Going Grain-Free

Let’s tackle the topic of grains today, shall we?SONY DSC

As most of you all know, I decided to go grain-free at the beginning of this year, as part of my 30-day Rose Cleanse, along with Austin’s 30-day Paleo Challenge. Though the Rose Cleanse does allow for some grains, I figured dinner would be easier to prepare for the two of us if we were simply both avoiding them. And it was easier.

While we had no intention of this becoming a full-blown lifestyle change– it was more of a “you never know until you try” sort of thing— Austin and I were feeling so wonderful when our 30-days were up, that we decided to continue our little grain-free experiment indefinitely.

Not strictly, mind you… since Austin and I don’t seem to suffer a serious intolerance to grains, we have both enjoyed a traditional cookie or bite of pasta here and there over the past few months. But really, most of the grain-based foods that we used to enjoy simply aren’t as appealing anymore.

In fact, I definitely enjoy my grain-free cookies MUCH more.

So, why avoid grains? Aren’t they healthy for you?

Here are a few points that piqued my interest:

1. When omitting grains, there is not a single nutrient that you need to supplement in your diet to replace them. In other words, any nutrient you get from eating grains can actually be found in other foods–> and potentially in better quantities when compared to the nutrition in grains. Fiber, folate, and B-vitamins, just to name a few, can all be found in in greater quantities in whole vegetables, nuts and seeds, as well as in lean proteins.

2. Avoiding grains can help stabilize Leptin levels. Leptin is the hormone responsible for letting your body know when you’re full, when you should burn fat, and when to reduce body fat storage. Obviously, you want this hormone working at it’s peak! Eating a diet high in grains and sugar may cause your body to metabolize sugar to fat, which can lead to a surge in leptin. Over time, your body may become resistant to leptin (just like you can become insulin resistant), meaning your body will no longer hear the signals to stop eating or to start burning fat. By removing grains from the diet, your leptin levels may have the opportunity to become balanced again, which may ultimately result in weight loss. [source]

3. Grains cause inflammation. The high starch content in grains has the potential to make them an inflammatory food. Chronic inflammation can lead to all sorts of problems, including arthritis, allergies, asthma, cardiovascular disease, bone loss, emotional imbalance and even cancer. Grains may be especially hard on your joints, due to their amino acid composition, which is similar to the soft tissue of our joints. When your body starts to attack the inflammation caused by grain, it may also attack your similarly composed soft tissue– which could lead to autoimmune conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis, and even more inflammation.  [source]

4. Grains must be properly prepared to ensure mineral absorption. Grains can actually inhibit vitamin and mineral absorption, when improperly prepared. (As they often are!) Grain contains phytic acid which can prevent proper mineral absorption. So, even if you’re eating a diet full of calcium and iron, you’re probably not fully absorbing nutrients from the foods you eat, if you’re also eating improperly prepared grains. Soaking and sprouting grains is recommended for proper absorption.

5. Grains aren’t great for your skin. Acne can be the result of blood sugar problems and inflammation– both of which are affected by consuming grains. Because grains are usually not digested properly, the undigested food putrefies in the gut and leak toxins into the body. If your body is overloaded with toxins, it tries to eliminate them through the skin, which creates the perfect environment for acne causing bacteria to grow. [source]

6. Grains aren’t great for your teeth. Grain may actually contribute to dental decay. Anthropological records of our pre-agricultural ancestors indicates very little to no tooth decay, which changed after the dawn of agriculture. Some anthropologists even use the presence of tooth decay as an indicator of an agricultural society. [source]

7. Grains are addictive. Eating grain can make you crave more grain. Who can stop at eating just one cookie? (If you can, you have more willpower than I do.) Because grains break down into sugar, they cause insulin levels to rise rapidly, only to crash later–> leaving you to crave even more grain. This also means you’ll want to eat more often, to keep your blood sugar levels feeling stable, causing the vicious cycle to repeat itself. Nora Gedgaudas has written in great detail about this cycle here.

