If there’s one area of real foody-ism that can conjure up a good deal of disagreement, grains might be it. I’ll give dairy and milk a close second. Conventional advice encourages lots of whole grains along with little fat, while on the opposing side there are those who say no grains and limited carbs with plenty of fat and protein is the way to really feed the body.
It can all be so confusing! Grain-free diets are incredibly popular right now, with all sorts of people claiming incredible success. The question begs to be answered: Do we really need to eat grains?
What Everyone Can Agree On
I don’t know of anyone who would dispute the fact that the Standard American Diet is full of unhealthy grain products. In fact, it could be argued that it is based on unhealthy grain products! Remember the old food pyramid?
Standard white flour is stripped of the nutritious bran and germ, leaving only the starchy part of the wheat grain. It is typically bleached and bromated, then later “enriched” with synthetic nutrients. This is the flour used to make the majority of the cereal, crackers, breads, cookies, and other such items on grocery store shelves.
This type of grain product offers little, if any, nutritional benefit to the body. In fact, they will tend to deplete the body of nutrients! It is far from a real food and should be an irregular part of the diet when it is included.
Why Some Real Foodies Limit or Exclude Grains
There are a handful of whole food movements and diets that encourage little or no grains. Perhaps you or someone you know is on the Paleo/Primal plan. That’s an example of a grain-free diet.
People choose to go off of grains for a variety of reasons. Some sincerely believe that the human body evolved to require a hunter and gatherer type of diet, not an agricultural one that includes grains. Others find that grains make it hard for them to stay at a healthy weight or recover from candida. For some people, grains aren’t digested well or cause severe reactions when consumed.
I suffered from health issues in literally every body system for over thirty years before I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. I have a family history on both sides of autoimmunity, thyroid issues, and heart disease. Removing grains is a must for my current and future health.
~Kimball of Heavy On Wholesome
I dealt with constant fatigue, frequent migraine headaches, joint pain, stomach upset and bloating and feeling just plain crummy until I removed grains from my diet… Since I stopped eating grains, the constant brain fog is gone, I have a ton more energy, and my digestion has greatly improved!
~Jaclyn of Natural Momma in Progress
Why Some Real Foodies Limit Grains
Some people will find that removing grains for a time helps their body to heal from a trouble, but they are later able to reintroduce grains in a way that leaves them feeling healthy and well. When they are reintroduced, grains are often kept within certain limitations.
We had to limit grains for a time while doing a gut-healing protocol, but have been able to re-introduce properly prepared gluten-free grains with great success.
~Sherry of This House of Joy
In our house we have to vary the grain consumption by the person. I can’t eat any grains because they cause a serious amount of gut pain. I have to be strictly 100% gluten free and about 95% grain free to function. My husband and kids do better eating about 30% grains, all gluten free, properly soaked and prepared.
~Amanda of Natural Living Mamma
Why Some Real Foodies Include Grains
Then there are those who have decided that grains are a valuable addition to their diet. The grains are digested well and leave them feeling healthy. Some people have even tried going grain-free for a time, later to realize that their health and well-being improved once grains were reintroduced.
We choose to eat soaked or soured whole grains. We have experimented with gluten and grain-free diets over the last 5 years, but have found that we feel the best on a balanced diet that is maybe 20 – 30% grains. We try to avoid most white flour (but use it for treats).
~Kate of Modern Alternative Mama
After about six weeks of being grain-free, I discovered that I was experience super low body temperature and sluggishness… I was so frustrated with how I felt and I wanted to explore the idea that grain-free might be causing my problems… While I enjoy getting many of my carbohydrates from organic vegetables and fruit, grains and natural sugars are different and I can testify that they make me feel better than just vegetables and fruits.
~Roz of Real Food Family (excerpts from her post Why We Eat Grains)
Our family falls into this camp. When I tried limited the amount of grains I ate, I just didn’t feel right. Eating properly prepared grains along with other real foods leaves me feeling well.
What About All of This Gluten-Free Stuff?
Gluten is the protein in certain grains (like wheat and it’s variants, rye, and barley) that makes it stretchy and elastic when formed into dough. It is actually hard for every human body to digest when grains are not properly prepared, but some people are very sensitive and/or allergic to it, and others suffer with autoimmune responses when they have gluten (this is known as Celiac Disease).
Gluten-Free foods are also a very trendy thing right now. Some claim that eliminating gluten has helped them lose weight, have a better complexion, or enjoy a greater clarity in the mind.
If you are considering eliminating gluten from your diet, consider a few things before you start.
- Gluten-Free is not a cure-all, but it can be helpful for some people. Stick to a real food diet while eliminating gluten.
- Gluten-Free has become a marketing tool, and there are lots of processed foods that proudly wear the label “gluten-free” but are far from real food. Keep reading labels.
- Gluten is reduced when bread is made through the natural sourdough process.
Should You Include Grains in Your Diet?
I’m not convinced that there is a right or wrong answer to this question.
My personal advice to someone trying to decide how to approach grains in a whole foods diet would be to pay attention to the way your body feels after eating bread, rice, oatmeal, and such foods. If you feel bloated, sluggish, or gassy, try reducing the amount of grains you are eating and up your fruits and veggies or change the types of grains you eat.
Before fully eliminating grains, consider researching both sides of the issue so that you can make an educated decision. Talking with a trusted health care professional would help, too.