some of their anti-nutritional characteristics.
Summary of Basic Grain and Seed Consumption Guidelines
Do not eat products containing whole grains or added bran.
Do not eat whole grains that you have not prepared yourself at home.
Do not eat sprouted whole grain products.
Do not consume white flour products.
Do not consume seeds regularly.
If you consume grains, nuts, seeds, or beans regularly, you need to make sure to have adequate calcium, vitamin C and vitamin D in your diet.
Eating Grains At Home
Introductory Guidelines – If you are going to buy flour from the supermarket, then stick with a partially refined variety such as unbleached white flour, which is low in phytic acid. Avoid store-bought whole grain flour. Keep in mind that eating only unsoured, unbleached flour is not ideal for your long-term health. When you prepare rice at home, choose white basmati, white jasmine, or sushi rice.
Advanced Guidelines – In indigenous populations all over the world, grains are freshly ground before use. Many people have read Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon or other books which have many delicious recipes including whole grain recipes. These recipes use soaked and soured grains that are easier to digest. After you fresh grind your whole grain, you should sift it to remove the bran and germ, then follow the recipe. As a result, you will have delicious grain dishes that are easy to digest. Grains that always require bran and germ removal before they can be safely consumed are corn, rye, wheat, kamut and spelt, as well as any grains directly related to them. For rice you need to decide whether you want to use brown rice soaked with phytase starter, or white rice. Ideally, you should start with a vacuum sealed brown rice (because brown rice goes rancid easily), remove about half of the bran, and then soak it with a phytase-rich starter.
Oats, Barley, Sorghum, Quinoa, and Buckwheat
It is not completely clear whether the grain bran or germ have to be removed from oats, sorghum, barley and the pseudo-cereals buckwheat and quinoa. Eat the bran of these grains at your own risk of exposure to plant toxins. If you want to eat these grains regularly, do your own research into their safety.
When adults come to me with a difficult tooth that is not healing, I recommend they avoid grains for 2-3 weeks to let their body recover and find balance. Also avoid grains, nuts, beans and seeds temporarily if:
- You are eating a more nutrient-dense diet where you have achieved some cavity healing success, but not complete success, such as a once-painful tooth that now hurts occasionally.
- If you have been consuming whole grains that were not properly soured, or the bran from rye, kamut, spelt or wheat. It is possible that your intestinal lining has become inflamed as a result. Taking a temporary break from grains will help heal this problem.
After you detoxify from grains, nuts, beans and seeds, you will be able to more clearly evaluate how grains are affecting your body and which grains feel good for you to eat.
Beans are high in phytic acid and lectins. Lathyrism is a disease attributed to poor people who in difficult environmental circumstances planted and consumed the extremely hardy bean lathyrus sativus (a type of sweet pea). The toxic substance that caused lathyrism is likely the toxic amino acid beta-N-oxalylamino-L-alanine. Its symptoms include walking difficulties, leg weakness and eventually complete paralysis. Other beans, such as soy beans, also contain quite a few plant toxins. Lima beans consumed in Nigeria as a staple involve a “painstaking processes” to make them safe to eat.
In order to completely remove phytates from beans, the beans need to be soaked overnight in warm water, germinated for several days, and then soured. Most people will not go to these great lengths to remove all of the phytic acid from beans. Soaking beans overnight and then cooking them eliminates most of the phytic acid in smaller beans such as lentils. Just soaking beans overnight will be good enough for most people. Simply boiling unsoaked beans will not remove a significant portion of their phytic acid.
Just as with grains, different types of beans have different concentrations of plant toxins. They therefore require different types of preparation methods. Although the exact details of methods used by indigenous cultures to prepare commonly used beans are unavailable to us today, we can look at a few examples. In Latin America, beans are often fermented after cooking to make a sour porridge called chugo. In India, lentils are typically split before being eaten. This means that the outer layer, the husk (which is equivalent to the bran in grains), is removed. Lentils with the husk removed are probably the safest beans to consume. They can be soured into tasty cakes with rice called dosas. Use the same food combining techniques with beans as you would with grains. Eat beans with cheese, foods that contain vitamin D, and with vegetables and berries rich in vitamin C.
