7 Proven Ways that Ditching Grains will Change Your Life
Sometimes we have the remarkable ability to convince ourselves that something is fantastic when we actually hate it.
For instance, when I was 19 or 20, I had just lost a lot of weight. My diet (based on a couple years of reading and researching mainstream health information) generally consisted of eating a lot of low-fat, high-fiber whole grains. Hello Fiber One.
And it worked (sort of). I worked my butt off every day by running or playing sports, and I religiously avoided almost all high-fat, high-calorie foods. I managed to stay relatively slim (although always with a few extra pounds of fat that I could never completely shed). And yet…
I hated every minute of eating that way.
I was constantly hungry and tempted to cheat on my diet.
Still, at the time, because I had just lost a bunch of weight, I somehow convinced myself that I loved eating and living that way. I remember telling everybody about it.
Learn to Enjoy Life (and Stop Eating Grains)
As you can guess, I’ve come a long way in my understanding of health and nutrition since I was 19 or 20 years old. I still tell lots of people about how I eat and live, although usually only if they ask.
Often now, when someone asks me, I give them a very brief intro to how avoiding grains will help them start to solve a lot of their health issues. And at least 90% of the time, I get some variation of this response:
“But I really love [bread/pasta/rice/cookies/other grain-based food]!”
And it flabbergasts me. If you don’t want to make a few sacrifices to improve your health and quality of life, that’s fine. It’s your choice.
But really? Do you think the rest of us just never like cookies or bread or pasta? Yeah, right.
All joking aside, I never thought I’d give up pizzas, hamburgers (with buns), and sandwiches. That’s what I ate for most of my life.
But for about the past 8 years now, I’ve been avoiding grains almost entirely, and unlike my prior attempts to stay lean, I feel more energetic, less hungry, and truly enjoy eating again.
Sounds enticing, right? I hope so, and for those of you who haven’t had the time to sort through all of the information on grains on the web, below are 7 Proven Ways that Ditching Grains will Change Your Life.
First, though, What is a Grain?
Technically, a grain is a “one-seeded fruit of a cereal grass,” but what does that even mean? For the sake of your diet and health, it’s easiest to just remember that the following are grains:
More importantly, a wide variety of processed foods contain many of the above grains. For instance, most cereals, breads, and baked goods contain wheat, rice, or corn. Picking out grains in products often requires a thorough reading of the ingredients lists. Here are a few example of processed grains:
- Almost all Crackers
Almost all baked goods (cookies, cakes, and other desserts)
- Most Breakfast Cereals
This is by no means a complete list, but it’s a starting point, and it gets easier to remember the longer you pay attention to it. If you’re serious about it, avoiding grains eventually gets pretty easy.
1. Ditching Grains = More Vitamins and Minerals
Humans need to eat for 2 primary reasons: (1) to get energy (calories) and (2) to get vitamins and minerals.
No one can survive on just calories (even if a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down), and likewise, no one can survive on just vitamins and minerals (multivitamins are not food). Vitamins and minerals are generally harder to get enough of than calories, although that hasn’t always been the case.
Grains are full of calories, which made them great for your ancestors, but grains have relatively few vitamins and minerals, which is what most of us modern humans lack.
Grains do contain some vitamins and minerals, but you can (and should) easily find those vitamins and minerals in other, more nutritious foods like vegetables, fruits, and meats. And when you ditch grains, you end up eating a lot more of other, more nutrient-dense foods, meaning that you get a lot more vitamins and minerals.
There is a reason that so many products like bread are labeled “fortified”…
In the end, there are few things that are more important to your overall health and well-being than vitamins and minerals, which are critical for pretty much everything that your body does.
2. Ditching Grains = Less Inflammation (Less Bloating, Acne, Arthritis, etc.)
If you’re new to Paleo, then inflammation may sound like something that doesn’t affect you.
However, inflammation is at the root of pretty much everything that can go wrong with your body. Inflammation can occur in a variety of ways, such as when you sprain your ankle and it swells up. In instances like that, inflammation is a good thing.
Chronic inflammation (that doesn’t stop), however, is a very bad thing. Arthritis, Asthma, Acne, Heart Disease, and most major diseases and ailments are manifestations of inflammation. And even if you don’t have those types of serious conditions, you could still be inflamed without knowing it, which would lead to you getting sick more often, not recovering from workouts, not being able to lose weight, and much more.
That’s a long way of getting to this: Grains cause inflammation.
They aren’t the only cause, but they’re a big one. This happens primarily because certain proteins in grains get through the walls of your gut (along with other foreign particles) and cause an immediate immune and inflammatory response.
Some grains (like wheat) are worse about this than others (like rice), but none are good.
3. Grains Make You Fat
It’s true. In multiple ways.
