Grains. There’s more to it than just gluten.

Just browsing for articles and research today, I’ve accumulated a few studies you may find interesting.

I especially like this topic because it gets beyond the “gluten free” crowd, who think they can be healthy by simply avoiding dairy and gluten. The problem is, “they” (food makers) can still make the same junk gluten free. So you might be avoiding gluten, but you’re still eating crap.

So here I’ll get into the nitty gritty stuff. Beyond gluten.

Wheat Germ Agglutinin

Link to the study

Summary:

  • WGA – a lectin (protein) found within wheat products likely survives the high temperatures of food production and cooking, at least enough to be ingested, where it can survive digestive processes.
  • Surviving digestion allows it to interact with the lining of the gut.
  • There is significant interaction and cross-talk between the gut barrier, the host immune system, and gut bacteria, all combining to help regulate normal physiological function.
  • WGA, in minute concentrations, can interfere with and impair this regulatory process.
  • The interference of WGA can trigger an inflammatory process, which, once initiated, may establish a positive feedback system which further disrupts the integrity and function of the gut.
  • WGA can be taken from the gut and pulled through into systemic circulation where it can interact directly with the blood-borne immune system.

Concanavalin-A

Link to the study

Summary:

These plant lectins appear to have the ability to instruct your liver and fat cells to undertake certain functions in the same way that insulin otherwise would, but without the presence of glucose to drive this (as might otherwise be expected with insulin).  Importantly, these lectins are as effective as shutting down the breakdown of fat within fat cells.  Not ideal.

Phytic Acid

Link to the study

Summary:

Phytic acid might also cause some direct damage to the absorptive capacity of the intestine. The reduced active ion transport by [phytic acid] implies that the latter reduces the capacity of the small intestine to absorb nutrients.

L-Canavanine

Link to study [1]

Summary:

“L-canavanine is a common non-protein amino acid found naturally in alfalfa sprouts, broad beans [also known as “fava beans”], jack beans, and a number of other legume foods [including sword beans] and animal feed ingredients at up to 2.4% of food dry matter. This analog of arginine (Figure 1.) can also block NO synthesis, interfere with normal ammonia disposal, charge tRNAarg, cause the synthesis of canavanyl proteins, as well as prevent normal reproduction in arthropods and rodents.

Canavanine has also been reported to induce a condition that mimics systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in primates, to increase antibodies to nuclear components and promote SLE-like lesions in auto immune-susceptible (e.g., (NZB X NZW)F1) mice.”

Link to study [2]

Summary:

“Alfalfa sprouts can induce systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in monkeys. This property of alfalfa sprouts has been attributed to their non-protein amino acid constituent, L-canavanine. Occurrence of autoimmune hemolytic anemia and exacerbation of SLE have been linked to ingestion of alfalfa tablets containing L-canavanine. In this report we show that L-canavanine has dose-related effects in vitro on human immunoregulatory cells, which could explain its lupus-inducing potential”

Link to study [3]

Summary:

“In this article, we detail our experience with a human subject who developed autoimmune hemolytic anemia while participating in a research study that required the ingestion of alfalfa seeds. Subsequent experimental studies in primates ingesting alfalfa sprout seeds and L-canavanine (a prominent amino acid constituent of alfalfa) is presented. The results of these studies indicate a potential toxic and immunoregulatory role of L-canavanine in the induction of a systemic lupus-like disease in primates.”

So, canavanine mimicks arginine, and is incorporated into our tissues like arginine, but the resulting proteins don’t function properly. Also, since it’s an amino acid, it’s not deactivated by heat or cooking. When people say  “Beans are fine if you soak or sprout them”, we must realize, this isn’t even true according to the tiny fraction of legume biochemistry we understand.

More L-Canavanine reading regarding it’s autoimmune effects, biological activity and toxicity: [4] [5] [6]

Notable mention: Vicene.

Vicine (and its analogs covicin and isouramil) is a poison in fava beans that causes hemolytic anemia in susceptible people—a sometimes-fatal condition known as favism. Favism is caused by G6PDH deficiencies, common X-linked mutations which affect over 400 million people worldwide, mostly in Africa, the Middle East, and southern Asia.

So what?

Combine a diet high in cereal grains, low in total fat, low in saturated fats, and possibly low in high quality animal proteins, and it’s obvious why an individual might start to run a deficiency in iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, B-vitamins, etc.  Some people will argue that grains can be a good source of many nutrients… in the lab.  These same people need to understand the difference between ingestion and digestion.  Just because a food has a particular nutrient profile analysed in a lab setting, it does not mean it can be digested and absorbed by the body.  Grains in particular are spectacularly good and binding nutrients, minerals especially, and preventing them from being absorbed (grain intake might even see a higher turnover in the likes of vitamin D). 

So you’re not doing yourself any favors by trying to carb load on grains. Especially athletes. Where the goal is to minimize inflammation, grains have an incredibly pro-inflammatory tendency. You need to start using clean carb sources like sweet potatoes, potatoes, squash, and other starchy vegetables. You’ll be able to avoid the inflammation, gut stress and emegency sideline bathroom breaks, along with the bloating and discomfort. At the same time you’ll be getting many times more vitamins and minerals in your diet, a key for proper recovery and immune function.

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Bacon is a health-food

Bacon is mostly fat. Healthy fat.

47% of it is monounsaturated oleic acid. The same that is in olive oil.

