Whole grains (such as oats, wheat, whole grain rice, corn, rye, and barley) are full of B vitamins, iron, zinc, potassium, protein and magnesium. They’re also full of fibers that can keep you full and stabilize blood sugar in comparison to refined grain products (like wheat bread or regular pasta and cereals that are enriched and highly processed). However, no matter how many benefits whole grains do have, some people’s bodies do not react well to grains, or they may have compromised digestion that prevents them from being able to eat them.
While some of us can’t imagine going without a bowl of oats or a piece of sprouted grain toast, these foods could make someone with a grain intolerance not only sick, but could also cause inflammation in the gut. Remember that no matter how healthy a food may be by nature, if your body doesn’t digest it well, that food will cause inflammation and isn’t beneficial. For some people that could be nuts, for many people it’s dairy, and for some, it could include grains. This is especially true for those with celiac disease, who can not physically digest the proteins found in gluten-containing grains (wheat, barley and rye).
However, it must be said that if you tolerate grains fine, there’s no need to cut them out. They do have a place in the everyday diet due to their specific nutrient content. For those that can not eat (or choose not to eat) grains, you’ll need to be sure to get the nutrients found in grains (fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, protein, iron and potassium) from other whole food sources. This will help not only keep you full, but also give your body and brain the nutrients it needs.
Here are some great options:
1. Greens and Non-Starchy Veggies
Greens are a foundational food that most everyone should include in their diet. They provide dense sources of nutrients that you don’t get from other foods and are especially helpful for reducing inflammation in the gut. Good options include: all leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, cabbage, scallions, garlic, celery, asparagus, peppers, and any veggie that is green! Try them in a salad, soup, smoothie, add them to entrees of any kind.
2. Root Vegetables
Sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, onions, turnips and other root veggies are all great foods to include in your diet. They contain fiber, antioxidants, magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins. These nutrients energize you, sustain you, promote regularity, and slow down the release of insulin into the bloodstream. They also help promote healthy serotonin levels in the brain (one of the body’s natural antidepressant hormones) that is optimized by healthy carbohydrate intake. Think no mood swings and a more positive outlook!
3. Raw Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are wonderful sources of B vitamins, iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium, fiber, and protein. Cashews and chestnuts are especially richer in complex carbs compared to other nuts and are especially good sources of Vitamin C and iron. Chia, flax, pumpkin, walnuts and hemp seeds are especially dense sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. And, though technically a fruit, coconut is a wonderful source of fatty acids and fiber similar to nuts and seeds that is also perfect for a grain-free diet. See how to pair greens and seed together for a fiber-rich, protein packed meal without grains (or meat!).
4. Whole Fruits
Think whole, fresh fruits here, not just fruit products (like fruit juice). Whole fruits contain anti-inflammatory nutrients that alkalize the gut and soothe the stomach. The natural enzymes found in raw fruit will also ensure seamless digestion. Just keep in mind that fruits can be cleansing, so try to eat them before a meal for optimal digestion instead of with dense sources of protein or fat like beans or nuts, which may cause some gas and bloating. Apples, oranges, and berries are particularly great for your blood sugar due to their high fiber content in the form of pectin. Pectin is a type of fiber-based carbohydrate that gels up in the body to remove cholesterol, excess unhealthy fats, and keep you regular. Pectin functions the same way that beta-glucan fibers in oats and barley do for the heart and digestive system. Apples never looked so good!
5. Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes are nutritional goldmines if you tolerate them well. They contain zinc, protein, iron, potassium, fiber, and B vitamins. Lentils, chickpeas (or hummus), and green peas are much easier to digest if you’re having some difficulty with other options. Even cacao (a bean) is a great source of energy that can help slow down the release of insulin in the body when eaten in a raw form (like raw cacao powder) versus processed sugary chocolate bars. See all of our legume and bean recipes here and our cacao recipes here.
Some people that don’t tolerate grains like wheat, rice, and oats are still able to enjoy grain-like seeds such as quinoa, amaranth, and millet. Others don’t tolerate these foods and find them to react the same as grains do, so experiment with which ones work for you and which ones don’t. Quinoa is a wonderful complete protein source while amaranth is a good source of iron and calcium. Teff and millet are great sources of B vitamins and iron and are also very easy to digest. They’re also alkaline-forming, which can reduce inflammation and make digestion easier.
So there you have it friends! Healthy, easy foods you can enjoy to give you energy, real nutrition, and crucial vitamins and minerals. Even if you eat grains, be sure to include plenty of these healthy foods too! See all of our recipes here to explore more options to get a wide variety of ways to get these foods into your diet.
Lead Image Source: David Reber/Flickr