What Is A Grain-free Diet? by Cait Mizzi, CFNP

Unlike low-carb and ketogenic diets which restrict carbohydrates in all forms, a grain-free diet doesn’t necessarily mean it is low carb.

A grain-free diet eliminates all grains; wheat, oats, rice, corn, millet, barley, rye, etc. Still allowing for sources of complex carbohydrates from yams, potatoes, turnips, parsnips, beets, carrots, pumpkin, nuts and seeds.

Grain-free diets are known to reduce inflammation, speed up recovery and healing, improve mood, digestion and blood sugar levels. Often times, the elimination of grains leads to fat-loss through the simple avoidance of highly processed convenience foods like bread, pasta and pastries. We also see a vast improvement in people suffering with chronic pain from autoimmune conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and more.

According to a 2015 article published in Business Insider, 10 of the top 25 foods that North Americans consume (making up most of their daily calories) are grain-based foods. More specifically, refined and highly processed flours, combined with refined, highly processed vegetable oils and refined, highly processed sugars. The number one slot belongs to grain-based desserts (cake, cookies, pie, cobbler, sweet rolls, pastries and donuts), followed closely by yeast risen breads.

Why Avoid Grains?

1. Pesticides & Herbicides

Reports suggest that the vast majority of non-organic oats, wheat, buckwheat and other grains are contaminated with glyphosate. Recognized by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, this herbicide was listed as a probable carcinogen in humans. Additionally, a number of studies have been done showing glyphosate as the most important causal factor in the manifestation of celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity and intestinal hyper-permeability.

2. Growing, Farming & Processing

The way in which many grains are now harvested involves the use of a modern roller mill. This mill allows the separation of the endosperm from the whole grain for the purpose of inexpensive mass production of the soft, white dust so many of us have come to recognize as wheat flour. The problem being, when the rest of the grain (the bran and the germ) are removed, so are all of the valuable nutrients inside, as well as the fibre, leaving us with a depleted starch that simply serves as filler and in many cases, excess energy from its conversion to sugar in the digestive tract.

3. Anti-Nutrients

Anti-nutrients exist in most plant foods and are the plant’s built in defense system. Since a plant doesn’t have legs to up and run away when a predator comes along, it relies on self-produced chemicals and compounds to keep itself from being eaten. Unfortunately, many of these plant toxins have a negative effect on human health. Phytates (phytic acid), is one often found in whole grains. This anti-nutrient is known to decrease the absorption of iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium. Additionally, phytic acid acts as an inhibitor to the enzyme pepsin, trypsin and amylase, which are needed to break down proteins and starch, ironically. This can lead to bloating, cramping and gas after meals that contain lots of it.

Benefits of a Grain-free Diet

• Improved mood and mental health
• Improved healing time and recovery
• Improved digestion
• Improvements in gut microbiome
• Improved energy
• Improved quality of sleep
• Reduced inflammation
• Reduced brain fog

Foods to Remove on a Grain-Free Diet

• Wheat
• Rye
• Bran
• Barley
• Bulgar
• Couscous
• Kamut
• Orzo
• Spelt

• Semolina
• Millet
• Oats
• Corn
• Rice
• Teff
• Sorghum
• Beer
• Other wheat-derived alcohol

Foods to Include on a Grain-Free Diet

Healthy Fats – Cook with coconut oil, avocado oil, butter or ghee. Enjoy avocado, raw, cultured or organic dairy, coconut meat and unroasted, organic nuts and seeds (in moderation).

High-Quality Protein – Consume adequate protein with every meal! Incorporate organic, wild, pasture raised, grass-fed and finished animal proteins whenever possible. Eggs, seafood, poultry and ruminant animals are all nutrient dense, bioavailable sources.

Vegetables – Include plenty of non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, fennel, onions, beet greens, asparagus and zucchini. As well as starchy vegetables like carrots, squash, pumpkin, turnips, parsnips, beets, yams and potatoes.

Fruits – Enjoy fruits, like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, apples, oranges, lemon, lime, grapefruit, pineapple, mango and kiwi.

Grain-Alternatives – Treat yourself to grain-free alternatives like Unbun Foods tortilla wraps, burger buns and pizza crusts that are made from almond and coconut flour, psyllium husk, pumpkin, chia and flax seed.

Grain-free diets can be truly transformative. However, like with all diets, it’s not one size fits all.
If you aren’t sure whether a grain-free diet is the right fit for you, seek the guidance of a licensed and credentialed nutritionist or health care professional.