3% is monounsaturated palmitoleic acid. This has valuable antimicrobial properties.

40% is saturated, the reason that bacon fat is so relatively stable and unlikely to go rancid under normal storage or cooking conditions.

The high saturated content is important, because it helps protect the rest, which is the remaining 10% in the form of unstable polyunsaturated fats.

Pork fat also contans a large amount of choline, an antioxidant that is superior to vitamin E. Likely the reason that lard and bacon fat are very stable and not prone to rancidity from free radicals.

If the bacon comes from pastured pigs (which all animals should be), it’s full of vitamin D, as long as the pigs were allowed to play outside in the sun.

Edit 5/15/12: Like humans, pigs can get sunburned and, like humans, they make vitamin D through the action of sunlight on their skin and store the nutrient in their fat. Pigs raised in confinement will die if not exposed to UV-B light, the wave length needed for vitamin-D production.

What about the CHOLESTEROL???

As we would expect, the good fat in bacon comes with cholesterol, a “no no” according to the Food Police, and yet another reason for bacon’s dangerous reputation.   The evidence against cholesterol causing or contributing to heart disease, of course, is inconsistent, contradictory, misinterpreted and sparse.  It’s oxidized cholesterol  — as found in the powdered milk and powdered egg ingredients used for processed, packaged and fast foods, including low-fat and non-fat milks  — and oxidized lipids (unstable polyunsaturated fats) that contribute to heart disease, NOT CHOLESTEROL.

Also, as biochemical textbooks make clear, cholesterol is the mother of all hormones, including our reproductive and mood hormones. Thus bacon’s cholesterol content may be part of the reason it enjoys such a reputation as a “feel good” food!!

What about the SALT???

Animals seek out salt licks, paleo people eat and drink salty blood and other animal parts, and biochemists point out we need sodium and chloride for blood, sweat, tears, mucus and semen.  Textbooks make all of this abundantly clear, yet U.S. government guidelines recommend drastic reductions in salt intake.   Sadly, low-salt diets increase the likelihood of heart disease, hypertension, cognitive decline, osteoporosis,insulin resistance and erectile dysfunction. no-salt-limp-dick-syndrome sounds like no fun for either party involved!!

What about the nitrites and nitrates???

We get more nitrates from our own saliva. This notion of ‘nitrite-free’ or ‘organically cured’ meats is a public deception. Traditionally bacon was cured by adding sodium nitrite salts directly to the meat.  Today’s manufacturers of  “nitrite free” brands add celery salt, which is about 50 percent nitrate, plus a starter culture of bacteria.   This transforms the nitrate found naturally in the celery salt into nitrite, which cures the meat.    Although manufacturers label this bacon “nitrite free,” this method actually generates more nitrite from the celery salt than would ever be added as a salt.   Indeed, “nitrite free” bacon can have twice the nitrite content of bacons cured directly with nitrite salts.

There still seems to be some debate over what happens when you cook with nitrates, but cooking food creates all kinds of things, like minute amounts of carcinogens and such. In the whole scheme of things I’d wager that whatever nitrosamines get created from heating nitrates is marginal and insignificant.

Researchers have consistently found carcinogenic nitrosamines in fried bacon, but the bacon studied almost certainly comes from factory farms. Fatty acid composition has a big effect on nitrosamine formation, and factory-farmed pigs routinely eat feeds that include inferior oils.

Nitric Oxide!!

Cured bacon with nitrite increases circulating NO levels in our blood. This is a good thing. It’s vital for a long healthy life. Traditionally cured meats are the best source. Beets too.

NO is a signalling molecule in the cardiovascular system. When produced by our blood vessels from nitrite, it signals the surrounding arterial tissues to relax. This lowers blood pressure, expands narrow blood vessels, eliminates dangeous clots (you’ll have none if you are eating Paleo), and reduces plaque formations on arterial walls. NO also reduces triglyceride levels.

NO optimizes circulation and affects every bodily system. More blood flow. More oxygen transfer. Better energy. Better brain function and attention. And more blood flow means better sex life. (NO is also a key ingredient in many erectile dysfunction meds, and workout supplements). NO also helps the immune system fight off infections, and helps brain cells communicate more effectively. Want more? Just do a quick PubMed search! There are myriad benefits to NO!

So Nitrates and Nitrites aren’t dangerous???

Nitrates are natural products of the nitrogen cycle and found in water, plants and animals.   Nitrites are naturally present in saliva, in the gut and indeed in all mammalian tissue.  In short, nitrites are not a problem, provided our diets are rich enough in antioxidants to facilitate the conversion of nitrites to NO and to prevent nitrosation reactions that convert nitrites into carcinogenic nitrosamines.    It’s also obviously important to avoid eating readymade sources of nitrosamines, such as occur in soy protein isolates , non-fat dry milk and other products that have undergone acid washes, flame drying or high temperature spray-drying processes. 

Why does everyone think bacon aint “all that”?

Why do fats and cholesterol get the shit-end of the stick?   Bad studies and worse publicity, with the latest “study” out of Harvard a prime example (Just Google “red meat increases death”).  These “studies” show only a weak association with evidence that is inconclusive.

Science is catching up. The media is always going to be far behind, and is always going to mis-interpret the results. Of course our hunter-gatherer ancestors got it right from the beginning!

Stick to pastured animals, free ranging, not grain fed. Traditionally cured, not injected, machined, processed, or whatever.