August 28, 2011

Top 10 Surprising Facts About Wheat/Grains

By Tim Lochhead

#10 Support Heart Health & More with This Little Known Tip

Continuing our countdown of the Top 10 Surprising Facts about Wheat/Grains.

So far we’ve learned the concept that all living things, plant or animal, have defensive or offensive mechanisms for survival.

Wheat and Grains have several offensive ones that work to disrupt predators (anyone who would eat the grains). We’ve looked at a variety of substances found in wheat and grains and how they wreak havoc on our bodies including our digestive system and brains resulting in a variety of ailments. If that weren’t enough, they also cause addiction in several ways as discussed in Countdown #7.

In today’s final countdown we’re looking at Potassium/Sodium balance.

I will admit that this isn’t a direct effect of grains like the previous posts (that’s why it’s #10), but it is still such an important an under-viewed issue that I’m calling attention to it here and now. Read on and you’ll see why this still earned a spot in the wheat and grain countdown.

Like the previous post on acid/alkaline balance, the potassium/sodium balance also involves the kidneys which is why this item doesn’t get any respect (recall the kidneys being like the Rodney Dangerfield of our organ systems).

Why is the potassium/sodium ratio important?

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at more than 12,000 adults and their diets for close to 15 years. They were analyzing the effects of sodium and potassium on heart disease, heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.

Several studies have shown mixed results about sodium and heart health, and this study highlighted the importance of higher potassium and having a more favourable potassium to sodium ratio.[1] 

The study found that people with the highest ratios were more than twice as likely to die from a heart attack compared with those with the lowest ratios. They also were 46% more likely to die from a heart-related death compared with those with the lowest ratios.

As Loren Cordain, PhD points out in his book The Paleo Diet for Athletes, current potassium to sodium ratios for Americans are less than 1 whereas hundreds of computer simulated paleo-diets reveal ratios greater than 5!

So what do we do? Just lower sodium?

Again, sodium alone isn’t the issue, although it is a part of it.

A big problem comes from processed foods (many of which can contain wheat, but again this is more of a knock on junk food) as these foods contain a lot of sodium.

People have had no issues with higher sodium intake (so quality is likely key, as well as the below factor) and people with low sodium intake have had heart etc. issues.

So if it’s not just sodium the bigger issue is a more favourable potassium-sodium ratio and more potassium, period!

Along the same lines of the last post about being in an beneficial alkaline instead of acidic state, vegetables and fruits are the best sources of potassium, while grains are very low. Recall from last time that vegetables and grains tend to provide the same nutrients, but veggies have more and do it better.

Back to Mineral Blocking Phytates

Recall from Countdown #3 that phytates found in grains (which can be removed to some extent by soaking or sprouting) block the absorption of important minerals like zinc and magnesium.

Guess what these do?

They do many, many good things and among their functions:

  • Zinc helps increase potassium and decrease sodium
  • Magnesium helps lower sodium


So, mineral deficiencies can be a part of this story. That is why they are key players in BioSignature Modulation and an important part of the body-shaping methodology of Your Missing Link!

Head-to-Head: Wheat vs. Greens

So what’s a head-to-head match up look like?

100 g of ‘low sodium’ instant oatmeal (Quaker, dry) yields 375 mg potassium and 278 mg sodium for a ratio of 1.3 (still better than 1 but this is even a sodium reduced product).

100 g of cooked brown rice yields 43 mg potassium  and 5 mg sodium for a ratio of 8.6 (not bad actually, but the absolute value of potassium is still pretty low).

100 g of spinach yields 558 mg potassium and 79 mg sodium for a ratio of 7 to 1! (Better than the others, also above the 5:1 ratio related to the paleo note above, and a pretty nice absolute dose of potassium too).



For this and ALL the other surprising facts about wheat and grains, try switching out the wheat for substitutes including loading up on more veggies.

In a few days we’ll look at some wheat-free treats that rock!

In the meantime check out some high potassium foods for your favourites:

High Potassium Foods 

    • Sun-dried tomatoes
    • Spinach
    • Swiss chard
    • Mushrooms
    • Sweet potatoes (with skin)
    • Dried coconut or coconut water (one of my favourites post workout!)
    • Avocados
    • Bananas
    • Dried apricots
    • Dried prunes
    • Raisins
    • Dates
    • Dried Figs


       Arch Intern Medicine. 2011;171[13]:1191-1192