- Is a Grain-Free Diet Healthy? Everything You Need to Know
- Grain-Free Diet: Benefits and Risks
- What is a grain-free diet?
- Benefits of going grain-free
- Risks of going grain-free
- Is a grain-free diet right for you?
- Similar articles
- Foods You Can and Can’t Eat on a Wheat-Free Diet
- Thumbs-up wheat-free foods
- Foods with hidden wheat and gluten
- Be aware of gluten replacements
- What’s the Difference Between Grain-Free and Gluten-Free Diets?
- 5 Benefits of a Grain Free Diet
- Benefits of a Grain Free Diet
- What’s Wrong With Grains?
- Final Thoughts
- Benefits of a Grain-Free Diet
- Grain-Free, Gluten-Free: A Doctor’s Life-Changing Diet Journey
- Going Sideways to Avoid Gluten-Free Food
- The Case Against (Some) Grains
- How Grains Can Damage Your Gut
- The Beginners Guide to Going Gluten Free
- Understanding the Basics: What is Gluten?
- What Does a Gluten Free Diet Look Like?
- Are Gluten Free Packaged Foods Healthy?
- Tips for Avoiding Cross-Contamination
- Eating Gluten Free at Restaurants
- Avoid These Top 3 Mistakes When Going Gluten Free
- Your grain-free diet isn’t natural, good for you or good for the planet
- So here are my 17 tips for making it easier to eat grain free:
- 1. Keep boiled eggs on hand.
- 2. Cooked meat
- 3. Always, always make extra of everything.
- 4. Keep some sort of bread, or “wraps” on hand at all times.
- 5. When you bake, bake for an army.
- 6. Fill your freezer with meals.
- 7. Keep well stocked on fruits and veggies.
- 8. If you’re going to cook potatoes, always make extras.
- 9. Consider the Nibble Plate.
- 10. Come up with a list of super quick, easy meals.
- 11. Weekly make broth in the crockpot and then freeze it.
- 12. Have baking ingredients stocked up in pantry.
- 13. Sausages & bacon. Have lots of them.
- 14. Meal plan, meal plan, meal plan.
- 15. Use your leftovers.
- 16. Smoothies. The perfect food.
- 17. Use that crockpot.
- Related posts:
- So here are my 17 tips for making it easier to eat grain free:
Is a Grain-Free Diet Healthy? Everything You Need to Know
A grain-free diet may offer several health benefits.
May help treat certain health conditions
A grain-free diet is most commonly followed by those with certain autoimmune diseases, and several studies support its use in these cases.
For example, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects around 1% of the Western population. It causes your body to mistake gluten, a protein in wheat, as a threat, sending your immune system into overdrive (1).
This can lead to gut inflammation, which in turn can cause severe nutrient deficiencies and other digestive issues. People with celiac disease must exclude all gluten-containing grains from their diet (2, 3).
Similarly, some people are allergic to wheat and must avoid all foods containing it. Others may be intolerant to gluten or other compounds in grains despite not having celiac disease or a wheat allergy. (4).
People with such a gluten intolerance commonly report symptoms like stomach pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, eczema, headaches, or fatigue when eating grains and may benefit from excluding them from their diet (5, 6, 7, 8).
Finally, in a 6-week study in people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), following a grain-free diet improved symptoms in 73% of participants (9).
May reduce inflammation
Grains may contribute to inflammation, which is believed to be the root cause of many chronic diseases.
Some test-tube, animal, and human studies suggest a link between daily intake of wheat or processed grains and chronic inflammation (10, 11, 12).
However, not all studies agree (13).
The lack of consensus may be explained by the type of grain researched. For instance, while refined grains may increase inflammation, whole grains appear to have very little effect on inflammation, and in some cases, may even lower it (13, 14, 15, 16).
Moreover, cutting out grains may cause some people to naturally increase the quantity or variety of fruits and vegetables they eat — both of which may help reduce inflammation (17, 18, 19).
Still, it’s worth noting that whole grains may offer anti-inflammatory benefits of their own. Unless you have celiac disease, wheat allergy, or gluten intolerance, you likely don’t need to completely cut out grains to successfully fight inflammation (20).
May enhance weight loss
A grain-free diet may promote weight loss, likely because it’s naturally devoid of processed grains found in calorie-rich, nutrient-poor foods like white bread, white pasta, pizza, doughnuts, cookies, and other baked goods.
What’s more, cutting a whole food group out of your diet may reduce your overall daily calorie intake, creating the calorie deficit needed to lose weight.
Yet, research clearly shows that, as long as you create a calorie deficit, you will lose weight regardless of whether your diet contains grains. In fact, evidence suggests that eating whole grains may promote weight loss and boost your metabolism (21, 22, 23, 24).
Therefore, cutting out all grains from your diet is not a requirement for weight loss.
May lower blood sugar levels
Grains are naturally rich in carbs.
Thus, diets rich in grains may cause problems for people who have a difficult time dealing with large amounts of dietary carbs, such as those with diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
Refined grains, such as those found in white bread, white pasta, and many other processed foods, are particularly problematic, as they’re devoid of fiber.
This leads them to be digested very quickly, generally causing a spike in blood sugar levels shortly after a meal (25, 26).
That said, fiber-rich whole grains may help stabilize and prevent spikes in blood sugar levels. Therefore, cutting out all grains is not the only way to lower blood sugar levels (25, 27, 28).
Other potential benefits
A grain-free diet may also offer other health benefits:
- May improve mental health. Studies link gluten-containing diets to anxiety, depression, mood disorders, ADHD, autism, and schizophrenia. However, it’s currently impossible to know whether grains caused these disorders (29, 30).
- May help alleviate pain. Gluten-free diets may help reduce pelvic pain in women with endometriosis, a disorder that causes the tissue lining the inside of the uterus to grow outside of it (8, 31).
- May reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia. A gluten-free diet may help reduce the widespread pain experienced by people with fibromyalgia (32).
Despite promising preliminary results, more studies are needed to confirm these effects.
It’s also worth noting that most of these studies only looked at the effect of gluten-containing grains. There’s no evidence to suggest that it’s necessary to exclude all grains from your diet to attain these benefits.
A grain-free diet may reduce inflammation, aid weight loss, and improve digestion and blood sugar levels. It may also promote mental health and alleviate pain in people with fibromyalgia or endometriosis, though more research is needed.
Grain-Free Diet: Benefits and Risks
Dr. Axe August 7, 2018 Food & Nutrition Email Print Twitter Pinterest Facebook
This post was most recently updated on September 13th, 2018
Grains are often considered a staple ingredient in the typical western diet. For many, it’s pretty challenging to even fathom a meal that doesn’t include some type of grain, whether it’s pasta, bread, rice or cereal. But with grain-free diets — such as the trendy Paleo or keto diets — on the rise, many people are have begun taking the leap and cutting grains from their diet in an effort to achieve better health.
What is a grain-free diet?
Going grain-free means going a step beyond a gluten-free diet to eliminate all grains, including wheat products, rice, corn and oats. Meanwhile, foods like quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat, which are actually considered seeds, can still be included in small amounts.
Many types of grains have been linked to inflammation, opening the door to a slew of other problems such as leaky gut, autoimmune disorders and chronic disease. Wheat, in particular, is a common culprit of digestive distress, especially in people who are sensitive to the effects of gluten. Refined grains are also high in calories and carbs, yet offer little in terms of nutrition, contributing to issues like weight gain and insulin resistance. Plus, other types of grains also contain anti-nutrients, which can interfere with the absorption of essential minerals in your diet and increase the risk of deficiencies.
Most people give the grain-free diet a shot looking to ease digestive issues, relieve inflammation and balance the gut microbiome. But not all grains are created equally, and incorporating a good variety of whole, sprouted grains into your diet can actually provide a wealth of important nutrients without the negative side effects that come with consuming heavily processed and refined grain products.
So should you ditch the grains altogether or simply modify your meals? Here are a few of the top pros and cons to consider before making the switch:
Benefits of going grain-free
For many people, grains can be difficult to digest and can aggravate symptoms of digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome. Gluten, a type of protein found in wheat, can also cause issues for those with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity. Limiting your intake of hard-to-digest grains may provide relief if you suffer from stubborn symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, nausea or bloating.
Grains can be quite calorie-dense, which is why nixing them from your diet almost inevitably leads to weight loss. Swapping out refined grains, in particular, for nutrient-dense foods like vegetables and legumes can also cut caloric intake, curb cravings and keep you feeling full to enhance weight loss even more.
Some research suggests that following a grain-free diet can help support the beneficial bacteria in your gut to maximize the health of your microbiome. In addition to improving digestion, fostering a healthy gut microbiome has also been shown to boost immunity, improve brain function and even keep blood sugar under control.
While acute inflammation typically means that your immune system is working hard to fight off foreign invaders, sustaining high levels of inflammation long-term can contribute to chronic disease and worsen symptoms of autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis. Animal studies show that wheat, in particular, may drive up levels of inflammation and contribute to the development of disease.
Read more about how a grain-free diet can benefit your health.
Risks of going grain-free
Grains supply a good chunk of fiber, which helps support regularity and keeps things moving through the digestive tract. By going grain-free, you’re cutting out a big source of fiber, which could contribute to constipation if you’re not replacing it with other high-fiber foods in your diet like fruits, veggies and legumes.
Low energy levels:
One of the most common side effects of a grain-free diet is low energy levels. Because grains are one of the main sources of carbohydrates, the main source of energy in the body, significantly slashing your intake can result in fatigue and sluggishness. That being said, rounding out your diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and protein foods can help sidestep symptoms and keep energy levels up. (Breakfast idea: Try this Grain-Free Blueberry Crumble.)
Grains are an excellent source of important vitamins and minerals such as iron, folate and thiamin. While it’s definitely possible to meet your needs for these key micronutrients even without grains, it may require a bit of extra planning and effort to fit everything into your daily meal plan once you go grain-free.
Is a grain-free diet right for you?
There are both pros and cons associated with a grain-free diet, and many factors to consider when it comes to your health. For most, however, cutting out grains completely is not necessary. Instead, making a few simple swaps on your grocery list can optimize your diet and help you minimize any adverse side effects associated with the consumption of unhealthy grains.
To get started, try opting for healthy gluten-free grains like quinoa, oats, sorghum or brown rice instead of highly-processed and refined wheat products. Selecting sprouted grains at the supermarket or soaking and sprouting your grains at home are a few other options that can help enhance the digestibility and bump up the nutritional quality of your grains.
