Grains And Inflammation

What is the relationship between grains and inflammation?

If you’ve read much of my blog and articles on the paleo diet, you’ve noticed that the evils of grains is a recurring topic. The reason for their evil is that they contribute to inflammation in the intestines. This state of inflammation is caused mainly by lectins and gluten. Two proteins which globule up and promote, in some cases, a chronic level of inflammation. This is bad because when this chronic level of inflammation is achieved the body operates at an alarmingly retarded level of efficiency.

Anti-nutrients are also part of grain’s arsenal. What are anti-nutrients exactly? They are, simply put, remnants of a plant’s natural chemical defence against animals eating them. This is bad for our human digestive processes, because some of these anti-nutrients die hard, even after they have been cooked.

Why do grains cause inflammation in the body?

Lectins, for example, are effective at making the intestines inflamed. Once consumed, they globule up in the intestines and bind to its walls. Lectins also cause leptin resistance, which is not favourable because it means that the body becomes less efficient and effective at processing fats in the body. They also contribute to a deterioration in the metabolic system, which ultimately means that the body gets less effective at staying alive. Not cool!

Gluten is another protein which is detrimental to the human body’s health. This is largely due to the response it promotes in the human body. When gluten is consumed, one of its key proteins gliadin is detected by the body and determined to be a threat. This promotes a antibody response. So, simply put, gluten is treated by your body as an invader trying to wreak havoc. It tries to destroy gluten. For the most part, it is this prolonged eating of gluten that promotes the most inflammation in the intestines. The body is sensitive to even small amounts of gluten, and think about it, most people eat gluten every single day, sometimes for every single meal. It is no wonder grains cause inflammation with a weapon such as gluten in it’s toolset.

Thirdly, as if you needed more evidence of gluten’s foul play, are phytates. which ultimately make nutrients unavailable to the body. This goes against the “common” knowledge that grains are rich in minerals and vitamins. That statement is redundant and untrue if the very food (grains) being promoted blocks the absorption of nutrients.


Why are grains so hostile?

Grains, or rather certain plants, have developed abilities to passively protect themselves from predators. This means that parts of the plant are either inedible, cause discomfort or worse, or are merely indigestible. For the latter, most fruits’ seeds are impossible to digest in humans, and so are passed through the body as waste. This means that ultimately, in the “natural world“, seeds are dispersed.

Unfortunately for us humans, we haven’t adapted to eating grains and their gluten, lectins and phytates. While animals such as certain birds, antelope and other mainly herbivorous animals are okay at digesting these compounds, for us humans the process is problematic and really something we shouldn’t be attempting.

How you can reduce inflammation

Basically, the easiest and most effective way of removing a source of inflammation in the body is well, to remove it. By stopping the consumption of gluten, you will stop the ingestion of gluten, phytates and those nasty lectins. The paleo lifestyle is particularly focused at a grain and gluten free diet as part of great health. Actioning paleo principles in your diet could be the simplest and most effective way for you to decrease inflammation.

To learn why grains are so bad for you in much more detail, consider buying my book on the paleo diet. In it, I tackle many, many issues just like inflammation causing grains and focus on simplifying paleo concepts into bite sized chunks. Check it out here. 

2 thoughts on “Grains And Inflammation”

  1. Thanks for your article on Celiac’s disease.
    Could you comment on how the Paleo diet can work for someone with Crohn’s disease?

    1. Hi Ian,

      Thanks for the comment and question!

      I believe that the paleo style of eating can successfully help those suffering from Crohn’s disease cope with both the symptoms, as well work towards mitigating it from your life as much as possible. Because Crohn’s disease is a bowl inflammatory disease, eating things like legumes and grains will provoke further inflammation, just like those with gluten intolerance. Obviously, this is something we should all be aiming to avoid, and because sufferers of Crohn’s are predisposed to intestinal inflammation, a gluten and lectin free diet would be incredibly beneficial.

      Depending on the degree of severity of Crohn’s disease, one may aim to simply be rid of medication as an initial goal. Once a state of equilibrium has been achieved, work towards defeating the symptoms of Crohn’s could be pursued. I would expect that even someone who was undergoing fairly heavy steroid medication could use paleo eating principles to remove the need to take the drug fairly quickly and effectively.

      I think that the focus for a sufferer should be to heal from a point of chronic inflammation and regain a consistent level of symptom free living. This could be achieved by following paleo eating principles to a T and resisting the urge to eat foods which provoke flare ups of symptoms. Results could probably be seen at about the one month mark of eating paleo, however the key to success lies in consistency, and I think the positive effects felt after turning ones back on inflammation promoting, anti-nutrient containing foods would be live changing and permanent.

      Avoiding the following foods would help someone suffering from Crohn’s disease:

        Cereal grains (lectins and gliadin)
        Legumes, including soya and peanuts (lectins and saponins)
        Tomato (tomato lectin and alpha-tomatin)
        Potato (lectins and saponins)
        Chili (capsaicin)
        Quillaja (foaming substance)
        Quinoa (saponins)
        Egg white (lysozyme)
        Alfalfa sprouts (saponins)
        Amaranth (saponins)

      I hope you’ve found my reply useful, and please remember that I am not a medical professional, so if you have any doubts on the paleo diet, consulting a medical doctor is not the worst idea. Having said that though, I really do believe that paleo could help treat Crohn’s as well as almost any intestinal inflammatory disease.

      If you have any further questions or would simply like to chat, please don’t hesitate to email me at


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