Are grains really all that bad for us? To listen to some athletes talk, you'd think grain foods are the dieter's demon. Often demoted to being "just carbs," whole grains are actually a beneficial part of a sports diet. But to the detriment of many athletes, grain foods—in particular, wheat—have gotten a bad rap in the past few years. Sensationalized by books such as Wheat Belly and Grain Brain, the "wheat is bad" message has gone viral.
Certainly, people who are gluten intolerant or have celiac disease need to shun wheat, but that's only seven percent of the population. Readily available carbohydrates from whole wheat and other whole grains foods can help most athletes fuel their muscles easily and optimally.
More: The Gluten-Free Athlete
Because wheat myths and grain grenades abound on the Internet, Oldways sponsored a conference in Boston in November 2014 that included all you might want to know about grains. Oldways is a nonprofit nutrition education organization that encourages "health through heritage" with culturally relevant nutrition education programs, including the Mediterranean Food Alliance, Vegetarian Network and African Health & Heritage. Their Whole Grains Council hosted the conference Whole Grains: Breaking Barriers. More than 250 nutrition and agriculture professionals from around the world gathered to learn state-of-the art answers to the confusion surrounding grains and gluten. Here are a few of the highlights.
Why so Much Confusion?
Speaker James Hamblin, senior editor of The Atlantic, clarified why sensational anti-grain messages are so popular in the media. "Sensational" information sells easily—which makes it easier to make a living as a writer. Sensational stories with personal appeal, such as "How I lost 50 pounds in five weeks by eating a gluten-free diet," can easily go viral on the Internet and influence large numbers of people. While such stories can lack scientific scrutiny, they can certainly generate lots of clicks.
As for anecdotal reports about athletes who report feeling so much better when they remove grains from the diet, the question arises: What were you eating before you went gluten-free? The common answer: a SAD (Standard American Diet). Of course they feel better when they start to eat better.