For many, grains can be really difficult to digest. After all, grains have only been a part of our diet for 10, 000 years, which is not that long when you look at the big picture.
As a Holistic Nutritionist, I see many clients who have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), skin issues, chronic inflammation, auto-immune diseases and more. After reviewing their diet diary, I usually suggest they try ditching the grains, particularly those that are refined or contain gluten.
A grain-free diet has it’s pros and cons. Not everyone needs to ditch the grains, and not everyone wants to! After all, all the yummy muffins, bagels, pasta dishes and breads are all grain-based, so some might feel like they’re missing out if they choose to go grain-free. But, are they?
Certain symptoms, conditions, diseases and chronic inflammation are
linked to regular grain consumption. Arthritis, auto-immune disease, IBS,
celiac disease, Crohn’s, diverticulitis, insulin resistance, diabetes,
acne/problem skin, leaky gut syndrome, carb cravings, joint pain,
nutrient deficiencies, headaches, brain fog, gluten intolerance and a
variance in the gene responsible for gluten tolerance are all associated
with grain consumption, particularly wheat and gluten-containing
products. (1) A diagnosed allergy to wheat, called Celiac disease, is
associated with intestinal distress, leading to painful symptoms. (2)
Grains account for 40-60% of food allergies and many have reported
almost a full recovery of symptoms after the elimination of grains. (3) An
estimated 18 million Americans have a sensitivity to gluten.
Grains today are over-processed and are not of the same quality as they
were when they were introduced to our ancestor’s diet 10,000 years
ago. Not to mention, the foods that are made of grains also contain other
additives that can irritate our digestion. The crops are often grown in
soil that is highly sprayed with pesticides and is low in nutrients. This
destroys the plant and also our ability to digest it.
Wheat products, rye and barley, contain gluten, a family of proteins that
act like glue to hold a product together, and give it elasticity. Gluten is
one of the most difficult proteins to digest. Wheat is found in some products like:
Cosmetics (emulsifiers, surfactants, emollients)
Additives and binders in food
Baked goods, bread
Salad dressings, soups, packaged and processed foods
As far as digestion of wheat products goes, they contain short chain
carbohydrates that can ferment in the gut and are difficult to digest.
The various proteins in some of these grains can initiate intestinal
permeability, or “leaky gut”, which allows the proteins to escape from
the small intestine and enter the bloodstream. The body then starts to
attack the circulating proteins, which leads to autoimmune disease and
possibly an allergic response over time.
That is not to say that everyone should avoid wheat products, but, if
you are experiencing symptoms after consuming wheat and gluten
products, you might want to consider the elimination of grains to heal
Another reason to eliminate grains from your diet is the fact that they
contain anti-nutrients which are just as they sound…they affect
digestive enzymes and block nutrients. Iron, zinc, copper, B1, and
magnesium are common nutrients that are blocked by the phytates in
grains. This explains symptoms like acne (zinc related), low energy
(iron related), and leg cramps (magnesium related) in those who regularly consume grains (4). Plants and seeds naturally contain anti-
nutrients to defend themselves from pests and insects.
This goes, mostly, if grains are not prepared properly and if grains are
a major source of your diet. To reduce anti-nutrients, grains and
legumes, which also contain anti-nutrients, must be soaked, fermented
and sprouted before consuming. This will boost the nutritional content
of the food and make the nutrients more bioavailable to you.
Whole, unprocessed grains still contain the parts of the grain that are
fibrous and help to slow your glucose release, but some grains still
rank high on the glycemic index, which is a chart showing how quickly
a food affects your blood sugar. The problem with carbs (refined
grains!) that rank high on the glycemic index is that they cause your
blood sugar to drop as quickly as they cause it to spike. This leads to
irregular blood glucose levels, insulin resistance, mood swings, more
carb cravings and possible weight gain.
Besides insulin, there are also hormones involved in cravings and
satiety, weight gain and the dreaded “muffin top”. Wheat products
contain wheat germ agglutinin which blocks leptin, the hormone that
tells our body when we are full and to stop eating. If this hormone is
blocked, we keep eating, our blood sugar levels rise, we release
insulin to bring those levels down, and high insulin is related to weight
gain. Carb cravings. Sound familiar?
You don’t have to have Celiac disease to live a grain-free lifestyle.
This is considered “non celiac gluten sensitive”, or #ncgs. There is no way to diagnose this condition. You will know once you eliminate
wheat and grains, and have ease of a list of symptoms. Removing
pro-inflammatory foods can benefit anyone with arthritis, joint pain,
headaches, brain fog, insulin resistance, autoimmune disease, acne
or chronic skin issues, colitis, weight management issues, IBS,
Crohn’s, and allergies. You can also take it a step further and eliminate dairy, sugar and animal protein, which can all have pro-
Listen to your body, watch for symptoms and changes, then make the
best decision for your body and health. Regardless, going grain-free
will kickstart you into a healthy lifestyle.
I always keep a hearty database of grain-free recipes for my clients who need some gut healing, IBS support, and for those who suffer from chronic inflammation. As always, when I suggest removing an ingredient from the diet, I always make sure you have a good replacement so you can still enjoy your favourite meals. You can swap out your grains for seeds, like quinoa, bake with almond and coconut flours, replace pasta with zucchini noodles, and rice for cauliflower.
Here are 5 of my go-to grain-free recipes to help with digestion, not contribute to inflammation, regulate blood sugar, and still let you enjoy eating.
Flourless Chickpea Blondies by Ambitious Kitchen
Noodle-less Veggie Lasagna by Primavera Kitchen
Cauliflower Pizza Crust by Detoxinista
Zucchini Bread by Paleo Grubs
Grain-free Pancakes by Minimalist Baker
Even if you are not into ditching all the grains, any of these recipes are a great addition to your weekly meal plan. Which one of these will you try first?
2. Allergies, Disease in Diguise, Carolee Bateson-Koch DC ND
3. The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Third Edition, Murray and Pizzorno
4. Wheat Belly 10 Day Grain Detox, Dr. William Davis