I love grains. Who doesn’t? But since gluten-free diets are becoming more common, I wondered: should I stop eating grains to be healthier?
I adore eating pasta, bread, risotto, pancakes and all the other hearty, comforting dishes that are made from grains. Deep down, everybody enjoys these foods too.
But sometimes, going grain free — for a short, long or indefinite time span — is the way to go.
I had a client who was suffering from low moods and struggling with weight loss. When I made the suggestion to cut down on grains, all hell let loose. They yelled at me, “But grains are a part of a well balanced diet!”
There are well invested camps on both sides — grain supporting and grain free. Paleos and raw vegans tend to hate them. Most others love them.
What are some reasons to stop eating grains? Here are five.
1. Simplify diet
The first reason to eliminate grains is to eliminate processed foods.
Highly refined and processed foods are extremely detrimental to weight loss, weight management and overall health.
Processed foods are the bane of a healthy diet.
- Processed foods contribute excess calories from refined sugar and fat, without providing significant nutritional benefit.
- They contain a lot of salt. Salt is linked to bloating, water retention and hypertension.
- Not only do they provide too many calories, they don’t even provide satiety. Processed foods can increase your hunger.
Increased and unnecessary calorie consumption leads to excess weight and health detriments. Cutting out grains can be an easy way to cut out a lot of unhealthful foods in one go.
What do processed foods have to do with going grain free?
Most processed foods are made from grains, whether it be corn, wheat, rice or pseudo grains like quinoa. By eliminating grains from the diet, you’re cutting out a lot of foods that are unfavorable to health. It can be an easy and effective strategy to implement.
2. Balance mood
The second reason to stop eating grains is to boost your mood.
An optimal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids encourages happiness. When too many omega-6 fatty acids and not enough omega-3 fatty acids are consumed, your brain chemistry can get wonky.
Both omega-3 and omega-6 are essential. You can’t live without them. But it is possible to have too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3.
Omega-3’s improve mood because they’re anti-inflammatory. This is opposite of omega-6’s which are pro-inflammatory. Brain inflammation is associated with chronic depression.
A specific form of omega-3, DHA, is related to the creation of dopamine — one of the chemicals that influences our levels of happiness. Lower levels of DHA can result in lower levels of dopamine in your brain.
Not only are omega-3 fatty acids related to the creation of dopamine, they’re also related to the reception of dopamine as a neurotransmitter.
Serotonin is another chemical in our brain that impacts mood. Insufficient omega-3 fatty acids can lead to the inability to interpret serotonin. This causes decreased pleasure.
With a more balanced mood we are better able to make rational decisions.
What do omega levels have to do with a grain free diet?
Grains are high in omega-6, and comparatively low in omega-3. When too much of the diet constitutes of grains, omega levels can become unbalanced. Consuming oils made from the grain corn can be especially problematic.
Eating foods that have better omega levels — such as fruits and vegetables — can balance out omega levels. High fat foods like flax and chia seeds can help re-balance fatty acids. Cutting out grains can help further to prevent imbalance and improve overall mood.
3. Increase nutrition
The third reason to stop grain intake is to pack your diet with more beneficial nutrients.
There are many reasons you may want to increase the nutrition of your diet:
- To lose weight.
- Speedy recovery of a short-term illness such as the flu or food poisoning.
- Alleviate symptoms and increase lifespan of those living with chronic diseases, such as cancer.
- Ensure sufficient nutrition in small persons.
- To be more attractive.
How is nutrition related to grains?
While grains aren’t necessarily non-nutritious, they’re not the most nutritious foods in the plant kingdom.
According to Dr. Fuhrman, leafy greens are the most nutritionally packed. Followed by solid green vegetables, non-green non-starchy vegetables, beans/legumes, fresh fruits then starchy vegetables.
Whole grains come after the starchy vegetables. Refined grains are the third to last most nutritious food — or, should we say, the third least nutritious — only ahead of refined oils and refined sweets.
Replacing grains with more fruits, vegetables and legumes can significantly boost the nutritional value of your diet.
4. Weight Loss
The fourth reason to cut grains out of your diet is for quicker weight loss.
There are many ways grains can decrease, inhibit or reverse weight loss.
Allowing grains in a diet can provide encouragement to eat highly processed foods that don’t encourage weight loss. It’s such junk food that causes the weight gain in the first place. To continue eating such food with the goal to lose weight is counterproductive.
If you’re looking to lose weight, refined foods have no place in your diet.
Balanced omega-3 levels have an impact on weight loss as well. If you have a better mood then you’re better able to achieve your weight loss goals. Cutting out grains and increasing the nutritional composition of your diet can further help increase your mood. This can make you more likely to want to exercise, which can propel greater weight loss.
What do grains have to do with weight loss?
By increasing nutrient density, the caloric density of a food decreases. This means individuals will feel more full on less calories. Eating fewer calories (while still feeling satisfied) will result in quicker, but still more healthful, weight loss.
5. Celiac disease
The final reason to stop eating grains is if an individual has been diagnosed with Celiac disease.
Celiacs don’t need to avoid all grains, simply the ones containing the protein gluten.
Avoiding most or all grain products can be helpful in the case of celiac disease. Many grain products are made in the same factories. This results in potential cross contamination. For those who are extremely sensitive to gluten contamination, it may be better to avoid all grain products to eliminate the danger of a reaction to cross-contaminated products.
Products marketed as gluten-free are often overly expensive and unhealthy. So avoiding gluten-free grain products can also be beneficial.
Celiac is a fairly rare disease. It’s also commonly (incorrectly) self-diagnosed. For most people, gluten is actually healthful.
Why to keep eating grains
Yes, there are several reasons to remove grains from your diet temporarily or indefinitely.
However, grains aren’t a food group to be afraid of. There are some legitimate reasons to avoid grains. Then there are some totally irrationally bizarre reasons, like:
- because our ancestors didn’t eat grains;
- because you’re scared of phytic acid; or,
- because you’re avoiding gluten without being medically diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance
There are lots of benefits to including grains in your kitchen and life.
- Grains are healthy as long as they’re minimally processed and consumed with a variety of other foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds.
- Grains are a cheap staple for those who want to eat a wholesome low fat, plant based diet.
- Grains can be stored for long periods of time.
- Grains are helpful to increase calories in the diet to satisfy hunger or gain weight healthfully.
- Grains are a good source of condensed calories when traveling.
It’s true that most grain products are bad for you health. But then, so are most potato products. Just because potatoes can be deep fried and sold in packets at your supermarket or at a fast food chain, doesn’t mean potatoes are inherently unhealthy.
Grains, especially in whole form and fermented, can be a healthful or even beneficial component of diet.
I love grains. I eat grains everyday. In fact, I have a recipe book dedicated to the grains corn, rice, oats and wheat.
Going grain free
What do you think? Do you eat grain free? I’d love to know what your favorite grain free dish is!