Top 10 Reasons to Eat Grains

Mama with some home-canned goodnessLately people in the GAPS/Paleo/Real Food/WAPF world have been buzzing about how nearly everyone should eat grains. They say that once you “heal and seal” your gut, “properly prepared” grains will be worth eating.

People whose intolerances continue or who simply don’t want to take the risk of eating foods that have hurt them in the past are told over and over that they didn’t do their healing protocols correctly or give it enough time. Even more alarming, on the basis of a couple very small, short term studies and anecdotal evidence, celiacs are being told that if you just prepare it properly, you can eat rye sourdough and other gluten-containing grains. The takeaway is: If grains make you feel bad or continue to cause health problems, you must be doing something wrong.

I don’t think everyone has to be grain free, or even gluten-free, to be healthy. But I do think there is an overwhelming and growing body of evidence supporting the idea that grains shouldn’t be the basis of most people’s diets. I’m still failing to see a compelling case for eating them at all, especially when it comes to gluten-containing grains. I thought I’d play the Devil’s Advocate on myself, so here goes: My top ten reasons to eat grains!

1. The Apocalypse Has Arrived

Grains store well. Granted, grains can go rancid if not stored properly, but if you get right down to it, compared to fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats stored without electricity, you’ve got a pretty good bet of keeping grains around longer. In case of famine, grains are a good thing to have around. Sure, they may make some people sick and shorten some people’s lifespans, but overall they’ll help the population survive.

2. You Can’t Get Nutrition Any Other Way

If you can’t keep anything else down, I’m not going to begrudge you your grains. But the health benefits of grains are available through many other sources. Animal products are rich in B vitamins, and protein. Complex carbohydrates are available in a wide range of vegetables. Fiber is also easy to come by in vegetables, and is less necessary to digestion than people used to think. Iron is readily available in meat products and dark green vegetables. Those studies that say that whole grains are necessary for a healthy diet are comparing whole grain eaters to refined grain eaters… not whole grain eaters to no grain eaters! I think this reason probably only applies to very few people.

3. Your Religion Requires It

If you are Catholic, Jewish, or a Christian taking a literal interpetation of the Bible, it may seem spiritually imperative to eat grain. Within any religion, there are alternative interpretations. If grains cause you health problems, you may wish to do further research and talk with your religious leaders about the issue.

4. You’re Carbo-Loading

As an endurance athelete, you may have been trained to switch to a 70% carb diet for a couple days before your event. The body then stores extra glycogen in the muscles and liver, boosting your performance for the event. Grains are a cheap, easy way to get lots of carbs. Instead of finding other sources of carbs, or taking other approaches to increasing performance, you fill up on grains. But if grains impact your digestion, give you brain fog, or other symptoms, they could hinder your performance rather than help it! You can still carbo-load grain free by focusing on foods like sweet potatoes.

5. They Taste Good

Some things just can’t be made properly grain-free. Croissants, cinnamon rolls, New York style pizza crust, fluffy French Bread, phyllo dough… You can sometimes make a decent gluten-free substitute, but without alternate grains you can forget about it. If you just aren’t willing to give up these treats and find new favorites, grain is for you.

6. You’re Addicted

Let’s face it, nobody likes withdrawal. Your brain, deprived of gluteomorphin searches for its opioid fix. Your gut, full of candida, cries out “Feed me!” and starts to give you die-off symptoms like earaches, sinus gunk, and rashes. You feel ravenous, are afraid to fill up on fat, and go for more and more sugar. Wouldn’t it be nicer to just eat grains? Getting to the other side is rough, but could pay off in improved mental health, gut health, heart health, neurological health, and more!

7. You’re Not Prepared

Eating grain-free and avoiding gluten cross-contamination takes a lot of planning ahead. Stuck in the airport without your own snacks? At a potluck where everything’s got grain in it? Staying in a hotel without a kitchenette? If you aren’t prepared, grains may become your only option!

8. To Be Polite

Friends want to share their cookies. Colleagues want to take you out to dinner. Your mother-in-law made pot pie. You don’t want them to think you’re a rude, selfish, Crazy Diet Person who won’t accept what is offered.

