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Why Are Grains the Hardest Food to Digest?



That’s right. Grains are, unfortunately, the hardest food to digest, which is weird considering grains have historically been a big part, if not the biggest part, of the food pyramid and its successors. So, what are grains, and why are they the hardest food to digest?


Technically speaking, “grains are defined as the caryopsis or dried fruit (also called corn) of a cereal plant. True cereals include wheat [...], corn/maize [...], rice [..], oats [...], and barley [...]. [...] Grains are made up of three distinct components: the fibrous bran, the starchy endosperm, and the lipid-containing germ,” [1]. Now, you may be thinking, “What about whole grains instead of refined grains?” You are totally justified if you think whole grains are an alternative for easier digestion because of how much they are alluded as healthier than refined grains. Though whole grains do have their health benefits over refined grains, they are both still difficult for our bodies to digest.


In a blog written by Monica Corrado, a teaching chef, Certified Nutrition Consultant, and Certified GAPS Practitioner, she informs readers that grains contain high amounts of phytic acid, enzyme inhibitors, disaccharides, and complex proteins which all contribute to making grains hard to digest [2]. Phytic acid “blocks the absorption of minerals in your small intestine,” [2]. We need minerals as a part of our overall nutrient intake to assist us in maintaining our health, so with grains being high in phytic acid, our health, including our gut health, can be compromised.


Enzyme inhibitors do exactly what they sound like they do- inhibit enzymes. Enzymes basically “kick start digestive processes,” so the grains we all love to eat are really fighting against our digestive systems [2]. Now, disaccharides in grains are more so detrimental to those who already have a compromised gut. A “lack of beneficial gut flora compromises the function of the enterocytes. The enterocytes are the cells that reside on the villi of the gut wall and produce the enzyme disaccharidase which breaks down the disaccharide molecule into easily absorbed monosaccharide molecules,” [2]. So, if the enterocytes are unable to produce disaccharidase, it would lead to the inability to digest these troublesome double sugars in grains. Lastly, complex proteins found in grains, like gluten, are unable to be broken down by the body, but they can be “broken down prior to eating. That means sprouted, soaked, or fermented before cooking. Sprouting, soaking, and fermenting grain-based foods are easy processes that not only pre-digest the proteins in grains, they also neutralize the other problems mentioned above” [2].


Of course, I wasn’t going to list all the bad things about grains without informing you of the solution. With proper preparation, grains can be digested by our bodies. So, with the knowledge you have now, I’d say you’re just a sprout, soak, and ferment away from helping your body digest grains.



References:

1. Cooper, D. N., Kable, M. E., Marco, M. L., De Leon, A., Rust, B., Baker, J. E., Horn, W., Burnett, D., & Keim, N. L. (2017, February 21). The effects of moderate whole grain consumption on fasting glucose and lipids, gastrointestinal symptoms, and microbiota. Nutrients.

2. Corrado, M. (2019, March 10). The 5 reasons why grains are the hardest food to digest. The Healthy Home Economist. https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/reasons-why-grains-are-hard-to-digest/



 


Contributors:

Author: Lauryn Agron

Editor: Sara Giarnieri

Health scientist: Jonn’ea Williams


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