For me, the deciding factor was this last point. Since cutting out grains, my cravings have been drastically reduced, and I no longer feel “addicted” to certain foods. It’s been an incredibly freeing experience!

I’ve also noticed that I’m almost never bloated after meals, my blood sugar feels balanced, and my skin’s appearance has improved. (In fact, I rarely feel the need to wear foundation anymore. Perhaps washing my face with olive oil has helped?)

And with so many grain-free options, like Elana’s Paleo bread, a perfect Cauliflower Pizza Crust, Two Bite Brownies, Peanut Butter Blondies, and Frosted Sugar Cookies… there’s really nothing that I could possibly miss!

Of course, just because I’m enjoying this lifestyle doesn’t mean I think it’s for everyone. We all, to a certain extent, experience both physical and emotional attachment to foods, and if you are feeling great while eating grain, then keep it up! There’s no such thing as “one diet that fits all.”

I do recommend looking into properly preparing your grains, however. There’s a great tutorial on how to do that here.

If you’d like to read more on the grain issue, I’ve found the following reading material helpful:

Books:

Breaking the Vicious Cycle

Primal Body, Primal Mind

Articles:

Why Grains Are Unhealthy, Mark’s Daily Apple

10 Reasons to Go Give Up Grains, The Nourished Kitchen

Donna’s “Kindling” Analogy in this article, Primal Body, Primal Mind

Reader Feedback: I’d love to hear your thoughts on grains! Any points that I missed? Have you ever tried going grain-free? Everyone in our house is grain-free, now–> even Yasha! She’s actually been eating grain-free longer than the both of us, and her health couldn’t be better. (A relief after what she’s been through!)

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Meet Megan Gilmore

Hi, I’m Megan. A former fast food junkie turned certified nutritionist consultant, trying to make healthy living as easy as possible. I believe in eating delicious whole foods on a regular basis to help naturally support the body’s detox organs— no juice fasting required. (Unless you want to!) If you make one of my healthy recipes, tag @detoxinista on Instagram or Facebook so I can see!

63 thoughts on “Going Grain-Free

  1. Baker Bettie

    I agree! I thought I would have such a difficult time when I gave up grains but so many people (including you) have paved the way for me for grain free options!

    Reply
  2. LizAshlee

    Thanks so much for posting all this great information!! I totally agree and feel so much better when not doing grains. I have done oats here and there, GF, but other than that my diet is primarily grain free. I do eat grain subs like quinoa, amaranth, millet with veggies, etc. if I want to have a grain like option.

    Have a great day!! 🙂

    Reply
  3. Felicia

    i just posted about eating grains and how i felt, and i have to say that i’m definitely better off without them since i stopped at the end of last summer. they are absolutely addictive for me, and there are far better substitutes that are easier on my digestion and healthier. all that info you posted is spot on! i feel soo much better grain free, and will have oats occasionally when the craving strikes. but the less i eat, the less i crave, and i don’t feel like i’m depriving myself at all. great post !!

    Reply
  4. Sara Maples

    I also switched to tea tree oil based face wash and my face looks way better. Thanks for the well-researched post!

    Reply
  5. Julie (A Case of the Runs)

    I can definitely see the benefits, but I couldn’t see myself maintaining this sort of lifestyle. I can see that grain-free stuff does require more prep (like if I wanted a cookie, which I know I would, etc.). Given that I barely have time to cook these days, I can’t see it happening right now.

    Reply
    1. Megan Post author

      Yes, if you don’t have time to cook, I can see how it would definitely be challenging! Though, I would argue that my grain-free cookies are actually FASTER to make than regular ones– only 5 ingredients! 😉

      Reply
  6. Lisa

    It looks like this could having amazing benefits, but I just don’t want to deprive myself of some of my beloved grains. Mostly, oat bran haha. I think its great if you notice problems from eating grains though, however I don’t. Great post though, lots of good info!