9. You Care More About Money Than Your Health

Highly subsidized and easy to grow thanks to extensive hybridization and genetic engineering, grains make you feel full at a lower price than more nutrient dense, easily digested foods. If you are sensitive to gluten or other components of grains, they’ll decrease your appetite as well! Watch that dollar, though… if you start to experience health problems from eating all those grains, you may end up with medical bills that offset or eclipse your savings.

10. You Properly Prepare Select Grains and Have No Negative Reactions

The Weston A. Price people have made the case that many people can enjoy grains if they are “properly prepared.” Soaking or sprouting grains before using them reduces phytic acid and boosts the ability of the body to absorb the nutrients found in grains. If you’re going to eat grains at all, this is definitely the way to do it. Gluten sensitivity, wheat allergies, and celiac are increasingly common, though. If you’ve got one of these issues, grains like rice and certified gluten-free oats, and pseudograins like quinoa and buckwheat may eventually be well-tolerated. Even in non-celiacs, grains can lead to inflammation in the body and a number of other health issues, so be on the lookout for symptoms other than the obvious gut trouble if you do go back to grains!

This post is part of Freaky Friday, Fresh Bites Friday, Fight Back Friday, Lunchbox Love, Living Well Blog Hop, and Sunday School, Monday Mania, Weekend Gourmet, Traditional Tuesdays.

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35 comments to Top 10 Reasons to Eat Grains

  • Great post! Just to clarify… my argument was that the Bible doesn’t say you must eat grains in the “Does the Bible Say We Should Eat Grains?” article… πŸ™‚
    Sharing this post…

    • Mama

      Thanks for clarifying. I did get that from your post, which is wonderful, by the way. There are people out there who interpret the Bible that way… which is why I sent them to you <3

  • Heidi P

    Great list! I sat in church last Sunday during communion and seriously thought about not eating the tiny piece of bread in my hand. I’m still very much not healed and sealed. I ate it, but next time I might just forego it. (I don’t believe it’s about swallowing the bread so much as remembering Him).

    I think this is much better advice than what is going around lately!

    • Mama

      Hi Heidi,
      Did you read Katie’s post about grain and the Bible? Maybe you could talk to your pastor (sorry, I don’t know your denomination) about a grain free alternative to the bread. Maybe you would be able to bring a piece of nutbread or something else that is ok for you to eat and have it handled carefully to avoid gluten cross contamination, so you can still participate in communion. Expressing your faith is very important, but I agree it is more about the intention than the actual piece of bread!
      Mama

      • Heidi P.

        Thank you, I just read her article, and it is very helpful! Very well-written, and I think she is right on. I know my pastor would tell me not to eat something that will make me sick! (Our church is “Baptist” but really more like non-denominational). I may just bring my own bread like you suggested. Thanks!

  • Jen

    Ha, that’s great! I am a WAPF follower, yet I am dumbfounded by the preoccupation with grains. It certainly shouldn’t be a main portion of your diet. I eat so very little and some days I eat none. I suppose if the Apocalypse ever did happen, at least I would know how to properly prepare my grains. πŸ™‚

  • I also love this post! I saw it posted by Wellness Mama. I am posting it on my “The Unrefined Kitchen” facebook page!

  • Fabulous post! For me grains are a splurge. It’s a special treat once in a while or when I’m on vacation. Yes, I will splurge on grains, but I will NEVER knowingly consume gluten for any reason.

  • Ha! I love the crazy, intense Jewish analysis you linked to. But Rabbi Broyde never mentioned pikuach nefesh, the mitzvah of saving a life, which supersedes all others, even the mitzvah of eating matzoh at Passover. If you can’t eat wheat, you can’t eat wheat. And if you make your matzah from brown rice or sorghum you are truly experiencing “the bread of affliction” as mentioned in the haggadah.

