Going Grain-Free

Let’s tackle the topic of grains today, shall we?measuring cup with grains

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?)

baked cookies on a cookie sheet

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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Comments

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!

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!

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

    Megan

    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!

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.

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.

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!!

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!

Lynn

I cut out white bread, rolls and pizza crust (I scrape off the toppings and eat without the crust) around the end of July of this year (with just a few minor slip ups with homemade buttermilk biscuits which are irresistable to me ; ). It’s now Sept 24 and I’ve lost 12 pounds without doing anything else other than cutting out loaf bread, rolls, canned biscuits and pizza crust along with the morning pastry with my coffee and of course no cookies and very little sweets other than raw honey when I get cravings. I still eat a very limited amount of rice, pasta and potatoes (baked). I need to lose around 25-30 more pounds. I hope the weight keeps “falling off”. And I feel a lot better without the mass produced, bromine filled bread. I don’t stay hungry all the time like before and I fill up faster. I really think the mass produced (corporate) bread with all it’s toxic “dough conditioners” and the bromine they replaced iodine with (bromine is termite POISON), is the cause of the obesity epidemic in the USA. Plus the chemical high fructose corn syrup they replaced sugar with that goes straight to the liver and then is stored as fat. Cut out bread and HFCS and you will lose weight! I could not lose weight by reducing calories but now it seems to be coming off effortlessly.

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