Sugar-free, grain-free, fat-free … we’ve all heard these terms, and many of you are likely sick of hearing them. One of the most popular food trends today is going grain-free, except for some, this is no trend. For many of us (myself included), grain-free eating (and sugar-free) is essential to a healthy gut. Due to an imbalance in gut bacteria, an allergy, or simply a problem digesting starch and sugars, the reasons for eliminating grains are far and wide. While grains are packed with so many vitamins and minerals, along with protein, many people still can not properly digest these, no matter how much soaking or sprouting is done. Even gluten-free options may still not be possible if the body does not prefer to digest starch or has an imbalance of good bacteria to bad bacteria which affects the entire digestive process. Grain-free living is one of the reasons the Paleo lifestyle is so popular, and while plant-based eaters may not be so keen on the diet, even many health experts say that eating a low-carb vegan diet is beneficial for health benefits because it eliminates grains and high-glycemic foods.
Why Are Grains Problematic for Some People?
All carbohydrates break down at different rates in the body, grains being one that take longer than any other aside from beans and legumes. While this can be helpful for some reasons (such as keeping you full), it can also cause digestive upset in many others ways. Most all grains are also inflammatory and contain various natural properties that the body simply doesn’t digest as easily or quickly as it does carbohydrates from vegetables that are much richer in water and more alkalizing. However, not everyone has a problem with grains, and many people digest them just fine. Some grains, such as rice, are even very healing to individuals with digestive issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s Disease. So, how are you supposed to know if you don’t tolerate grains, and should you eliminate them?
Here are five major signs to look for to see if you should consider experimenting with grain-free eating:
1. Pain After Eating
Most grain-free eaters testify that the pain they once felt after eating grains goes away immediately once they give them up. This pain is unlike any other; a lingering, nagging pain that cripples your ability to feel well all day long. It can also turn into a serious health problem if it continues because it’s a sign of gut damage. Foods that cause pain differ for many people, and we need to remember this is not normal or healthy. Pain after eating signifies that the body is not breaking down food properly and is possibly tearing the linings of the digestive tract in the meantime. Dr. Mark Hyman even says that all grains, particularly wheat, causes inflammation even in those that aren’t allergic to gluten. If you suffer pain after eating grains, stop eating them and see if it improves. Pain can last all day after a grain meal is eaten, even hours later when the food may still be trying to digest.
Acne is almost always your body’s way of telling you that it’s reacting to something in your diet. Whether that be due to an allergy, too many high-glycemic foods, or too many harmful fats and/or processed foods, acne is your sign that something in the diet has to give. While it can also be triggered by hormonal reactions, hormones can fluctuate due directly to our diets. When a higher-glycemic, inflammatory diet is eaten, our hormones also suffer and insulin can spike, leading to acne more frequently. Acne can also occur from our diet due to our body’s problem digesting a food; what the body can’t digest and eliminate tries to expel itself through the skin. If you’re eating grains and eat a healthy diet otherwise, yet still have acne, it could be an imbalance in gut bacteria levels preventing your body from breaking down and digesting the grains, or it could be a sign you’re allergic to one (or all) of them. Pay attention to how your skin changes with your diet and eat plenty of green vegetables, healthy fats, and low-gylcemic foods. These foods balance hormones, benefit digestion, and aid in healing and repair.
3. Dry Skin
Along with acne, people who are grain-sensitive may also have dry skin patches. Dry skin, itchy skin, and rashes have all been linked to grain consumption. Though reasons differ, the main issue seems to be with inflammation, allergenic reactions, or the inability to break down the many starches and proteins in grains (such as gluten). Eczema, hives, and chronically dry skin can all be relieved quickly if grains are eliminated and enough healthy fats are consumed. Even gluten-free grains can still trigger a reaction in those sensitive, indicating that it’s not always about gluten, but the body’s inflammatory reaction to a food. Dairy is another common trigger of skin issues, along with other food allergens like peanuts and soy.
4. Autoimmune Disease
Autoimmune disease is on the rise today more than ever and guess what else is? Our grain consumption. Many people who have autoimmune disease find near immediate relief when grains are removed from the diet. Grains can trigger inflammation in the body because the immune system sees them as invaders and launches a physical internal “attack” on the body. This can show up as depression, joint pain, digestion problems, chronic thyroid problems, digestion problems, and more. Some other foods in the diet may also need to be removed along with grains, such as dairy, eggs, soy, peanuts, and other major allergens.
5. Gas and Bloating
Along with pain after meals, constant gas and bloating are two other signs your body may not prefer to digest grains. Because of their natural starches and sugars, the body can not break them down efficiently. This typically occurs because these starches and sugars are sitting in the small intestine too long and fermenting with gut bacteria there. Many people find immediate relief by removing grains, along with sugary foods and starchy foods during meals. Greens, most vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats are much more beneficial and do not cause fermentation.
What About Pseudo-grains?
Pseudu-grains are technically seeds that cook up like grains and contain more carbohydrates than other seeds do, which makes them resemble grains by nature. Quinoa, amaranth, teff, buckwheat, and millet are some of the most popular. Each person differs with these options; there is no yes or no to whether or not you shouldn’t eat them if you don’t tolerate grains. Many people find that it’s the starch and high amounts of carbohydrates in the grains that cause the problems, which can still be an issues with pseudo-grains that are just as high. Others find they tolerate pseudo-grains fine, probably because they’re seeds and not grains botanically speaking.
Each of our bodies are different and listening to how they react immediately after meals and even hours after meals is the only way we can learn which foods our body likes and which ones it doesn’t.
What Should Grain-Free Eaters Eat?
Grain-free eaters have many healthy options when it comes to eating whole, plant-based foods. Each person will find their “best” foods and will be able to learn how foods digest best for them by paying attention to how they feel after meals. Options include: leafy greens (raw or cooked), non-starchy vegetables, root vegetables (a great grain replacement), healthy fats (olives, coconut, avocado), nuts, all types of seeds (pumpkin, hemp, chia, sunflower, flax), fruits, legumes, and beans. Many people react the same way to fruits, beans, and legumes as grains if gut bacteria is an issue, so be sure you pay attention to how your body reacts after meal times.
You can also try wild rice, which is actually a grass, not a grain (or pseudo-grain) that digests very easily. Instead of grain-based flours, use coconut flour or almond flour. Bread options can include those made with coconut flour or seed-based breads. While all these options may not work for you, keep experimenting with different ones to see which ones do.
The Bottom Line
If you tolerate grains fine, then feel free to keep eating them, however, if you don’t, be willing to make changes as your body tells you to. Remember that no matter what you read somewhere about the health benefits of a food, if your body doesn’t digest it and doesn’t tolerate it, that food is not benefiting you. We only benefit from what we digest. Any food that damages our guts ultimately damages our health.
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