Posted on April 25 2021
Every few years, the world gets a glimpse of new food or diet trends that take over the health narratives in a new direction. From the keto diet, carnivore diet, gluten-free diet, paleo diet to now, grain-free diet. Health and nutrition can get confusing with too many restrictions in place. Here is a graph showing the growth of gluten- free products over the years:
While we have thousands of new diet trends with every passing year, why do we seem to keep getting sicker?
Why might someone choose to go grain free instead of gluten free?
The latest trend of a grain-free diet has demonised whole grains to the point of omitting these from their daily diets. Whole grains are 'supposedly' now the cause for bloating, inflammation, brain fog, and even heart disease.
The primary reason here is the presence of gluten, gliadin, lectins, amylopectin-A, and other components of grains, which are increasingly believed to be harmful.
This can be true for people who are allergic or intolerant to these components. However, those turning into this diet for other health reasons such as weight loss, preventing heart diseases, reversing diabetes and cholesterol might be actually making their health worse.
What is the Grain-Free Diet?
A grain-free diet is one where people eliminate all types of grains, as well as foods that are derived from them. These include grains like wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and triticale that contain gluten, as well as non-glutenous grains such as rice, dried corn, millet, sorghum, and oats.
Moreover, since dried corn is viewed as a grain as opposed to fresh corn, foods made from corn flour are also avoided. Some people also choose to eliminate ingredients derived from grains, such as rice syrup or high-fructose corn syrup, although it is not a strict rule.
All forms of bread, pasta, oatmeal, rice cakes, muesli, breakfast cereals, cookies, and pastries are considered harmful in this diet and are hence eliminated.
Oddly, red meat, processed and canned meat, heavily hormonated dairy, and saturated fats coming in from oil's and eggs are fine to consume on a grain- free diet. What's the problem with eggs you ask, here are five problems with eggs:
Grains Which Contains Gluten.
Gluten is a protein found in some grains that provides electricity and allows the bread to rise to give the food a chewy texture. Gluten containing grains include all varieties of wheat such as whole wheat, graham, bulgur, durum, bromated flour, etc., rye, barley, and triticale.
Although, consuming gluten is not an issue for most people, however, some may be intolerant or allergic to it. Celiac disease is one such issue which is an autoimmune disease that triggers an immune response to gluten. For people with celiac disease or general gluten intolerance, consuming gluten can cause symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, and stomach pain.
But if you do not have celiac diseases and find that gluten makes you bloated, it is probably because of a bad functioning gut and not really a gluten problem. In this case, avoiding gluten containing grains will only make your gut dysbiosis worse. Read this blog to know more:
If you have bene eating gluten since you were a child but find that whole wheat bread makes you bloated now, it is really a gut issue and not gluten issue.
A huge body of research point's to the fact that gluten is extremely important to our diet as it REDUCES inflammation and prevents us form an arrey of diseases. We will explore this further in this article.
Which are Gluten-Free Grains?
There are plenty of nutritious gluten-free grains available such as quinoa, millets, oats, sorghum, buckwheat, amaranth, corn, and brown rice.
Gluten and Health- What does science say?:
"Whole grains provide us with dietary fibre (also known as “roughage”), which is essential to maintaining healthy digestion. Chose whole grain breads, wholewheat pasta and brown rice. These foods are rich in whole grains and should make up one third of the food we eat.
Eating plenty of dietary fibre keeps our digestive processes ticking over and promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in our bowels. However the benefits extend much further than this, by increasing our intake of dietary fibre we also reduce our risk of developing serious diseases including stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart attack, angina and stroke."- Dr Alan Desmond. MB, BCH, BAO, BMEDSC, MRCPI, FRCP
Ask yourself, if not grains then what? If you eliminate grains from your diet, you are likely too fill up your plate with meat, dairy and processed grain free snacks. These are not only worse for your system, but also fail to offer some of the benefits that grains do.
Whole grains contain fiber and nutrients including B vitamins, magnesium, and iron, which is why it is important not to avoid them. There are even proven health benefits of eating gluten for the prevention of diseases. Let's look at some key research:
- Lowered risk of heart disease – a Harvard School of Public Health study over 100,000 subjects for 25 years found a significantly lower rate of heart disease among participants with the highest intake of gluten. Gluten consumption is also linked to a 15 percent lower risk of getting coronary heart disease. Therefore, it concluded that a gluten-free diet should not be promoted or recommended to people without gluten allergies.
- Lower calorie intake – a study in Europe was conducted to analyze the nutritional composition of foods that are gluten-free against the ones which are not. The results were astonishing as they found that the gluten-free food products had a significantly higher amount of calories, saturated fatty acids, protein, and even sugar.
- Lowered risk from toxic heavy metals – certain gluten-free foods may concentrate on toxic heavy metals like arsenic, mercury, cadmium, and lead. A study in this regard found people observing gluten-free diets had higher blood levels of mercury, lead, and cadmium.
- Reduced risk of Type 2 Diabetes – data presented at the American Heart Association reported that the subjects with a gluten-inclusive diet had the lowest risk of type 2 diabetes upon follow-up for over 30 years. The difference noticed was a 13 percent lowered risk of diabetes.
