Whether to eat grains or not really depends on the type of grain we’re talking about, your body type and any current health issues. There is so much variety but unfortunately the more readily available and processed grains like white bread, pasta and rice are totally devoid of nutrition.
Even whole wheat bread in the supermarket is often loaded with hydrogenated vegetable oil, sugar, low quality salt and preservatives. WHOLE (non-processed) grains on the other hand are an excellent source of nutrition: essential enzymes, iron, dietary fibre, vitamin E and B-complex vitamins.
Whole grains still contain the husk e.g. brown rice. This breaks down slower in our digestive system and doesn’t turn to sugar quickly, so blood sugars are raised slower and for longer, providing sustained and high quality energy. The husk also creates volume in the intestine, collects toxins, and helps create movement.
So whole grains can and should be a regular part of the average person’s diet, eaten with an abundance of vegetables, of course! Kapha body types generally need less grains than pitta / vata types. Grains are an excellent grounding food to help with vata imbalances. For those trying to lose weight – lose the processed grains, in particular wheat. A good book for anyone who feels they are addicted to wheat is Wheat Belly by William Davis.
Who shouldn’t eat grains then? Well for people with inflammatory diseases such as MS and autoimmune disease, reducing grains, especially those that contain gluten (proteins found in cereal grains), has proven to help. Many diseases are caused by build up of silent inflammation in the body for years before being diagnosed as a full-blown disease. But the good news is the right diet can help reverse inflammation.
Celiac disease is one autoimmune disease where the body attacks itself (in the small intestine), causing many symptoms and long-term health issues. Gluten must be avoided at all costs with celiac disease and blood tests are the best way to test for it. Gluten sensitivity, on the other hand, is where someone’s health is improved when gluten is removed from his/her diet, but it’s much less serious. An elimination diet is effective to test for this. For gluten sensitive people, removing it completely can relieve many symptoms such as brain fog, diarrhea, stomach cramps and bloating. To go gluten-free in a healthy way is not as easy as switching to all those gluten-free foods that you find in the supermarket as these are often processed, have less fibre and vitamins and more sugar and starch. The key is to eat real food! And with any processed foods it’s a case of checking labels for signs of gluten (wheat, barley, malt).
Gluten containing grains include: barley, bulgur, couscous, kamut, rye, spelt and wheat. Oats are naturally gluten-free but can often be contaminated (look for gluten-free packets). Gluten-free grains include: wild rice, brown rice, amaranth, polenta / cornmeal, millet and quinoa. As usual it’s about experimenting and listening to your body. Some people are just sensitive to certain grains (for me it’s rice). But there are so many great grains for all types whether gluten sensitive or not – why not try some you’ve never had before and see how you feel.