You mow your lawn, then save the clippings to consume on top of your salad, right? Well, why not? It’s green, it’s a plant, just like spinach, kale, chard, and broccoli. Why can’t we eat the green leafy clippings, dowsed with your favorite Ranch dressing or mixed into a casserole and proudly served to your family?
You walk on it and the dog does its duty on it? Oh, and the neighborhood kids take a short cut traipsing through your back yard? Well, why not set aside an area, fenced off to keep it clean, and use those clippings?
Well, let’s say you did and you tossed all those cups and cups of fresh grass clippings all over your salad. What would happen? Well, it causes cramps, abdominal pain, diarrhea and other peculiar effects. Should you pass it out through the usual digestive path, it comes out whole: completely undigested, making a real mess of your nice bathroom. (Modern “experiments” in human grass consumption come from observations of starving populations, such as those in North Korea, who are forced to consume grass and tree bark and become ill.)
Why? Because humans are incapable of digesting the components of grasses. Ruminants, such as cows, sheep, and goats, have evolved the digestive apparatus that allows them to digest grasses–a dental pad to replace upper incisors, continuously growing teeth to replace the enamel abraded by sand-like particles in grasses, the capacity to chew a cud, producing over 100 quarts of saliva per day, a 4-compartment stomach, unique microorganisms in their bowel flora that digest cellulose, a lengthy spiral colon–adaptations that we do not possess. You grow teeth twice over a lifetime, having to make do with a set you last grew during pre-pubertal years, don’t chew a cud, produce a meager one quart of saliva daily, have a tiny, single-compartment stomach and a short colon with only a couple of turns, and have minimal capacity to digest cellulose fibers (explaining why we also cannot eat tree bark).
In short, humans are incapable of digesting grasses, i.e., plants from the biological family Poaceae. Edible plants, such as spinach and broccoli, are not members of this family. (Spinach is from the family Amaranthaceae and broccoli is from the family Brassicaceae.) Grasses that fall under the family Poaceae include rye grass and Kentucky Bluegrass that grace modern lawns–as well as wheat, rye, barley, corn, oats, rice and other “grains.”
You probably don’t think of grains, such as those in a bagel or taco, as grasses, since they don’t look green and leafy. That’s because grains are produced from the seeds of grasses. Because we are total incapable of digesting the leaves, stalk, roots, or husk of grasses, we resort to consuming the seeds alone. Even then, however, extensive processing is required to try and make them digestible: drying, pulverizing, reconstituting with water, brewing, or baking with wheat flour, for instance. Corn doesn’t look like a grass because the cob is really a mutated seed head, a grotesque mutation of the original teosinte or maize that, if you saw it, is indistinguishable from any other grass, no huge cob in sight. Despite these efforts, most of the components of the seeds of grasses, as with the rest of the grass plant, remain indigestible. It means that proteins like wheat germ agglutinin, WGA, (in wheat, rye, barley, and rice) are untouched by the process of human digestion, and prolamin proteins, such as gliadin in wheat, secalin in rye, hordein in barley, zein in corn, avenin in oats, and kafirin in sorghum, are likewise either completely undigestible or only partially digestible (i.e., not broken down into single amino acids, as we do with, say, egg or meat proteins). Undigested WGA exerts peculiar gastrointestinal and inflammatory effects in its passage through the human digestive system, such as blocking gallbladder and pancreatic function and exerting direct toxic effects on intestinal tissue. Undigested gliadin is the first step in triggering autoimmunity, while partially-digested gliadin fragments act as peptides that have opiate-like effects on the human brain, effects that include appetite-stimulation and paranoia. It is therefore the indigestible nature of grasses that explains why so many unexpected and peculiar effects develop when humans try to consume the seeds of grasses.
Surely smart food scientists, dietitians, and people in agriculture such as those in the USDA, acknowledge the problematic nature of the human consumption of grasses–but they don’t. Instead, they say “eat all you can every day at every meal” through the U.S. Dietary Guidelines and other instruments. This advice is therefore not just wrong for our species; it is devastating with results that include obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, psychiatric illness such as depression, eating disorders, skin rashes, seizures and other forms of neurological disruption, dementia, gastrointestinal cancers, hypertension, and heart disease–to name a few.
More on this line of thinking can be found in my new book, Wheat Belly Total Health, including the steps you need to take to fully unwind all the health-disruptive effects of years of being wrongly and tragically told to eat the seeds of grasses.