On the one hand, the simple fact that grains are inflammatory makes it harder for you to lose weight (or avoid putting on fat). When your body is constantly inflamed, a number of things happen in your fat tissue, gut, and brain that all lead to insulin and leptin resistance, in turn leading to increased weight gain.
Secondly, because grains are calorie-dense and nutrient poor, and because they’re also prone to causing leptin resistance, grains generally lead to overeating and an imbalance of energy. In other words, they make you eat more food than you burn off.
Grains are not the sole cause of obesity or weight gain, and you can certainly get fat without ever eating a grain. However, grains do make it far easier and more likely.
4. Grains Make You Sick in the Stomach
For a variety of reasons, grains wreak havoc on your intestines, even if you’re not technically ‘allergic’ to them. Here are a few important (and unfortunate) effects of eating grains:
1. Eating grains encourages the growth of certain bad micro-organisms. There are trillions of bacteria in your intestines (don’t worry – it’s normal!), and that’s a very good thing, as they help your body digest certain foods.
However, when you eat grains, the type of bacteria that are present changes. Certain “bad” bacteria start growing and dominating, and many of the “good” bacteria are consequently destroyed. The net effect is that you start developing bowel problems, you feel bad a lot of the time, and you might even start putting on more fat!
2. Eating grains can tear the walls of your intestines. Sounds bad right? It is.
Our bodies don’t digest grains very well (or at all in some cases). So when grains get to your intestines, it’s typically in forms that cause very small tears in your intestines. The primary culprit is a group of proteins called prolamins, which are present in all grains. Gluten (or technically, Gliadin) is the worst offender.
To make a long story short, having very small tears in your intestines eventually leads to a lot of sickness and also causes your body to not absorb very many of the vitamins and minerals that you so desparately need.
5. Grains Make Your Joints Ache
This is nothing more than a side-effect of the inflammation that we’ve already discussed, but it’s a pretty big side effect.
At least a couple times per week, I’ll get an email from someone who’s had arthritis for at least a decade or two, and who thought they’d never get over it.
After giving up grains for just a few weeks, these people are often entirely arthritis-free.
Sound too good to be true? It isn’t. Particularly when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis, almost every bit of the pain is due to inflammation, which can often be cured by avoiding grains and other inflammatory foods (processed sugar, omega-6 fats, etc.).
6. Grains Make You Hungry
This is mostly the same story for why grains make you fat, but I hate being hungry almost more than I hate being fat. (And I’ve been both for much of my life.)
Because grains can lead to insulin and leptin resistance, but also because they’re loaded with carbohydrates that spike your blood sugar, grains tend to make you crave more grains or other carbohydrate-dense foods.
The end result is that you might feel full for the half-hour after you’re done eating, but then you’ll pretty quickly be hungry again.
That makes staying on a diet particularly hard, but it also just makes life not very enjoyable. I love eating, but when I’m done, I want to get on with my life and enjoy doing other things without constantly thinking about food.
7. Grains Destroy Your Skin and Teeth
Acne, wrinkles, and tooth decay are not things that people often associate with grains, but they’re all serious side effects.
When it comes to your skin, grains promote inflammation, high insulin levels, and increased levels of Insulin-Like Growth Factor. Taken all together, this means that your skin is likely to produce more oil and be more inflamed, which generally sets the table for acne.
In addition, grains are high in phytates, which are very good at keeping your body from absorbing minerals (like calcium, phosphorous, etc.). These phytates, along with the starches and sugars provided by grains, create a fertile setting for bacteria to start nesting in your teeth.
The ways that grains affect your skin and teeth are less direct than some of the other side-effects of eating grains, but they’re no less serious, and it should make you wary of the long-term consequences, even if you’re not feeling the effects of grains right now.
Why’d We Start Eating Grains???
I have no idea…
Just kidding. It made complete sense. Humans, for most of the time they’ve existed on Earth (almost 2 million years in one form or another), rarely ever had enough food to eat.
Around 12,000 years ago, humans gained the knowledge and ability to farm and process grains in pretty large amounts, which meant that they suddenly had access to a much larger source of calories than they’d ever had before. In terms of keeping your tribe alive when you couldn’t find other food, this was huge. It was “healthy” for humans at that time because it kept them alive.
You Can Do Better
Fortunately, most of us no longer have to worry about not having enough food from day-to-day.
Consequently, we don’t need the calories provided by grains, and we certainly don’t need the unhealthy things that come along with them. If you’re even thinking about going Paleo and just want to dip your toes in the water, then by all means, start by cutting grains from your diet for a week or a month and see how you feel.
I know that you’ll be very pleased with the results.
If you have any thoughts or questions about grains, please let me know in the comments below! Do you think certain grains are OK? Do you soak or ferment your grains?
Images (in order): nosha, colindunn, TipsTimes, and Helga Weber.