Soak beans overnight and cook with kombu (sea vegetable) to soften them and aid digestion.
Beans should be very soft and easy to digest when cooked.
Choose smaller sized beans over larger ones.
Prepare soured beans in dishes like dosas.
Breakfast Cereals and Granola
Breakfast cereals are subjected to high temperatures during the manufacturing process. One study found that rats that were only given puffed wheat died before rats that were given no food at all. At least one breakfast cereal has been found to kill lab rats faster than when the rats ate only the cardboard box the cereal came in. Many people unwisely continue to eat prepackaged cold breakfast cereals because they provide a sugar high, but they do not consider the digestive distress that these cereals cause. Avoid the rancid and improperly prepared seeds, nuts and grains found in granolas, quick-rise breads and extruded breakfast cereals.
Store-bought granola may seem like a healthy choice, but it is almost always unhealthy because of its high sugar content and high levels of phytic acid from oats. Even when breakfast cereals are labeled organic, they are not healthy foods. They contain few nutrients that are readily absorbable by your body. The combination of sugar and flour causes a quick rise in blood sugar and promotes tooth decay. The cartoon character on the cereal box does not care whether you or your child are healthy. Organic cereal may be free of pesticides and artificial additives, but it is not a nourishing food. If you have to start your day with cereal, I recommend making soured homemade rice or hot rye cereal. Flour products, if you choose to eat them, need to be combined with protein, calcium and fat.
Nuts and Nut Butters
I once read a funny story of an indigenous group in the Amazon being introduced to peanut butter. They would not eat it because it resembled human waste. Dogs are highly allergic to many types of nuts, including walnuts and macadamia nuts. They symptoms that dogs suffer after nut poisoning include muscle tremors, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, drooling and elevated heart rate. Nuts, like grains, are very high in plant toxins including phytic acid. The symptoms that dogs suffer after ingesting nuts strongly suggest that nuts have some substance, possibly lectins, which affect the central nervous system. This effect on the nervous system is seen more clearly in dogs than in humans. Peanut allergies in humans can cause anaphylactic shock. This is another sign of the potent plant toxins potentially hidden in nuts. It is very common for people with severe tooth decay to rely on raw nut and seed butters as dietary staples, including too much raw tahini.
Nuts are powerful inhibitors of iron absorption. However, phytic acid levels in nuts do not directly correlate with the decrease in iron absorption. Although fresh coconut has a moderate amount of phytic acid, it has little to no impact on iron absorption. Sprouting nuts improves iron absorption, but only modestly. A 25 milligram dose of vitamin C can prevent compounds in nuts from blocking iron absorption. Interestingly, the iron-blocking characteristics of nuts may have to do with how nut proteins are digested. This may explain the indigenous cultures’ propensity to mix nuts with animal proteins.
|Almond||Walnut||Peanut||Roasted Peanut||Sprouted Peanut||Hazel Nut||Brazil Nut|
Just so you understand these figures, nuts contain about the same level of phytic acid as grains.
Do not misunderstand me; I think nuts are delicious—especially when they have been sprouted and low-temperature dehydrated, and then roasted to eliminate a large amount of phytic acid. It seems almost universal that indigenous cultures cooked their nuts in some way, such as adding them to meat soups and stews. The problem people have with nuts is that they are consuming too many raw, which means they are high in phytic acid, and too much as a staple, rather than as a part of a wholesome diet.
An interesting note about macadamia nuts is that they are an aboriginal nut from Australia. Aboriginal peoples also had access to the highest vitamin C rich fruit on the planet, the kakadu plum. The high amounts of vitamin C in the aboriginal diet may have protected Australia’s Aborigines from plant toxins in macadamia nuts. Many types of macadamia nuts are known to be toxic and are not cultivated. A certain nut from Thailand needs to be buried in volcanic soil for 100 days, and then soaked in water for three days to make it safe to eat. Nuts contain nourishing vitamins, but they also contain potent plant toxins that could adversely affect the central nervous system.
