They are foe to many people trying to improve their gut health. They’re completely absent from the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), the Gut And Psychology Syndrome (GAPs) diet, and are a definite no-no in the Paleo, Primal, and Ketogenic Diets, all of which help people heal from digestive disorders, behavior/psychological disorders, chronic disease, and are believed to prevent heart disease and cancer.
The main reasons for refraining from grains are:
- Many are grown and harvested conventionally with huge amounts of herbicides and pesticides and the remaining residue can damage one’s gut flora and lining.
- Numerous people have developed a gluten sensitivity (likely from the point above) or have celiac disease.
- Refined, or processed grains break down to glucose faster than whole grains and elevate blood sugar levels. Over time with a high refined grain diet, insulin sensitivity can decrease and set you up for metabolic disorders like Diabetes.
- They are abrasive to the gut lining and too much grain consumption can cause leaky gut.
- Many people eat a lot of processed, refined grains which have little nutritional value.
- People tend to favor grains over vegetables and fruits, and therefore can become deficient in certain vitamins and antioxidants.
I’ve been on a low carbohydrate diet for over a year now, strongly limiting grains to just rice a couple of times a week and an occasional splurge on popcorn. Reducing grains and increasing vegetables may be one of the reasons my digestion and thyroid function are improving, in addition to increasing fat and eating more whole foods in general.
I do miss having more grains in my diet though. After reading Andrew Sterman’s In Praise of Grains, I’m feeling hopeful about bringing them back in a very selective manner that does not create any of the problems listed above.
I highly suggest reading Sterman’s post, which is full of details regarding grains in TCM dietetics, the nutritional benefits of specific grains, and includes some tasty recipes.
I pulled out some of the main points here because I know the information can help a lot of people who find changing their diet difficult. I believe it’s possible to keep grains close to our hearts and on our plates and still feel nourished!
Grains in Traditional Chinese Medicine
TCM considers grains to be very grounding and they enhance digestion by strengthening the stomach, small intestine, spleen, and pancreas.
Because they are varied along the cooling to warming spectrum, there’s a grain out there suitable for each person’s constitution.
There is a concern about glutinous grains (wheat, rye, and barley) in TCM too, as well as modern nutrition. They’re considered unsuitable for those with heat or inflammatory conditions, and this is because they are so warming in nature.
Benefits of Grains in Modern Physiology
The 3 regions of the small intestine each specialize in digesting certain nutrients. The duodenum in the upper tract moves amino acids to the liver as it digests proteins. The jejunum in the middle section digests carbohydrates and lipids with the help of pancreatic enzymes. And the ileum in the lower section ferments the remaining undigested food with beneficial gut bacteria.
Keeping grains in the diet gives the jejunum more varied carbohydrates to work with, helping to balance out the roles of the upper and middle tract and feeding the beneficial bacteria in the lower tract. These bacteria are important because they produce vitamins essential for our health and also secrete mucus that keeps the digestive tract moist and protects the lining.
How To Keep Grains In Your Diet
Your gut health may be in jeopardy if you’re constantly getting sick, experiencing gas/bloating, or having chronic diarrhea or constipation, inflammatory reactions, or a behavioral/psychological disorder. Again, the diets I mentioned in the beginning are the best for fixing your gut quickly.
However, I have experienced as a practitioner that these diets are too extreme for some people, especially for picky eaters (kids) who don’t like vegetables or for families with limited lifestyle choices (like those eating vegan for ethical reasons). Backing off of grains and being more selective may be the best option initially.
Below are some suggestions you can try to see if reducing grains or eating more high quality grains can remain in your diet while you continue to heal.
- Try reducing or eliminating sugar (even honey & maple syrup), so any grains you consume won’t be adding to the blood sugar problems.
- Simplify meal combinations so the gut can assimilate your meals easier.
- Add sprouts to your diet, which in TCM dietetics, help to digest grains.
- Soak your grains for 7+ hours to reduce phytic acid and make them easier to digest.
- Rotate grains – too much of the same one can eventually slow digestion.
- Only consume organic grains.
- Avoid GMO corn (can damage gut lining) and again, make sure it’s organic.
- Do not load up on popcorn (very constipating). Corn can be eaten as a porridge (polenta or grits) and corn tortillas.
- Limit grain consumption to less than 3 servings per day.
- Only eat whole grains. Reduce or eliminate bread, pasta, processed cereals, and crackers.
- If you’re having a hard time with grains and want to try eliminating them, do so in this order: (1) wheat, (2) barley & rye, (3) corn, (4) oats, (5) rice, millet, and pseudo-grains like quinoa and teff.
Are you concerned about what your grain consumption is doing to your gut health, but not ready to remove it completely? I’m interested to see if these suggestions help it improve! Please let me know what you think in the comments.