Finally, be sure to keep your intake in moderation and balance your diet with a good variety of fruits, vegetables, protein foods and healthy fats. These foods can help supply the important vitamins and minerals that your body needs, regardless of whether or not you decide to go grain-free.
What about Fido? Read about benefits of a grain-free diet for pets.
Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. He operates the No. 1 natural health website in the world at DrAxe.com, with over 15 million unique visitors every month, and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health company that provides history’s healthiest whole food nutrients to the modern world. He’s author of the books “Eat Dirt,” “Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine” and the just released “Keto Diet: Your 30-Day Plan to Lose Weight, Balance Hormones and Reserve Disease.”
Tags dietgrain freegrainsnutrition
Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. He operates the No. 1 natural health website in the world at DrAxe.com, with over 15 million unique visitors every month, and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health company that provides history’s healthiest whole food nutrients to the modern world. He’s author of the books “Eat Dirt,” “Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine” and the just released “Keto Diet: Your 30-Day Plan to Lose Weight, Balance Hormones and Reserve Disease.”
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Foods You Can and Can’t Eat on a Wheat-Free Diet
By Rusty Gregory, Alan Chasen
When you’re setting up your wheat-free diet, you need to know what to look for specifically in regard to the condition you’re treating. A wheat- or grain-free diet is just that: foods with no wheat or grain. Non-wheat grains with gluten, such as barley and rye, are okay if you’re focusing only on wheat.
When planning a gluten-free diet, though, eliminating all grains containing gluten is critical. Here are some tips to help you navigate what is and isn’t still on your to-eat list and what other products you may need to avoid. You have to eliminate all wheat from your diet because you can’t separate wheat and gluten. However, you might also want to eliminate all grains, which automatically cuts out all gluten.
Thumbs-up wheat-free foods
Have you ever noticed that when you change your diet, the can’t-have list of foods is always longer than the can-have list? Well, here’s the good news: The can-have list for wheat-, grain-, and gluten-free eating isn’t as restrictive as you may think. You can find plenty of good wheat/grain-free and gluten-free foods on the market, plus safe ingredients that let you turn out all kinds of goodies.
All these foods are wheat/grain-free and gluten-free. Some of these foods may cause a rise in blood sugar, however, which leads to an insulin response. Foods on the can-have list include the following:
All nonbreaded meat
Dairy products (cream, milk, sour cream, lowfat Greek yogurt, and all cheese except for shredded cheese, unless it says “gluten-free”)
Fruits and vegetables
Non-wheat flour (almond, arrowroot, buckwheat, cassava, chestnut, chia, coconut, flaxseed, potato, soy, and tapioca)
So you’ve tried everything you can think of to eliminate the wheat and gluten in your diet, but you’re still suffering. Ah, what to do? Well, the first step is to make sure you haven’t missed any less-than-obvious sources.
When looking to identify hidden wheat, always read the label. These key terms will surface when wheat is present:
Contains wheat ingredients
Flavorings and additives
Hydrolyzed plant and vegetable protein
Wheat and gluten can be found in other places where you may not think to look. For example, you may be ingesting or absorbing them through personal care products, appliances, and kids toys and art supplies. Go online to find a list of products that contain wheat and gluten so you know what to avoid.
Or if you can’t figure out whether your favorite beauty product contains wheat or gluten, call and ask the manufacturer about the ingredients in the product.
When treating celiac disease with a gluten-free diet, little wiggle room is available for cross-contamination. Gluten-free doesn’t mean eliminating gluten just from your diet; it means removing it from your life. Consider the following items that can contain gluten:
Art supplies (paint)
Detergents (laundry and dishwasher)
Modeling compounds for kids (such as Play-Doh)
Multiple-use paper plates, cups, and plasticware
Scratched or porous cookware and utensils where gluten can hide in the cracks
Pots and pans that have been used to prepare foods containing gluten
Toasters and ovens used to prepare foods containing gluten
When it comes to your kitchen, make sure your cooking area is clean so food intended for someone who can’t have wheat/gluten won’t be cross-contaminated with the wheat and gluten in other foods.
Be aware of gluten replacements
When manufacturers remove gluten to create a gluten-free food, they also remove the wheat. In order for the food to maintain its structure, it must have a gluten replacement. These substitutes are various types of starches such as tapioca, rice, and potato. The binding and glueyness that these starches provide are adequate for most gluten-free people.
The starches that are added to give gluten-free food the needed binding and texture pose some alternative health risks. Basically, you trade gluten intolerance for elevated blood sugar and insulin levels, which lead to fat storage and diabetes.
This swap presents another set of potential health issues, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Choosing alternative foods that don’t contain these high starches is the best way to live gluten-free.
September 2019 Issue
Whole Grains: Gluten-Free, Grain-Free, and Wheat-Free Diets
By Densie Webb, PhD, RD
Vol. 21, No. 9, P. 16
What Clients (and RDs) Need to Know
Gluten-free foods are everywhere, it seems. The market for gluten-free food products has grown from about $464 million in 2011 to a projected $2.4 billion by 2020.1 That’s a lot of people eating a lot of gluten-free foods. Moreover, gluten-free often is translated to grain-free, fueling a growing belief that grains, especially wheat, are inherently bad for you. As a result, grain-free diets also are on the upswing. The grain-free diet is pretty self-explanatory—the elimination of all grains, both refined and whole, from the diet, including wheat, oats, rice, rye, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, corn, teff, and amaranth. The popularity of grain-free eating has even made its way into pet foods.2 However, the reasoning for such a restrictive diet is murky at best, and the potential nutrition cons are clear.
While there are specific reasons why clients may need to seek out gluten-free or wheat-free foods, there’s no clear reason for a grain-free, gluten-free, or wheat-free diet for healthy individuals. In fact, all three of these dietary restrictions go against all recognized healthful eating recommendations from the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and organizations ranging from the American Heart Association to the American Diabetes Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, all of which encourage the consumption of grains (six servings per day), especially whole grains (three servings per day). Refined grains are enriched with vitamins and minerals, such as folic acid and iron, and there’s solid evidence to show that including whole grains in the diet is associated with a lower risk of CVD, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and even early death.3-6 But the average intake of whole grains in the United States already is less than a single serving per day7; adhering to a diet that advocates avoiding grains could lower that intake to zero.
Who Really Needs to Avoid Gluten?
Clients and patients who have been diagnosed with celiac disease (about 0.5% to 1.7% of the population) must avoid all gluten-containing foods.8 Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which the ingestion of gluten damages the small intestine. Allesio Fasano, MD, chair of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, author of Gluten Freedom, and an expert on celiac disease, has said that a gluten-free diet is as necessary for people diagnosed with celiac disease as insulin is for individuals with diabetes.
There’s also a little-understood condition called nonceliac gluten sensitivity, which can cause symptoms similar to celiac disease, such as bloating, cramping, and diarrhea, but without the damaging effects in the intestine. Despite four consensus conferences that focused on the condition, no biomarkers for diagnosis have been identified.9 Diagnosis usually is done through process of elimination, making estimates of its prevalence difficult to obtain. However, it has been approximated that between 0.6% and 10.6% of the nonceliac population experiences nonceliac gluten sensitivity, with varying degrees of symptoms.10
For the vast majority of people, however, gluten hasn’t been proven to have negative effects on health. One of the claims regarding gluten is that it increases the risk of heart disease. However, in the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, researchers found no association between gluten intake and development of coronary heart disease.11
Even assuming the highest estimated prevalence of celiac disease and nonceliac gluten sensitivity, it’s virtually impossible that everyone purchasing gluten-free foods has one of these conditions, and when gluten-free is then translated into grain-free, the avoidance of all grains can compromise nutrition status and ultimately health. “I certainly see the gluten-free trend as the springboard for the grain-free trend, and it has only been further catapulted by the Paleo and ketogenic diet trends,” says Alicia Romano, MS, RD, LDN, CNSC, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and clinical dietitian at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.
Who Really Needs to Avoid Wheat?
Not only do people diagnosed with celiac disease have to avoid wheat, but those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) who have a fructan intolerance do, too. The fructans, not the gluten, found in wheat are irritating to the intestinal tract, Romano says. Fructans are polymers of fructose molecules. Some people lack the enzyme necessary to break apart the linkages that connect the fructose polymers during digestion; as a result, they’re not absorbed and arrive in the large bowel, where they’re fermented, causing bloating and diarrhea.
Wheat allergy, on the other hand, involves a reaction of the immune system in response to consuming wheat. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, wheat allergy is most common in children, who typically outgrow it by adulthood. In fact, about 65% of children with a wheat allergy will outgrow it by age 12.12
Who Really Needs to Avoid All Grains?
Despite the premise of the Paleo diet (the high-protein, grain-free diet our ancestors ate before the development of agriculture and the cultivation of grains) and the keto diet (a low-carb, high-fat diet plan), there’s no clearly established reason for anyone to avoid all grains and, in fact, it could be detrimental to health. While there’s some research suggesting that one of the proteins in gluten (gliadin) may cause a “leaky gut,” in which compounds are “leaked” into the bloodstream, causing an inflammatory response, research suggests that gliadin-triggered inflammation likely occurs only in people with a genetic predisposition, and it’s unclear whether, and to what extent, it might affect disease risk.13
Grain Recommendations for Health
Despite the growing popularity of diets that recommend eliminating some or all grain foods
to improve health, there’s little research to suggest that avoidance of gluten, wheat, or all grains is beneficial for people who haven’t been diagnosed with wheat allergy, celiac disease, IBS, nonceliac gluten sensitivity, or any other intestinal disorder. In fact, avoidance of grains can have the opposite of the desired result—poor health.
Removing all grains (refined and whole) results in the elimination or reduced consumption of several nutrients, including B vitamins, such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and folate, as well as iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium. Eliminating whole grains removes a rich source of fiber and a collection of phytochemicals thought to be instrumental in providing health benefits. Studies have shown that people who eat three servings of whole grains per day may reduce their risk of heart disease by 25% to 36%, stroke by 37%, type 2 diabetes by 21% to 27%, digestive system cancers by 21% to 43%, and hormone-related cancers by 10% to 40%.14
“Very few gluten-free products are fortified or enriched with the vitamins and minerals found in gluten-containing grain products,” Romano says. The bottom line, she says, is that “gluten-free and wheat-free diets should be reserved for when they’re medically indicated, such as those with celiac disease, nonceliac gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy, or IBS with fructan intolerance. Everyone else should consume a balanced diet rich in plant-based foods, including a variety of whole grains.”
If a patient or client is adamant about avoiding gluten or wheat, let them know there are plenty of other grains that are gluten-free and not derived from wheat and that help meet the dietary recommendation for whole grains, including amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, quinoa, rice, sorghum, teff, and wild rice.