    • Mama

      I’m glad you got a kick out of it. I did see another article that mentioned pikuach nefesh. I think God wants you to live a healthy life πŸ™‚

  • Thanks for this article. I have a question for you – not sure from your last paragraph if you include millet, rice, quinoa (I know, a seed), buckwheat in your grain category? If so, is it because of the blood sugar carb issue?
    We don’t eat gluten grains but we do eat the above as we are vegetarians so do use them to compliment our meals (my partner isn’t able to eat eggs which makes it even more difficult for him). We try to stick mainly to quinoa. To be honest, I would like to eat less of them but do find it quite hard to always make up our meals with more vegetables (we eat a lot of them as it is) and beans, lentils etc. Even though we don’t feel any adverse reactions when we eat it and are thriving on our current diet (I’m a naturopathic nutritionist so very aware of listening to our body, health benefits or not of different foods etc), I do agree that I would rather not turn to these grains so often. A work in progress…

    • Mama

      Hi Caroline,
      Before I start, I want to reiterate that I’m not a nutritionist, doctor, or health care practitioner of any sort. Everything I post is my personal opinion based on my limited personal experience!

      Our family does include pseudo-grains like quinoa and buckwheat in our general grain category. We also take it very easy on legumes and starchy vegetables, limiting them to specific legumes. We make sure to soak our nuts and legumes before eating them as well. We do this because our family has been helped in so many ways by the GAPS diet, and we are still a work in progress! I’m oversimplifying here, but GAPS limits polysaccharides because of the difficulty many people with damaged guts have in digesting them and the problems that causes. It goes slowly with reintroducing these foods as the gut heals, people listening to their bodies and introducing them at their own pace. My pace is slow!

      While there are blood sugar issues that come with grains, our current diet is not low carb. We just get carbs from more readily digested, more nutrient dense foods now. Going on GAPS really has helped me with my blood sugar regulation issues, mostly because we eat so much fat and so little sugar. When I did my gluten challenge one of the harder things for me was that getting such a large amount of my carbs and calories from grain offset some of the other foods I would normally eat. It sent me on a roller coaster!

      As vegetarians, I think you would probably fall in the category of needing some grains (or pseudo-grains) in order to get adequate nutrition. When my family was mostly vegetarian (and the kids’ dad was vegan), we relied heavily on those foods. Now that our diet is founded in broths, pastured & wild meats, and vegetables, we all feel healthier and no longer feel the need for them.

      When/if we do reintroduce any grains, we will start with quinoa and rice. I loved how buckwheat cooked up, but I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to handle it. When we first tried it it gave me terrible brain fog and other symptoms. I imagine it could have been cross-contaminated with gluten, though. If we try it again, we’ll be rinsing, sprouting, and grinding it up ourselves!

      Mama

  • Thanks for such a speedy and comprehensive reply! I’m totally with you on all that. We also soak, sprout, eat a lot of fat (albeit not animal fat except for organic butter and ghee) and no sugar – before my nutrition training when I still had the ’80s bad-fat mindset that was a huge pitfall (not eating the fat) and since introducing it back into our diets it’s made a massive difference. Thinking about it, less than 50% of our plate is taken up by grains when we do have them. Not being able to have eggs as a staple does make a massive difference, which I can see echoed in your comment above regarding when your husband was a vegan.
    As always, it is a journey that takes its twists and turns as life develops and eating habits will forever require this flexibility according to the particular stage in life. For us at the moment it’s more the thought that I would prefer to reduce the amount of grain we eat rather than a need. Here’s to more baked veggies which seem to do the trick πŸ™‚
    Thanks again for your comments Mama!

    • Mama

      You’re welcome! I just happened to be up late πŸ™‚ That fat is bad mindset was very damaging to a lot of people, and it still continues to be. For some of us, the pendulum has swung. I do think we should stay aware of the possibility of going too far in any direction. While we now eat loads of saturated fat, we also listen to our bodies and don’t keep going if we don’t feel right. For a long time I was worried that I might have gallbladder issues and not be able to eat fat. Turns out my gallbladder area pains went away when I cut out grains, and fat is not a problem for me! The swing of our pendulum will hopefully pull the mainstream back out of that low-fat mindset.

      As for the baked veggies – they are delicious, nutritious, and a great source of carbs! But as I’m sure you’re aware, they aren’t going to get all the protein you’d get from grains, and you may find your diet lacking if you try and cut them out as a vegetarian.

      Can you eat more dairy products? Even though I can not do fresh dairy or many cheeses, I’ve found that homemade yogurt from raw milk is really good for me. I used to hate dairy kefir, but lately that’s been working for me, too, if I add it to other things.

