Paleo pyramid

Fruits & Vegetables v.s. Grains

Anyone who has spent some time poking around Health Habits knows that I am a big fan of Paleo style diets for weight loss and general health.

So, it should come as no surprise that when I when I start working with a new personal training client, one of the first things I do is change their diet over to my version of Paleo eating.

And one of the first things that they do is complain about the absence of bread, pasta, rice, croissants, bagels, toast with jam, brioche, sandwiches, Egg McMuffins, Big Macs, pizza, deep fried Snickers bars, etc….

In desperation, some of them trot out the argument that they NEED whole grains in order to be healthy.

Their doctor said so, and so did their nutritionist and so says the government in their healthy food pyramids.

Everyone says that whole grains are a necessary part of a healthy diet.

The problem is, everybody is wrong.

And I aim to prove it with this special Nutrition version of Celebrity Deathmatch.

Let the deathmatch begin.

About 10,000 years ago, our ancestors made a huge cavewoman breakthrough. They learned that inedible raw grains (wheat, corn, oats, etc…) could be made edible by cooking them.

This was huge.

  • Grains were much more stable than fruits & vegetables and could be stored to help them survive the winter months.
  • Grains are dense in calories. This produced two benefits.
  1. It was now easier to transport food as they followed migrating herds of animals,
  2. and it suddenly became much easier to eat the required amount of calories.
  • Since raw grain is a seed, hunter-gatherer communities could choose to stay put and become farmers.

In fact, it has been argued that the domestication of grain is one of the major factors in the evolution of human civilization.

  • Seasonal starvation eliminated
  • Permanent communities established
  • Animals domesticated for meat & dairy
  • Instead of families doing everything for themselves, people can now specialize at specific trades (farmer, toolmaker, doctor, personal trainer, blogger)
  • and so on….

So, at this point in our evolution, grains seem to be pretty darn awesome.

Fast forward to today.

  • The evolution of human society no longer needs grains to keep the wheels turning. (at least in the “developed” world)
  • Your fridge keeps the meat & veggies from spoiling
  • Seasons are next to irrelevant with modern food production
  • And we certainly don’t have a deficit of available calories…too many calories is our problem.


But wait, what about the fiber?

  • Without my whole wheat bagel, how will I get my fiber?
  • And if I don’t get my fiber, won’t I get all blocked up and maybe even get colon cancer?

Note – this is a real argument that I get from real people

Okay, fiber is important.

But, surprise, surprise, grains aren’t the only foods high in fiber.

In fact, if you look at this link, you will see that except for wheat & corn bran, the top 300 (I stopped looking at 300) sources of dietary fiber are all fruits and vegetables.

You don’t need whole grains to get your fiber.

But, what about the vitamins and minerals?

Whole grains are loaded with vitamins and minerals like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, iron, magnesium and selenium.

Hmmmm…why don’t we take a look at the nutrition info again and see if that’s true.

  • Thiamin … And the winner is fruits, vegetables and once again…bran.
  • Riboflavin … veggies win again
  • Niacin … and again
  • Folate … and again
  • Iron … and again
  • Magnesium … and again
  • Selenium …and last but not least, it’s a tie between veggies and grains!!!

So, except for the fine showing in the selenium category…

Fruits & vegetables are the best source of vitamins and minerals.

This Nutritional Deathmatch is looking pretty lopsided.

And here comes the knockout punch:

Like most of my clients, there are a lot of people out there who need to lose a few pounds.

And the last thing an obese person needs to eat is food that is dense in calories and low in nutrients.

And when it comes to raw ingredients (fruit, vegetables, animal protein, grains, dairy, fat & oils, seeds & nuts, legumes), grains are the worst.

Grains provide too many calories and not enough nutrition.

And there’s your knockout


Fruits & Vegetables are the Greatest!!!

And if you still don’t believe me, free free to perouse the links below.

Nutrition Info – Fruit, Vegetables & Grains


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  1. You state that fiber is important – why?

    Lately I’ve been coming across posts like these:

    Hardly objective sources, I know, but I haven’t really found any conclusive arguments proving fiber is the necessity conventional wisdom makes it out to be. I’d love it if you could point me towards objective research proving the necessity of fiber.

  2. Jezwyn,

    Thanks for the question.