— Densie Webb, PhD, RD, is a freelance writer, editor, and industry consultant based in Austin, Texas.
3. Aune D, Keum N, Giovannucci E, et al. Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ. 2016;353:i2716.
4. Kyrø C, Tjønneland A, Overvad K, Olsen A, Landberg R. Higher whole-grain intake is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes among middle-aged men and women: the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health Cohort. J Nutr. 2018;148(9):1434-1444.
6. GBD 2017 Diet Collaborators. Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990-2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. Lancet. 2019;393(10184):1958-1972.
11. Lebwohl B, Cao Y, Zong G, et al. Long term gluten consumption in adults without celiac disease and risk of coronary heart disease: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2017;357:j1892.
13. Sturgeon C, Fasano A. Zonulin, a regulator of epithelial and endothelial barrier functions, and its involvement in chronic inflammatory diseases. Tissue Barriers. 2016;4(4):e1251384.
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You must have heard of the gluten-free diet. Well, the grain-free diet is similar except that it excludes non-glutinous grains too, such as wheat, barley and rye. You also need not to eat food made out of grains such as pasta, rice cakes, oatmeal and bread.
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Pseudocereals, though are a lot like whole grain foods, are occasionally okay to consume since they are not technically placed in the same category as grains. Examples of the pseudocereals include quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat. A grain-free diet can be confused for a low-carb diet, but there is no such limitation on carbohydrates. If you crave carbs, no problem. Starchy vegetables, fruits and legumes are healthy carbs that can be opted for by people following the diet.
Grain-free does not mean you need to restrict yourself to certain foods. Instead, it is about making the right food choices. For instance, all fruits are permissible to be eaten while maintaining grain-free food habits. Meat rich in protein, such as fish and seafood, dairy products and poultry are allowed as well.
Nuts, seeds and products made out of them are healthy value adds to such diets. Food made from non-grain based flours such as flax seeds, chickpea and coconut flour are some of the alternatives people can try. Here are some of the pros of consuming grain-free foods, according to information provided by Healthline.
Inflammation: Research showed that consuming refined grains and wheat could increase inflammation, and lead to several chronic illnesses. However, the research is not conclusive on unprocessed whole grains foods.
Autoimmune diseases: You generally cut back on whole grain foods only if you have autoimmune conditions such as celiac disease or gluten intolerance, otherwise whole grains can sometimes help with reducing inflammation. One study spanning six weeks revealed that 73 percent of participants had reduced symptoms of gluten intolerance after consuming grain-free food.
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Weight Loss: Reducing food containing processed grains such pizza, doughnuts, bread and pasta creates a calorie deficit and leads to weight loss organically. Contradictory research showed that eating whole grain in moderation could change metabolism and aid weight loss.
Blood Sugar: Whole grains are rich in dietary carbs and when large amounts are eaten it can lead to diabetes. White bread and pasta are digested quickly as they lack fiber and increase blood sugar levels as a result.
Mental Health: Certain diets associate consuming glutinous foods with depression and anxiety.
Alleviates Pain: Similarly gluten-free food can reduce fibromyalgia and endometriosis.
There are some downsides that need to be noted too.
Constipation: Whole grains contain insoluble fiber that adds bulk to the stool, aiding the movement of excreta through the digestive tract and thereby reducing constipation. Consuming some fiber-rich foods not made from grains when they are elimintaed from the diet could be the solution to finding the balance.
Restricted Nutrition: Unprocessed whole grain foods are full of vitamins and minerals. Examples are iron, vitamin B, magnesium and phosphorus. Nutrient deficiencies could appear if they are cut out of the diet, however, they can be replaced to an extent by pseudocereals that contain some of the same nutrients. Hence, having a balanced meal is more important.
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So what is gluten? And is there really any reason to avoid it?
Recently, gluten and gluten free diets have occupied a significant amount of media coverage, with conflicting messages spruiking gluten free diets as the answer to many health ailments including as an effective tool for weight loss and treatment for all sorts of digestive issues. Now the tide is shifting in favour of more positive coverage around gluten, but there are still many misconceptions surrounding gluten and gluten free diets. So we’ve answered a few of the most common questions on gluten which we hope will help to set the record straight…
But firstly, what is gluten and where is it found?
Gluten is a natural protein, found not only in wheat, but also rye, barley, oats and spelt. It has a vital functional role in baking as it gives the dough its elasticity, holding the dough together and preventing crumbling during rolling and shaping.
Gluten is found in many foods, including products made with gluten containing grains such as breads, breakfast cereals, crispbreads, pasta, as well as biscuits, cakes, pastry and pizza. But gluten is also found in unexpected foods, such as some processed meats, ready-to-eat soups, ice cream and sauces. So it pays to check the label if you need to avoid gluten!
Despite many foods on the market containing gluten, there are still plenty of good quality grain foods that are naturally gluten free including all varieties of rice, some rice noodles, millet, sorghum, teff and pseudo grains – quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth as well as gluten free varieties of foods like breads, breakfast cereals and crackers. So you can still enjoy the goodness of grains on a gluten free diet.
One common misconception is that a gluten free diet means cutting out all grains – but gluten free doesn’t mean grain free!
So what is coeliac disease?
Coeliac disease affects just a small percentage of people with approximately 1 in 70 Australians1 being diagnosed with the disease. It’s characterised by an abnormal immune reaction to gluten, which causes small bowel damage. The tiny, finger-like projections which line the bowel (villi) become inflamed and flattened, which leads to reduced nutrient absorption and gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating and abdominal pain. Other symptoms can include fatigue, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, skin rashes and joint pains. Currently, the only treatment for coeliac disease is a completely gluten free diet.
If you suspect you may have coeliac disease, always seek advice from a qualified medical practitioner before removing any foods from your diet.
What about gluten intolerance or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity?
With a growing number of the population suffering from coeliac like symptoms, recent evidence suggests that gluten intolerance or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity may exist. But there is so much that we still don’t know about this condition. And with the lack of a clear medical marker to confirm whether or not a person is gluten intolerant, this makes clinical diagnosis very difficult.
There is growing evidence to suggest that some people may suffer from a gluten intolerance – but currently there is no clear indicator to diagnose a sensitivity or intolerance.
Are gluten free foods healthier than foods containing gluten?
A gluten free diet is often promoted as a ‘healthier diet’ than one containing gluten, but research has demonstrated that gluten free foods in Australia are no healthier than the foods they are designed to replace2. What’s more gluten free diets have been shown to be higher in calories and fat (particularly saturated fat) and gluten free foods generally have a higher glycaemic index3, 4 than their gluten containing counterparts.
Additionally, following a gluten free diet can be very restrictive especially when eating out and can even be up to two to three times more expensive than that of a standard diet,5 as many gluten free staples cost significantly more than their regular alternatives6, 7.
Following a gluten free diet can cost up to two to three times more than a regular diet!
I’ve heard that eliminating gluten can help with weight loss – is this true?
Despite the frequent endorsement of a gluten free diet to help with weight loss, there’s actually no published evidence to show that gluten free diets directly result in weight loss in healthy people without coeliac disease or gluten intolerance17, 18.
However, some individuals who follow a gluten free diet may experience weight loss as they improve the overall nutritional quality of their diet by eating fewer processed, nutrient poor foods and eating more fruit, vegetables and legumes. So any weight loss experienced whilst following a gluten free diet could be due to reduced overall energy intake and better food choices, rather than the elimination of gluten19.
So are there any risks associated with eliminating gluten?
In short, there could be – a long term gluten free diet may actually increase your risk of falling short of nutritional requirements, particularly with relation to fibre3, 9-11. Micronutrient intakes have also been shown to be poor, particularly for vitamin D, vitamin B12 and folate intake, in addition to minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium3.
Avoiding gluten containing foods are likely to have health implications in the long term given their important role in bowel health12, with some evidence suggesting that a gluten free diet may have a negative effect on the composition of the gut microbiome13, 14. Additionally large population studies have shown that gluten intake is not associated with coronary heart disease,15 and that low gluten diets may actually increase the risk of type 2 diabetes16. This is likely due to the fact that individuals who follow a gluten free diet also restrict good quality grain foods, particularly those that are rich in cereal fibre and whole grain – both of which have been shown to lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Low gluten diets may actually increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.
So what are the benefits of consuming foods that contain gluten?
If you have no medical reason to avoid gluten, there are many health benefits associated with including gluten containing grain foods in your diet…
- Grain foods are the leading contributors of many key nutrients in the Australian diet, including fibre, folate, thiamin, iron, magnesium and iodine20.
- Additionally, eating at least three serves of whole grain per day has been shown to reduce the risk of incidence and death from heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers21-24.
- Finally, increased intake of whole grains and dietary fibre is associated with less weight gain over time25-32.
Grain foods, particularly those that are high in fibre and whole grains, are highly nutritious and are associated with reduced risk of chronic disease!
So what’s the bottom line?
For those who don’t have diagnosed coeliac disease, there is no reason to follow a gluten free diet or even limit or avoid gluten containing foods. But it’s important to remember that you can still enjoy the benefits of gluten free grains even if you follow a gluten free diet – find out more here.
Remember, gluten free doesn’t mean grain free!
Want to find out more about current controversial topics? Click on the links to read our Hot Topics on Carbohydrates and Sugar in Grain Foods.
GLNC encourages anyone with a suspected coeliac disease or gluten intolerance to seek advice from a qualified medical practitioner. If coeliac disease is excluded, GLNC recommends individuals seek guidance from an Accredited Practising Dietitian to investigate other dietary triggers such as FODMAPs.
- Coeliac Disease. Coeliac Australia. Available at: http://www.coeliac.org.au/coeliac-disease/. Accessed 21 July, 2016.
- Wu JH, Neal B, Trevena H, et al. Are gluten-free foods healthier than non-gluten-free foods? An evaluation of supermarket products in Australia. Br J Nutr. Aug 14 2015;114(3):448-454.
- Vici G, Belli L, Biondi M, Polzonetti V. Gluten free diet and nutrient deficiencies: a review. Clinical Nutrition. 2016.
- Reilly NR. The Gluten-Free Diet: Recognizing Fact, Fiction, and Fad. The Journal of Pediatrics. 2016.
- Lee AR, Ng DL, Zivin J, Green PH. Economic burden of a gluten-free diet. J Hum Nutr Diet. Oct 2007;20(5):423-430.
- Lambert K, Ficken C. Cost and affordability of a nutritionally balanced gluten-free diet: Is following a gluten-free diet affordable? Nutrition & Dietetics. 2015:n/a-n/a.