      As for the eggs, what is the reason your husband can’t eat them? I found that I’m fine with eggs so long as they are corn-free and soy-free. Obviously I’m not advocating trying them if he has severe reactions (and this is just my experience, not medical advice), but it may be that the source of the eggs could make a difference.

  • Joel

    I’m curious where in the Paleo or Primal community you are seeing grains touted as OK to eat. I know I’ve seen a bit about white rice specifically and pseudo grains but not real grain.

    • Mama

      You’re right, Joel. A pro-grain stance is definitely not coming from the most dedicated Paleo folks. I was just including Paleo in the broader community that has been participating in this discussion.

      • Joel

        That makes more sense… It has always seemed to me as though the primary difference between the Paleo/Primal community and the WAPF community is the stance on grains.

  • Nice job Mama! And while I am grain free, I don’t like to be dogmatic… so I would totally be willing to set that aside in the event of the Apocalypse! πŸ™‚

  • This post was refreshing, especially since I just finished Ann-Marie’s post at Cheeseslave that basically said, “Low carb BAD! Grains GOOD! We MUST eat lots and lots of grains to be HEALTHY!!” Okay, that’s simplifying it a bit, but it’s pretty much what I came away with (it didn’t help that Ann-Marie only answered comments that agreed with her stance).

    What mostly irritates me about the WAPFers who are ALL about the “properly prepared” grains is that they seem to think it’s only the lectins/phytic acid/gluten that causes problems with most grains (as if that weren’t enough). Many people who have problems with grains, but aren’t celiacs, may just be very sensitive to Wheat Germ Agglutinin (WGA), which can become much MORE concentrated during “proper preparation” – especially sprouting.

  • What a great post!
    Personally I stay away from quinoa since the saponins punches holes in the membranes of the microvilli..
    Thanks for pointing out that there are other ways of carbo load than using grains. We always get athletes coming to us that have a hard time understand that they don’t need grains..
    Thanks for sharing this on the living well blog hop..

  • Yes, I imagine that in a few years there’ll be a backlash on people eating too much fat – eternal issue with humans going to extremes…human nature :).

    We eat a lot of sprouts and greens as our main source of protein. The protein issue is actually quite over-rated as it’s very difficult to have a protein deficiency in developed countries when eating a balanced diet (the whole ‘where does a gorilla get his protein from – but as we know that’s a whole other discussion). The question is to get quality protein in which anyone eating whole foods and vegetables in balance will get unless they have a specific health concern of course.

    The eggs is due to excessive mucous build up he gets when eating eggs. He does eat raw cheese but it is nigh on impossible to find raw milk here in Denmark unless you know someone who knows someone (as we’re foreigners here we also have the added trust issue which is difficult to get around unfortunately). I do make yoghurt and kefir with coconut milk.

    It’s amazing how our ideas about healthy and non-healthy food/how to adapt it changes which education. I am so very grateful for my training and that I am able to put it into practice both in my own life and to help others. Truly a blessing when something as simple as eating, a daily necessity, has become so complicated to navigate in this day and age.

  • Btw – just to clarify that as a Nutritionist I am not opposed to grains and do not advocate a grain-free diet. However, I do agree that staying away from gluten is a pretty sensible decision all around (that excludes sprouted grains) due to the psychological effects, not only the physical ones. I work very much along the lines of bio-individuality and do not believe that there is 1 answer for all, that major food groups are not either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but that balance has to be found in each. There are many societies that thrive on grains and arguments to be found to support both sides of any opinion. I also think that the overly animal protein based diets will lead to issues of their own over time. Again, balance is key rather than strict adherence to ‘diet labels’. The focus on diet labels that is rife at the moment leaves little room for individual flexibility. An all in or all out approach isn’t optimal in a world where we constantly change and develop. And of course this is also a highly emotive topic πŸ™‚

  • Allison

    Informative article, but kind of misleading to say you’re going to play devil’s advocate when you’re really using snark and sarcasm to support your own opinion. Otherwise, it was interesting as I’m planning to go on a GAPS diet soon and have also been wondering about the WAPF focus on grains (specifically after the Cheeseslave article)… Although it seems to vary, usually it seems they say use sparingly but properly prepared.

