Filly’s blog – eatstrong – grains, grains go away…
…come again another day?
I will say it now; this post is a bit of a wandering post. An I’m-not-sure-where-I-stand-yet post.
To eat grains, or not to eat grains? That is the question. A question which I, personally, do not yet have a definitive answer.
I’m not a fad dieter. I’ve never dieted in my life – oh, except two weeks before my wedding and I went on this ridiculous shake diet to drop a few kilos that left me sick and moody and fatigued. Never again! I like my food far too much. I’m not going to cut food out just because some fad diet tells me too. However, I also like my body. I want it to be the healthiest functioning vessel it can be. And I know there are some foods that will heal and fuel and nourish my body, and other foods that will strip it down to the bare bones of my skeleton. If I choose to eliminate specific foods from my diet, it is only because I have researched about that food and it’s negative effects, and experienced those negative effects on my body.
So this brings me to the story of grains. To eat, or not to eat?
With the rise of CrossFit, and in addition the increase awareness of the Paleo diet that CrossFit promotes, grains have become quite a dirty little topic. Grains have been accused of being the major cause of diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Grains have also been linked to causing all sorts of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, such as joint pain, arthritis and the infamous ‘leaky gut’ syndrome.
Having grown up with bread, pasta, rice and cereal as part of my daily diet, all of which I was told by mainstream nutrition made up a healthy diet, I was in denial for a long time about all this research popping up about grains. A good three or so years ago Chris suggested, after reading Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution, that we try eating Paleo, and I fobbed him off: “I don’t have enough time”, “it’s too expensive”, “I’m not overweight, I’m happy with my body.” Really, all these excuses were covering up my deep-seated attachment to grains that had become rooted in my brain during my upbringing.
It wasn’t until I started doing my own research into nutrition that I began to deconstruct my beliefs that were based on conventional wisdom and untangle my fond attachment to grains.
Paleo and Primal ways of eating are the main philosophies demeaning grains. I do love the philosophy behind the Paleo way of eating; the idea that we should eat what our primal ancestors ate before the rise of agriculture (i.e. organic, local vegetables, fruits, meat and natural fats), as this is what our bodies are programmed to consume. Research findings that support healthy benefits of Paleo eating make sense to me. However, there is still a part of me that just can’t stop wondering if it is really necessary to cut ALL dairy and grain products out?
Is this lingering doubt connected to my deep-seated connection with grains? Or might their be some truth in the doubt?
During my research I learnt about Dr Weston A. Price who was a dentist back in the 1940s who conducted anthropological studies on living indigenous cultural groups who were still eating their traditional diets. He found that indigenous groups all over the world who were still consuming traditional foods had perfect teeth, flawless facial bone structure and robust bodies and health. Researchers have looked at these groups and their traditional diets and have found that many of them eat a Paleo diet, however, most also consume dairy and grains, and still continue to experience optimal health. Their dairy, however, is raw or fermented, and their grains organic, and sometimes wild, and prepared traditionally by soaking and sprouting. A much different story to our highly processed, pesticide-ridden, genetically modified western grains.
I liked the ideas behind the traditional ways of eating endorsed by Weston A. Price. That the studies were conducted on real living people, rather than on theoretical notions of how cavemen ate – theories which can not be 100% supported – made possibly more sense to me than a Paleo diet. This got me wondering, then, if grains aren’t so bad after all, if prepared in a traditional manner. I decided to start experimenting with grains.
First, I cut all refined grains from my diet. This included, white flour, and in addition bread, cakes, buns, cookies, etc., etc. I also cut out wholemeal flour and wholemeal flour products that had not been soaked or sprouted.
Next I sourced out organic grains, such as spelt, oat groats and quinoa (which is actually a seed, but produces the same chemical response in the body as grains), and bought them in bulk from Kindred Organics. I experimented with soaking and sprouting the grains and using them in different recipes such as sprouted spelt bread (see pic below), sprouted quinoa crackers, soaked oat groat porridge, as well as adding sprouted quinoa to protein balls, casseroles and stirfries. Some recipes worked, others were failures. But I came up with a few tried and tested recipes for sprouted grains that I was happy to consume on a daily or weekly basis.
After this, I significantly cut my grain consumption down. Previously, before I changed my way of eating, I was having on average five or six servings of grains per day. This usually included toasted muesli, a salad sandwich, a muesli bar or muffin or some biscuits, rice or pasta or bread to accompany dinner, and a piece of cake or slice or pudding to finish the day off. Without doing it purposefully, I was following the good old Food Pyramid recommendations. Now, I have one or two servings a day of traditionally prepared grains, such as soaked quinoa or oat porridge, and/or a thin slice of sprouted spelt bread for lunch.
What I noticed after making these changes: Within a few weeks I dropped from 54kg to 49kg. I wasn’t ‘fat’, nor was I trying to lose weight, it just naturally and easily happened. My skin started clearing up, and some even said my complexion ‘glowed’ (how angelic!). I stopped feeling bloated and sluggish all the time. And best of all, I stopped getting heartburn all the time – a condition I’ve struggled with for quite awhile now.