    Reply
  7. Sam

    This is one of my fav. post from you. You are absolutelly right. When I was vegan I was constant craving for sweet for grains for sweety things. When I went to kind of paleo gaps diet all my problem with craving bloating stopped. Even when I was doing food combining I did not do well with any grains. I think I have probem with leptin and insulin too, but now it is all great. I have also changed my supplement I do no longer eat any raw greens powder nor proteins one but I strated to eat cod liver oil butter oil blend I think it is the only “supplement”, cause it is real whole food together with probiotic I take. If you do not eat liver I highly recomend you cod liver oil butter oil blend cause you can be defficient in Vitamin A D K2 as I was before.

    Reply
  8. melanie

    Is quinoa classified under a grain? I know it is a seed, but does it have the same negative effects as grains? Thanks!!:)

    Reply
    1. Megan Post author

      Quinoa is technically a seed, and is often referred to as a “psuedo-grain” because it is cooked like a grain. It’s gluten-free and high in complete protein, so if it agrees with your digestion, I’d definitely recommend it!

      Some people who have problems digesting grain still report having trouble digesting quinoa… so it just depends on the individual.

      Reply
  9. Nadya @ Spinach and Yoga

    Great post, Megan! Personally, I don’t think that grains are a ‘one answer for all’ topic. One has to consider the strength of the digestive system, food combining habits, and the number of meals per day. Also, as you mentioned the way we eat grains makes a huge difference! Sprouted, soaked, cooked with certain digestive stimulating spices, grains can be an easy to digest meal. Gluten is not an enemy but it is very difficult to digest for someone with a weak digestive system.
    I notice that when properly combined, grains give me grounding and help to keep my Vata balanced. They also help to keep cravings for sweets at bay. Same as LizAshlee, I use mostly gluten free grain options and nothing processed.
    Individual approach is always the best when it comes to looking for a perfect diet.

    Reply
  10. ali

    Hi. Love your web site and your blog but wanted to add something to the grain-free conversation regarding weight management, cravings and physical sensitivities. I have been grain free for 15 years. Like most women who probob;y read your blog, yes, I have struggled with weight issues, bloating, allergies, cravings,food sensitivities and serious medical issues and medical diseases for most of my entire life. Going grain free is not a “cure” for inflammation in the body. Going grain free is not a “cure” for eliminating cravings for sweets in the body.It didn’t stabilize my leptin, give me great or better skin, or insure I have fabulous teeth. The body is a wonderdfully adaptive mechanism. If you only feed it proteins and vegetables and fats and nuts and seeds and fruits, you will still crave sugar. Try eating Lara bars, coconut or almond meal cookies

    Reply
    1. Megan Post author

      Yes, I agree Ali– going grain-free is definitely not a “cure all” for cravings and excess weight. After eating more than my fair-share of grain-free cookies, I can personally attest to that. 😉 (Though, I do find grain-free cookies more nutrient-rich, and therefore more satisfying than traditional cookies…)

      Grain-free isn’t necessarily for everyone, and people looking for lasting weight loss have to take many other things into account, as well!

      Reply
  11. Susie

    Thank you for your blog about going grain free. I have been grain free for the past few months and have never felt better! Your grain free cookies/ brownies are the best! I love your website, thank you!

    Reply
  12. Shannon

    Hi Susie,

    I just stumbled across your website today while searching for some grain free cinnamon raisin cookies and saw your biscuit posting, which look awesome. I am doing the 21 day sugar detox right now, so the biscuits will have to wait, but I tagged them so I can make them soon. I love your site. You have great recipes that I am eager to try. Many of them look very family friendly (I have 4 very opinionated children to feed). I also love your “what I ate” portion of your blog. Its always difficult coming up with different ideas of what to make and seeing them laid out daily with pictures and links to recipes is really great. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Megan Post author

      So glad you found me, Shannon! I hope you and your family will enjoy the cinnamon raisin biscuits– and my favorite grain-free cinnamon raisin cookies, for that matter– in the near future! 🙂

      Reply
      1. Shannon

        BTW – not sure why I called you Susie. I think I must have read the name in the prior post as I was typing. Sorry…

        I searched for your cinnamon raison cookies. Those look awesome and are likely what I will make.

        As a side – can you please post the portions of veggies you use to make your green drink recipe. I would love to try to duplicate.

        Thanks!
        Shannon

        Reply
  13. jeanne

    I went pretty much grain free at the beginning of the year, especially for reason number 7 and I love it! I notice that if I do give in and have a bread or some crackers I can’t stop myself and get massive sugar cravings so I’m best 100% free.

    My only problem is that (TMI ALERT!) since giving up oats, cereal and rice I’m not, ahem, eliminating as much as I used to…especially with the addition of cheese! Am I the only one? I know rose cleansers like outside help in this department but I try to be self sufficient 🙂

    Reply
    1. Megan Post author

      I also feel best 100% free– I can’t handle the cravings otherwise!! And you can rest assured that you’re not the only one with that other issue! I’ve been trying to be “self sufficient” as well, which can prove especially challenging after flying so much… fun, fun. LOL 😉

      Reply
  14. tara

    I’m finishing day 3 of grain free diet…not feeling great is it too early? How much time should I give for changes to happen?

    Reply
    1. Megan Post author

      With most diet changes, I’d expect to start seeing some results in 4-6 weeks. What are you hoping to achieve with a grain-free diet? How are you eating now that you’ve cut them out?

      Reply
  15. tereza crump

    My husband and I have been going wheat free for 30 days. We still eat brown rice and occasionally I make a soaked oatmeal cake. But no bread, cookies or pasta. WE have lost weight and feel great. We are thinking of doing this forever! 🙂

    Slowly I am reducing the rice and oats, but I am having a hard time figuring it out what to prepare for my kids age 2 to 9 years old. They are all very active and at their ideal weight. They eat lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs and meat. I usually serve green smoothies, fruit and eggs for breakfast. I have a little one that loves bread. So I have to serve toast. I was able to cut off the waffle a few months ago. Now and again she asks for it, but I distract her with toast. What can I do?

    For lunch we do salads, fish, veggie sticks, soups, rice and beans, chicken salad… occasionally whole wheat crackers or sandwiches, or corn tortillas pizza.

    The easiest is dinner: salads, beans, meats, soups and vegetables. I no longer serve pasta, or any type of bread at dinner.

    Any suggestions on how to transition them from the bread would be highly appreciated. Cookies and treats are now grain free: nuts covered in dark chocolate, or your grain free cookies, fruit dipped in peanut butter, or raw caramel, melted dark chocolate, nuts, etc

    thank you so much…. mytreasuredcreations at gmail dot com

    PS Although it says you got 32 comments on this post, I can only see up to the 17th one. I commented on another post but have not been able to see my comment or your answer because I can’t see the second page of comments. Help!! thanks.

    Reply
    1. nilsa

      Hi Tereza…sorry to butt in,

      The count of “comments” at the top includes the replies to numbered comments.

      Sounds like you are doing pretty well…I know with my girls (5 & 4) slow transitions are best and I introduce kind new thing at a time. Sometimes I don’t even tell them it’s different and let them figure out what they think.

      I’m interested in seeing what Megan has to say!

      Reply
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  17. Karen

    My hubby and I have been grain free this is the 4th week now. I read the book “Wheat Belly” by Dr. William Davis and it was an eye opener as to how bad wheat really is for you. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. Almost immediately my hubby said his heartburn he had every night was gone, symptoms of IBS are gone, my bloating is gone, and we are both losing weight. Hubby is diabetic which we are hoping to reverse with this new way of eating. Glad to find your site with all the good recipes…hoping to try some soon. Thanks 🙂

    Reply
  18. Karen

    Forgot to add it isn’t just wheat we’ve given up, but all grains, plus rice and potatoes (for the most part)

    Karen

    Reply
  19. Betty

    HI Megan,

    I went grain free exactly two weeks ago, an since I have a sweet tooth (who doesn’t?) your website has proven to be a lifesaver!! I have baked quite a few batches of cookies for my family and I knew I hit success when my boys were clamoring for more! Thank you for helping us tide along, and not feel too deprived!