    I have been thinking about it for a few minutes and I think it is a great question for a post. if I am being honest, my belief in the benefits of fibre is not based on specific research but mainly on my personal digestive experience and my upbringing in a “fibre is good” household..along with probiotics, fish oil, etc…

    This week, I am going to do a bit of research. Thanks for the links

  3. I understand that I don’t NEED grains to be healthy, but I have trouble seeing myself ever giving them up. I love sourdough and whole grain breads, and sandwiches, pastas, and rice are important parts of my diet. My daily fallback for lunch is a sandwich mostly because it’s so quick to make and so easy to pack and take to work, no refrigeration required. And when I come home and have no idea what to make for dinner, it’s so easy to saute some veggies and toss them with pasta, or defrost some of the curry or other sauce I’ve stored in the freezer and throw it over rice. What would you suggest I do instead?

    And let’s pretend like I did someday try to cut out grains. How should I do it? Cold turkey? Or is there a process you recommend?

  4. Here is another, more credible source, being skeptical of fiber.

    Good Calories, Bad Calories also has a run down of how the fiber hypothesis came into fruition.

    My personal experience has taught me that if you drop the carbs you don’t need fiber.

  5. Great book – gotta love Gary Taubes

    About your personal experience, are you saying that when you went carb-free, you didn’t notice a significant change in your (sorry about this) bowel movements?

    No constipation?

    BTW, feel free to ignore this question.

  6. Danny,

    That’s really interesting.

    My experience with zero carb was constipation, bad breath and a baaadddd temper. It totally killed my appetite and was great for weight loss but I was almost crying while seated on the throne.

    Adding fruits & veg back into the mix fixed me right up.

    Maybe you have a bit more carnivore in your genetic make-up than I do.

  7. How much fat were you eating? That’s usually the make-or-break element in terms of colonic function on a carnivorous diet, so my reading tells me. If all you eat is lean meat, then things are going to have trouble working their way through. Lean meat alone is so unnatural when you think of the entire carcass eaten by traditional peoples. Bad temper also sounds like lack of dietary fat. Bad breath sounds like poor hygiene ;)

    Plus, elimination tends to happen less frequently on zero carb since our bodies can use most of the fuel we give it, rather than having to pass fibrous junk through our delicate systems. But crying sounds more like a clog than an empty bowel. :(

  8. Hah,
    No were probably of equal carnivory. Your symptoms sound like adaptation, which everyone goes through. Stefanson estimated that it could take up to 6 months to fully adapt to not eating carbohydrates. I would say it takes even longer, depending on how much damage has been done.

    Carbs can be extremely addictive so when we drop them our feel good neurotransmitters suffer. Luckily this is just short term.

  9. Of course it is important to eat a balanced diet, but I think it is also necessary to use supplements if your body is in need of things you aren’t obtaining through food.

  10. Good analysis. I’m not sure I agree 100%, but I like your argument. I think that it is important to distinguish between whole grains (like the kind they claim to have in Coco Puffs) and intact grains, like barley.

    I think one of the major benefits of whole grains is that they provide slowly digesting carbs for fuel. Personally I lost quite a bit of weight (for me) when I added them to my diet. One major reason is that I’m not so damn hungry all day.

    Also, there is a difference between soluble and insoluble fiber, and grains and veggies have very different profiles in that regard. But I don’t like talking about individual nutrients and health–it’s like describing the tip of the iceberg.

    Thanks for making me think :)

  11. Hi Darya

    I agree with you that when we focus in on individual nutrients, we tend to lose the big picture. And that in comparison to most foods, whole or intact grains are a superior choice.

    But, I still think fruits & veg are better.

    And fiber levels make up part of my belief (see this table) (original research)

    With that being said, on a freezing cold Canadian morning, a nice bowl of steel cut oats does more for my body/mind/spirit than some fruit from Chile or frozen vegetables.

    Thanks for thinking…and commenting

    BTW, I added the feed of you blog to my reader and I am going to try the summer squash noodle recipe

  12. I agree with what you’re saying. I could not lose weight for over 2 months. Tracking every calorie I ate. Exercised. I did everything “right”. Once I ditched the grains (whole grains, brown rice, oatmeal) and made up for my carbs by eating more vegetables (and less fruit too) the weight has started dropping significantly.

    I have done a bit of research and can not find one reason that you need to eat a grain if you are eating your vegetables. I can find many reasons not to eat them.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with eating some, but not anywhere near what the government pyramid wants you to. I think a lot of this has to do with the low cost and convenience factors that grain gives you over vegetables.

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