5 Reasons to Eliminate Grains


Not getting the weight loss results you want or feeling like you’ve hit a wall around 2 pm? Digestive upset after everything you eat? Grains might be your issue. I know. It’s painful to think I’m going to take away your morning pastry, afternoon sandwich, and pasta dinner but the health of your intestines is dependent upon it. Remember, it’s not what you eat, it’s what you absorb that counts and damaged intestines suck at doing their job.

What are Grains?
Grains are seeds from the grass family Gramineae which includes wheat, rice, corn, barley, millet, sorghum, oats, rye, triticale, teff, and wild rice. This term has expanded in commonplace to include things like amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa and even our legumes- things like chickpeas, beans, lentils, peas, and soybeans. The most common of the grains consumed in the world are wheat, rice, corn, and barley and they’ve been around for a long time. Archeological evidence suggests cultivation of wheat and barley began in the Fertile Crescent around 8000 BC, and rice in Thailand as early as 4500 BC. If people have been eating them for this long they must be okay, right? Wrong. Here are the top 5 reasons why you should eliminate grains from your diet.

1. Phytic Acid
Phytic acid is a plant’s storage form of phosphorus. Don’t get too excited, this isn’t a source of nutrients. Due to the molecular shape of phytic acid we cannot digest and absorb the phosphorus. What’s worse is phytic acid binds ions like magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium, and copper making them unavailable for us to absorb. No absorption means no benefits for you. Phytic acid also inhibits the action of some of the enzymes we use to digest our food meaning not only is it stealing your precious nutrients  but it’s blocking your ability to break down food and it’s components properly. 

2. Lectins
Type of protein found in grains that binds carbohydrates and acts as a natural insecticide for a plant. These guys are scary. They are not broken down during normal digestion due to their high content of the amino acid proline. Undigested lectins can then attach themselves to the intestinal lining and get transported *intact* through the cell into the blood stream, damaging the intestinal cell in the process. Our bodies are smart and they recognize this intact protein as an invader. Our immune system amounts an attack to these proteins. Unfortunately these proteins also stimulate the expression of antigens on cells that don’t normally display them. These antigens are signals for your immune system to attack. When this is happening on your own body tissues it can lead to autoimmune diseases such as celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.

3. Gluten
Gluten is a structural protein in some grains including wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. Gluten stimulates the action of our immune system just like lectins do making grains a double whammy for increasing your likelihood for autoimmune disease. Gluten also increases production of an enzyme called zonulin which breaks down the tight junction keeping your intestinal cells together. When the tight junction is destroyed this leads to a situation called “leaky gut” where large molecules can escape into the blood stream. No bueno. For more information on gluten check out Nutrition Genius Radio Episode #18.

4. Poor Nutrient Density
The milling process for grains removes the husk, bran, and germ which also removes the nutrients. Many people spewing conventional nutrition knowledge will tell you to eat whole grains for the B vitamins but this is complete BS. 50-85% of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, folate, and vitamin E is removed during processing. Um, WHAT?! When you remove all of this nutrition what are you left with? Carbs. All the carbs. See below.

5. High Carbohydrate Content
Too much carbohydrate can lead to insulin resistance, diabetes, weight gain, and the dreaded inflammation. Episode #3 of Nutrition Genius Radio is a wicked throw back episode but will give you our take on carbohydrates and Episode #30 will teach you all about inflammtion and why ain’t nobody got time for it. In short, when your diet is too high in carbohydrates your blood sugar rises. The sugar in your blood then sticks to things in a process called glycation. Glycation can be temporary but over time the bonds can be permanent as a result of oxidation reactions. After these reactions occur you get something called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). This is a perfect name because AGEs actually do age you. They damage your artery walls, encourage cancer growth, and make your joints stiff.

So what is a real food eater to do?

Step away from the gluten
Since our gluten-containing grains are the most damaging, step number one in your real food revolution should be to go gluten free. Gluten containing grains include wheat (and it’s varieties- spelt, kamut, farro, durum, bulgur, and semolina), barley, rye, and triticale. If you do absolutely nothing else do this.          

Properly soak/sprout and ferment
Soaking beans and nuts and sprouting and fermenting grains decreases the phytates and lectins to a certain extent but does not completely eliminate them.

Pay attention
Many people simply don’t tolerate grains in any quantities. Oats and corn contain proteins similar to gluten and may cause a reaction in your body equal to that of gluten. Listen to how you feel before and after a meal. Remember, the only thing that should change is how hungry and full you are, your mood and energy level should remain the same. If you’re experiencing nausea, bloating, or diarrhea after a meal there is a good chance you’re not tolerating it.

Use sparingly
We know that eliminating grains completely may feel very limiting and boring to some people. Grains should never be a main staple in your diet but provided you are consuming gluten free grains, preparing them properly, and your body tolerates them well we aren’t going to send the food police after you. Limit servings to no more than ½ cup for most people and don’t make this an every-meal occurrence.

We want to hear from you! Have you eliminated grains? What has your experience been? Let us know in the comments.



14 thoughts on “5 Reasons to Eliminate Grains”

  1. You have rice as the example grain but I was told rice was okay is appropriate qualities because it is just a packet of glucose with none of the offenders in other grains.

    1. Thanks so much for the comment! It all depends on the individual. So yes rice is generally well digested but it lacks the nutrient density that we can find in fruits/veggies and meats/eggs/fish. So we normally recommend people try eliminating all grains and then add back one by one and see how you tolerate it. We also realize rice is easy to overeat, a serving is normally 1/3 cup but most people easily eat >1 cup. IF you tolerate it and do not have any weight loss resistance or blood sugar dysregulation then feel free to keep on consuming it.

  2. You have rice as the example grain but I was told rice was okay is appropriate qualities because it is just a packet of glucose with none of the offenders in other grains.

  3. Quinoa, which is not paleo, makes a nice substitute for rice when you absolutely must have rice. It has a better protein profile, better texture, and is prepared about the same as rice.

    1. Good point Adam! We have a lot of clients who struggle with digestive issues so we normally recommend an elimination of all grains (quinoa included) and then those who can tolerate it would do great to add quinoa back 🙂 Do you have a favorite recipe?

  4. I always hear “properly prepared” grains and legumes are best. Can you explain exactly what that means? Soaked how long? Sprouted in what way?

    Thank you!

    1. Thanks for the question Kristen! So properly prepared grains refer to the need for us to soak, sprout and ferment our grains in order to be able to digest them properly. Unfortunately in this day and age we want fast and cheap so we no longer respect our grains so they in return don’t respect our guts. The Weston A Price Foundation has some good information on them but we will definitely make sure to do a future Q&A podcast on this question 🙂

      We also did a whole podcast on Grains with more info! Check it out HERE!

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