On the USDA’s food guide "My Plate", you will find grains to be the base of it all. Supposedly, there are benefits to including a high amount of whole grains daily in your diet. Reducing fat and increasing grains is the touted way to be healthy. Is this true, though?
3 Problems With A Grain-Based Diet
Ask the thousands who are sensitive or intolerant to gluten, have Celiac disease, or deal with autoimmune conditions whether or not grains are the mainstay of their diets. The answer is loud and clear... NO. Grains such as wheat, rye, or barley are often sprayed with harmful chemicals just before harvesting. They have also been hybridized to allow more grain to grow in less space and be able to withstand the harsh chemicals. We have essentially traded what was once "bread of life" for a chemical storm that can cause damage for so many. Here are a few of the issues with a diet heavy in whole grains:
#1 -- Gluten
Found in grains like wheat, barley, rye, spelt, einkorn, and Kamut, gluten is a protein. And consuming even tiny amounts causes disastrous results for many. Health issues such as low calcium levels, malabsorbtion of Vitamin D, and autoimmune issues like hypothyroidism and Hashimoto's are being regularly studied in conjunction with gluten consumption (source
Gluten can cause gut problems for some, too. "Leaky gut" can lead to food sensitivities, antibody responses against food, and digestive issues like constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux, and chronic conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Crohn's Disease. Obviously, gluten does not produce these reactions in everyone. However, the ever-growing marketing of gluten-free foods is proof that gluten is a big issue for many. Certainly, there are many grains that are naturally gluten-free -- like rice
, wild rice
, corn, quinoa
, buckwheat, and more. Yet, those with compromised gut health and/or autoimmune diseases often find faster healing when they completely eliminate grains from their diets.
#2 -- Lectins
Lectins are a diverse family of carbohydrate-binding proteins found in nature. All plant and animal foods contain lectins. Lectins bind to the insulin receptors and can attack the lining of the stomach and intestines. Some believe this leads to leptin resistance
and metabolic syndrome -- both of which can lead to diabetes and obesity (source
). Leptin is the hormone that plays a major role in appetite. Basically, it's what tells your brain you are hungry. When you have leptin resistance
, your brain doesn't realize that your stomach is full -- so you keep eating. Lectins in grains can lead to chronic inflammation, further damaging the cells that help your leptins signal you've had enough to eat (source
#3 -- Phytates
Phytates (and phytic acid) are antioxidant compounds found in whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. The main concern with phytates is that they bind to certain dietary minerals including iron, zinc, manganese, and to a lesser extent, calcium, slowing or preventing absorption of these valuable minerals. It can make those vitamins and minerals in the whole grains unavailable. Unless grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds are prepared in a traditional manner -- through soaking, sprouting, or sour leavening -- the phytates remain. Going "grain-free" is a challenge for sure. After all, what's left when you stop eating them? Well, maybe a healthier diet! The benefits of a grain-free diet have been experienced by many people worldwide, including relief from autoimmune diseases and their symptoms. A grain-free diet essentially forces more fresh fruit and veggies, more animal-based protein, and more nourishing fats into daily meals. That’s something we can all agree is good for us, right?
6 Advantages Of Grain-Free Baking
Baking can be quite challenging without white flour or even gluten-free flour blends. So how can you still enjoy the ritual of baking and the comfort of eating your favorite cakes and cookies, pancakes, waffles, and even bread without whole grains? Grain-free baking! Amazing baked goods can be created completely grain-free, thanks to almond flour
, coconut flour
, arrowroot powder
, tapioca flour
, and cassava flour! (There are others -- like plantain flour and even cricket flour -- but we will focus on the more common grain-free flours here.)
#1 -- Higher In Protein
With nearly 15 grams of protein per 1/2 cup serving in coconut flour and 10 grams of protein per 1/2 cup serving of almond flour, using these grain-free flours is an easy way to get more protein in your diet.
#2 -- Lots Of Fiber
Grain-free flours, especially coconut flour, almond flour, and cassava flour, add easily digestible fiber to your daily diet. Fiber helps your body's digestive system by keeping things running smoothly. It also necessary for stable blood sugar and keeping you satiated.
#3 -- Lower In Phytates
, tapioca flour
, arrowroot powder
, and cassava flour are remarkably low in phytates. In fact, phytates in these flours are nearly non-existent! If you're making your own almond flour and soaking or sprouting your almonds first (like this!
), then your almond flour will also be very low in phytic acid. If using soaked or sprouted almond flour isn't something you can pull off, then limit your consumption of grain-free things baked with almond flour to once a week or so to just keep those mineral-binding phytates down.
#4 -- Low-Glycemic
Both coconut and almond flours are low on the glycemic index, which is perfect for those who are struggling with maintaining stable blood sugar. They are naturally low in sugar, despite their slightly sweet flavor. Tapioca flour, arrowroot powder, and cassava flour are not low-glycemic, however. If you struggle with blood sugar instability, talk with your healthcare practitioner before adding these grain-free flours to your diet.
#5 -- No Need To Plan Ahead
For bakers who know how to reduce phytic acid through traditional grain preparation, there is always an element of planning ahead -- sometimes days ahead. Since soaking, sprouting, and sourdough preparations all require advance preparation, it's often difficult to just pop into the kitchen and bake up something quickly. What about unexpected guests? Or a late-night craving? Grain-free baking eliminates this step. You can simply find a grain-free recipe and bake it up (assuming you have all the ingredients). No need to wait hours or days for soaking, sprouting, or sour leavening!
#6 -- They're Filling!
With all the extra protein, fat, and fiber, grain-free baked goods are FILLING. It is quite difficult to eat a "normal" sized slice of grain-free cake! Simply eating smaller portions of sweets brings things back into perspective. After all, sweets are supposed to be occasional treats -- not daily appearances. You can get fuller on a lot less with grain-free baked goods! Grain-free baking may take some getting used to. Although almond flour can replace wheat flour 1:1, other grain-free flours aren't so simple. Coconut flour, for instance, is highly absorbent and recipes with coconut flour require much more liquid and eggs than their wheat-based counterparts. Rather than jumping out and attempting to adapt your current whole grain recipes, it is best to begin with tried-and-true grain-free recipes, like:
Do you bake with grain-free flours? What advantages have you found to eating and baking grain-free?