Since the introduction of The Paleo Diet and the acceleration of the real food revolution, grains have copped a bad wrap. Rightly so, but it’s a debatable topic. Here’s all you need to know about grains and whether or not they have their place on your plate.
Grains include foods that dominate our traditional and now thankfully almost-obsolete food pyramid, such as wheat (i.e. bread, cereals, pasta and cous cous), rice, oats and barley. Plus, other grains that you may be less aware of include rye, millet, quinoa and corn (maize).
Why you don’t need grains like our traditional food pyramid and the agricultural industry would like you to believe
- There is not a single nutrient, vitamin or mineral present in grains that you cannot obtain from natural, whole foods.
- Grains are often sugary, starchy and low in nutrients.
- While gluten is by far the worst culprit, grains can still be inflammatory and are high in phytic acid, substances that can inhibit nutrient absorption. The problem with high levels of phytate is mostly relevant when gut health is sub-optimal, and the overall nutrition is deficient in micronutrients and essential food sources. The over consumption of grains decreases the release of our major digestive and satiety hormone cholecystokinin, or CCK. This is known to be one of the major causes of insulin resistance, the precursor to obesity. Grains are used to fatten pigs, cows and other livestock after all.
- Crops of today can be genetically modified, hybridized, fertilized, mass produced and grown in soil destroyed by modern agricultural practices.
But what about my fibre intake?
This is a common misconception, created largely by companies with a vested interest in grain production and/or consumption. Fruits and vegetables are far more nutrient dense and per serve, and more often than not contain more fibre than your standard serve of grains.
Check out this interesting comparison:
|Grains||Fibre (g)||The more natural choice||Fibre (g)|
|White Bread – 2 slices||1.8||Banana – 1 large||3.6|
|Wholegrain Bread – 2 slices||3.8||Strawberries – 1 cup||3.8|
|Seeded Bread Roll||2.5||Sweet Potato – ½ cup||5.2|
|Wheat Pasta – ½ cup||4.1||Cauliflower – 1½ cups||3.8|
|Weetbix – 2 biscuits||3.3||Broccoli – 1 cup||5.9|
|Fortified Cereal – ½ cup||3.6||Almonds – ½ cup||6.3|
|Cous cous – ½ cup||1.7||Quinoa – ½ cup||2.6|
Grain industry funded research is hardly going to support increased broccoli consumption now is it?
When are grains appropriate to consume?
Food and nutrition is not a quest for perfectionism. Certain grains may be eaten, but here are some points to help you gain perspective:
1. Nutrient density
The focus of every meal should be nutrient density. If you fill up on grains, you miss the nutrient dense, natural whole foods. The solution? Fill your plate with protein, good fats and predominately non-starchy vegetables, and only if you need, a small handful of rice, for example. The best time to do this is post-exercise, when your body utilises the glucose (sugar) for recovery and not fat storage.
In addition, the inclusion of grains in a complete meal offers positive blood sugar control benefits. The addition of fat and/or protein with starchy carbohydrates prevents an extremely high blood sugar and the associated insulin production and subsequent blood sugar crash, fatigue, mood swings and cravings.
2. Gluten Free
For improved digestion, decreased inflammation and to avoid developing an intolerance or allergy, make gluten-free choices wherever possible. This means avoiding wheat, rye, barley, triticale and (non certified gluten free) oats.
3. The Source
When you choose to eat grains, choose well. Buy organic, certified gluten-free and non-GMO products. And don’t just eat plain oats for breakfast. For nutrient density and blood sugar control, add good fats and protein. Even better options include making the switch quinoa porridge, a smoothie or an omelette.
4. Real food substitutions
Honestly, you won’t miss the starchy grains with delicious whole food options like cauliflower rice and zucchini spaghetti. Now that’s nutrient density at its finest.
Work towards an 80/20 approach, with nutrient density from natural whole foods your first priority. The occasional rice cracker and dip or night out at your favourite Mexican restaurant is great, but do you need to eat grains every day? Definitely not. Remember, what you do every day matters more that what you do every once in a while.