Is Going Grain-Free Great? What You Should Know
Across cultures and cuisines, grains have long been considered as a staple ingredient in any diet. Many simply can’t imagine a life without some type of grain in everyday meals, be it pasta, rice, bread or cereal.
But with grain-free diets – Paleo or Keto – now the craze, a lot of people have taken the leap and have cut grains entirely from their diet.
And the food industry is taking notice. More and more restaurants are offering grain-free menus, and prepared meals foregoing the starch are becoming a popular delivery business that health enthusiasts support.
But the grain-free diet is different from a ketogenic diet that restricts carbohydrates. Grain-free means complex carbohydrates found in potatoes, carrots, and pumpkins are still allowed, albeit in moderation. Grain-free diet is much more similar to other gluten-avoiding diets like Paleo, alkaline diet, Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet, and others.
Why Go Grain-Free?
A grain-free diet moves a step beyond the also trendy gluten-free diet, to eliminate all types of grains, including wheat, rice, corn, and oats.
The main principle behind the concept is how grains have been linked to inflammation and digestive issues.
For instance, health problems like leaky gut, autoimmune disorders and chronic diseases like celiac disease, are caused by or aggravated by grains.
Wheat, in particular, is a perennial culprit of gastrointestinal stress.
Refined grains, meanwhile, offer little in terms of nutrition and are always associated with weight gain and insulin resistance.
Other types of grains also contain anti-nutrients, which can counter your body’s absorption of essential components.
While there are supporters of the grain-free principle, there are also nutrition experts that believe such a diet can actually pose a health risk.
Nancy Farrell, the spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, mentions that removing grains might potentially deficient in certain vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.
So what’s the best move: ditch the grains completely or just lessen intake?
First, let’s look at some of the key advantages in eliminating grains from your diet:
- Better Digestion
Many people who are drawn to the grain-free diet are motivated due to digestive issues. Gluten, a protein component found in wheat, can elicit symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, nausea or bloating.
Eliminating grains from your diet may address these recurring symptoms.
For instance, cases document that Specific Carbohydrate Diet – which excludes all grains, among other rules, helped manage inflammatory bowel disease. Looking at 50 people with IBD, more than 92% of participants reported that the restriction helped alleviate digestive troubles.
- Reduced inflammation
While acute inflammation is meant as a sign that the immune system is warding off viruses, bacteria and foreign invaders, continued heightened levels of inflammation can open you up to chronic conditions and worsen symptoms of autoimmune disorders. Wheat has been seen to drive up inflammation levels, making the body susceptible to health issues.
- Weight Loss
Grains are typically high in calories, which means that when you stop consuming them you can ultimately lose weight. Going grain-free also encourages you to opt for healthier options to satisfy your hunger. Nutrient-packed foods like legumes, whole carb veggies, nuts, and seeds can curb your cravings for longer. At the same time, you move you away from calorie-dense refined grains found in most bread, pastries, and pasta.
- Balanced microbiome
A few studies suggest that a grain-free diet may help support the good bacteria in your gut that encourages the health of your microbiome – ecological community of microorganisms in your digestive tract. Good digestion is not the only beneficial result from a healthy gut; improved immunity, brain function, and even blood sugar management can also be associated with it.
- Mood Lifter
Staying away from grains may initially cause discomfort and the blues as part of the withdrawal process, but supporters swear by experiencing substantial mood lift from going grain-free. While there is yet to be substantial evidence for this, the theory is that certain proteins in grains inhibit feel-good hormones in the brain. When these foods are eliminated from your system, there could be an increase in serotonin, the feel-good hormone.
As with anything, there are drawbacks. Here are some of the health risks associated with going grain-free:
Grains supply us with a good amount of fiber, which aids in the digestive tract processes. Foregoing grains in your daily intake may cause constipation, especially if you do not replace the lost fiber with other high-fiber foods like vegetables, legumes and fruits.
- Low energy levels
Another common side effect of a grain-free diet is low energy levels since grains are one of the main sources of carbohydrates. Slashing your carbs intake could result in fatigue. That said, if you replace the grain-sourced carbohydrates with other alternatives from veggies and healthy fats, you could regain previous energy levels.
- Nutritional deficiencies
Skipping grains mean that you are missing out on important minerals like iron, magnesium, and selenium. Yes, these minerals can be found in other sources, such as nuts and spinach, but if you are not able to consume enough to fill your needs, you could end up being deficient in these components and experience anemia and chronic headaches.
There are pros and cons linked to going grain-free, and if you have gluten sensitivity or digestive issues, this would be a prime regimen to try out. But for the majority of people, cutting out grains completely may not be necessary.
A better plan is to swap refined grains and wheat with other healthier options like quinoa, brown rice and complex carbohydrates from vegetables.
By just avoiding highly processed wheat products that have little nutritional benefit, you’re already doing yourself a huge favor health-wise.
Now, this will not be a walk in the park for those used to eating carbs. Preparation, planning, and dedication are crucial to bumping up the quality of your food.
And as always, moderation and a well-balanced diet can give your body the optimal nutrition it needs, even if you don’t totally go grain-free.