Should You Be Avoiding Grains?

Unless you’ve been living on a deserted island for the last five years, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the controversy surrounding gluten-free diets. Gluten, a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye, is linked to a host of inflammatory health issues including digestive issues, brain disorders, skin conditions and insulin resistance.

With the rising popularity of the Paleolithic diet, another question emerges: should we be avoiding grains altogether?

Paleo-style diets eliminate grains entirely, whether they’re gluten-free or not. The notion behind this is that our ancestors didn’t eat them – humans have only been cultivating grains for the last 10,000 years – and that grains can be detrimental to our health. Many grain-free diet proponents claim that grains can cause a similar array of health issues that gluten does (digestive, cognitive, immune, etc.) and grains are not a health-promoting food.

However, there is also a range of evidence that shows gluten-free grains such as brown rice, millet and sorghum, along with pseudograins like quinoa, buckwheat and wild rice can have a multitude of health benefits.

So should you avoid grains? Let’s break down some of the pros and cons.

Avoiding Grains

Pros

A grain-free diet can lead to some of the following health benefits:

Cons

Grain-free diets aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. Here are some of the negative aspects:

  • Low grain intake can result in increased consumption of conventionally-raised feedlot animal products, which can be pro-inflammatory
  • One must be strictly grain-free for maximum benefit, which can be challenging
  • Increased consumption of nuts, and these can be difficult to digest if eaten in large quantities or if they aren’t soaked to release anti-nutrients
  • Difficulty eating out or at other people’s homes (though there are definitely ways you can deal with this)

Consuming Grains

Pros

Grains are a rich source of nutrients, including fibre, B vitamins (they help with stress and boost energy levels), and minerals like magnesium and iron. Some of the benefits of eating grains are:

One thing to keep in mind is when we say ‘grains’, we mean grains in their whole form, not processed refined flours and starchy foods like bagels and English muffins. Think a pot of quinoa or brown rice, not a product with the healthwashing term ‘whole grain’ splashed on the label.

Cons

Carbo-tarians may experience some of the following negative health effects:

  • According to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, grains can cause an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut
  • Reduced nutrient absorption, due to the content of anti-nutrients in grains
  • May cause tooth decay
  • Refined grain consumption can lead to obesity, blood sugar imbalances, mood changes, heart disease and inflammation

Want to Reduce Grain Consumption?

If you’re wondering how you can hop off the sandwich-cereal-toast-pasta train, here are some suggestions for grain-free eating:

  • Use lettuce to wrap burgers and sandwiches
  • Make deconstructed sandwiches by scattering your sandwich toppings over greens
  • Use slices of zucchini, eggplant, sweet potato or butternut squash to replace noodles in lasagna or pasta dishes
  • Form pizza and pie crusts using cauliflower, ground nuts or ground seeds
  • Make pizza crusts using chickpea or lentil flour (these also make great pancakes or crepes)
  • Use ground cauliflower or parsnips in place of rice
  • Use almond flour, coconut flour, or sunflower seed flour in baking

As you can see, there is a lot of evidence in both camps that indicate grains can be either helpful or harmful.  A great way to figure out whether a grain-free diet is right for you is to try it. You’re always your own best health expert, so experiment, tune in and see how you feel when you eat them.

Do you eat grains? Why or why not? What are your favourite grain-free substitutions?

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3 responses to “Should You Be Avoiding Grains?

  1. I continue to eat grains although in smaller quantities. I find that not being too restrictive is better for me mood-wise (I already have food allergies and, in addition, avoid gluten, soy, most corn and dairy, plus sugar and yeast). I have had eating/body-shame ‘issues’ in the past and prefer to live with as much freedom as possible, if that makes sense. I also was vegetarian 23 years during which time I ate a fair amount of grains but a year and a half ago began eating some meat which brought a little more balance to my life.

  2. Carmen

    I decided I needed to make some lifestyle changes and 3 weeks ago gave up all grains, starches, dairy and refined sugar. While my body is adjusting, I have been tired and/or cranky at times. I have lost over 10 lbs. I have been enjoying trying new recipes and eating really well (no hunger). I want to keep it up for at least 60 days, then slowly reintroduce a few things and see how I feel.

  3. TOM

    I am puzzled by the word GRAINS used so freely. The grains of todays hybridised wheat are NOT the grains of biblical times, they completely different and contain GLIADIN,which causes problems! Perhaps your experts would care to investigate, I recommend Dr Mercolas website for good advice!

Let us know what you think.