- Estevez V, Ayala J, Vespa C, Araya M. The gluten-free basic food basket: a problem of availability, cost and nutritional composition. Eur J Clin Nutr. 10//print 2016;70(10):1215-1217.
- Bardella MT, Elli L, Ferretti F. Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. Current Gastroenterology Reports. 2016;18(12):63.
- Thompson T, Dennis M, Higgins LA, Lee AR, Sharrett MK. Gluten-free diet survey: are Americans with coeliac disease consuming recommended amounts of fibre, iron, calcium and grain foods? J Hum Nutr Diet. Jun 2005;18(3):163-169.
- Shewry PR, Hey SJ. Do we need to worry about eating wheat? Nutrition Bulletin. 2016;41(1):6-13.
- Shepherd SJ, Gibson PR. Nutritional inadequacies of the gluten-free diet in both recently-diagnosed and long-term patients with coeliac disease. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. 2013;26(4):349-358.
- Boyce PM, Koloski NA, Talley NJ. Irritable bowel syndrome according to varying diagnostic criteria: are the new Rome II criteria unnecessarily restrictive for research and practice? Am J Gastroenterol. Nov 2000;95(11):3176-3183.
- Bonder MJ, Tigchelaar EF, Cai X, et al. The influence of a short-term gluten-free diet on the human gut microbiome. Genome Medicine. 2016;8(1):1-11.
- Graf D, Di Cagno R, Fak F, et al. Contribution of diet to the composition of the human gut microbiota. Microb Ecol Health Dis. 2015;26:26164.
- Lebwohl B, Cao Y, Zong G, et al. Long term gluten consumption in adults without celiac disease and risk of coronary heart disease: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2017;357.
- Zong G, Lebwohl B, Hu F, et al. Associations of Gluten Intake with Type 2 Diabetes Risk and Weight Gain in Three Large Prospective Cohort Studies of US Men and Women. Unpublished. 2017.
- Gaesser GA, Angadi SS. Gluten-free diet: imprudent dietary advice for the general population? J Acad Nutr Diet. Sep 2012;112(9):1330-1333.
- Gaesser GA, Angadi SS. Navigating the gluten-free boom. Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants. 2015;28(8):1-7.
- Staudacher HM, Gibson PR. How healthy is a gluten-free diet? British Journal of Nutrition. 2015/11/28 2015;114(10):1539-1541.
- ABS. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12: Australian Bureau of Statistics; 2014.
- Aune D, Keum N, Giovannucci E, et al. Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ. 2016-06-14 22:33:50 2016;353.
- McRae MP. Health Benefits of Dietary Whole Grains: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses. J Chiropr Med. Mar 2017;16(1):10-18.
- Chen G-C, Tong X, Xu J-Y, et al. Whole-grain intake and total, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. May 25, 2016 2016.
- Zong G, Gao A, Hu FB, Sun Q. Whole Grain Intake and Mortality From All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. Circulation. June 14, 2016 2016;133(24):2370-2380.
- Williams PG, Grafenauer SJ, O’Shea JE. Cereal grains, legumes, and weight management: a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence. Nutr Rev. Apr 2008;66(4):171-182.
- Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB. Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men. New England Journal of Medicine. 2011;364(25):2392-2404.
- Du H, van der AD, Boshuizen HC, et al. Dietary fiber and subsequent changes in body weight and waist circumference in European men and women. Am J Clin Nutr. Feb 2010;91(2):329-336.
- Feskens EJ, Sluik D, Du H. The Association Between Diet and Obesity in Specific European Cohorts: DiOGenes and EPIC-PANACEA. Curr Obes Rep. Mar 2014;3(1):67-78.
- Koh-Banerjee P, Franz M, Sampson L, et al. Changes in whole-grain, bran, and cereal fiber consumption in relation to 8-y weight gain among men. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. November 1, 2004 2004;80(5):1237-1245.
- Liu S, Willett WC, Manson JE, Hu FB, Rosner B, Colditz G. Relation between changes in intakes of dietary fiber and grain products and changes in weight and development of obesity among middle-aged women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. November 1, 2003 2003;78(5):920-927.
- Koh-Banerjee P, Rimm EB. Whole grain consumption and weight gain: a review of the epidemiological evidence, potential mechanisms and opportunities for future research. Proc Nutr Soc. Feb 2003;62(1):25-29.
- Ye EQ, Chacko SA, Chou EL, Kugizaki M, Liu S. Greater whole-grain intake is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and weight gain. J Nutr. Jul 2012;142(7):1304-1313.
What’s the Difference Between Grain-Free and Gluten-Free Diets?
You’ve heard of a gluten-free diet, but have you heard of a grain-free one? The paleo diet calls for the elimination of anything processed, which includes grains, but a specifically grain-free diet is less popular.
We wanted to find out what the difference is between a grain-free and a gluten-free diet, so we called on Ben Frohlichstein and Stacey Marcellus, cofounders and co-CEOs of Cappello’s, a gluten- and grain-free, paleo-friendly pasta, pizza, and cookie dough company, plus Kelli McGrane MS, RD for the food-tracking app Lose It!, for insight on the health benefits of a grain-free diet.
What’s the difference between a grain-free and gluten-free diet?
“Gluten is a protein found in many cereal grains, including wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. In a gluten-free diet, only grains and products containing gluten are eliminated,” says McGrane. “A grain-free diet eliminates all grains, including ones that are gluten-free, including rice and corn. As a result, the grain-free diet is much more restrictive.”
Marcellus points out that the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council splits grains into three categories: grains containing gluten, gluten-free grains, and gluten-free pesudo-cereals, which include quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth. Gluten-free pseudo-cereals, also known as pseudograins, are grown from a flowering broadleaf pseudocereal. Conversely, grains are grown from the grass.
“Most who embrace a grain-free lifestyle are looking to ease digestive issues, relieve inflammation, and balance gut health. Going grain-free means going that extra step beyond gluten-free and eliminating all grains, including corn, rice, and quinoa,” she says.
RELATED: Your guide to the anti-inflammatory diet that heals your gut, slows the signs of aging, and helps you lose weight.
What are the health benefits of a grain-free diet?
Marcellus says that grains are known to raise blood sugar and contain antinutrients, or plant compounds that hinder the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients.
These compounds are hard for the body to digest, especially for those who suffer from celiac disease, chrons disease, and even those with gluten sensitivities. Processed grains such as white rice also have a higher glycemic index, meaning that it raises blood sugar, which can be problematic for those with diabetes. Plus, as Frohlichstein points out, “the quality of gluten-free alternatives most often are still nutritionally inferior to gluten-containing products.”
McGrane explains that while diets free of grain are believed to reduce chronic inflammation, assist with weight loss, and even alleviate bloating, long-term research that supports these claims in healthy individuals doesn’t currently exist. In fact, what does exist is research that suggests whole grains help to reduce inflammation.
“However, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which is a type of grain-free diet, has been shown to help reduce symptoms in individuals with inflammatory bowel disease,” says McGrane.
As is the case with just about any diet that requires the removal of some type of food, whether current long-term research on healthy individuals exists or not shouldn’t deter one from trying the diet if they feel like it will help them specifically.
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5 Benefits of a Grain Free Diet
A Grain Free Diet is similar to other gluten restrictive diets. However, a Grain Free diet eliminates all foods containing grains and pseudo grains, not just gluten.
These further restrictions offer benefits that are not imparted by a diet that only restricts gluten. Here some of the most incredible, top benefits of a Grain Free Diet that are often reported.
Benefits of a Grain Free Diet
1. A Grain Free Diet May Benefit Those With Autoimmune Conditions. Research suggests that people living with Celiac Disease often do not resolve their health concerns even when strictly adhering to a gluten-free diet.
However, a grain-free diet is a significant step beyond a gluten-free diet. Individuals with gluten intolerance, non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, food sensitivities, Celiac Disease, and other autoimmune conditions often report seeing benefits of a grain free diet.
2. A Grain Free Diet May Benefit Mental Health. Recent research suggests that various mental health conditions such as epilepsy, anxiety, depression, ADD, and autism spectrum disorders may benefit from a grain-free diet. Grains may also play a role in the development and management of schizophrenia.
3. A Grain Free Diet May Also Benefit the Gut Microbiome. Recent developments in gut microbiome research suggest that our microbiome has a significant effect on the development of modern diseases. However, some research indicates that the balance of the gut microbiome may benefit from the adherence to a Grain Free Diet.
4. A Grain Free Diet May Aid in Weight Loss Efforts. A study conducted to determine whether or not a Gluten-Free diet was a suitable intervention for diseases other than Celiac Disease found that a Gluten-Free Diet reduced inflammation, insulin resistance, and adiposity.
Researchers also discovered that gluten particulates translocating into other tissues influenced fat metabolism. While this research does not definitively connect weight gain to gluten in humans, a Grain Free diet may potentially aid in weight loss for individuals with increased intestinal permeability.
5. A Grain Free Diet May Improve Energy. Chronic fatigue is a symptom of gluten intolerance, as well as a symptom that is common in individuals with autoimmune disease. Eliminating grains from the diet may improve overall mood and energy.
What’s Wrong With Grains?
To be fair, nothing is inherently wrong with grains. In fact, most evidence suggests that grains are a healthy part of a human diet. While grains may be healthy for the majority of the population, this may not be universally true for all individuals.
Although it is largely anecdotal, people worldwide have reported relief from a myriad of health concerns on a grain-free diet or a paleo diet.
Given the etiology and prevalence of the autoimmune disease worldwide, these reports make sense. Many people begin a Grain free diet with the hopes of achieving weight loss, improvements in mood and cognition, improved insulin sensitivity, and respite from the scourges of autoimmune disease.
While there are benefits of a grain free diet, a grain-free diet or Paleo Diet is not designed to treat or prevent illness. A grain-free diet or paleo diet is a supplemental tool to help your medical or health care provider throughout your journey to health.
Proper medical supervision is necessary. See these 5 common symptoms of gluten intolerance to see if your health concerns may benefit from a Grain Free Diet.
Please note that the adoption of a Grain Free or Paleo Diet may not be beneficial or even necessary for the individual and may even have unintended consequences.
Unwarranted dietary interventions such as a Gluten Free or Grain Free Diet may contribute to reduced consumption of prebiotic polysaccharides, which may reduce beneficial indigenous bacteria and increase pathogenic, enterobacterial counts.
Is a grain-free diet right for you?
There are a number of healthy diet options these days. Depending on your goals, convictions, and conditions or disease risk, you should have no problem (with some research legwork) figuring out what is best for your needs.
