6 Important Reasons to Pack Your Plate with Whole Grains and Dietary Fiber (But Listen to Rich Roll)

Image for post
Image for post

Whole grains? Oats, barley, whole wheat, brown rice, and the like. How can they be healthy when New York Times best-selling books by medical doctors declare we are all suffering from eating them in the modern era?

It may seem very confusing or even settled that a grain-free diet is the new black. Indeed, there are issues with grains being treated with glyphosate and other contaminants in the US market and it is worth listening to Zach Bush, MD on the Rich Roll Podcast (episode 414) to further your knowledge on the importance of selecting organic products.

Most people worldwide consume less than 20 g of dietary fiber per day. In 2015, the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition recommended an increase in dietary fiber intake to 30 g per day. In the US, fiber intake among adults averages 15 g a day. Rich sources of dietary fiber include whole grains, legumes (oh no, killer lectins in legumes), vegetables and fruit. So, can grains and even gluten rich foods, be healthy? New science of massive proportions has an answer: YES. Read on.

Brand New Research on Fiber and Whole Grains

A new study was commissioned by the World Health Organization to determine if foods rich in fiber can best protect against non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like heart disease, cancer and diabetes as well as weight gain.

The researchers included 185 observational studies containing data that relate to 135 million-person years and 58 clinical trials involving 4,635 adult participants. They focused on premature deaths from and incidence of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease and stroke, as well as incidence of type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer and cancers associated with obesity: breast, endometrial, esophageal and prostate cancer.

Their results? For every 8 grams increase of dietary fiber eaten per day, total deaths and incidences of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer decreased by 5–27%. Protection against stroke, and breast cancer also increased. Consuming 25g to 29g each day was adequate but the data suggest that higher intakes of dietary fiber could provide even greater protection.

Can whole grains possibly be healthy? For every 15g increase of whole grains eaten per day, total deaths and incidences of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer decreased by 2–19%. Higher intakes of whole grains were associated with a 13–33% reduction in NCD risk — translating into 26 fewer deaths per 1,000 people from all-cause mortality and seven fewer cases of coronary heart disease per 1,000 people. The meta-analysis of clinical trials involving whole grains showed a reduction in bodyweight. Whole grains are high in dietary fibre, which could explain their beneficial effects.

What did the experts say? “The health benefits of fiber are supported by over 100 years of research into its chemistry, physical properties, physiology and effects on metabolism. Fiber-rich whole foods that require chewing and retain much of their structure in the gut increase satiety and help weight control and can favorably influence lipid and glucose levels. The breakdown of fiber in the large bowel by the resident bacteria has additional wide-ranging effects including protection from colorectal cancer” said Professor Jim Mann.

Other Key Recent Research on Grains and Fiber

Recently, 5 research studies have been published that eating foods rich in fiber and including whole grains, despite the gluten, may have significant advantages compared with gluten free diets. These include:


Rice and fish are often favored on a GFD, but these foods may concentrate toxic heavy metals like arsenic, mercury, cadmium, and lead. In one study, researchers evaluated blood samples in 11,353 subjects, 55 of whom had celiac disease. They found that in people who were observing a GFD, blood levels of mercury, lead, and cadmium were higher than in those who did not avoid gluten. The increased burden of toxic heavy metals was found in those with and without celiac disease following a GFD.


Scientists presented data at the American Heart Association in March 2017 from 199,794 subjects whose dietary histories had been followed for over 30 years. The presentation reported that those subjects who ate the most gluten had the lowest risk of type 2 diabetes upon follow-up. Believe it or not, the group eating the highest amount of gluten foods compared to the lowest group had a 13 percent lower risk of diabetes. The major sources of gluten were pizza, muffins, pretzels, and bread.


The Harvard School of Public Health analyzed over 100,000 subjects for 25 years, collecting data on dietary histories periodically. During the follow-up period, over 6,000 cases of new coronary heart disease were identified. Participants with the highest intake of gluten had a rate of heart disease significantly lower than those with the lowest intake of gluten. After adjustments for intake of refined grains, gluten consumption was associated with a 15 percent lower risk of developing coronary heart disease. The researchers concluded that “the promotion of a GFD for the purpose of coronary heart disease prevention among asymptomatic people without celiac disease should not be recommended.”


The world was abuzz in October 2015 when the World Health Organization announced their findings that processed red meats like bacon were not only associated with cancer but directly caused cancer as a Class 1 carcinogen. An updated analysis was just released that confirmed these findings. Also reported in the study was how whole grains (containing the gluten family of chemicals) reduce colorectal cancer risk. In fact, colorectal cancer risk decreased by 17 percent for each 90-gram-per-day increase in consumption of whole grains. We have known for years that high-fiber diets prevent disease, and 100 percent whole grains are a great source of fiber.


In a study presented in Europe, an analysis of the nutritional composition of foods in a GFD versus their gluten-containing counterparts revealed that the foods for a GFD had significantly more calories, protein, saturated fatty acids, and often sugar. Over 600 products were evaluated and this disparity was found particularly in breads, pizzas, and flours.

What to do now? On the one hand, the data favoring enhanced health from adding more dietary fiber from grains and legumes is overwhelming. On the other hand, in the US, a concern over contamination of grains with glyphosate (RoundUp) sensitizing the gut of many persons to an immune sensitivity to eating grains is real. I recommend eating more fiber from legumes, fruits, vegetables and grains but sourcing organic products whenever possible.

If you visit my restaurants (GreenSpace Café, GreenSpace and Go, and the ATX Food Cofood truck in Austin, TX), you will be enjoy our sourcing of products from organic providers for your health.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store