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  • Writer's pictureRedwood Naturopathic Medicine

Your Guide to Grains

Grains are among some of the most consumed foods in the world, especially cereal grains such as wheat, rice, and corn. Currently, there are a lot of conflicting views when it comes to the consumption of grains and your health. The truth is grains are linked to various health benefits, such as gut health, heart health, and increased longevity. But the type of grain and the processing it goes through, is what makes the difference in your health.

For those who like to consume grains, here is your guide to approaching grains and your health!

What are Grains?

First, what is a grain? Grains can be broken into two categories, refined vs. unrefined, aka processed grains vs. whole grains.

Whole grains contain a well-rounded package of positive health benefits. They contain fiber and a variety of other vital nutrients such as B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, antioxidants, copper, zinc, magnesium, etc.

Whole grains are made up of the following three components:

  1. The bran, which makes up the outer layers of grains, is a source of dietary fiber, b vitamins, antioxidants, and trace minerals.

  2. The interior of the grain is called the endosperm. Most of the proteins and carbs are present; however, there are only trace levels of vitamins and minerals.

  3. The layer from which new plants originate is called the germ. It includes trace minerals, antioxidants, B vitamins, vitamin E, and vital lipids.

Refined grains are stripped of most nutrients and are ground into flour or meal to be turned into cakes, cookies, and other processed goods. In addition, many packaged foods contain sweeteners made from grains, such as high fructose corn syrup and rice syrup. Refined grains are stripped of the bran and germ, where most of the fiber sits. So refined grains are essentially heavily processed whole grains minus the majority of the nutrients, also known as "empty calories". They digest quickly and have a high glycemic index, which can cause blood sugar levels to rise soon. These high blood sugar increases raise the chance of developing diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Whole grains contain fiber and a variety of other vital nutrients such as B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, antioxidants, copper, zinc, magnesium, etc.

The choice for optimal health would be whole grains. Examples of whole grains are:

  • Amaranth

  • Barley

  • Buckwheat

  • Bulgur

  • Farro

  • Millet

  • Oats

  • Quinoa

  • Rice

  • Rye

  • Sorghum

  • Spelt

  • Teff

  • Wheat

  • Wild Rice

Whole Grains and Your Gut

Consuming whole grains helps maintain a balanced gut microbiota. This is due to the fiber found in whole grains. When fiber passes through the GI tract, even though it cannot be broken down, short-chain fatty acids (SCFA's) are produced as by-products. SCFA's promote the development of good bacteria in your gut by lowering inflammation and enhancing intestinal barrier integrity (essential for preventing leaky gut). Short-chain fatty acids also support your immune system, metabolism, and cognitive functioning. Whole grains left intact have been found to lead to a higher production of short-chain fatty acids compared to refined grains. Eating a diet high in fiber helps feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut, resulting in a diverse microbiome! A low-fiber diet makes you more susceptible to GI issues such as IBS and IBD. You can also find fiber in whole fruits/vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Should You Eat Grains

This answer will be different for every person! Before making the grain-free decision, a few things to observe is how you feel 20-40 minutes after consuming the grains. Do you feel bloated, tired or have an upset stomach? If yes, it might be a good idea to explore reducing grains in the diet. But grains might be okay for you if you have no GI discomfort or worsen other symptoms.

If consuming grains, it is always essential to look at the quality of the grain you are consuming. Many grains in the United States are heavily sprayed with pesticides and insecticides, so choosing organic and whole-grain versions are the most optimal to your overall health.

If you are questioning whether or not to go gluten-free, reach out to Dr. Kizzy or Madison Steele, our holistic nutritionist, to get more specific guidance about what would be best for your current needs.

What about Gluten?

Gluten is quite a controversial concept nowadays. But when it comes down to it, gluten is a protein in wheat. Gluten causes an immune reaction in those with Celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Essentially, gluten can cause inflammation in those who are susceptible to it. No evidence shows that going gluten-free will benefit your health if you do not have Celiac or an intolerance.

But one thing to keep in mind, if you have been consuming gluten-containing products your whole life, you might not realize if you are experiencing a reaction or not. An easy way to fix this is to do a gluten-free trial run. Gluten takes three weeks to exit the body fully, so avoid gluten for one month and then slowly add it back in. Take note of how you feel after adding the gluten back, then decide if gluten-free is right for you.

Not all grains contain gluten, so if you are trying out gluten-free it is best to avoid grains such as wheat, rye, barley, and malt. If you are looking for gluten-free grains, opt for quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, and rice.

How to Incorporate Grains in a Healthy Way

  • Be wary of marketing terminology like "multigrain." Whole grain is very different from multigrain.

  • Snack smarter, so instead of reaching for chips and other processed grains, opt for a whole-grain option such as popcorn or grain-free chips!

  • Always buy whole grain products over refined grain products.

    • For example whole wheat bread over multigrain bread

  • Pair your grains with protein and fat. Balanced meals with carbohydrates, protein, and fat help promote blood sugar balance.

Bottom Line

A balanced diet can include grains as a nutritious complement. Whole grains provide many health advantages that go beyond gut health. But it is essential to pay attention to the type of grain you consume. Opting for whole grains over refined versions is optimal for your overall health. Grains can be tolerated if you are not currently experiencing any digestive symptoms. Gluten must only be avoided if you have food allergies, intolerances, or Celiac disease. But if you experience GI distress post-meal, it would be a good idea to reach out to Dr. Kizzy for more specific guidance on whether or not to continue grain consumption!

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1 Comment

Nov 09, 2022

You never mentioned glyphosate - the highly toxic spray used on most non-organic wheat crops in the U.S., which does lots of damage to the tight junctions of the small intestine, creating leaky gut on its own. Many people who suspect gluten intolerance are really getting sick from the glyphosate! And some, like me, do better even avoiding organic wheat. The American wheat usually grown here, has also been extensively hybridized - to make it less attractive to pests. But that has made it harder to digest for us! Many who cannot eat wheat in the U.S. have no trouble with European wheat, when visiting there. I hope to get to try that some day!

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