As a culture, we’ve been conditioned to believe that breads and grains are an irreplaceable part of our diets. Bread has become synonymous with flavor and variety in the foods we eat. Now there are more foods made with grains available than any time in history.
Thanks to processing, advertising, chemicals, and marketing, we now have more types of breads and grain products available than ever before: crackers, pita bread, bagels, cereals, pasta, food bars with grains in them, tortillas or ‘wraps’ made of corn or flour, pancakes, muffins, pastries, croissants, cakes, desserts, cookies, pies, (the list goes on) and of course, bread, on which we eat sandwiches or make as toast for breakfast or with soups or salads.
Wheat, found in many grain foods and products, is a major allergen for many people. And it is responsible for causing a variety of unpleasant symptoms from weight gain, asthma, allergies, eczema and other auto-immune disorders, to all types of digestive dysfunction. And that’s because it’s used in everything. Just from the list above you can see that it’s found in a dizzying number of the foods people eat. Gluten content – that’s the protein in wheat that makes it elastic so it will rise nicely during baking, and what people often react to – has increased substantially from what it used to be.
The protein in gluten can cause a great deal of intestinal irritation because it actually shortens the villi in the small intestine – and those villi are integral in the digestive process. Then, the gluten can actually make holes and penetrate the intestinal lining, allowing undigested foods to enter the blood stream. When those foreign substances enter the body in this way, what results is an over-response from the immune system because it reacts to undigested food as an invader that will harm the body. People experience allergies and other symptoms that are unpleasant, but you can also have negative effects on your body from consuming gluten that you may not even be aware of.
Before the 19th century, wheat and grains our ancestors ate were vastly different than what we eat today. Wheat was generally mixed with other grains and beans or nuts. Modern-day wheat is not typically stone ground from whole meal flour, it is highly processed and refined as can be. And wheat has been hybridized to contain a very high-gluten content. The more gluten, the easier it is to get breads and doughs to rise in the oven. It’s actually only been in the last 200 years that pure wheat flour with high-gluten content has been milled to create what is now known as white refined flour.
The USDA Food Pyramid used to recommend we consume 6-11 servings of grains daily. If you stop and think about how much this really adds up to, it’s a lot of grains. I used to eat about 6-7 servings of grains a day, and it was making me very sick. I had a variety of symptoms, none of which I ever connected with eating grains: insomnia, fatigue, nausea, digestive issues such as constipation, diarrhea, inability to gain weight, panic and anxiety issues.
The government has since revised their recommendations, and the Food Pyramid is now called My Plate. My Plate consists of 5 categories; vegetables, fruits, protein, and grains on the plate and dairy off to the side of the plate. There is no acknowledgment of fats on the diagram, and certainly no discussion of the importance of real, healthy fats. Read why dietary fats are of extreme importance for health.
Depending on your age, recommendations advise eating on the average of 6 ounces per day, with a serving equaling about 1 ounce – again, depending on the type of grain you are eating. Many of the grains listed in examples are foods which contain grains that have been stripped of nutrients during high-heat processing, have synthetic nutrients added back in (or fortified).
There is definitely no discussion on the My Plate dietary recommendations site about preparing grains properly by soaking, sprouting, souring, or fermentation. There is a mention, however, in the Food Pyramid recommendations about eating foods like “ready-to-eat cereal”. These are highly-processed, and do not even scarcely resemble how our ancestors prepared and consumed grains.
Cereals, crackers, and other such foods go through even more processing. In his book Fighting the Food Giants, Paul Stitt discusses in detail how this process used to make cereals kills nutrients. From The Weston A. Price Foundation’s article, “Dirty Secrets of the Food Processing Industry,” we learn that extrusion “destroys the fatty acids; it even destroys the chemical vitamins that are added at the end. The amino acids are rendered very toxic by this process. The amino acid lysine, a crucial nutrient, is especially denatured by extrusion.”
During processing, grains are combined with water and mixed into a slurry, and placed in a machine called an extruder. Then the grains are pushed through tiny holes, are subjected to high heat and pressure to create shapes found in boxes like little o’s, shreads, flakes, and other shapes. “Individual grains passed through the extruder expand to produce puffed wheat, oats and rice.” Then, products are sprayed with a mixture of sugar and oil “to seal off the cereal from the ravages of milk and to give it crunch“. So even though the package tells you the product contains whole grains, those substances barely resemble what’s found in nature, at best.
How I gave up wheat and other grains
When I was first given the suggestion that I should give up grains to see if it would improve my health, I thought this was entirely crazy. How could I give it up? After all, it was something I ate every day of my life and at least 3 times a day…sometimes more. But then the person who brought up this idea started explaining how this might just be a key to many of my health issues, and it sort of started to all make sense. But still, the notion of expelling something that had been such an intrinsic part of what I had eaten my whole life seemed impossible. And yet, I was willing to try it because I was so tired of feeling bad.
After going grain-free for about two years, I started slowly adding them back into my diet, on occasion. Guess what I found out? I really couldn’t do this very much at all. I had put myself through a candida cleanse (back then, I didn’t know anything about GAPS) for about 1 1/2 to 2 years and reaped great health benefits. I had read that once you do a detox like this you could go back to eating grains in moderation, if properly prepared. So I started educating myself about how to do this, and began to buy sprouted breads and other sprouted grains and then soaked my grains when I wanted cereal or granola, or something else. I learned that not only did it cause me to not feel very good, I was hungry again within 2 hours of eating, even if I ate it with a healthy fat like cheese, butter, or cream.