One popular option, particularly for those with celiac disease, gluten intolerance or autoimmune conditions, is a grain-free diet.
Taking a step beyond gluten-free eating, those on a grain-free diet usually seek to resolve various health problems.
Take Dr. Kellyann Petrucci, for example: This naturopathic doctor went gluten-free after a personal trainer suggested it and found that it helped her with a number of issues, including stubborn fat and endometriosis.
That wasn’t the whole story, though, because she later realized that the starchy gluten alternatives she loaded up on were doing nothing positive for her. She then dove in to a grain-free diet and found it helped repair her gut and made her the healthiest she’d ever been. (1)
While going totally grain-free is not for everyone, it might be worth a try if you find yourself struggling with issues like poor digestion or autoimmune diseases.
What Is a Grain-Free Diet?
Eating grain-free involves eliminating not only wheat products containing gluten, but also any gluten-free grains, such as rice, corn, oats and barley. On a grain-free diet, the not-technically-grain products of quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat are allowed in small quantities.
Unlike the ketogenic diet, which restricts carbohydrates, a grain-free diet is not a low-carb option. Complex carbohydrates in potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and pumpkins are encouraged in moderation.
The grain-free diet does not restrict meat or fish products, eggs, legumes/beans, seeds, nuts, sugar, or dairy, although most proponents of the diet encourage you to pay attention to your body’s biofeedback and eliminate any additional types of food that cause you to have undesirable health consequences.
In many ways, a grain-free diet is similar to other common gluten-avoiding and/or digestive support diets, such as the GAPS diet, alkaline diet, wheat belly diet or Paleo diet plan.
Unlike many of these other diets, a totally grain-free diet has not been studied extensively by researchers. However, a lot of anecdotal evidence (and some studies) supports the assumption that some people may benefit greatly from eliminating grains from their regular eating.
After all, 10 of the top 25 foods Americans consume for the largest percentage of their calories are grain foods — not just any grains, but the worst kinds of processed, refined flours soaked with sugar. The No. 1 slot belongs to grain-based desserts, with yeast breads ranking No. 2. (2)
Like for Dr. Petrucci, many people who have non-celiac gluten sensitivity may also do well on a grain-free diet and find even more of their food sensitivities diminish. (3)
Benefits of a Grain-Free Diet
1. Might Help Curb Your Food Addiction
Food addiction is a compulsive issue that affects many people, especially in Western countries like the United States where unhealthy, cheap foods are extremely easy to find and popular to eat. Clinical food addiction is classified by those who overeat despite any consequences, like weight gain, damaged relationships or health issues.
However, a less severe version of this happens to many of us in the form of consistently eating foods we know are bad for us. According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, foods low on the glycemic index, such as many grain-free foods, aren’t associated with the same kinds of addictive responses that high-GI foods cause. (4)
High-carbohydrate foods consistently rank high on the glycemic index, so by eliminating many of those options on a grain-free diet, you can train your brain not to be as dependent on cravings for non-nutritive foods and rather use wisdom in choosing better options.
2. Possibly Supports Heart Health
The consensus here is not complete, but there is some evidence that eliminating grains might be good for the heart. A study conducted at Eastern Michigan University’s School of Health Sciences looking at the benefits of a Paleolithic diet for people with elevated cholesterol found that the grain-free diet significantly lowered cholesterol, including LDL levels, and lowered high triglycerides. (5)
Other evidence suggests that refined starches, such as the ones found in processed grain foods, can encourage metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that raise your risk of stroke, diabetes and heart disease. (6)
3. May Improve Mental Health
Interestingly, grains can affect mental health. Reviews on the connection between celiac and gluten have found that this elimination can serve to help with various brain and mental problems, including epilepsy/seizures, anxiety, depression, ADD and autism spectrum disorders. (7)
Even for those without celiac, there are researchers who have seen improvements in a variety of mental issues when eliminating gluten from the diet. (8) In fact, gluten seems to be a major factor in the development and management of schizophrenia, although the reasons why are unclear. (9, 10)
4. Requires Home Cooking and Label Reading
One of the best things about a grain-free diet is that it requires you to cook at home more and pay close attention to food labels. Cooking at home is associated with an overall better quality of diet, regardless of weight loss intentions or specific diet. (11)
5. Could Help Improve Other Physical Symptoms
Gluten and wheat products may be connected to the development of leaky gut syndrome, a problem with the permeability of the digestive system that’s associated with chronic inflammation and a host of symptoms, such as food sensitivities, thyroid problems, fatigue, headaches, skin issues, digestive ailments and weight gain. (12)
Because of this, beginning a grain-free diet might result in a reduction of any number of symptoms from your life, particularly if it addresses a problem you have with leaky gut. People with Crohn’s disease and IBS have reported improved digestive status after going on a grain-free diet.
How to Eat a Grain-Free Diet
Interested in trying it out to see if a grain-free diet is right for your body? There are a lot of variations on a grain-free diet, but generally, prohibited foods include:
- Graham flour
- Montina flour
- Beer and other wheat-derived alcohol
Foods to eat in moderation on a grain-free diet include:
- Legumes (beans, peas and lentils)
- Sugar and sweeteners (stick to stevia, monk fruit, raw honey or coconut palm sugar)
- Wine (preferably red) and some wheat-free liquors
Tips for a grain-free diet:
Totally grain-free eating is a challenge for many people because it probably involves eliminating a lot of your “typical” calories. This means that, like for most diets, you’ll need to be diligent and think ahead, plan your meals, and not just hope that you can figure it out as you go.
Many people begin a grain-free diet with the hopes of eliminating wheat belly, a term coined by Dr. William Davis, founder of the Wheat Belly Lifestyle Institute. This condition refers to the hybridized versions of wheat that we all-too-often consume and the way amylopectin A and gluten can cause weight gain, blood sugar elevation and even diabetes.
The best place to start is by thoughtfully grocery shopping. At the store, carefully read each label for any grain-sourced ingredient, particularly corn-derived products. Most “gluten-free” products are made with heavy, starchy replacements.
For cooking/baking, consider grain-free flours, such as almond or coconut flour. Be careful with condiments as well, as many of them contain hidden grains. You can flavor with more natural enhancers like vinegar, spices, herbs or homemade bone broth.
You’ll need to avoid most alcohol products, particularly beer. There are some grain-free alcohols, such as hard liquor and wine, but be careful with quantities and avoid products with a lot of added sugar.
Best grain-free foods and food groups:
A grain-free diet should also follow rules for healthy eating in general. Try getting a lot of the following foods in your grain-free diet:
- Healthy fats — Using high-quality fats in your cooking and recipes helps support the health of virtually every system in the body. Try cooking with coconut oil or ghee, and don’t forget the avocados and seeds. If you eat dairy, stick with raw, cultured dairy, such as kefir.
- High-protein foods — Make sure to get your protein in every day, such as eggs, ethically sourced fish, grass-fed beef and even plant-based protein.
- Vegetables — Of course, leafy greens and other good veggies play a part in any healthy diet. You can always try my personal favorite, kale, as well as eating plenty of broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, fennel, onions, collards and more.
- Fruits — Everybody loves a good fruit smoothie, right? When on a grain-free diet, get plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits, like strawberries, tomato, apples, oranges, grapefruit and blueberries.
Best grain substitute foods:
If you’re used to eating a lot of grains, it may take some time to transition to eating completely grain-free. However, it can be made easier by using my favorite grain substitutes that make healthy stand-ins for those grains we tend toward so much. Here are a few from the list:
- Cauliflower rice — When you chop cauliflower into tiny pieces (about the size of a rice grain), it can work just as well as rice in pretty much any recipe. Whether you process it in a blender yourself or purchase pre-diced cauliflower, this is one way to kick the rice habit.
- Coconut “pizza crust” — Making a pizza crust with coconut flour will help you eat the pizza you desire without any of the troublesome grains.
- Zucchini noodles — Often referred to as “zoodles,” this popular substitution is making its way into many health-conscious restaurants instead of traditional noodles.
- Paleo bread/muffins — There are some incredible recipes out there for grain-free bread, usually incorporating almond flour or coconut flour. Satisfy the desire for bread products without the guilt (or aftereffects).
- Potato “buns” — Creating “buns” from round potato slices is a great way to get that sandwich feeling. Try using rounds sliced about ½ inch thick and baked for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
Grain-Free Diet vs. Paleo Diet
Although many people consider them the same, the Paleo diet is not the same thing as a grain-free diet. In a nutshell, Paleo is more restrictive than a typical grain-free diet. All Paleo diets are grain-free, but not all grain-free diets are paleo.
Both Paleo and grain-free diets eliminate gluten-containing products and other gluten-free grains.
Paleo goes far beyond eliminating grains. On a Paleo diet, non-grain carbohydrates like quinoa and amaranth are forbidden, as well as legumes, dairy, refined sugar, potatoes and vegetable oils.
I don’t follow a paleo diet because I don’t personally prescribe to the thought process behind it and because I believe it eliminates great sources of nutrition, like that found in raw dairy and legumes. However, many of the benefits it provides and the focus it places on whole, life-giving foods are huge pluses in my book.
Why People Want to Avoid Grains
Grains aren’t the devil, but for many people, a grain-free life offers relief from some serious health complications.
One problem with grains involves their modern growth techniques and modification. For example, the modern roller mill was invented in 1872. This modern mill allowed the separation of whole grain parts so just the endosperm could be used to manufacture inexpensive, white flour, somewhat like what most people think of when they consider wheat flour.
Then came the next problem: This white flour was now devoid of some of the most valuable nutrients it used to contain. The solution? Genetically modified wheat known as semi-dwarf wheat. This “new” species was able to be cultivated much more efficiently but did not consider the long-term effects on human health.
Now, gluten-containing grains (and some other grains) are a source of inflammation and chronic digestive problems, and not just for sufferers of celiac. The problem isn’t just the gluten — it’s the wheat itself. (13) It shouldn’t be surprising, based on these facts, that gluten sensitivity issues have increased by 400 percent over the past half-century. (14)
Research into the benefits of the Paleolithic diet has also found that a grain-free diet may produce a more balanced digestive microbiome (bacterial environment). (15)
Many people eliminate grains due to their potential to act as inflammatory foods, creating internal inflammation that can create problematic disease risk and pain.
Need to get started with a few ideas for the best grain-free recipes? Begin the morning right with Banana Egg Paleo Pancakes for a yummy, hearty meal.
For a more protein-rich entree, bake some Turkey-Stuffed Bell Peppers. You can receive all the benefits of bell peppers, plus the healthy fats in avocado oil and goat cheese.
Grain-Free Diet Precautions
Grain-free diets aren’t for everyone, and for good reason. Many ancient grains and whole wheat products have great benefits for both health and the environment. Some grain supporters are concerned about the impact grain-free lifestyles have on agriculture because they are relatively easy to produce compared to meat and many other products. (16)
So, if you don’t have particular health issues that require you to go grain-free, consider improving the quality of grains you eat rather than nixing them altogether.
In fact, whole grains can support health. Studies have found that, in people who do not have celiac or gluten sensitivity, whole wheat diets:
- Can reduce inflammation (17)
- Are associated with lower overall death rates
- Are correlated with less heart disease deaths (18)
- Could help prevent or lower risk of type 2 diabetes (19)
- Are connected with lower heart disease risk and less weight gain (20)
If you’re concerned about antinutrients, such as phytic acid, try sprouted bread products like Ezekiel bread and sourdough bread. (21)
Final Thoughts on the Grain-Free Diet
- Many people choose a grain-free diet to avoid gluten sensitivity and related physical problems, including poor digestion.
- On a grain-free diet, all grains (including gluten-free options) are eliminated.
- Getting rid of grains can, in some cases, help curb food addiction, improve mental health, decrease your risk of heart disease and treat symptoms associated with leaky gut.
- By being more aware of what you’re eating, cooking at home and reading labels, you will, most likely, eat more healthy, life-giving foods.
- When eating grain-free, there are some non-grain complex carbohydrates that are OK in moderation for most people, like quinoa and amaranth.
- While it’s not explicitly expected, it’s a good idea to also avoid large amounts of sugar and processed grain-free foods, as well as excess alcohol.
- Grain-free diets are not right for every individual. However, if you feel you may benefit from eating grain-free, give it a try.
Read Next: 10 Smart Grain & Sandwich Substitutes
Grain-Free, Gluten-Free: A Doctor’s Life-Changing Diet Journey
My first foray into discovering how food affects health came while I was working with a professional trainer who focused on physical fitness and nutrition. I was entering fitness and bodybuilding contests and had enlisted a trainer to help me become more competitive.
The first thing he told me was to do away with wheat and gluten, which was an unconventional idea at that time. The result? I not only lost body fat, but also overcame a few nagging health issues almost immediately. Needless to say, gluten had not been my best friend, nor was it on my radar anymore.
When I rid myself of gluten, my body got super lean. I was stronger than ever and, even better, my longtime battle with endometriosis vanished. My mother had taken me to the doctor several times for this chronic condition that causes painful periods, and all they could offer was birth control pills and high doses of Motrin to relieve the pain. For me the answer turned out to be as easy as cutting gluten from my diet. That was my first aha moment about how food could affect my body in a profound way.
Going Sideways to Avoid Gluten-Free Food
But like many others I took the gluten-free thing too far, which is a SUPER COMMON PROBLEM! If you are a medical professional like myself (I’m a Naturopath), you may know that there is real harm in telling patients to simply go gluten-free. The message is tangled in confusion.
When I went gluten-free, I ate fruit, veggies and lean meats, and yes, I also ate everything gluten-free I could get my hands on. As long as the package said gluten-free, in my book it was fair game.
Bad move. What I was getting instead was potato starch, cornstarch and any other starch that makes food taste good without evil gluten. The problem is, all of those starches are equally bad for you, or a pretty close second. Going gluten-free saved me from nothing. I still had intestinal issues, inflammation, and fatigue, and my skin started looking bad, even though I was living a gluten-free life. I eventually crashed and burned.
The answer? Don’t just go gluten-free – give grains the heave ho, too!
What I learned when I removed grains from my diet was this: Gluten-free was a great first step for me – if I had done it without all of the gluten alternatives. But what really worked for me was to not only go gluten-free, but grain-free too. That’s when I experienced true health benefits.
The Case Against (Some) Grains
If you’re trying to decide whether to go wheat- and gluten-free, that’s great! But when I say “great,” I only mean great if you truly know what you are doing. Plenty of issues can arise when you kick wheat and glutens to the curb, believe me.
First and foremost, the second you start shopping at your local market, you’ll see dozens of replacement foods out there … gluten-free muffins, brownies, cake mixes, etc., as well as lots of replacement flours for wheat flour. The thing is, many of these substitutes can be just as damaging to your gut and immune system as wheat and gluten, especially if you add them to your diet on a regular basis.
So many who go gluten-free end up filling up on foods that have other “ugh” ingredients — like corn — to which many have sensitivities. Those on the substitute bandwagon also find they’re adding a lot of starches to their diet because ingredients like, say, potato starch, are often replacements for wheat flour.
Consider the following grains: Barley, corn, durum, kamut, millet, oats, rice, rye, sorghum, spelt, tuff, triticale, wheat (all varieties), wild rice and whole grains. Gluten is found in barley, rye, wheat and any foods derived from these ingredients. And then there are the pseudo grains, like amaranth, buckwheat, chia and quinoa.
I believe all of these can cause leaky gut syndrome, as well as an overgrowth of bacteria in the gut (gut dysbiosis).
Since so much of the health of your immune system stems from the gut, having a weakened gut leaves you wide open to just about every modern-day disease out there.
How Grains Can Damage Your Gut
What is it about grains that can cause damage? Our bodies are not adapted to eating grains, particularly in large quantities. We have only been eating grains since the advent of agriculture, some 10,000 years ago, and while that may seem like a long time, from an evolutionary standpoint, it’s really just a hiccup in time. It takes a seriously long time to affect our genes, tens of thousands of years.
I say, send gluten packing, but don’t do “modern-day gluten-free” by stocking up on starches instead. I tell my patients who are interested in trying out this lifestyle to replace grains with other options like nut flowers or arrowroot when baking.
Plus, you can make many great gluten-free dishes in a snap using zucchini (zucchini “noodles” make a mean lasagna), squash (spaghetti squash makes a fantastic gluten-free “pasta”), eggplant (makes a great shell for casseroles), sweet potatoes (incredibly versatile and will fuel you better than any almost any other starch), pumpkin (pumpkin pancakes are tasty winners) and cauliflower (makes great mashed “potatoes” and meatballs).
My advice: Keep your gluten-free diet as real as possible. Fill it with unprocessed real foods and shy away from packaged gluten-free foods, which are pricier and definitely will not get you on the health track. You won’t miss a thing. Promise!
Kellyann Petrucci, ND, is a lifestyle expert, nutritionist, naturopathic doctor, and the author of five healthy-lifestyle books and two food planson her drkellyann.com website, the 30-Day Reset and My Paleo programs. Dr. Kellyann appears regularly on local and national TV shows, on ABC, NBC, FOX , and Daytime, and has been a guest on The Dr. Oz Show. She conducts workshops and seminars worldwide to help people feel — and look — their best. She enjoys a busy family life that includes two young sons. She lives in the Philadelphia area.
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The Beginners Guide to Going Gluten Free
As awareness of celiac disease becomes increasingly widespread, the popularity of the gluten free diet continues to grow. Unlike many modern diets, the gluten free diet is more than just a fad –for people with celiac disease and wheat allergies or sensitivities, it’s a medical necessity.
Even a decade ago, the gluten free diet was largely a mystery except to people with celiac disease, who followed it as a matter of medical necessity. Today, however, going gluten free has become something of a trend. Some people mistakenly believe that a gluten free diet is the key to weight loss, though many who follow the diet for this reason have very little knowledge about the diet or about gluten at all.
While there are certainly those who misunderstand the gluten free diet, its rise in popularity (regardless of the catalyst) has led to a surge in awareness among the general public and the food industry regarding celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and the gluten free diet in general. Restaurants have started to offer gluten free menus and gluten free food manufacturers are growing more and more numerous.
Now more than ever, it is possible to follow the gluten free diet without completely overhauling your life. You will have to make certain changes – especially if you have celiac disease – but the transition may be less cataclysmic than it once was.
If you are thinking about making the switch to the gluten free diet or looking for some helpful tips, let this be your guide.
Understanding the Basics: What is Gluten?
Before getting into the nitty-gritty details of the gluten free diet, you need to have a basic understanding of what gluten is and where it can be found. Gluten is a family of proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. Glutenin and gliadin are the two primary proteins found in these grains and they play a role in giving gluten-containing foods like dough its elasticity and bread its spongy texture.
On its own, gluten is not a harmful substance. In fact, most people tolerate gluten perfectly well. The problem occurs when the body mistakenly recognizes gluten as a foreign substance and launches a systemic attack against it. Celiac disease, for example, is an autoimmune condition in which the body recognizes gluten as a foreign invader and acts out against it. In the process, however, healthy cells lining the walls of the small intestine sustain damage which inhibits the body’s ability to properly absorb nutrients from food.
A wheat allergy is somewhat different because it can be triggered by proteins other than gluten. The body’s response, however, is very similar – it launches an attack against the foreign substance by producing immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies while other tissues in the body send out chemical messengers alerting the body to the threat. The resulting reaction causes side effects such as itchy rash, nausea, abdominal pain, swollen tongue or lips, difficulty breathing, and anaphylaxis.
Somewhere along the spectrum between celiac disease and gluten allergy lies non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This term is not clearly defined by the medical community and there is no clear diagnosis or set of symptoms. Gluten intolerance is thought to be a more severe form of this sensitivity and may result in immune system activity and the resulting side effects, though not to the same degree of severity as an allergy or autoimmune disorder. Anyone with celiac disease, gluten/wheat allergy, or gluten sensitivity/intolerance could benefit from switching to a gluten free diet.
What Does a Gluten Free Diet Look Like?
A gluten free diet is simply a diet made up of gluten free foods. It may sound simple when you put it like that, but the truth is that gluten is hidden in many foods where you might not expect to see it. For example, soy sauce is made with wheat and some potato chips have gluten in the seasoning. Locating gluten in some foods can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. In order to be successful with a gluten free diet, you need to know which foods contain gluten (or could contain) gluten, and you need to avoid them.
So, what are the foods that are most likely to contain gluten? Here is a basic overview:
- Cake flour
- Pizza crust
Many of the foods on the list above may seem like obvious sources of gluten. If you think so, great! It means that you already have a pretty good understanding of where gluten can be found in everyday food items. Keep in mind, however, that there is a whole other list of foods that contain “hidden” gluten or that may be cross-contaminated with it. Here are some of those foods:
- Breaded meat
- Processed cheese
- Fried foods
- Baking mixes
- Cheesecake filling
- Chicken broth
- Protein bars
- Multigrain chips
- Soy sauce
- Imitation crab
- Artificial flavors
- Licorice and candy
- Creamy soups
- Salad dressings
- Malt liquor
Now that you have an idea of which foods contain gluten or are likely to contain gluten you have a foundation of knowledge on which to build your gluten free diet. But what exactly does a healthy gluten free diet look like?