    • Mama

      Sorry, Allison, I just couldn’t help a bit of snark. Usually that’s TinyHands’s job!

      I do think Cheeseslave’s post and her comments were more balanced than The Healthy Home Economist’s recent articles and comments. I think what it comes down to is that no two bodies are the same. What works for one will not work for everybody. We *all* need to remember that when sharing our experiences, and feeling the temptation to judge others’ choices.

      Anyway, good luck to you with the GAPS diet. It has been really good for our family. We have a whole series of posts that may help compliment the GAPS book. I’ve broken down all the stages of intro, and created a starting GAPS guide for getting your kitchen all set up.

  • Outstanding post! I am a CSCS and an athlete. When I need to refill my glycogen stores, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, turnips and other strachy vegetables work just fine.

  • I’m loving the snark and sarcasm in this post Mama! It’s needed, believe me! I just had to make pancakes for breakfast and I used some buckwheat & millet flour I had in the freezer -(running low on food in the house and needed something for breakfast) – and as I made the pancakes, which were a very healthy option, I thought about how I made it due to financial constraints and not with optimum nutrition in mind. I had optimum nutrition in mind with what I had on hand, but knowing how my kids would have been better off with a bit more protein or even a smoothie in hand – I realized my breakfast was somewhat like ‘famine’ food. And so I began to think about how grains, and pseudo grains really truly are just that, cheap filler foods. Oh they can be somewhat ‘healthful’ or ‘more healthful’ in their whole form properly prepared, but with all the issues that come along with them and the fact that you’d need a truckload of them as compared to one hunk of meat with some fat to get a decent amount of nutrients, and that’s even if you can digest them – I’d rather not depend on them in my diet really, at all. Not to say I won’t ever eat them, but just to say, they are FAR inferior than meats, dairy, veggies and fruits. Anyway, needless to say, I appreciated the little bit of hilarity in this post as well as the truth behind it!

  • Considering that mankind has survived for thousands of years on a largely grain-based diet (“properly prepared” or not), I’m pretty sure it will continue to survive if we all continue to eat grain! This grain elimination concept is fairly new and not traditional (at least in cultures where grain was readily available), so I don’t trust it personally.

    • I agree that any approach that is strictly all or nothing when applied to all people is probably misguided. On a personal level, though, it can make sense.

      Yes, mankind has survived and reproduced (perhaps too well) on grains as a population, but on the individual level I don’t think grains have done many of us any favors. My main motivation in this piece was that so many people are out there insisting that if we only healed ourselves properly, we’d be able to eat grains and be fine. If you feel fine eating grains, that’s great. But the fact that they make many of us sick – and no amount of proper preparation changes that – is not a personal failing.

      I’m obviously tongue in cheek here with my reasons… but I also mean them. Would I eat grains if I had no other option? Absolutely! But I don’t see how eating them is going to make me any healthier.

  • Gretchen Lindsey

    Mama, have you seen this post about how no grain is truly gluten free (http://urbanposer.blogspot.com/2012/01/what-theres-no-such-thing-as-gluten_02.html)? What do you make of it?

    I liked the sarcasm and snarkiness. I have had people doubtfoundingly ask me where on earth I get my carbs from if I don’t eat grains. I also get asked in the same way how I can possibly live without alcohol or TV. LOL. And the answer of course is, quite well. πŸ™‚

    • I hadn’t seen this article. Thank you for sharing it with me! It is true that gluten is just a catch all name for a variety of proteins in wheat and other grains. All of them have proteins that have similar (but different) structures but fulfill similar functions for the plant. People who have celiac autoimmunity react because the gluten found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut, and some others confuse the immune system into attacking parts of our own bodies. The same *can* happen with other proteins. That’s called cross-reactivity. Cyrex labs provides tests for that if you are interested. I don’t think all people who are gluten-free need to avoid corn and rice, for example. I don’t think the reason I need to avoid them is because of the gluten-like proteins, but I’m happy to stay away!

      Another thing is, there are other parts of wheat and other grains that can cause ill health effects for some people. It’s not all about the gluten πŸ™‚

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