Should you eliminate grains from your diet?

As part of my weight-loss plan, I have limited the amount of sugar, grains, and legumes that I eat. I haven’t eliminated carbs entirely, I just get them from fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat, and dairy. Some people say, “You HAVE to eat grains!” but I have yet to find a reason why, and some reasons why I don’t. In a comparison of nutrients available in the various food groups, there is nothing that I can find that exists in grains and legumes that doesn’t exist in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat, or dairy. What am I missing?

Nutrient Fruits Vegetables Dairy Meat Nuts Grains Legumes
Vitamin A

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Vitamin B1

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Vitamin B2

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Vitamin B3

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Vitamin B5

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Vitamin B6

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Vitamin B9

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Vitamin B12

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Vitamin C

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

No

No

No

Vitamin D

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Vitamin E

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Vitamin K

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Calcium

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Copper

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Iodine

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Iron

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Magnesium

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Manganese

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Phosphorus

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Potassium

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Selenium

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Sodium

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Zinc

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Carbohydrates

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Protein

Some

Some

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Fats

Some

Some

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Note that grain products that you buy in stores are often “fortified” with various vitamins and minerals that either don’t occur naturally in them or were removed when processed. But the point of the table above isn’t whether grains and legumes have the nutrients, but to point out the fact that a diet of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat, and dairy DO have all of the nutrients that I need—including carbs and fiber. True, there may be as yet undiscovered nutrients in grains that aren’t in other foods, but it’s not likely. There is also the problem of the depletion of nutrients in our soil that reduces the nutrients of anything that we grow in it. But that’s a different story.

What is considered “whole grain” is clearly defined by the FDA, but clever marketing has gotten around that to fool consumers into believing they’re eating “healthy” whole grains by labeling products as “made with whole grains.” The Whole Grains Fact Sheet states that for a product to claim that it is whole grain, it “must contain all portions of the grain kernel, contain at least 51 percent whole grain by weight per reference amount customarily consumed, and meet specified levels for fat, cholesterol, and sodium.”  (Sorry famous fast-food sandwich maker, but sprinkling a little oatmeal on top of your bun does not make it whole grain.) The website also says that “The Institute of Medicine (IOM) established a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for carbohydrates at 130 grams per day for adults and children. This is based on the minimum amount of carbohydrates (sugars and starches) required to provide the brain with an adequate supply of glucose.” This is the RDA for healthy adults—and most Americans get more than that per meal, not per day. Besides, if you grind the grain into a powder, your body doesn’t have to work hard to digest it, and it’s no longer whole, is it?

Having seen how my body reacts to grains, I have searched around to find out why my body is so different than those who embrace the “whole grain health” philosophy.

In “The Definitive Guide to Insulin, Blood Sugar & Type 2 Diabetes,” the author explains:

“When we eat too many carbohydrates, the pancreas pumps out insulin exactly as the DNA blueprint tells it to (hooray pancreas!), but if the liver and muscle cells are already filled with glycogen, those cells start to become resistant to the call of insulin. The insulin “receptor sites” on the surface of those cells start to decrease in number as well as in efficiency. The term is called “down regulation.” Since the glucose can’t get into the muscle or liver cells, it remains in the bloodstream. Now the pancreas senses there’s still too much toxic glucose in the blood, so it frantically pumps out even more insulin, which causes the insulin receptors on the surface of those cells to become even more resistant, because excess insulin is also toxic! Eventually, the insulin helps the glucose find its way into your fat cells, where it is stored as fat.”

And this PDF on diabetes published by the Bellevue Medical Center, states:

“Type 2 diabetes is characterized by peripheral insulin resistance, impaired regulation of hepatic gluconeogenesis, and a relative impairment of beta-cell function. Insulin resistance, characterized by hyperinsulnemia without frank hyperglycemia, is the earliest detectable abnormality and may precede the diagnosis of diabetes by years. Eventually, beta cells are unable to compensate, and insulin levels are inadequate to maintain euglycemia (normal glucose content of the blood). In addition, rising glucose levels may further inhibit beta-cell function (glucotoxicity). The abnormalities in type 2 [diabetes] leading to insulin resistance are the result of genetic predisposition and weight gain. Weight loss, exercise, and decreased caloric intake improve sensitivity to insulin.”

After my father died from hyperinsulnemia, one of my uncles mentioned that one of their grandparents had diabetes. So not only is there a possible genetic predisposition to type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance in my genes, but my being 50 pounds overweight is a “risk factor.” My body isn’t reacting to carbohydrates the way a normal healthy adult body would react. The insulin receptors in my muscles aren’t being very receptive, and so the insulin is shuttling all the glycogen to my fat cells for storage. The only way to make my muscles more receptive to the insulin is to stop overloading my body with carbs, lose weight, and exercise.

