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Healthy Living Kids & Family Real Food

The Truth About Wheat and Grains – Are They Good for Your Health?

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Huge debates are raging in health and food communities, on blogs, books, medical and health journals, other publications, and on message boards about whether grains are healthy or unhealthy to consume. Nutritional experts devote seminars, e-courses, and workshops, to this controversial topic.

For years, our government (FDA and USDA) and many other health sources have recommended not only consumption of grains, but that we increase our intake of grains, vegetables and fruits, and avoid eating saturated fat and cholesterol (that’s another topic entirely). And yet in spite of this “healthy” low-fat diet that we are told to consume, our disease and obesity rates continue to rise.

So what’s the truth? Are grains are okay to consume or not?  Unfortunately, the answer is not a simple yes or no. In this post I’ll explain the reasons grains are harmful to consume, and the conditions under which you can more safely consume them.

Why grains make people sick

A lot of people talk about how their bodies are made irritated or diseased by grains. For many years, I was one of these people. I used to consume a lot of grains (wheat in particular), but didn’t understand the connection between just how much these substances caused many of my health issues. When I found out that wheat could be a problem, I eliminated it and immediately started experiencing better health. As time went on, I heard more stories about how others experienced the same issues.

From my research, I discovered that various issues in our food supply are causing these problems: farming methods, pesticides and other chemicals, GMOs, hybridization of grains, and industrial processing by food companies. When I realized I had issues with wheat, I tried substituting properly prepared gluten-free grains to see if I had any improvement. Sometimes I could eat these foods, and sometimes not.  My conclusion was that I largely needed to avoid gluten-containing AND gluten-free grains as well.

Then I heard that if I detoxed my digestive tract, I could eat grains again. Over the last 7 years, I’ve done various protocols such as a lengthy candida cleanse, detoxes such as liver/gallbladder cleanses, homeopathic detox, and healing strategies like GAPS (which I started in May of 2011 and am still doing) to heal my gut and allow my body able to normally digest food again. For the most part, I’ve avoided “offending” foods: wheat, corn and other grains, soy, refined sugar and carbohydrates. I only occasionally consume fermented soy, real sourdough bread, alcoholic beverages, caffeine, and starches like rice or potatoes.

I keep reading that once I finish GAPS, I’ll be able to consume grains again. Dr. McBride’s book Gut and Psychology Syndrome tells us that the healing period of GAPS can take anywhere from 1-3 years due to the extent of digestive and health damage most people have in their bodies. The reality is, because of our processed diets, most people in the world today living in developed countries have GAPS syndrome. It’s just a fact of modern life.

When you come off GAPS, it is not advised to eat the foods you ate once before since, doing so would inevitably put you back where we were before starting the protocol. This is where foods like whole, sprouted/soaked and fermented grains come in.

Grains, nuts, legumes, and other foods should be properly prepared and dairy should be raw. We should eat as many live foods with real enzymes and bacteria as possible including naturally cultured and fermented foods, and all foods should be unprocessed, just how our ancestors used to eat them.

Grains contain nutrients like B vitamins and magnesium – important nutrients many people in this country are deficient in due to the over-processing of foods, poor gut health, and also because grains are usually not properly prepared. Like most nutrients, they don’t work in isolation. Taking supplements doesn’t often work well, and to absorb Vitamin D we need magnesium AND calcium (these work together in synergy), and also members of the Vitamin B family. Magnesium and B Vitamins are both found in grains as well as other foods.

Will I eat grains again someday? That all depends on my body. For years I have done better on a low or no-grain diet. But I’ve also been told by my naturopath that if I heal my digestion with healthy foods, mineral supplements, and digestive enzymes, I can then eat clean grains from a non-GMO source that are properly prepared.

Another problem she mentioned is that if a person has weak adrenals and/or blood sugar issues (which I’ve had for years), eating a high-carb diet can cause a great deal of problems. And ironically enough, weak adrenals and blood sugar issues are caused by years of eating processed foods with no nutritional value – including processed grains that come from GMO sources.  So when I resolve these issues, I may be able to eat grains again, in moderation. I can tell you one thing…if I do, it won’t be the way I used to eat them.

Now I’d like to set the record straight about why grains have gotten such a bad reputation and have wreaked so much havoc on our health. Grains are not necessarily “the bad guys” across the board, but here are some significant reasons/conditions which make them harmful to consume.

5 reasons grains are unhealthy to consume:

  • People have never, in the history of the world consumed the volume of grains they do now. Up until recently, the FDA Food Pyramid recommended we eat 6-11 servings a day. Consuming that many grains daily led me to a variety of health problems: insulin-resistance, thyroid problems, irregular menstrual cycles, depression, and panic disorder.

I ate plenty of commercial breads, bagels, crackers, English Muffins, pancakes, pita bread, muffins, croissants, pasta, rice, and other similar foods.  Although I ate other things, most of the animal products were commercial, lean, or low-fat, and my vegetable intake wasn’t very high.

The Food Pyramid has now become My Plate, but the emphasis continues to be eating more vegetables, fruits, and grains. My Plate entirely omits fats as a category, and uses the term “protein” which can include a variety of unhealthy, processed products which aren’t real, nourishing proteins; two grave nutritional mistakes. The foods recommended to us by the FDA and USDA are not natural, healthy foods. They are commercially processed, full of toxins, pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics, preservatives, fillers, MSG, and other undesirable substances, not soaked, sprouted, nor fermented, and largely devoid of nutrition, including grains.

If you follow these recommendations, roughly half of your diet amounts to grains. The result is blood sugar highs and lows, which will negatively impact your weight, energy levels, and cause auto-immune disorders like thyroid and/or low adrenal function.  It’s no wonder the markers of metabolic disorder are so common in our popluation: heart disease, diabetes, hypoglycemia, high blood pressure, obesity, and others are so common.

