Part of the Paleo guidelines say no to grains. What does this include? Wheat, oats, barley, rye, millet, corn, rice, sorghum, teff, triticale, spelt, kamut, buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa. No breads, cereals, pasta, rice. Strict says no to even gluten-free. I know what you’re thinking. “But how can this be? This goes against everything that I have ever been taught.” Confusing, right? Let me explain the way that I understand it.
We can consume two categories of grains, refined and whole grains.
Refined grains have the bran and germ removed during the refining process. With this, the fiber, vitamins, and minerals are also removed. Sometimes, these grains are “fortified” with nutrients, but it doesn’t make up for what is removed. These grains are often times turned into snacky things. Since the parts of the grain that make you feel full have been taken out, it is very easy to over consume these foods. Because of this, these grains tend to mess with your blood sugar and also promote cravings.
Whole grains are just that, whole. They still have the bran and the germ, however you are still a lot better off obtaining your fiber, vitamins, and minerals from fruit/vegetables. The folks at Whole9 did a comparison in their book , It Starts with Food, of a daily diet based on whole grains vs fruit and vegetables. This chart can be found on pg 109 (I have also included a photo for reference). Sodium, calories, and sugar are all elevated with the wheat; however it has significantly lower levels of potassium, Iron, Zinc, and many of the vitamins.
The grain dilemma isn’t just an issue with nutritional value. There are also some health problems that may arise from consuming the grains. Some of the proteins in grains have been found to cause problems in the gut. These proteins have tendency to create an increase in gut permeability (also called leaky gut). What does this mean? The proteins can be resistant to digestion, meaning they enter the gut intact then are able to cross over a typically impermeable gut barrier into the body. These proteins contain partially digested food parts, bacteria, and viruses. These out of place particles have been known to adversely affect digestion as well as the immune response. Gluten is one of these proteins that has been known to cause many of these problems. Gluten can be found in rye, wheat, and barley.
I keep mentioning these inflammatory effects. What does this include? This could refer to a number of things. Allergies, arthritis, asthma, autoimmune diseases (celiac, Crohn’s, lupus, MS), chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, psoriasis, eczema, rosacea, endometriosis. These inflammatory effects have also been known to show up in the brain with depression, anxiety, and psychiatric disorders. Basically, grain has the potential to affect any disease process that is associated with inflammation.
These effects can vary from person to person. Sometimes they don’t even affect a person at all. This is where the 30 day challenge comes into play. When you eat strict Paleo for 30 days, then slowly introduce grain back into your diet, you may find that you feel much better without the grain. I guess my thinking is, why eat the grain if I has a huge potential to make you feel like garbage? If you’re eating grains for the health benefits, consider switching to fruit and veggies. If you refer back to the picture that is posted, you will notice that you’re actually better off nutritionally without the grains.
In my experience, I have found that my allergies are slightly better, I can breathe better, I am less fatigued, and my guts feel much better without the grains. Personally, I don’t feel that it’s worth it to eat the grains. But…as always, do the research. Test this yourself. Try eating strict Paleo for the 30 days then see how you feel after reintroducing grains back into your diet. With the grain test, be mindful to how you look, how you feel, and your general quality of life.