I’ve been toying, off and on, with the idea of eliminating grains for a while. I love them though – they’re delicious in all their slightly sweet, grainy goodness. Still, there’s little reason to incorporate them into the diet on a regular basis with the exception of one: personal preference. I know, I know. I can hear you now: “But they’re good for you!” “But they reduce heart disease!” “But they have fiber!” Here’s a little food for thought: there’s no vitamin or mineral you can get from grain that you can’t get in better quantities elsewhere. So let’s take a look:
Why You Should Go Grain-free
1. If you can get it from grain, you can get it elsewhere.
The big heroes of most grains’ nutrient profile are dietary fiber and B vitamins. Take heed, every grain is different and different grains offer different nutrient profiles. Yet, one thing remains constant: if you can find the nutrient in grain, you can find the nutrient in better quantities in other foods. For example, 100 grams of whole wheat flour contains 44 mcg of folate; however, a 100-gram portion of lamb liver will give you 400 mcg of folate and a 100-gram portion of yardlong beans will give you a whopping 658 mcg per 100-gram portion. Similarly with the B Vitamins niacin and thiamin, while a 100-gram whole wheat flour contains 30% of the RDA for niacin and 32% of the RDA for thiamin, you can find these nutrients in higher quantities in other foods – namely flaxseeds and sesame seeds. Whole grains are often touted as health foods for their fiber content, but you can find dietary fiber in better quantities in other, more nutrient-dense foods. For example: 100 grams of cooked brown rice offers up 1.8 grams of dietary fiber; by contrast, a 100-gram serving of cooked collard greens offers 2.8 grams; 100 grams of raw fireweed contains a whopping 11 grams of dietary fiber and even green peas contain about 5 grams of fiber per serving.
2. Grains aren’t good for your gut.
Intestinal health is critical to your overall health. If you’re gut isn’t healthy, you can’t absorb nutrients from the foods you eat. If you can’t absorb nutrients from the foods you eat, your body is malnourished and is more prone to disease. Grains are associated with a condition called leaky gut syndrome. Tiny particles of grains, when ingested, can slip through the intestinal walls causing an immune response. With your immune system excessively taxed by constantly attacking these out-of-place particles of grain, it cannot effectively fight against true threats like pathogens.
3. You’re probably gluten-intolerant.
If you’re white, there’s a good chance that you’re gluten-intolerant to some degree. Current research estimates that about 1% of the population suffers from celiac disease, an auto-immune condition related to the ingestion of gluten-containing grains like wheat and barley; however, some researchers on celiac disease and gluten intolerance estimate that 30% to 40% of people of European descent are gluten-intolerant to some degree. That’s a lot of people who are regularly consuming a food that makes them sick. (And, yes, I’m one of them.)
4. Grains cause inflammation.
Due to a high starch content, grains are inflammatory foods. The more refined the grain, the more inflammatory it is. For example, unbleached white flour is more inflammatory than whole grain flour; however, whole grains are still moderately inflammatory foods and certainly more inflammatory than other foods like fresh vegetables and wholesome fats. Chronic inflammation is linked to a myriad of degenerative, modern diseases including arthritis, allergies, asthma, cardiovascular disease, bone loss, emotional imbalance and even cancer. Unbleached white flour earns an inflammation factor of -421 or strongly inflammatory on NutritionData.com while whole wheat flour earns an inflammation factor of -247 or moderately inflammatory. Similarly, whole cooked millet earns an inflammation factor of -150 and cooked brown rice earns an inflammation factor of -143 – also moderately inflammatory.
5. Grains are fairly new on the scene.
While still a traditional food, grains are, nonetheless, the new kids on the block. Prior to the advent of agriculture, humans relied on hunting and gathering for their foods. They foraged for wild greens, berries, fruits and other plants. They hunted wild animals. They fished for wild fish. They didn’t plant a garden, or grow any amber waves of grain or, for that matter, drink dairy from domesticated animals since there simply wasn’t any domesticated animals. Humans survived like this from the development of the appearance of the first homo sapiens sapiens about 47,000 years ago to the advent of agriculture some 10 – 12,000 years ago. So, for the better part of human existence grains did not comprise any notable portion of the human diet. In essence, what has become the bulk of our modern diet was missing from the diet of our prehistoric ancestors.
6. Grains aren’t good for your joints.
Due to their inflammatory nature, grains – even whole grains – are linked to joint pain and arthritis. Grain’s amino acid composition mirrors that of the soft tissue in your joints. Because both synovial tissue and grains are chemically similar, your body has difficulty differentiating between the two. So, when your immune cells get all hot and bothered by inflammation caused by grain and begin to attack it as a foreign invader, they also begin to attack the soft tissue in your joint – leading to pain, autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and, of course, more inflammation.
7. Poorly Prepared Grains prevent mineral absorption.
When improperly prepared as they most often are, grains can inhibit vitamin and mineral absorption. Grains contain substances like phytic acid which binds up minerals and prevents proper absorption. Essentially, though your diet might be rich in iron, calcium and other vital nutrients if you eat improperly prepared grain, you’re not fully absorbing nutrients from the foods you eat. However, please note that souring, sprouting and soaking grains neutralizes phytates and renders the nutrients in grain more absorbable.
8. Grains are bad for your teeth.
Due to those high levels of phytates in grain, grain is linked to dental decay. With high levels of mineral-blocking phytic acid coupled with low mineral absorption rates and plenty of starches for bacteria to feed on, grain contributes to dental decay. Anthropological records of our pre-agricultural ancestors indicates very little to no tooth decay; however, that changed after the dawn of agriculture. Indeed, some anthropologists use the presence of tooth decay is an indicator of an agricultural society.
9. Grains aren’t good for your skin either.
Grains have a very high carbohydrate content, and while the carbohydrates in grain are complex they are still broken down into sugars nonetheless. These sugars instruct your body to produce more insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IFG-1). Elevated insulin levels lead to a cascading hormonal response and these hormones activate the sebum-producing glands in your skin – encouraging them to produce more oil. IFG-1 is also linked with the increased production of keratinocytes which also contribute to acne.
10. Eating grain makes you crave grain.
You know how the smell of bread creates a longing in you – a yearning for a slice, slathered with butter and maybe jam. Or consider a plate of cookies set in front of you – so delicious – and you can’t just have one? Foods rich in carbohydrates give you quick energy, but that energy wears off just as quickly as it came. Since grains break down into sugar, they create a rise in insulin levels when those levels fall you crave more grains and, thus, the vicious cycle continues.
Of course, if you’re not quite ready to give up grains in their entirety, take care to make sure you eat the best quality grains prepared for optimal nourishment. Choose organic grains and make sure you eat them sprouted, soaked or soured. Or go on a grain-free trial with me for the month of May!