Since many people consume coconut flour, I will mention that dried coconut flour has about the same amount of phytic acid, 1.17 percent,as many grains and other nuts. Coconut does not impact iron absorption, which implies that it is lower than grains and beans in potent plant toxins. Traditional societies shred coconut and usually cook it; however, this is not the same as commercially sold coconut flour. Coconut meal is a less-pulverized form of coconut flour. Coconut flour is made from the byproduct of coconut milk or coconut oil production. Coconut meal is typically used as an animal feed, where its low protein digestibility actually inhibits pigs’ growth when used as a protein supplement. It contains twice the fiber of the bran of grains. Because of the phytic acid content of coconut flour, consuming it regularly may affect your metabolism of calcium and phosphorus. If you do consume coconut flour, make sure to also consume plenty of the vitamins and minerals that protect against phytic acid. Again, these are calcium, vitamin C, and fat-soluble vitamins A and D.
When eaten in moderation, nuts should not be a problem for most people with good dental health or minor cavities. If you have severe tooth cavities, or have some nagging cavities that do not heal, consider avoiding nuts entirely until the problem resolves.
- Avoid commercially produced nut butters.
- Moderate the amount of nuts you eat; do not make them your staple food.
- Make sure to have plenty of food-based vitamin C, or calcium-rich foods with your nuts, such as roasted and skinless almonds with cheese.
- Be careful with almonds; they seem to be very high in plant toxins. The skins must be removed.
Additional Intermediate Guidelines
- Only consume nuts, and nut butters made from them, that are soaked and dehydrated.
Advanced Nut Guidelines
- Roast nuts and use them for cooking, particularly with meat-based soups and stews.
- Extract the oil from freshly roasted nuts.
- Or, avoid nuts entirely.
References For Whole Grains and Pregnancy
Med Chir Trans. 1883; 66: 159–220.1.
Macronutrient Interactions: Impact on Child Health and Nutrition by US Agency for International Development Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. 1996:22.
Johansen K and others. Degradation of phytate in soaked diets for pigs. Department of Animal Health, Welfare and Nutrition, Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences, Research Centre Foulum, Tjele, Denmark.
Chemistry. 1993 47(4):333-336.
I. EGLI, L. DAVIDSSON, M.A. JUILLERAT, D. BARCLAY, R.F. HURRELL. “The Influence of Soaking and Germination on the Phytase Activity and Phytic Acid Content of Grains and Seeds Potentially Useful for Complementary Feeding.” Sensory and nutritive qualities of food 67.9 (2002): 3484-3488. Print.
Silvia Valencia, Ulf Svanberg, Ann-Sofie Sandberg, Jenny Ruales Processing of quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa, Willd): effects on in vitro iron availability and phytate hydrolysis International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. 1999, Vol. 50, No. 3 , Pages 203-211
Fazli Manan, Tajammal Hussain, Inteaz Alli and Parvez Iqbal. “Effect of cooking on phytic acid content and nutritive value of Pakistani peas and lentils.” Food Chemistry Volume 23, Issue 2, 1987, Pages 81-87.
Rubel, William. “Rye Bread from France : Pain Bouilli.” William Rubel, Author and Cook Specializing in Traditional Cuisines. Web. 04 Sept. 2010. <http://www.williamrubel.com/artisanbread/examples/ryebread/rye-bread-from-france-pain-bouilli>. Further reading Marcel Maget’s Le pain anniversaire a Vilard d’Arene en Oisans
Trinidad P. Trinidada; Aida C. Mallillina; Rosario S. Saguma; Dave P. Brionesa; Rosario R. Encaboa; Bienvenido O. Julianob . “Iron absorption from brown rice/brown rice-based meal and milled rice/milled rice-based meal.” International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, Volume 60, Issue 8 December 2009 , pages 688 – 693.
Food Chemistry 1986 22:181−192.
CCVIII. PHYTIC ACID AND THE RICKETSPRODUCING ACTION OF CEREALS BY DOUGLAS CREESE HARRISON AD EDWARD MELLANBY From the Field Laboratory, University of Sheffield, and the Department of Biochemistry, Queen’s University, Belfast (Received 11 August 1939)