    I read wheat belly and am basically following his guidelines, however after being on the diet I have seen no positive improvement on my health and well-being which is why I originally started. I was looking to improve digestion, gas bloating very low energy levels, and some inflammation in the joints. Im only 29 years old. In addition I also gained 2 lbs over the last two weeks, and was hoping to lose a couple.
    It all doesn’t make sense because I am eating so much healthier now, I was a real junk eater before!

    Any advice?? Should I hang in there or throw in the towel and look for something else??

    TIA!
    And keep those great recipes coming! You really make a difference!

    Reply
    1. Megan Post author

      Hi Betty!

      I’m so glad to hear you’re enjoying my recipes. I haven’t read Wheat Belly, so I’m not familiar with his exact guidelines, but I assume if it encourages you to eat more fruits and vegetables, and less wheat and traditional baked goods, that would certainly be a step in the right direction! Keep in mind that there’s no “one plan” that works for everyone, so when you mention throwing in the towel and trying something else, that sounds like you’re considering jumping from one extreme to another. I’d suggest sticking to a whole food diet and tweaking it to fit your needs from there, rather than jumping to an entirely different approach.

      Best of luck!

      Reply
  20. Sybil

    Do you recommend Ezekiel bread or other sprouted grain bread that has been minimally heated or processed. I have tried to go grain-free, but get the ‘shakes’ if I do not at least 2 servings per day. I have started adding sprouted grain toast and bagels just twice per day and it really helps. I have consulted with an RD and she recommended severely reducing grains, but I cannot eliminate them without discomfort – unless you have any tips on how to do so (?)

    Reply
  21. Ciara

    Great article. I’m a Coeliac and went to see a Naturopath a week ago and she recommended that I go ‘grain free’….I do feel less full and I realise now that I may have been more bloated that I thought!Looking forward to eating some different food over the next few weeks…needs some breakfast tips as don’t want to eat eggs every day!!

    Reply
  22. Trisha

    Hi Megan – I love this site. I just had an ALCAT blood test done and found out I have a moderate sensitivity to wheat and a mild sensitivity to gluten. I also have a mild sensitivity to HFCS, cane sugar, maple syrup and honey. My doctor recommended using stevia as a sweetener. I just tried your recipe for paleo chocolate chip cookies, and they taste delicious, but they are crumbly. Any suggestions to make them not so crumbly? I subbed stevia for the maple syrup and butter for the coconut oil. Thanks for your blog – I love it!

    Reply
    1. Megan Post author

      Glad you’re enjoying my site! If the cookies are crumbly, they probably need more oil or butter as a binder. By omitting the maple syrup, you lose some of the moisture and that would create a dry and crumbly cookie.

      Reply
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  24. Cordell

    Hello, our family has been wheat/gluten free for a year now and it’s been going pretty well. The challenge is trying to feed two very active kids, 12 and 9. We find without the grain/carb piece in their lunch they come home from school very hungry and immediately ask for a snack.
    What do you recommend for lunches for small growing children?

    Reply
  25. cynde

    I have hypothyroidism. I definetly feel better grain free, but it is harder to maintain and get my husband and sons on, because like most people they like convenience. Have you made grain free cookies and bread and kept them in the freezer? Do they keep well? Do you think i could pass off the bread and cookies to my picky eaters? If so, any recipes you think would be the most kid friendly? Thank you for all the great info!