- Reduced risk of Colorectal Cancer – an analysis released by the World Health Organization reported that gluten-containing whole grains reduced the risk of colorectal cancer. This decrease was by 17 percent for each 90-gram-per-day increase in consumption of whole grains due to the presence of high fiber.
Whole grains are filled with prebiotic fiber that release SCFA's. Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like butyrate, acetate, and propionate optimize our immune system, reverse dysbiosis, regulate blood sugar, lower cholesterol, protect us from heart disease, stroke, and cancer; and also cross the blood-brain barrier to improve brain function.
They are of utmost necessity for gut health, and we get them exclusively from pre-biotic fiber present in plant-based foods. Therefore, restrictive diets such as these gluten-free and grain-free diets can reduce the production of SCFAs and can be in turn detrimental to your overall health.
Grain free diet's may limit nutrient intake and be unnecessarily restrictive.
Furthermore, whole grains are, as a matter of fact, health-promoting. It is also worth mentioning that most of the promoters favoring a grain-free diet only looked at the effect of gluten-containing grains. There is no evidence to suggest that it’s essential to exclude all grains from your diet to attain the benefits of the gluten-free diet.
Additionally, whole grains are also important for the prevention of several lifestyle diseases. Apart from the benefits mentioned from foods containing gluten such as the lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, whole grain foods also help to prevent various other illnesses.
- Grains aid in weight maintenance and prevent obesity -According to a study presented by the American Society for Nutrition Scientific Sessions, people who consumed the most whole grains weighed 7.2 pounds lower and also had a small waistline in comparison to those who didn't take grains.
This result was despite a higher reported caloric intake by grain consuming groups such as via Rolls, tortillas, and other bread products. Another similar analysis of 15 research trials with data from 119,829 participants reported that a higher intake of whole grains was linked to lower BMI and waist size.
- Reduced risk of chronic illness – according to studies, eating additional whole grains is linked to lower levels of a common inflammatory marker associated with chronic disease such as diabetes, cholesterol, etc. An analysis of 66 surveys found a 26% decrease in the risk of developing diabetes and a 21% lower risk of cardiovascular disease with increased whole grain consumption.
- Promote longer lives – a study proved that a combined consumption of various kinds of whole wheat and grains foods helped people to live longer. The study period of over 25 years saw whole grains reduced the risk of death by 5% and death particularly from cardiovascular disease by 9%.
- Increase gut health – A study found that people with low bacterial richness had more overall body fat, insulin resistance (the cause of type 2 diabetes), high triglycerides, and higher levels of inflammatory markers, like C-reactive protein, compared to people with high bacterial richness. It was also reported that whole grains could potentially support a wider scope of bacterial types, thereby leading to an increase in richness.
- Prevent Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease – According to research, globally, the lowest recorded rates of Alzheimer’s in the world are in rural India, where they eat high-grain, low-meat, high-bean, high-carb diets. There have also been other population studies that have found that dietary whole grains are strongly protective of Alzheimer’s disease.
What are some of the downsides to cutting grains out of your diet?
It is of importance to note here that we are talking about whole- grains and NOT refined grains. So think of brown rice VS white rice and whole grain bread instead of white bread. Here is the difference between the two:
Now that we know the numerous benefits of avoiding a grain-free diet, let’s look at the potential downsides that might be associated with consuming a grain-free diet.
- Increased risk of constipation – This is because a diet without grains, particularly fiber-rich whole grains, may limit your intake of fiber. Fiber helps your food to move through your gut more easily reducing your risk of constipation. Therefore, a grain and fiber-free diet may in turn increase your risk of constipation.
- Limited nutrient intake - Whole grains are a good source of nutrients, especially fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, iron, manganese, phosphorus, and selenium. Hence, getting a grain-free diet and without any kind of allergies may increase the risks of nutrient deficiencies, especially the deficiencies of B vitamins, iron, and certain trace minerals.
- Unnecessarily restrictive – As mentioned earlier, there is a huge lack of evidence on the benefits of excluding all forms of grains from people’s diets. This may affect your sustainable effects of eating healthy and sometimes may also promote orthorexic eating behaviours.
Why Is the FDA Investigating Grain Dog Food?
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), in July 2018, had announced that it had investigated reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods, mostly labeled as "grain-free" foods, that has a high proportion of types of peas, lentils, other legume seeds (pulses), and/or potatoes in various forms (whole, flour, protein) as the primary ingredients.
Based on the detailed data that is collected and analysed, the FDA organization believes that the connection between diet and DCM in dogs is a specified complex scientific issue that may have the involvement of multiple factors.
When the FDA enquired into the food the dogs were consuming, they found that a staggering 90% of them lived on a grain-free food diet and around 93% depended on diets that have peas or lentils.
Should you be Concerned About Grain Dog Food?
Specifically, though, a relationship between grain-free diets and the progress of DCM hasn’t been fully established or proved as yet. There are rounds of research left in this regard and a lot of it depends on the breed, age, weight, gastrointestinal disease, atopy, infection, and other factors specific to each dog.
Till then though, I would include small portions of oats and rice into your fur- babies meal plan.
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