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I've recently been really working on reducing my grain consumption. I'm not talking an Atkins style diet here, which encourages you to drastically reduce all carbohydrates, including fruit (blasphemy! I am obsessed with fruit!) I'm just talking about cutting out grains - refined carbohydrates, and carbs that are unnecessary in my everyday life. Now if I really ate the way that I wanted to (as of a few weeks ago), I would probably have a bagel with butter for breakfast, a salad for lunch, and pasta for dinner. That would be my dream menu. However, I recently started reading an eye-opening book by Dr. Diana Schwartzbein called The Schwartzbein Principle. This isn't a book review, but I would definitely recommend the book to anyone who wanted to get a little bit different perspective on what one person (a doctor, nonetheless) thinks about the mess with our eating habits in the United States. Another great thing about the book is that although it was written in 1999, she was ahead of her time in terms of recommend organic foods, anti-biotic and hormone free meat, etc (basically she wasn't one that jumped on the bandwagon of whole foods and real eating. Not saying thats a bad thing, since this is a new transition for me, but I do appreciate research that she talks about that was done before the last few years).
Anyway, moving on to the reasons that I want to reduce grains in my life, and I feel are compelling reasons for just about anyone that wants to live a fuller, more energetic lifestyle.
1) Anything you can get from grains, you can get from other foods. Simply put, grains don't really add anything to your diet that you can't get from fruit, vegetables, seeds and nuts, meat, and dairy, which you are probably eating anyway. If you're reading Just Add Lauren and are fairly aware of what you are eating and what kinds of food choices you are making, most likely you aren't going to miss out on any of the trace nutrients found in grains. There are benefits to whole grains such as fiber, B vitamins, and iron, but again these are nutrients that you can get from other sources. In addition, carbohydrates can be a great source of quick energy, but you can get that same quick energy from carbohydrates such as fruit, while still reducing your grain consumption.
2) Carbs make you crave more carbs - This was the biggest thing I learned from the Schwartzbein Principle book. Basically what happens is that when you eat carbs, your brain releases a quick burst of "feel good" chemicals (serotonin). So after you eat these carbs, you temporarily feel great. However, just like any kind of addict or temporary burst, the burst of serotonin subsides, leaving you wanting more. The only want to really fix that, is to eat more carbs again. Thus begins the cycle of carb cravings. I've found from my own experience though, that unlike other additions, this one can be a fairly simple cycle to break. I basically wake up in the morning and eat something with protein and little carbs, like an omelet. From there, I don't even start the cycle of carb cravings for the day. If I happen to wake up and eat a bagel, the whole day is a series of cravings. I think the key is to start the day off right.
3) Grains aren't good for your digestion. I recently went to a gastroenterologist for my particular digestion problems. This has been an ongoing issue now with me for over a year, and I thought for a while it was due to stress (given that my husband was in Afghanistan at the time, I felt like stress was a pretty safe assumption). However, now it has been four months since my husband returned from overseas, and my stomach issues haven't gotten any better. The way that the doctor explained it to me was that carbohydrates (grains) are broken down in your intestines, and in the process they release gas. Your body doesn't really have the ability to digest that gas, so instead it just builds up in your stomach, thereby creating a series of problems such as bloating, gas, stomach cramps, etc. This can be somewhat helped by taking (or eating more) probiotics, but also can be greatly reduced simply by cutting down on your grain consumption (I'm speaking from experience there. The nurse told me to take probiotic pills, but I decided to work on my diet and see how it went, and I've had phenomenal results).
4) Grains aren't good for your insulin levels - Just like the cycle of carb cravings because of serotonin levels, carbs also make your insulin levels go back and forth pretty wildly. Insulin is responsible for telling your body when to absorb glucose from the blood stream, so when there is a rapid influx of glucose from simple carbohydrates like white flour, processed cookies, crackers, and breads, it signals to your body to release lots of insulin. Eventually this can lead to insulin resistance, which can then lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart problems. For so long, a high carbohydrate, low-fat diet was all the rage in terms of weight loss and fighting the obesity epidemic, but I would really urge you to read The Schwartzbein Principle for a vastly different, informative opinion about why that shouldn't be the case.
5) Poorly prepared grains aren't really good for anything - Recently a practice called "soaking grains" has become slightly more mainstream, and can definitely be of help with some of the above problems, including digestive issues with grains. If you are going to continue to eat grains, I would highly recommend that you move towards soaking your grains and eating whole, natural, unrefined grains. Basically from my understanding (I am definitely not an expert on this part) all grains have something in them called phytic acid in them which combines with iron, calcium, copper, zinc, and magnesium in your body and blocks their absorption. The way around this is to soak your grains in something that is lacto-fermented such as lemon juice, vinegar, whey, kefir, etc. I'm just now branching into the idea of soaking my grains, but I will definitely have more on the subject in the future. For now, suffice to say that un-soaked grains really aren't great for you, and in my opinion it would be better to stay away from them (for all the reasons above, not just this one) than to eat them when they haven't been properly prepared.
So that's my story! It has been about three weeks now that I have been avoiding most grains (not completely, but my consumption has been drastically reduced) and I'm happy to say that I am feeling much better, and have really experienced no negative side effects of not eating grains. I'm not saying that I've cut out all the grains in my diet, and I am not trying to be really over the top about it. Mostly I am making a very conscious effort to eat grains in total moderation, and when I do eat them, to do it in ways that are more beneficial (or at least not harmful) to my body, such as eating soaked grains and whole grains. I have found that I don't crave grains as much though, and they don't taste as good when I do eat them. I'm also feeling more energetic and having less stomach problems. As an extremely positive side note, I've also noticed that my weight has stabilized more than normal. Since I am not having so many carbohydrate cravings, I've been able to eat less and eat more healthily, so that when I do indulge in a sweet or dessert it isn't as big of a deal. I must say though, my dessert cravings have also been reduced. All in all, I see it as a win-win situation!
Have you had personal experience reducing your grains? How has it worked for you? Any particular recipes you'd like to share along those lines? I want to hear your story, now that you've heard mine!
This post is part of Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday