I ditched grains and I’ll never look back! Except for that one time when it was Cinco de Mayo and I ate unlimited tacos for a fundraiser…but no looking back after that! I’ve been properly grain free since then (so, about 9 months almost!). Here is my experience and my thoughts about it.
Why I Decided to Go Grain-Free
I ate a lot of rice. I never realized that my dinner bowls consisted of 80% rice and 20% everything else. I also never realized how few nutrients grains contained. When I first went gluten-free ten years ago, I clung to the gluten-free substitutes, which were slim. Brown rice loaves and tapioca bread. Yum. Is your mouth watering yet?
If you’ve never succumbed to having to find and eat bread substitutes, I’ll give you an idea of what they tasted like: sand. One online review on the brown rice loaf stated that Styrofoam would make a better sandwich. I agree. However, I needed the feel of sandwich bread. I needed to butter something in the morning. I needed to trick myself into thinking I was eating bread, that I could eat bread, even though the substitutes tasted terrible and were no better for my health than real bread.
I think a lot of it is mental. I mean, I’m not even a big fan of bread, nor was I ever. But the idea of restricting something or it being “not allowed” made me feel deprived. Made me want the bread when I didn’t really want it that much in the first place!
Eventually, I weaned myself off of said substitutes, occasionally making use of brown rice pastas and gluten-free tortillas. Then I leaned heavily on rice for my carbs.
I was also in a phase of my life where I was learning about and testing my blood sugar. I was very diligent about it (maybe a little obsessed even) – I would check my fasting blood sugar and then after a meal for increments of 15 minutes for up to two hours. I was on a mission to find healthy pancakes and I thought I had it – brown rice flour with no added sugar, only a banana to provide the sweetness. Well ladies and gents, it spiked my blood sugar sky high. I was very disappointed. Those were some good pancakes.
Also, my fingertips were very calloused. But that’s besides the point.
In addition to not being very nutrient dense or good for my blood sugar, I began learning about some of the problems grains can cause to the digestive system, the immune system, and overall health.
Grains and Your Blood Sugar
Grains are a carbohydrate. They have a greater effect on your blood sugar than carbs from veggies, meaning they can cause your blood sugar to spike. This is especially the case for refined carbohydrates like white rice, white pasta, and flours which have little fiber. However, this can also be the case for whole grains as well. Spiking your blood sugar means you have high levels of insulin, and over time high insulin can lead to insulin resistance, which sets the stage for weight gain and diabetes. It can also lead to hormonal issues because when insulin rushes in to get the sugar out of the blood quickly, we might end up with low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) which the body responds to by producing more cortisol. Cortisol has a cascade effect on our steroid hormones like estrogen and progesterone (read more about it here), which could lead to hormonal issues.
You can read more about balancing blood sugar here.
Grains and Your Gut
Grains have something called phytic acid, which is a defense mechanism grains have against predation. The phytic acid can bind to minerals in our body, making them unavailable for absorption. Phytic acid in grains could be binding to magnesium, calcium, and other important nutrients the body needs for optimal health. Those meanies!
Grains also have a type of protein called prolamins that can irritate the intestinal lining because they are difficult to digest. When the intestinal lining becomes inflamed, it can sometimes lead to leaky gut, which can invite a host of digestive issues and even trigger immune reactions.
Grains and Your Immune System
When we have inflammation in the body, the immune system is triggered to step in and help the body heal and repair. If you regularly eat foods that create inflammation in the body, not only will you have chronic inflammation, but you might be over-activating your immune system on a regular basis as your body is constantly trying to fight inflammation. For some people, this can set the stage for autoimmune conditions to flare up.
My Initial Experience Going Grain-Free
So when I seriously considered giving up grains, I thought, if I give up grains, what will take the place of them? Why do I need the grains?
I began to realize that I could use zucchini for pasta and make my own tortillas (without even using grains at all!). Heck, they even make grain-free pizza crusts, crackers, cookies, and tortilla chips! Last month I found grain-free taco shells and was ecstatic! (I wonder if they will let me bring my own taco shells to the fundraiser next year….) We’ve come a long way from styrofoamy-tapioca bread.
It wasn’t easy eliminating grains. At first, I didn’t quite feel full and experienced constipation regularly. I realized that grains made up most of my fiber intake. So I started adding a little supplemental fiber into my diet until I became regular. I also increased my intake of raw veggies (mixed with cooked veggies throughout the day) for some more roughage. That quickly did the trick and now I’m used to a grain-free diet.
I feel less bloated, less weighed down, and have wonderful digestion now. I also eat a lot more veggies because I have more room for them, which gives me more access to vitamins, minerals and antioxidants (and no phytic acid bullies to bind to them!).
What My Meals Look Like Now
My meals are usually a mix of cooked and raw veggies topped with a protein, healthy fat, and some fermented foods. For instance, a breakfast might be baked broccoli and Brussel sprouts, sauerkraut, chicken breast, avocado, olives, cucumber slices, sea salt, and my favorite sauce. Lunch is always a fresh salad and for dinner tonight, I am having baked salmon on top of zucchini noodles with pesto! And I don’t miss the grains a bit.
Yes, grains are convenient. But convenient isn’t always healthy. In fact, most of what is convenient is likely creating more inflammation and illness. So it is a dedicated lifestyle. And it takes some adjusting. But I learned how to increase my fiber and overtime, felt I didn’t need to rely on grains to make me feel full or satisfied.
Have you thought about ditching grains? I’d love to see your comments about it below!