In “Why Grains Are Unhealthy” and “How Grains Are Killing You Slowly,” the authors describe why they believe we shouldn’t be eating grains at all. (Grains contain lectins, glutens, and phytates, none of which are good for your body.) Both authors suggest giving up grains and legumes entirely, or to try it for 3 weeks to 3 months and listen to your body. It’s a good idea to take some before and after blood tests, too, since humans make poor witnesses. It is almost impossible to avoid grains unless you prepare your own food. This means if you are a fast food devotee, it will be even harder for you to avoid. (Did you know that a certain popular Sunday-morning breakfast restaurant puts pancake batter in their omelets to make them fluffy?!)

I know of many people who appear to be healthy and swear by whole grains. This guy in “How I beat diabetes with the ‘Duke diet’” says he’s lost weight and gotten healthier by SWITCHING to “whole” grains. See, there’s the kicker right there. He’s reduced the amount of processed carbs he eats and increased his fiber content, so he’s lost weight. He very likely also eats healthier overall than he used to, and he started exercising. All good things. But if he had never eaten grains and then started eating “whole” grains, his results may have been very different. The main thing is that he reduced his total calorie intake and started exercising, which caused him to lose weight, which then led to better health. At least, better health as far as he no longer has to take medicine for diabetes (but I haven’t seen his blood test results).

A study published 2012 July 6 “Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity,” states:

Each published experimental comparison of a diet containing grains with one excluding grains has found significant favorable metabolic effects in the grain-restricted groups, with beneficial effects large enough to render the studies adequately powered despite their small test groups. The randomized clinical trials have shown significantly greater reductions in weight and waist circumference in an ad libitum Paleolithic-style diet compared with the consensus “Mediterranean” or “Diabetes” diets and significant improvements over the Mediterranean diet in blood glucose control, independently of the superior waist-circumference reduction. All three diets emphasize whole foods, but the restriction of grains in the Paleolithic diet is a principal difference, which correlated well with the reduced waist measurement and the 20%–30% increased satiety per calorie seen in the Paleolithic-diet groups.

A Paleolithic-style diet produced significantly greater improvements in blood pressure, glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity, and lipid profiles in a small group of healthy volunteers, with each individual participant showing improvements, indicating that these metabolic improvements occur independently of reduced caloric intake. (emphasis mine)

So, am I saying you should eliminate grains and legumes? That’s not for me to say. What I am saying is that you can get all the nutrients you need from fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat, and dairy. I (and science) have yet to find a nutrient in grains and legumes that isn’t available in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat, or dairy. For myself, because of my family history with insulin issues and what eating grains does to my body, I am choosing to avoid them. I still “cheat” now and then and have a little pizza, a morsel of bread, a tiny bit of pasta when my husband “cooks dinner” (he always makes spaghetti), but my digestion and I pay for it the next day … and the next day.

Articles Cited:

New Year’s Resolutions

Update, September 23, 2012: 

I had a slow start, but since March of this year I’ve gained and lost and gained and lost, for a total, so far, of almost 20 pounds and 1.5 pants sizes. (Depending on the clothing designers; the high-end pants tend to be cut bigger than department store clothes.) I “run” M-W-F each week and am up to 4 miles at a 12-minute pace. My husband nagged encouraged me to sign up for the Disney World half marathon coming up in mid-January. I haven’t officially started training for that yet, but you have to walk before you can run, right? I’ve also run two 5K races this year. In the first one, I came in first–there was one other woman in the race in my age bracket. In the second one, there were a lot of women my age (the run benefited a high school track star who had died), so I didn’t even come close to first, but my time was better. My 5K time (on the treadmill) is faster now that it was then, so I can see that my efforts are paying off.

How have I done it?

About eighty percent of health/weight loss is what you eat. I was using myfitnesspal.com to track what I eat, which also tells me if I’m getting enough of essential nutrients. (I never seem to get enough potassium.) I still go back to it now and then to see how I’m doing, but I HATE tracking every morsel I put into my mouth. But if you’re eating without thought and you’re still the mayor of your couch, you’re not going to lose much, are you? So I wake up at 5:30-ish every day (which, yes, was very hard to do at first), even on days I don’t run, and then 3 days per week I get on the treadmill. I started out with the treadmill set on “2” and forced myself to do that for 30-45 minutes. I eventually eased the setting up to 3 and then 4 and now, on occasion, I sprint with it set on 5–without being sore the next day.

I think that’s one of the keys–don’t follow the “no pain, no gain” myth. It might take a little longer, but you’re less likely to have to take a month or two off to heal torn muscles, etc. Instead, throttle down the exercise so that you are in the fat-burning zone without hurting yourself. If that’s a casual walk around the block after dinner with the dogs, that’s still better that sitting in your “butt groove” on the couch, nursing a family-sized bag of pretzels! But don’t be afraid to challenge your body and your lungs by stepping it up a bit every other week or so. You won’t know for sure if you can do it if you don’t try. If you can’t do it this week, try again next week.

Give yourself a break!

