Everywhere you turn these days, people are telling you to go gluten-free. And that’s fantastic advice. But you know what? It’s not the whole story. Today, I want to talk about why simply going gluten-free isn’t enough, and why it can actually backfire on you. To start, let me tell you about my own journey from gluten-free to grain-free.
My First Moment of Truth
My first eye-opening experience regarding the profound effects of food on my body occurred when I was very young and I was competing in fitness and bodybuilding contests. (Yes—little bitty me!) I was working with a professional trainer who focused on fitness and nutrition, and I enlisted him to help me become more competitive.
The first thing my trainer told me was to eliminate wheat and gluten, which was an unconventional idea at that time. The result: I lost body fat and gained energy, and I overcame some serious health issues almost immediately. Needless to say, gluten was not on my radar anymore.
When I rid myself of gluten, my body got super-lean and I became stronger than ever. Even better, my endometriosis, which caused agonizing cramps every month, vanished. When my mother took me to doctors, all they could offer were birth control pills and Motrin to relieve the pain. And here the answer was as easy as cutting gluten from my diet! That was my first ah-ha moment.
My Second Moment of Truth
Unfortunately, I took the gluten-free message too far. And by the way, this is a very common problem. If you’re a doctor reading this blog, then know that there is real harm in telling patients to just “go gluten-free.”
When I went gluten-free, I ate fruit, veggies and lean meats—and yes, I also ate every gluten-free food I could get my hands on. As long as the package said gluten-free, in my book it was fair game.
Bad move. What I was getting instead included potato starch, cornstarch, and any other starches that make food taste good without evil gluten. The problem is that all of those starches are equally bad for you, or a pretty close second. So eventually, I crashed and burned again.
What I learned as a result was this: Gluten-free is a great first step, if you do it without all of the gluten alternatives. However, what you really want to do is go from gluten-free to grain-free. Here’s why.
The Dirty Truth about Grains
First, let’s talk about what grains are. Grains include barley, corn, durum, kamut, millet, oats, rice, rye, sorghum, spelt, tuff, tritcale, wheat (all varieties), and rice (including wild rice). It doesn’t matter whether they’re “whole grains” or not.
Gluten is found in certain grains including barley, rye, oatmeal (unless it’s certified as gluten-free), wheat, and spelt, as well as foods derived from these ingredients. Basically, if you eliminate grains from your diet, you’ll automatically eliminate gluten.
(By the way, buckwheat, chia, and quinoa are pseudo-grains. If you’re not actively trying to lose weight, they’re okay in limited quantities.)
Now, let’s take a look at why grains make you fat and wreck your health.
Hit #1: Grains Attack Your Gut.
Grains damage the all-important microbiome in your intestinal tract, leading to inflammation that causes a “leaky gut.” This, in turn, causes systemic inflammation, which is the primary cause of obesity. Also, since 80% of your immune system is in your gut, having a weakened gut leaves you wide open to just about every modern-day disease out there.
The reason that grains are so harmful is that our bodies aren’t adapted to eating them, particularly in large quantities. We’ve only been eating grains since the advent of agriculture, some 10,000 years ago—and while that may seem like a long time, it’s really just a hiccup on the evolutionary scale. In fact, our genes have only changed 0.02 percent in some 40,000 years.
In short, your gut has no idea what to do with grains. So eating them is like putting kerosene in your gas tank, instead of gasoline. Ouch.
Hit #2: Grains Drain You of Nutrients.
In addition to being toxic, grains sap your body of the nutrients it needs. Grains interfere with the absorption of vitamins and minerals from food, leaving your cells starving. This makes you age more rapidly—and it also lets those degenerative and autoimmune problems come knocking.
Hit #3: Grains Spike Your Blood Sugar.
Your body turns grains into sugar. That sugar constantly raises your blood sugar, putting you at risk for obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes. In fact, the “experts” who’ve told you for years to load your plate with grains are responsible to a large degree for our current epidemics of these health problems.
Sprout, Soak, Beat… or Eliminate?
Now that I’ve made my case, you may be wondering: “What if I sprout grains, soak them, or beat them with a stick? Will it matter?” Well, maybe … slightly. But the better option is to find alternatives.
I know that may sound difficult—but I’m here to tell you that while breaking up with grains is hard at first, you don’t need them. You can replace your grains with other options like almond flour, coconut flour, or arrowroot when you bake. Squashes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and zucchini are all ingredients you can use to create hearty, satisfying meals. I’ve been grain-free for ages, and I don’t miss grains at all. And once you develop new and healthier habits, neither will you.
So at least give it a try. Remember, there’s no RDA for grains, because you don’t need them. So what do you have to lose… other than your sick gut and your extra pounds?
Keep thinking Big and living BOLD!