Nowadays, I’m largely grain free. There will probably be times where I’ll eat grains again on some occasions, but for the most part, I’ve given them up because to me it’s not worth the health issues I experience from eating them. I’ve found that eating grains disrupts my sleep greatly, and because I’ve spent years battling with insomnia, I value my sleep a great deal. My conclusion is that in general, eating grains is just not worth it.
Why should you go grain-free?
If you are reading this and contemplating going grain-free, you may be thinking, “I can’t do this…it’s too hard!” Believe me, you CAN do this, and it’s not as hard as you think. Going grain-free means you focusing on the foods you can eat, of which there is a varied and delicious menu available. Going grain-free means eating lots of healthy fats, proteins, and fruits and vegetables, and making foods from scratch..
Should I go grain-free for life?
The honest answer is that it depends entirely on your body. There are many people who have had experienced great success going grain-free and never looked back. Various diets which support being grain-free include Paleo, Primal, and SCD. Others find that doing a detox protocol like SCD or GAPS for a period of time – 1-3 years – is sufficient. From my own personal experience and research, I haven’t seen compelling evidence showing that eating grains is favorable to the human body.
Some things you should be mindful of if you decide to go grain-free only temporarily and then add them back into your diet:
- That you heal your digestive tract thoroughly with a proven protocol first
- That when you eat grains, they are traditionally prepared through soaking/sprouting, or souring or fermenting
- That you add grains back in slowly and be very aware of any reactions or symptoms that are telling you that these foods are causing issues
Preparing foods at home means finding creative ways to make the foods you used to eat delicious without grains. For example, substitute eggs and toast for a cheese omelet, or instead of cereal eat fruit, yogurt, and chopped, sprouted nuts and raisins with a little cinnamon.
You can make any type of breakfast meat like ham, bacon, sausage, or even ground beef and eggs and add vegetables like peppers, onions, mushrooms, avocados or tomatoes, cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, or salsa. For lunch, use up leftover meats and eat with a salad with home-made dressing or sauteed vegetables in coconut oil, butter, or lard and spices. Make chicken or tuna salad with mayonnaise and eat with chopped vegetables and greens. Or, make a hearty soup with leftover meats and vegetables and home-made stock from bones. The possibilities are endless.
If you go out, order salads with meats and fish. Sandwiches can be ordered without bread, and sometimes other substitutions can be made, and soups. Many people are aware of those avoiding gluten and grains and can make suggestions. There are many places which offer gluten-free foods. Be aware that some foods contain “hidden” gluten such as soups, dressings, or sauces. Ask your server what options you have, and tell him or her you are looking for something that doesn’t involve bread, flour, or pasta.
Here are compelling reasons to eliminate grains from your diet:
- Grains are damaging to the digestive tract and immune system, and cause inflammation throughout the entire body.
- Grains are culprits of and can exacerbate many auto-immune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, thyroid problems, fibromyalgia, eczema, irritable bowel syndrome, and multiple sclerosis.
- Processed grains cause a depletion of minerals in the body. Traditionally prepared grains cause less mineral loss, but still contribute to the problem if you already have a deficiency, which most people in developed countries do. Bones and teeth become weakened from a constant consumption of grains in the diet, resulting in tooth decay, osteoporosis, and other issues.
- Continued grain consumption has a negative effect on blood sugar levels and adds to yeast or candida overgrowth in the body. Because grains are carbohydrates, this causes insulin levels to rise and fall quickly, and hunger returns sooner than if you were to eat something with protein or fat. The cycle repeats itself and causes frequent cravings for grains.
What about ‘gluten-free’ foods?
Gluten-free foods are one of the latest marketing crazes in the food industry. You can certainly go through your cupboards and other places in your kitchen throwing out all the foods containing wheat, only to replace each of them with gluten-free counterparts…but, you should know that doing this does not actually provide anything nutritionally superior, and won’t improve your health. As far as getting the most for what you spend, it’s a big waste of money. Those same gluten-free foods can cause deficiencies in the body that bring on health problems because they are virtually empty of anything in the way of nutrients. For more information about the damage that gluten-free foods can cause, read The Big Gluten-Free Lie.
If you have found that gluten or other grains are causing health issues, the most advisable thing to do is to limit the amount of grains you consume and focus on delicious and nutrient-dense foods like grass-fed meats, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, wild game meat, safe-sourced seafood, healthy fats like butter, coconut oil, olive oil, tallow, and lard (from healthy animals on pasture) and organic fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts and seeds that are properly prepared.
Healing your digestive tract is the first line of business if you are suffering from gut damage due to a processed diet including grains. A wonderful resource for this issue is Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride’s book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome.
If you are still unsure about grains, Still unsure about grains? Read The truth about wheat and grains – are they good for your health?
Want some good ideas for grain-free meals? Try Grain-Free Meal Plans from Cara at Health, Home, & Happiness.
Grain Free Meal Plans, a menu subscription service, includes:
- Menu plans for 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, plus snacks and sweets
- Kid-tested recipes
- Complete shopping lists
- Meals are based on the Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet and Specific Carbohydrate Diet diets.
- The recipes serve a family of four, but can easily be halved or doubled as needed.
- Members only forum to discuss going and being Grain Free.
Subscribe monthly for a low introductory price of $16/month, which is half off the regular price! Or, subscribe yearly for $130 – only 35 cents a day to have all your meals planned in advance! This is a great way to start eating nutritious and yummy grain-free meals.
Here’s a sample of nutrient-dense, grain-free meals and snacks we eat in our house:
Turkey fried rice - does contain rice, but not wheat or gluten
Home-made bone broth – can be used alone or in soups, casseroles, rice ,and many other dishes