Also, it’s important to give yourself a rest day. That’s why I only run every other day. Yesterday (Saturday), I rode my bike behind my husband as he went on his 13-mile “long run” for this week. (He’s training for a marathon.) Not only did my legs need a break from Friday’s run, but biking uses different muscles (or at least uses them differently). Plus the ground was wet and soft in some places and very rocky in others, making it harder to to pedal. AND I ran out of water! My husband actually PUSHED my bike in some places. My butt, arms, shoulders, and neck are sore, but legs seem OK today. The hardest part (besides pedaling!) was keeping the bike upright on the very bumpy, muddy ride–which is why my arms, shoulders, and neck are sore. Nope, a 2-hour mountain bike ride the day after a 4-mile run is not a good idea for my body. Not yet, anyway.


My 2012 New Year’s Resolution

Every year for the past 25-ish, my New Year’s Resolution has been to “get healthy.” Anyone who knows anything about making goals would say that “get healthy” is too broad of a goal. For you to have any chance at achieving a goal, it has to be broken down into smaller, manageable goals. So this year, my main goal/resolution is to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise every day. Which still is probably too broad. Maybe it should be, “Get out of bed every morning at 6 am, put on workout clothes and shoes, and get on the treadmill (in the winter, when it’s still dark at 6 am) or take the dogs for a walk.”

Why running?

My husband, Bill, started running 2 years ago. He weighed about 230 pounds. Now he weighs about 160. He did that by running. He used myfitnesspal.com to track his diet. He discovered that he never eats enough because he’s always running! He’s run 3 marathons and 14 half marathons, so he’s always training for something. I often follow along on my bike, but 8 mph isn’t much of an aerobic workout. (The muscles of my legs and butt get a workout peddling up hills, though. If you don’t believe me, try it. Park your bike at the bottom of a steep hill, then peddle up the hill.) Obviously, running has worked out well for him. Not only has he lost fat, he also lowered his total cholesterol, raised his “good” cholesterol, lowered his triglycerides, lowered his blood pressure, and so on. In other words, he “got healthy.”

Meanwhile, I’ve been watching what I eat (mostly), cutting simple carbs, eating more fruits, vegetables, salads, etc., and trying to exercise enough to actually raise my heart rate and burn some fat. But that’s not enough. After a woman gets to “a certain age,” her metabolism slows down, especially if she took a 25-year break from exercise and got a desk job! To get the metabolism started up again, I need to run.

Learning to run again

No one who hasn’t run for 25 years is going to run a marathon. Or even a 5K. First you have to walk. And walk. And walk. That takes time and is usually quite boring, unless you live near a nice state park or a beach board walk, which I don’t. Getting motivated to walk for 30 minutes at 6 am when I’d rather sleep for 30 more minutes is difficult. To help with that, I bought Run Your Butt Off! a book from the editors of Runner’s World magazine. In Run Your Butt Off!, Sarah Lorge Butler, Leslie Bonci, and Budd Coates take you from not running at all to running 30 minutes over 12 “stages.” (Not 12 weeks, because each stage might take you more or less than a week.)

In the first stage, you just walk non-stop for 30 minutes. If you can do that 3 or 4 times in a week, you’re ready for the next stage, which is walking for 4 minutes, then running for 1 minute, and repeating that four more times. In each subsequent stage, you walk less and run more (2 minutes, then 3, and so on), until the final stage in which you run non-stop for 30 minutes. They offer helpful advice for both weight loss and running, and “coach” you through each stage. Just reading the first few chapters is motivating and puts you in the “get healthy” mindset.

Finding the time to run

In the first chapter of Run Your Butt Off! they discuss the number one reason people don’t exercise regularly—no time! The author writes, “You don’t blow off going to work every morning, nor should you skip your exercise appointment.” That’s true—but I won’t get fired if I don’t exercise. (However, studies show that healthy, attractive people tend to get and keep jobs more than unhealthy and unattractive people. Not fair, but true.) The running coach in the book, Budd, comments that it drives him crazy when the parents at his son’s gym practice complain about not having time. He runs while his son is practicing and says, “If you’ve been sitting here for an hour, you have time to run!” He has the same mentality as my husband—“my run is more important than watching my son practice.” I never enjoyed sitting out in a field watching my sons’ soccer practice, but I know they appreciated my being there. Most moms can relate to this excuse, and instead we try to fit exercise into our time (as if we have any!), not our family’s time. And if that means getting up an hour earlier, then that’s what we have to do.

In conclusion…

I’m struggling with whether I want to post “before” pics and measurements—I wouldn’t want to gross you out and scare you off! Over the next 12 weeks, check in here with my blog now and then to see how I’m doing (and “Like” or “+1” me to up my stats!). Maybe I’ll post pics and measurements. Maybe I’ll post some tips and tricks that I’ve learned along the way that might help you “get healthy,” too. Maybe in 2012 I’ll be running in the Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon! (OK, maybe just the Family Fun Run.)