The question of eating grains has become a hot topic in the “real food” world lately. Hyper hashtags include:
It’s not just gluten-free anymore. These diets are all the rage.
I want to tell you right off the bat that I am not “anti” any of these diets. I personally have successfully gone grain-free/sugar-free at times to lose weight and re-focus my diet. I also am a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP), which are often the kind of practitioners who are also certified to teach and supervise the GAPS diet. (The GAPS diet, or Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet, is a ground-breaking nutritional approach to treat psychological problems, designed by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride.)
I want to assure you that these and other specialized diets may be necessary as therapeutic diets for specific conditions. My objective with this post is that grains can also be part of a traditional, whole-food diet, and people need to realize that diet should be a very individual thing and no one should choose to follow a specialized diet program just because it had positive results in someone else. The “magical diet” that worked wonders on your friend could be good for you, but could also be dangerous and damaging to your health…or at least unnecessary. It could also be that these specialized diets are very beneficial for you for a short amount of time- as a therapeutic diet- but not as a forever diet lifestyle.
As a final disclaimer, I want to emphasize that when I say “grains”, I mean properly prepared grains that come from organic sources and are not genetically modified, overly processed, enriched or even hybridized. Properly prepared grains have been soaked, sprouted or gently processed to break down or remove the mineral-blocking phytic acid that is found in the bran of the grain. (Whole grains may even include white flour and white rice…but I’ll get into this in a future post.)
Coming out of the grain-eating closet…
In my personal experience, after being grain-free for a period of time, my weight loss plateaued and my energy and stamina became extremely low. When I worked on my computer at home or did menial chores around the house, I noticed that my hands and toes were always very cold.
*I never cut out all grains from my children’s diets because I instinctively know they need grains and starchy carbohydrates for proper health.
Over the past year I have been keeping close attention to the uproar AnnMarie from Cheeselave has been causing by posting her story about “recovering” from a grain-free diet and discovering Matt Stone’s blog and now published book “Eat for Heat”. Matt Stone’s ideas respectfully reject the grain-free/paleo approach to health.
As an NTP and pro-GAPS practitioner, Matt Stone was frustrating me. I thought, “time will tell if he’s right or wrong”, and I left all the blog hoopla with a live-and-let-live attitude. But time did tell me the answer. I started to have the same symptoms AnnMarie had warned against when you go grain-free for an extended period of time.
After about six weeks of being grain-free, I discovered that I was experience super low body temperature and sluggishness. It was like a revelation one Saturday morning when I decided to re-read all the anti-grain-free posts from months back that I had decided to ignore. I was so frustrated with how I felt and I wanted to explore the idea that grain-free might be causing my problems. After reading this article, and this article, and this article, and this article, I whipped up a batch of good ol’ white flour and raw buttermilk pancakes and proceeded to eat a 10-cake stack covered in gobs of butter and Vermont maple syrup. My husband just looked at me with his jaw dropped. All that grain-free determination and struggle over the last 6 weeks…what was I doing?!
For the next few days I didn’t quite indulge in grains and sugar that much, but I did eat some bread with lots of butter and some raspberry jam every morning. My next revelation was on the following Wednesday when I went to my most intense Turbo-kick class of the week that I had started taking right before I went grain-free. I usually left this class half-way through because I never had enough energy to finish it. On this particular day (after 5 days of eating grains again in the morning) they got to the “turbo” section of the class…the crazy-intense part of the class when I normally quit. I had enough energy to do both “turbo” sections enthusiastically. I wanted to keep going to finish the class but my friend who was with me- who plans on finishing half-way through with me- was not as enthusiastic. The next time I took the class I made it through with flying colors, and I continue to easily finish the class once or twice a week. It was very clear to me that this drastic change in my physical ability was due to adding the grains back into my diet.
This actually all makes common sense if you understand physiology. I kind of felt stupid for not thinking about it before. You NEED carbohydrates for extended physical activity or your body uses survival techniques (adrenal hormones) to produce energy which is not healthy as a long-term approach to health. When you’re raising animals you know you must give them grains to stay warm, and you always give grains to dairy animals in milk to support and enhance their milk production. Carbohydrates are essential for maintaining hormonal balance, especially during reproduction. While the thyroid and adrenal glands can be damaged by too much sugar and carbohydrates in the diet, too little carbohydrate can also be damaging to these organs if they have to produce extra hormones to make up for the metabolic difference in what you are consuming and what you need for energy. I KNEW ALL OF THIS! I just jumped on the grain-free wagon and ignored this important (and basic) element of macro-nutrient nutrition.
The worst part of my whole experiment is that even though I didn’t eliminate grains from my daughters’ diets, their grain and carbohydrate intake did get reduced as a result of my grain-free diet. I noticed that my 4-year old daughter was having extreme mood swings, was not waking up well in the morning and having frequent tantrums and fall-outs. I felt bad for forcing my drastic dietary change on her and decided to focus on giving her properly prepared (and- gasp- sometimes improperly prepared) grains with every meal and these issues seemed to disappear. My always-happy and energetic little girl was back. (Mom smacks her forehead.)
You might be thinking that my problem was based on not eating enough carbohydrates, not necessarily grains. You can get all those beneficial carbohydrates from vegetables and fruits, you say. While I enjoy getting many of my carbohydrates from organic vegetables and fruit, grains and natural sugars are different and I can testify that they make me feel better than just vegetables and fruits.
The lesson to learn…
Grain-free might be good for you and your family, but be careful. Don’t jump in to a diet just because it sounds good. Be especially careful in trying to impose a specialized diet on your children if there is no reason for it. (Unless you are eliminating processed foods and switching to a whole food diet, which is always the right choice.) Also, don’t be afraid to listen to your body and go against your dietary ideals if it isn’t working for you! I had to do that myself and I’ve spent years now studying comparative nutrition, which led me to think that grain-free was right for me. I had to fully believe in a grain-free diet and follow it for almost 2 months before realizing my body was suffering from it. While my grain-free diet helped with some of my health symptoms, the all-in approach was causing more harm than good.
Since beginning my grain-free journey I have found that eating grains in the morning, like my Soaked Oatmeal Custard or a thick piece of top-quality sourdough bread with an equally thick spread of butter and/or brie cheese, gives me great energy for the day. I try to limit grains and starchy carbs for the rest of the day- especially after lunchtime. If I find myself getting a little “out of control” with my diet (reaching for the junk snacks at my parents’ house or making too many homemade treats), I’ll go on a sugar and grain free “detox” for a week and that usually helps me get back on track.
Again, I’m not anti-grain-free or anti-Paleo or anti-GAPS or anti-gluten-free. I make many recipes that support these dietary choices here at Real Food Family. My Real Food Weekly Meal Plans always include notes for making recipes grain-free. But we eat grains in our house and thoroughly enjoy them. In fact, grains are a fantastic way to get nutrient-dense foods into your body, like bone marrow toast, liver-enhanced pasta sauce, soaked or fermented oats with raw cream and egg yolks, rice sautéed with tons of vegetables, or soaked beans fried in organic lard.
So why do we eat grains? Because we have no reason not to!
It’s all about REAL FOOD here at Real Food Family, and there is no reason why grains cannot be a part of a real food life.