It was surprisingly easy to change my habits from eating refined grains, to soaked and sprouted grains. And I feel so much better because of it. I do occasionally, however, get a bit bloated and experience heartburn after eating a bowl of my sprouted porridge for breakfast, which makes me wonder whether eliminating all grains from my diet would be beneficial to my health. I do also continue to experience some joint pain, the ‘afternoon slump’ and seem to get annoying little colds far too often, and wonder if going ‘Primal’ would help cure these health problems. Realising, now, how easy it is to change old habits, makes fine-tuning the way I eat further a manageable and easily achievable challenge.
To eat grains, or not to eat grains? A crucial question which we all must research and personally test out to see what works for our individual bodies. I’ll let you know how I go with eliminating grains when I take the plunge and do it!
In the meantime, here are some quick dot-points arguing for both traditionally prepared grains and eliminating them all together. And for those who are still playing the grain game, scroll down below for my sprouted spelt bread recipe 😉
Against Grains, Period
- Grains (refined and wholegrains) cause blood glucose levels to spike, which is a bad thing if you’re eating grains all day. Overconsumption of grains causes an excessive insulin response which leads to storage of fat, and insulin-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
- Heavy reliance of grains displaces the far more nutritious plants and animals from being the caloric emphasis in the diet. Grains are far less nutrient-dense than plants and animals.
- Grains contain phytates which are toxic compounds. These cause grains to become anti-nutrients as they block absorption of beneficial nutrients. This can lead to malnutrition and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
- Some grains, such as wheat, rye and barley, contain the protein gluten which is foreign to the human digestive process and can trigger an adverse immune response when digested. Over time, most people become gluten-intolerant and develop symptoms such as dermatitis, joint pain, reproductive problems, acid reflux and other digestive conditions, autoimmune disorders and celiac disease.
- Grains also contain high levels of natural plant toxins known as lectins which inhibit healthy gastrointestinal function and can cause undigested protein molecules to infiltirate the bloodstream (this is known as ‘leaky gut’).
For Traditionally Prepared Grains
- Sprouted grains eaten in their natural, unrefined form, accompanied by good fats and protein, are digested slowly and enter the bloodstream at a moderate rate, thus causing blood glucose levels to be more stable.
- Activating grains by soaking and sprouting them deactivates toxic phytate compounds and frees up nutrients.
- Sprouting grains multiplies existing nutrients by converting stored starch and fatty acids into proteins and vitamins. Sprouted grains, therefore, are much more nutrient dense than dormant grains.
- Numerous enzymes that help digestion are also produced during the sprouting process, and in the process, deactivates enzyme inhibitors.
- During the process of soaking and sprouting, gluten and other difficult-to-digest proteins are partially broken down into simple components that are more readily available to absorb. Spelt gluten, in particular, breaks down easily during the sprouting process, making it more digestible than wheat.
Sprouted Spelt Bread with Seeds
3 cups spelt grain
2 tbsp. whey (optional)
¼ teaspoon pink himalayan crystal salt
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 tablespoon linseeds
*For variation you can add dried fruit, nuts or spices instead of the seeds.
- Wash grains and place in a bowl. Cover filtered water and two tbsp. of whey and soak overnight.
- Strain the grains thoroughly and place back in the bowl. Cover bowl with a tea-towel and leave the grains to sprout. Depending on how warm it is, it may take 2 – 4 days. Make sure you rinse the grains twice a day to keep them hydrated and to stop them from going mouldy.
- Once the sprout is half the length of the grain (see pic below), the grains are ready to use. If you don’t have time to make the bread straight away, you can put the bowl of grains in the fridge for up to 4 days.
- Pre-heat oven to 80 degrees (celcius). You don’t want to bake the bread too hot as this will kill off enzymes and all those wonderful nutrients that have come alive during the sprouting process. Alternatively, you can use a dehydrator to dry your bread.
- Place sprouts in the Thermomix (or a powerful processor) and grind on speed 9 for one minute until mixture resembles dough (see pic below). You may need to do this in two batches to ensure the grain is ground down to a reasonably smooth dough.
- Add the seeds and salt to the Thermomix and knead for one minute.
- Spoon dough into a greased loaf pan and cover with foil. Bake for two hours in the oven. Remove the foil and bake for a further 30min. Alternatively, you can dry the loaf in a dehydrator for 10 hours.
To eat: I usually have a slice of this bread for lunch slapped with some grass-fed butter and homemade sugar-free relish, alongside salad, homemade cheese, meat, sauerkraut and olive oil. You can also toast a slice under the grill or in the George Foreman. It’s a bit crumbly, so sometimes breaks apart in the toaster, unless you’ve made a really dense loaf.
For traditionally prepared grains
Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, by Sally Fallon
Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food, by Catherine Shanahan
Against grains, period
The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet, by Robb Wolf
Wheat Belly, by William Davis
The Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson