The staff of life. ¼ of the plate. 60% of your diet. Grains have recently come under fire for being unhealthy, but for generations, they have been a diet mainstay of many cultures, and the darling of nutrition professionals everywhere.
What happens when a person can’t eat grains, or chooses not to? Can their diet still be healthy, fulfilling, and balanced?
Telling many Dietitians out there that you want to eliminate grains from your diet is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Most will charge, Food Guide in hand, regurgitating what they learned in school as gospel, and completely glossing over what is actually fact – that a diet can indeed be balanced, fulfilling, and healthy without grains.
As a weight loss tool, eschewing grains may encourage some people to eat healthier by eliminating breads, pastas, and crackers – foods that many overindulge in – but there are still plenty of processed foods that are unhealthy and grain-free. Grain-free doesn’t equal healthy, so be aware. Take a look at Pinterest and you’ll see recipes for deep fried guacamole, grain-free cookies, and grain-free buttery biscuits, which are not exactly health food. Therefore, a grain-free diet does take some planning and motivation in order to keep it clean (see the image that I posted with this blog, a ‘grain-free’ s’more. Definitely not healthy.)
The main benefits of grains are fiber – which helps promote regularity, lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugars; variety; energy for the brain and body; and some vitamins and minerals such as folic acid and other B vitamins, and magnesium.
But if, for some reason, a person wants to shun grains, they can get fiber, variety, and all their vitamins and minerals from foods other than grains.
Sweet potato, quinoa, squash, legumes, and flours such as almond, coconut, and amaranth contain starches, but without the grains.
B vitamins can be found in meats, fish, eggs, beans, dark leafy greens, and orange fruits such as oranges and cantaloupe. Eating fresh, whole foods will likely increase energy, not decrease it, and therefore I don’t subscribe to the ‘grains are the only source of energy’ idea – especially if the aforementioned starches are included in the diet.
Fiber is easy to get without eating grains. The average person should consume between 25-35g fiber/day, and this can come from fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. No grains required.
As a Dietitian, I don’t necessarily promote grain-free diets, but I like to keep an open mind when I counsel my clients about what they feel works for them. No red flag required.