A healthy gluten free diet is no different from an otherwise healthy diet except for the fact that it doesn’t contain gluten. You should still aim to consume a balance of lean protein, healthy fats, fresh fruits, and nutritious veggies but you’ll need to be careful about which grains you consume. You can still enjoy corn, rice, quinoa, buckwheat, arrowroot, and other ancient grains as well as flours made from nuts and seeds like almond flour and coconut flour.
Here is a list of some of the gluten free foods that you could include in your diet:
- Meat, poultry, and eggs
- Fish and seafood
- Beans and legumes
- Fruits and vegetables
- Corn (corn flour, cornmeal, grits, polenta)
- Rice (white rice, brown rice, basmati, etc.)
- Arrowroot powder
- Buckwheat (kasha)
- Oats and oatmeal (non-contaminated, pure oats)
- Chickpea flour
- Coconut (coconut flour, oil, milk, etc.)
- Almonds (flour, milk, and seeds)
- Milk, butter, cheese
- Vinegars and oils
- Herbs and spices
- Baking powder and baking soda
Even though most of these items are naturally gluten free, you should still check the package to make sure due to concerns about cross contamination. For example, oats are sometimes processed on the same equipment with gluten-containing grains. If you do not have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, this may not be a problem for you because the oats themselves are still gluten free. It always pays to read the label and you should do more than just check the allergen statement – look through the ingredients list as well just to make sure.
Are Gluten Free Packaged Foods Healthy?
The thing you need to remember about certified gluten free packaged foods is that they are largely the same as their gluten-containing counterparts, minus the gluten. A box of gluten free cookies contains as many calories and as much fat as a regular box of cookies – the only difference is in some of the ingredients. Do not make the mistake of assuming that “gluten free” means “healthy.” While the two certainly can and do overlap, just because something is gluten free does not automatically make it a healthier choice.
So, can you still eat gluten free packaged foods? Of course! Gluten free brands like Schar make delicious foods, everything from bread and pasta to crackers, cookies, and more. If you’re preparing a recipe that calls for some kind of pasta, bread, or packaged food. Be sure to double-check the rest of the ingredients just to be safe, but it may be a simple solution that enables you to continue enjoying your favorite recipes.
Tips for Avoiding Cross-Contamination
If you’re going to commit to a gluten free diet, you need to do more than just avoid foods that contain gluten – you also need to be wary of cross-contamination. Cross-contamination is when a food you eat or a utensil you use has come into contact with gluten. The risk for cross-contamination is very high at a restaurant but it can also happen in your very own kitchen.
Here are a few ways to avoid cross-contamination in your home:
- Buy a new toaster and use it only for gluten free bread
- Use stainless steel cookware because nonstick pans can absorb gluten
- Purchase new bakeware or line it with parchment or foil before using
- Buy new dishwashing supplies and do not use them on anything that has touched gluten
- Keep a separate cupboard or drawer for gluten free foods and label them, if needed
- Buy a non-porous cutting board and use it only for gluten free food prep
In addition to following these simple tips, you should also follow safe food handling practices. Always wash your hands after handling raw meat or seafood and thoroughly clean all utensils including cutting boards, knives, and cookware after coming into contact with raw food. Just know that the more careful you are with food you plan to eat, the better.
Eating Gluten Free at Restaurants
Once you get the hang of following the gluten free diet at home you may feel comfortable enough to go out to eat. Though it is still one of the more misunderstood dietary restrictions, the gluten free diet is becoming more and more commonplace. This means that you can find healthy and satisfying options at most restaurants if you know where to look and what substitutions to make.
The key to eating gluten free at a restaurant is to plan ahead. If you already know where you’ll be going, check the menu online or call the restaurant to see if they offer any gluten free options. Don’t be afraid to ask the restaurant about their gluten free handling procedures to be sure they can address your needs.
Even if the restaurant doesn’t offer a dedicated gluten free menu, certain options are likely to be available to you – here are a few you can look for:
- Sandwiches or burgers either with a gluten free bun, or no bun at all (ask to be sure burgers are not made with breadcrumbs or other gluten fillers)
- Soups and stews prepared without flour used as a thickener
- Grilled, roasted, or smoked meats and seafood made with gluten free sauce or seasoning
- Steamed, stir-fried, or roasted vegetables and gluten free grains
- Salads with grilled meat, no croutons, and gluten free dressing
The options available will depend on the type of restaurant you go to, but these are some of the safest bets. When it comes to ethnic foods, certain types of cuisine are more gluten free-friendly than others. Mexican food, for example, is safer than many other options as long as you choose corn over flour tortillas. Indian food offers a variety of options as long as you skip the naan and Greek and Middle Eastern cuisines largely feature grilled meat or fish with vegetables, salad, or rice. You may also be able to enjoy Asian cuisine served with rice noodles or steamed rice, just be wary of soy-based sauces that may contain gluten. No matter the type of food, always double check to ensure it truly is gluten free and there is no risk of cross-contamination. At the very least, you can always order gluten free meal delivery.
If you still want to eat out but you’re worried about your options, it doesn’t hurt to come prepared. Bring along a handful of Schar Gluten Free Table Crackers so you can still enjoy house-made guacamole dip or bring a Schar Gluten Free Hamburger Bun and order your burger bunless. It may take some creativity, but you can still enjoy a meal out with friends and family while sticking to the gluten free diet.
Avoid These Top 3 Mistakes When Going Gluten Free
The more you know about the gluten free diet, the easier it will be to stick to. The most important thing you need to do is review gluten free food lists, so you know where to look for hidden gluten and what foods are safe for you to eat. After that, it’s a game of balance – you need to create healthy eating habits and structure your diet around gluten free foods. It may be a challenge at first, but with practice you’ll get the hang of it in no time.
As you get started with the gluten free diet, there are some challenges you’re likely to encounter and you may make a few mistakes. To give you your best chance at success, here is a quick list of the top two mistakes people make when going gluten free, so you can avoid making them yourself:
Not learning how to read food labels.
Before you eat anything, you need to make sure that it doesn’t contain gluten and that means reading the label. Check the allergen statement first to make sure it doesn’t list wheat and then review the list of ingredients to check for both obvious and hidden sources of gluten. You can also look for the certified gluten free label.
Not taking the diet seriously.
If you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, the gluten free diet is more than just a choice – it is a medical necessity. There’s no cure for these conditions and eliminating gluten from your diet is the only treatment. This being said, you need to take the gluten free diet seriously and don’t cut corners or allow yourself a “cheat” day where you eat gluten-containing foods. If you have celiac disease, even the tiniest amount of gluten could cause severe intestinal damage.
We hope you now have a thorough understanding of the gluten free diet – what it looks like and how to follow it. So, take what you’ve learned here and put it into action. Good luck
Your grain-free diet isn’t natural, good for you or good for the planet
The research is clear: If health is on your mind, whole grains should be on your plate. (Deb Lindsey/For the Washington Post)
Grains — whole, ancient or neither — are under attack. Just as we have finally embraced vegetables on our plates, grains and starches have started disappearing from our meals at a rapid clip. Go to many a restaurant, and good luck finding rice, bread or potatoes next to your hunk of meat or fish. Top restaurateurs have whispered into my ear that people simply don’t want any grains, so they have cut back on serving them. Yet, if you have visited drought-plagued California lately, you know it is high time to rethink our meat-based diet and hit reset.
Concerns about grains and gluten are behind this sea change on our plates. About a third of Americans are cutting back on gluten, and many are eliminating carbs, good or bad, altogether. But if you think your gluten-free or grain-free diet is natural and good for the planet, you are wrong.
Simply put, there aren’t enough land or water resources to support your grain-free meals. The current drought and water crisis in California brings this point home. According to the Water Footprint Network, a pound of beef requires a whopping 1,851 gallons of water to produce. The same amount of rice requires 300 gallons. And rice is a gas-guzzler compared to drought-tolerant millet, sorghum, teff and Sonora wheat. Overall, the network estimates, grains require 197 gallons of water per pound.
Just as important, grains are good for the planet because they are low on the food chain. If you care about sustainability, grains should have a solid place on your table: According to University of Cambridge engineering professor David MacKay, it take about 25 times more energy to produce one calorie of beef than one calorie of corn; this means it is much more efficient to consume grains directly than to eat the animals that consume them. An estimated 70 percent of all farmland is used for livestock production, using scarce resources. Diets that celebrate animal protein, including paleo and similar regimens, are simply not sustainable.
Unless you have a serious health problem such as celiac disease (about 1 percent of the population) whole grains and good starches can and should be part of your diet. Even if you can’t tolerate gluten, most grains are gluten-free, such as amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, millet and teff. And two new studies help debunk widespread myths about carbohydrates, which are typically shunned by adherents to paleo, Whole30 and similar diets. There is no “metabolic advantage” to carb restrictions for weight loss, according to scientists at the National Institutes of Health. They found that a low-carb diet is only about half as effective in losing weight as a low-fat diet. Another new study at the University College London suggests that humans have eaten starchy plants like tubers for much longer than the dawn of agriculture — contrary to what many paleo fans claim. These cooked starches were crucial to brain development and helped us grow the large brains that set us apart in the animal kingdom.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Pomegranate Quinoa (Lexey Swall/For The Washington Post)
But don’t all grain starches make you fat? People who reduce their carb load are often thrilled about weight loss. But most likely they cut back on “empty” starches from processed flours as in fluffy white bread, cheesy pizza and sugar-sweet cakes — rather than steel-cut oatmeal, wild rice salad or barley stew. They also tend to eat more fruit and vegetables, so it’s no surprise that they slim down.
The research is clear: If health is on your mind, whole grains should be on your plate. A diet rich in whole grains has long been connected with a lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and stroke. And a large, new, long-term study from the Harvard School of Public Health linked higher whole grain consumption to significantly reduced mortality. Not to forget the fast-evolving research into gut health. Whole wheat, rye and barley belong to a group of “pre-biotic” stars that help your gut bacteria thrive. All in all, whole grains are nutritional powerhouses, packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, beneficial fiber and even protein.
