More Grain But No Gain

American diet map

The grades are in.

An article from the New York Times Wellness Blog presents more evidence suggesting it is optimal to adopt a diet similar to our paleolithic ancestors. The Center for Science in the Public Interest compiles a report each year on changes in the American Diet and not surprisingly our national dietary habits reflect major public health concerns, such as the obesity epidemic and diabetes. Artificial sweeteners and low fat products have not made the public much healthier and instead only instill a false sense of health security. Salad and cooking oils have a way of slowly creeping into our diets and according to a 2005 Department of Agriculture study, the average American consumes nearly 645 calories a day in added fats and oils.

2013 Dietary Report Card

Bonnie Liebman, the nutritionist who put together the report above, insists the American public was never on a low-fat diet, “We increased our fat intake from pizzas, burgers, French fries, baked goods and restaurant-prepared foods.”

Liebman pins much of the blame on the real culprit: Grains. You walk into a Panera‘s, Starbucks, Subway or any other allegedly ‘healthy’ chain restaurant, and you will find panini sandwiches, burritos, pasta, muffins, and scones dressed up as seemingly healthier alternatives.  Refined or unrefined grains, we are not doing ourselves any service in opting for a whole grain over a refined grain.

Liebman gets to the crux of the problem, “We’ve been blaming the obesity epidemic on sweets, and we are eating too much sugar, but we need to pay more attention to grains.” 

Her solution: “We need to replace sandwiches with salads, swap starches for veggies, and trade cookies, cupcakes and chips for fresh fruit.”

Much of the public’s daily grain intake is substituting vegetables and fruits. Even though our pork and beef consumption remains high, the public has overlooked one vital source of protein: fish. The Nutrition Action Newsletter, published by the Harvard School of Public Health, finds that Americans,eat only about 16 pounds of seafood per person per year, and about 95 percent of that comes from only 10 species.” 


Perhaps public health efforts should be geared towards promoting organic wild fish, such as wild Alaskan salmon, crab, pollock and haddock. Greater fish consumption could also help balance the public’s skewed omega 3 to omega 6 intake ratio. Ideally the omega 3 to omega 6 intake should be a 2:1 ratio, that is, we should be consuming twice as many omega 3 fatty acids as omega 6 fatty acids.  Given our greater intake of grains as a nation, our omega 6 consumption ends up exceeding our omega 3 intake.

How do omega 3 fatty acids help achieve optimal human performance? Omega 3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, blood pressure, cancer, heart disease and aid in weight loss, to name a few. For athletes, this will also speed up recovery time.


What’s the major takeaway?

America’s greater intake of omega 6 fatty acids is attributed to the increase in grain consumption and is contributing to our public health concerns. In consuming more fish we not only decrease our grain intake but also increase our consumption of omega 3 fatty acids (which are also prevalent in fish oil).

Want more gains in quality of health?

Do without grains.  


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