    Reply
  26. Laurie

    For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why I was experiencing WATER RETENTION all over (face, hands, etc.) along with digestive problems. It was grains and dairy! I took the Immuno Bloodprint that tests 115 different foods. No wonder. Then, my “switch” was reading “The Wheat Belly”. It was a huge help in giving you the knowledge of why-why wheat and grains are not meant to be consumed. PERIOD. I am amazed at how liberated I feel now that I have eliminated grains. It took a very small amount of time before I felt it… like within a few weeks. I NEVER in a million years thought I could experience this. Now I know why everyone else (my skinny friends) exercised so much control, while I wolfed down the trays of sweets. They simply didn’t have that uncontrollable craving! It had NOTHING to do with control! Now the challenge is making time to prepare foods ahead of time, and bringing them to work-which, by the way, is a RESTAURANT I OWN! ARGH!!!

    Reply
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  31. Kayli Schattner

    Thanks so much for this post! I’ve been wanting to eat less grains + haven’t known much about how to go about it as I was raised to incorporate them into just about every meal. I really appreciate these tips!

    Reply
  32. Viv

    A lot of misleading information. All grains do not cause inflammation. Tell me oh wise one why the Japanese live such long lives and did so well eating rice and the Mediterranean’s who ate whole grains ? Please give me one society that lived long lives on a totally grain free diet? What you don’t get is how Whole grains help you and how they fights disease and improves health it is how it works together with other foods in the digestive tract. Fiber helps prevent blood clots that can trigger heart attacks or strokes. Yes you can get fiber from fruit but there is a different digestive process, Grains have essential minerals, such as magnesium, selenium, copper, and manganese. What you need to cut out to be healthy is white flour processed foods and fried foods. Limit red meat. Selling the no grain fad is a bad idea. Eat your oats , rice quinoa and whole grain bread and you will live a lot healthier!

    Reply
  33. alvin vinson

    when you say grain free are you talking all grains or just wheat?
    i’m interested in starting this but I really don’t know where to start

    Reply
    1. Megan Post author

      I personally started with just eliminating wheat from my diet, but my husband and I also experimented with eliminating all grains at one point– including rice, quinoa, millet, etc. I found that I feel best when I don’t eat gluten, but I do still enjoy certain psuedograins, like quinoa and buckwheat. It’s totally up to you to see how you feel!

      Reply
  34. bkat

    It’s true the cavemen did not live very long. I do have a problem eating the wheat of today (diarrhea; increased appetite) but I think it is because it is genetically-modified which manufacturers have found adds to cravings. I think a solution is to use King Arthur’s flour or flour from health food stores. My doctor had told me years ago to quit eating bread if I wanted to lose weight because of “something they have done to flour.”
    I know a woman who only eats rice and she is very thin.

    Reply
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  36. Michelle

    Thanks so much for sharing these recipes. I am hoping to sneak more veggies into my kids diet by eliminating much of the grain and most of the gluten. I am very skeptical of the health benefits of a totally grain-free diet, but think blood sugar might be better balanced by reducing grain consumption. My own kids are served veggies regularly, but reach for the grains, dairy and meat first. I am trying gluten-free as a last resort effort to help my son who has ADHD and does not respond well to medication. I generally think any diet that requires elimination of entire categories of food to be faddish, but can sure see how refined sugar and flour can imbalance the appetite, and think that most can benefit from less grains and more veggies. Tasty recipes are a key way to start that ball rolling.

    Reply
  37. VanillaMacaroon

    Hi Megan!
    Do you think you could eventually write a post about all the different “alternative” flours and their nutritional value? I am very confused about them. I originally wanted to move away from grains because of the horrible cravings they give me (which you talk about in reason #7). But then according to what I find online, some of those flours, like arrowroot or potato starch, might cause even worse sugar spikes than wheat and eventually backfire if you have them throughout your life. What do you think? What are your staple “alternative” flours? Thanks a lot!!

    Reply
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  40. Amy

    I so agree! Grain free is the best way to be! Been mostly grain free myself since July 2012. Only eat a bit of rice once in a while and I never felt better!

    Reply

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