We need a new balance on our plate that — without romanticizing the past — should resemble a peasant diet. To quote chef and sustainability advocate Dan Barber, in just about every other cuisine, “protein plays second fiddle to grains and vegetables.” There is no need to go meatless or to give up all animal protein, but meat or fish should be used as flavorful accents rather than the centerpiece they have been for far too long. If you need one more reason to cut back on meat, just consider the new report by a World Health Organization panel concluding that processed meats such as bacon and sausages are carcinogenic and flags red meat consumption in general. The Harvard School of Public Health recommends that one-quarter of your plate should be whole grains.
Finally, whole grains are on the leading edge of the locavore movement. Grains are being grown again in many areas where they have long been abandoned — from upstate New York to Massachusetts and Maine, to South Carolina, Arizona and California. And they are getting better. They have distinct subtle aromas and varied textures worth exploring, from trendy smoky freekeh, tangy rye and caramel-tinged teff, to grassy amaranth and earthy buckwheat. And if you think supporting local grains is delusional, think how far we have come with better-quality meat in the past 25 years or so.
So if you care about your health and the planet you will leave for your children, go ahead and reset your grain-free diet. It is high time to reduce the overall portion of meat and fish we eat every day. Let’s bring grains back from the margins to the center of our tables.
Speck is a journalist and the award-winning author of the new “Simply Ancient Grains” and “Ancient Grains for Modern Meals.” She lives in Massachusetts.
Although grain free isn’t a long term lifestyle choice for us at this point, in different seasons and circumstances, we go back to it as a way of resetting our bodies, aiding digestion, and coping with specific health challenges.
I know that we’re certainly not the only ones trying to eat grain-free, less grains, gluten-free or some variation thereof. So many of you are right there, making these kinds of dietary changes, just like we are.
When you’re used to living in the land of bread, tortillas, pasta and muffins, grain free eating and cooking can be a shock to the system. For one thing, it’s common to get hungry more often, especially in the beginning.
To make it even more challenging, one of the most common reactions is to panic and feel like you’re staring at this fridge full of food, but there’s nothing to eat.
Ever felt that way? I know I have, so many times.Whether we’re on GAPS, the Maker’s Diet, eating Paleo/Primal, Whole 30, wheat and dairy free, or something in between, it can be a struggle to shift your usual eating habits and find new, satisfying and simple ways to get full.
Particularly with four growing children who ask for more food before the breakfast dishes are even washed, I’ve learned that I have to have a plan that includes foods that can be:
- grabbed on the go
- made in a hurry
- cooked without much fuss or extra energy
How great we feel when we take a break from grains (even though I’m actually not opposed to eating properly prepared grains as part of our everyday diet) is a huge motivation for us. But to keep going, especially in the beginning, I still need a few tricks up my sleeve.
So here are my 17 tips for making it easier to eat grain free:
1. Keep boiled eggs on hand.
Whether for breakfast, a quick protein-rich snack, adding to a salad, whipping up deviled eggs on the fly, or taking out the door, boiled eggs are convenient.
For that matter, always keep a TON eggs on hand. I’m not even kidding. See those eggs? That’s a portion of what’s in my fridge right now. But when you’re grain free, you use them for breakfast, more than usual in baking, on salads, in mayo, in quiche, for quick emergency dinners, and well, pretty much everything it seems. We hardly ever seem to have enough.
2. Cooked meat
Three things I love to keep in my freezer:
- cooked, diced or shredded chicken
- ground beef, already browned
- pre-made and cooked sausages
With pre-cooked meat, it’s SO much easier to come up with a last minute meal.
3. Always, always make extra of everything.
Like these pancakes, for example. Doubling up on banana nut pancakes on a Saturday morning means a quick weekday breakfast later on. Double batches of soup mean lunch for the next day or two. Doubling a recipe for nutty granola means you’ve got yogurt topping for weeks.
4. Keep some sort of bread, or “wraps” on hand at all times.
Be it homemade grain free bread or egg-based crepes, or simply large lettuce or cabbage leaves, anything that can turn into a “sandwich” or wrap makes for simple meals in a hurry.
5. When you bake, bake for an army.
Bread isn’t the fastest thing to make, even when you’re using grains, but I find grain free bread particularly tedious to make. I’m enjoying the taste and texture of the bread we make from the book Against All Grain, but it’s not worth it for me unless I make at least 3 loaves at a time.
With regular bread, I freeze it to keep it fresh, but this bread doesn’t do as well once it’s been frozen. Keeping it in the fridge seems to keep it fresh enough for us to make use of it all.
6. Fill your freezer with meals.
Even if you don’t do a full day of freezer cooking, it’s worth it to do mini sessions (just a few recipes at a time) or even make up a recipe to freezer here or there as you have time. Sometimes I do this just with baking or snacks, and other times I try to put actual meals away.
I’m currently testing out a membership to Once a Month Meals, which has a fantastic Paleo option. It provides you with all of the recipes with cards, grocery lists, prep instructions, cooking day directions, AND all sorts of other recipe options so that you can swap out meals that don’t suit you for ones that do. It’s a really useful system and so time saving!
*Interested in trying Once a Month Meals for FREE? Keep reading to the bottom!**
7. Keep well stocked on fruits and veggies.
These fly out of the fridge when we’re not eating grains, because we just need a whole lot of food to fill us up, so making sure I really stock up each time I shop makes life much easier (hence, the crammed fridge- but hey, at least we’re not hungry).
Being able to quickly throw together a salad, chop up a plate of veggies, or serve up a dish of fruit really helps me to complete meals when they still need a little something extra. They’re also easy grab-and-go snacks for me and the kids.
8. If you’re going to cook potatoes, always make extras.
Every time I cook potatoes, I make extra, whether they’re baked or boiled or fried. I’ll use them as the base for a breakfast casserole, or fry them up with a simple meal of scrambled eggs and hashbrowns, or they also come in handy for a sausage, veg and potato fry in the evening.
If white potatoes are off your radar, use sweet potatoes or yams instead. They work just as well.
9. Consider the Nibble Plate.
This is a term I coined and will eventually write a post on, although the idea is so simple that is feels a bit silly. Essentially I put together simple, finger foods to make up a quick & easy lunch on busy days.
I use foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, dried fruits, olives, cheese, sliced sausage or cooked meat, grain free crackers, hard boiled eggs or anything else I can think of. It’s filling, very fast, and can often be a good way to use up odds and ends in the fridge.
10. Come up with a list of super quick, easy meals.
These are the meals that you can whip up in 15 minutes flat.
For us, it might be
- lettuce wraps with preservative-free deli meats or pre-cooked chicken
- breakfast-for-dinner (eggs and grain-free bread, maybe breakfast meat, some fruit)
- fish patties with a cooked veggie or salad
- a hearty, protein-packed green salad
What are your fast, go-to options?
11. Weekly make broth in the crockpot and then freeze it.
Most weeks I roast or slow cook a whole chicken, partly for the convenient cooked meat and also so that I can make nourishing broth from the bones.
As soon as the chicken is done cooking, I cook it and remove all the chicken (which I freeze in small bags). Then, I toss the chicken bones straight back into the crockpot for a 12-24 hours to make broth. This also gets frozen, and it ensures that I have broth ready for any meals I want to make that week.
12. Have baking ingredients stocked up in pantry.
Grain free baking ingredients, like almond flour or coconut flour, nuts or dried fruit, are cheapest when you buy them in bulk. So you kill two birds with one stone by stocking up your pantry with bulk-sized packages.
So many recipes can be mixed up quickly in just a blender or food processor, especially things like bars, muffins or healthy cookies. Between these pantry items and a stockpile of eggs, I can usually get something in the oven in 15-20 minutes or less (a double or triple batch, of course!).
13. Sausages & bacon. Have lots of them.
If you can find a source for preservative and gluten-free sausages and bacon (I buy mine in 5 lb boxes from a small, local meatshop), these can help to make last minute meals.
Thawing and cooking these meats is a much faster process than thawing packages of the cheaper cuts of beef or chicken I buy. When I leave dinner too late, I know I can make something with one of these if I have to. Besides, bacon. Mmmm. Enough said.
14. Meal plan, meal plan, meal plan.
Since my husband and I rotate in our work and home duties, the hour I take each weekend to plan out a meal plan (and then shop according to that plan) pays off wildly.
It allows my 9 year old to see what’s for breakfast, as she’s being trained to do a lot of that meal mostly by herself. My husband can start a simple lunch with a glance at our bulletin board in the kitchen. And I can set things out the night before to thaw in preparation for easier dinners the next day, or start the crockpot before I head down to the office each morning.
Plus, it really simplifies my shopping process, and guarantees that unless the kids go through a zany growth spurt and eat us out of house and home before the week is up (it’s been known to happen), we’ll have everything we need to make meals and avoid last minute ingredient runs.
One tip for simplifying your planning – Use your weekly breakfast plans over and over. Don’t most of us eat the same things for breakfast anyways?
15. Use your leftovers.
As a general rule, we eat leftovers any chance we can get. If there isn’t enough to serve as a full meal, we improvise and turn them into other dishes, or make a “leftover buffet”, or add things like a salad or fruit platter to supplement what we have.
Leftovers are pretty much the best thing ever. Cook once, eat twice, less dishes, save money by not wasting food. Really? Okay!
If you dislike leftovers, you really need to figure out some ways to get over it and make them taste better. Frying things up in some butter or oil, or using a toaster oven to keep food from getting soggy helps (and for the record, using a microwave makes things disgusting and as nutritious as cardboard, so I advise against that). And I always say that adding cheese covers a multitude of sins.
16. Smoothies. The perfect food.
Smoothies are the perfect, filling, nutritious, 5 minute snack. Always keep your fridge and freezer stocked with the ingredients you love to dump in the blender. For us, that’s all sorts of frozen berries and fruit, raw milk/yogurt/kefir, stevia/honey/maple syrup, vanilla, chia and flax seeds, fresh greens, orange juice concentrate, fresh fruit, cocoa powder, nut butter, etc.
If you’re extra keen, you can even use small serving ziploc bags to make pre-measured individual frozen smoothie “mixes” that can be dumped straight into the blender with your choice of liquids.
17. Use that crockpot.
There is nothing nicer than measuring out ingredients and even still-frozen meat first thing in the morning or as you clean up lunch, and opening up a steaming crock of cooked dinner later that night. I am always on the lookout for crockpot meals we enjoy.
Dishes we make most often in the crockpot: chili, beef or chicken stew, roast beef or roast whole chicken (usually with vegetables and maybe potatoes added in), soups, Asian-style chicken or beef to go over veggies (like Broccoli and Beef, or Orange Sesame Chicken). Pinterest is FULL of crockpot recipes. Use them!
What are your tricks that making grain free eating easier for YOU?