  • The way we process and consume grains is totally changed from how they were traditionally prepared and eaten.  It’s no secret that grains are a cheap, convenient food source.  However, since the Industrial Revolution, food companies and merchants have found ways to mass produce grain products, using the cheapest ingredients and most convenient processing. Grains are ground, extruded (subjected to high temperatures and pushed through holes in machinery which molds the grains into shape, rendering the nutrients in grains damaged and altered), and otherwise highly processed to make most foods found on the consumer market.

Many people don’t realize that throughout time, people have prepared grains properly by soaking, sprouting, and fermenting them to neutralize naturally-occurring phytic acid. Phytic acid is a nutrient inhibitor and not only prevents uptake of minerals zinc, magnesium, calcium, and others in the body, but also leeches many of these same elements from the stores your body keeps.

  • Due to hybridization or selective-trait breeding in wheat, there is nearly 75 percent more gluten in wheat today than in the historical past. Although gluten is desirable because of its elasticity for baking, it is also highly indigestible and is responsible for contributing to many health issues in humans including food allergies, celiac, IBS, Crohn’s Disease, diverticulitis and colitis, among others.

Like other foods, wheat has been engineered to increase crop yields, “improve” wheat quality, require less pesticides and herbicides (with other issues cropping up such as the creation of pathogenic bacteria in the soil which encourages the growth of disease and pesticide resistant super-weed).  The result has contributed to many health and environmental issues. Last week I talked to a naturopathic doctor who said she didn’t think it was the fact that people were eating grains, she thinks it’s due to the fact that many of these grains are from GMOs (genetically modified substances).  Even though GMO wheat has not been approved by the USDA in the U.S., Monsanto and other seed companies have test plots in various locations. Contamination is eminent, and if you eat wheat, you are likely consuming GMOs.

  • Over-consumption of grains and gluten in particular, due to the reasons I described above, has caused many people to have compromised digestive tracts.  A person with a sick digestive tract cannot properly digest grains – even properly prepared ones that are soaked and sprouted, and/or fermented – or any other food for that matter. People with compromised digestion often experience a variety of symptoms such as:  gas, bloating, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, or chronic problems like IBS, Crohn’s Disease, colitis, food allergies, asthma, eczema, physiological disorders, auto-immune problems, and more. The intestinal tract becomes permeable and undigested foods pass through, entering the blood stream causing distress on the whole body.
  • If you have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, it is now possible to buy the same things you once ate in just about every gluten-free variety you can imagine on the consumer market. It’s a big mistake to trade your gluten-consuming habits of 3-4 times a day into gluten-free consuming habits of the same frequency. Most of those products are just as highly processed and cause the same type of gut damage, nutrient loss in the body, weight problems, metabolic syndrome, and auto-immune disorders. Read here about the big gluten-free lie.

So, if:

  • Grains were still traditionally prepared with soaking/sprouting and/or fermentation
  • We weren’t consuming them in their processed forms in such large quantities and with such frequency
  • People’s digestive tracts were healthy and functional
  • Grains were not altered or hybridized away from how they appeared in nature in their heirloom states, and we NOT contaminated by GMO test plot sites
  • Gluten-free foods were not consumed at such alarming rates
grains would be healthier to consume.

Since most of the time, most of these things are not true, most people who consume grains are causing damage to their health.  However, due to changes in our soil, water, air, farming methods, chemicals, pollution, and other factors, it’s also true that no foods we eat today are the same as what our ancestors ate. Therefore, consuming any food should be done with careful consideration about its source, how it is grown or raised, how processed it is, and whether it is sustainable or not.

So, does that mean you shouldn’t consume grains, and that if you do, your health will suffer?

Currently, a large number of the population don’t pay attention to where their food comes from, aren’t properly preparing grains before eating, eat grains more than is advisable for good health, and don’t have healthy digestive tracts. If you follow a mindful approach to consuming grains, as I’ve discussed above, you could maintain your health and possibly even benefit from nutrients in the grains you eat. Since consuming grains in any other way besides what I’ve mentioned here is not advisable for health, my conclusion is that grains:

  • Should be eaten in moderation
  • Should be properly prepared when consumed
  • Should come from an organic or truly sustainable source
  • Should be freshly ground and little processed as possible, and
  • Should be consumed by someone who has a healthy digestive tract to enable the best digestion and absorption of any nutrients in properly prepared grains, and also minimal damage done to the body

Ultimately, you have to decide whether you need a grain-free diet, a low-grain diet, or your body does fine with grains. But, if you are having health issues, whether you think they are connected to grains or not, it’s very important to at least consider whether you are affected by any of the factors discussed here.

More information on grains:

Go grain-free and still eat delicious, healthy meals


The big gluten-free lie

Activism Green Living Healthy Living Kids & Family Real Food

Go Grain-Free & and Still Eat Delicious, Healthy Meals

www.mypicshares.com

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.

Read about the success I’ve had with GAPS in healing life-long issues with panic, anxiety, hormonal, immune, and digestive issues.

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:

  1. Grains are damaging to the digestive tract and immune system, and cause inflammation throughout the entire body.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

Roasted chicken with tomato cream sauce and vegetables

Shepherd’s pie

Rustic baked chicken with bacon and cheese

Savory bread with almond flour and sundried tomatoes

Grass-fed pot roast

Chili cheese fries with grass-fed ground beef

Turkey fried rice  - does contain rice, but not wheat or gluten

Apples fried in butter topped with yogurt, sprouted nuts, raisins, and maple syrup

Home-made bone broth – can be used alone or in soups, casseroles, rice ,and many other dishes

Chicken with roasted vegetables

Home-made beef jerky