A grain-free lifestyle includes the elimination of all grains from your diet. You’re probably thinking, “How does one survive without bread?” Before we let our passion for bread get the best of us, consider this: when omitting grains, there is not a single nutrient that you need to supplement in your diet to replace them. Any nutrient you get from eating grains can be found in other foods, and at even higher quantities in some cases. Boosting your nutrient intake is just one benefit of leading a grain-free lifestyle. Science proves we don’t NEED a diet built on the foundation of bread to feel our best and #livewild.
Read on to get all your questions answered on what it means to be grain-free.
What is a Grain?
Grains1 are seeds and fruits of cereal grasses, such as wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, or barley. Simple enough, right? But what about buckwheat, quinoa, millet or amaranth? Are they considered grains? Buckwheat, quinoa, millet and amaranth are referred to as pseudo-grains.
Wildway Takeaway – The most common grains are wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, or barley. Buckwheat, quinoa, millet, and amaranth are considered pseudo-grains. A completely grain-free lifestyle does not include grains or pseudo-grains.
Aren’t Whole Grains Good for You?
Hold up – I thought whole grains were supposed to be good for you, so why would one consider going “grain-free”? Whole grains have been marketed to provide health benefits, such as reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The trouble is, in modern day society, grains are rarely eaten in their whole form. The average American consumes 133 pounds of flour a year3 in their food; that’s more than a third of a pound per person per day.
Whole grains contain a hull, bran, germ, and an endosperm. The hull is what protects the grain and is inedible. The endosperm provides the fuel for germinating the plant and is mostly carbohydrates and protein. The bran and germ are where most of the nutrients, such as phytochemicals, B-vitamins, and minerals, are stored in grains. Guess what gets removed when grains are refined? You guessed it…the good stuff! The hull, bran, and germ are removed, and you’re left with a starchy, nutrient-stripped source of fuel.
Refined grains are commonly referred to as “empty” calories. They’re digested quickly and have a high glycemic index, which can lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar. Eating 2 slices of whole wheat bread raises your blood sugar more than eating 2 tablespoons of table sugar does3! These rapid spikes in blood sugar contribute to increased risk of many diseases, such as obesity, heart disease, or Type 2 diabetes.
Wildway Takeaway – In modern day society, grains are rarely eaten in their whole form. Refined grains are a nutrient-stripped source of fuel and essentially, “empty” calories.
Are Carbs Part of the Grain-free Lifestyle?
Grain-free is not synonymous with carb-free. Going grain-free just means you are replacing grains with plant-based complex carbohydrates. It is not meant to be low-carb or restrictive. It may appear to be restrictive because grains are now found in so many products, but it’s important to consider those products are inventions and created from chemical processes. Grain-free diets can be rich in healthy, complex carbohydrates including starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and carrots. All fruits and vegetables are your friend as part of a grain-free lifestyle.
Your body needs carbohydrates to be in top form4. The two main functions of carbohydrates in the body are to provide energy for all cells and spare the use of protein from muscles and organs as energy. Your brain is also highly dependent on carbohydrates for energy. Carbohydrates provide us with a whole host of vitamins and nutrients, including fiber, which helps with digestion.
Wildway Takeaway - Not all carbs are bad and our bodies require carbs for energy, brain health, and digestion. Some carbohydrate-rich, whole foods are extremely beneficial for our health. These include foods like fruit, leafy vegetables, and root vegetables. Don’t fear that banana or that sweet potato. They’re nature’s gifts ready to fuel us through all our #livewild adventures!
Are Gluten-free and Grain-free the Same Thing?
Grain-free foods are automatically gluten-free, but gluten-free foods are not automatically grain-free. Gluten is a protein found in certain types of grains, including wheat, barley, rye, kamut and spelt. It provides elasticity and is what gives bread that chewy texture.
Many gluten-free products can be higher in fat, sugar, and calories and lower in fiber than their gluten equivalents. Gluten-free products may also come with remarkably long ingredient lists. Just because a cookie is marketed as gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s “healthy”. There is no substitute for real food, so don’t swap real food for gluten-free foods. The grain-free lifestyle enforces real food as the foundation of your diet; therefore, it can provide substantially more health benefits than a lifestyle focused on eating gluten-free.
Wildway Takeaway - Gluten-free and grain-free are not the same thing. Many gluten-free products contain grains or starchy fillers with excessively long ingredient lists. A grain-free lifestyle can offer more nutritional benefits than a gluten-free lifestyle. There is no substitute for real food.
What are the Benefits of a Grain-free Lifestyle?
Are grains really that bad for us? There are numerous benefits to eliminating your intake of grains, especially refined grains. Grains, a food group we didn’t eat for about 97% of our human existence, are now at the base of the USDA food pyramid with 6-11 servings per day5 recommended. New science is shedding light on the problems grains may cause. Of all the habits you can develop to support your health, dropping your consumption of grains is probably one that will show you the most benefit.
Epigenetics (the study of genes) has changed the way we think about eating. Disease is not written in our genetic code. It’s not the genes, but what they’re exposed to that forms disease, and that includes our food and our environment. Increasing numbers of scientists and medical professionals are researching the connection between modern wheat/grains and chronic digestive and inflammatory illnesses. Inflammation in response to a sprained ankle or a paper cut is good, but a low continuous burn from constant triggers can lead to a host of diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and depression. Grains may contribute to conditions such as leaky gut6, which allows toxins, bacteria, viruses and larger proteins to bypass the protective lining and enter the bloodstream. This can lead to autoimmune conditions, food sensitivities, and just more inflammation.
The per capita consumption of wheat in the United States exceeds any other single food. Although grains have been consumed for thousands of years, modern wheat is making people sick. There are two distinct revolutions that have changed wheat itself. The first in milling and the second in farming.
- Industrial Milling Revolution: Modern grain milling is fast and efficient and really good at creating processed foods. Prior to modern agriculture, grain intake was varied and sparse due to crop yield variations and limited food transportation. Now, many people consume a grain-rich food – usually a refined grain – at nearly every meal. Cereal for breakfast, pretzels for a snack, bread for lunch, pasta and bread for dinner, oh and cake for dessert! That’s a lot of grain!
Modern steel roller mill techniques, introduced in the 1870s, were fast and efficient compared to stone milling. The modern technique gave control of the various parts of the kernel, which produced the purest and finest white flour at low cost. This new type of flour shipped and stored better. It also eliminated the richest source of nutrients including proteins, vitamins, lipids, and minerals found in the bran and germ7. Pest problems were eliminated because they didn’t want a nutrient-stripped fuel source. We thought we were outsmarting the pests, but ironically, the bugs and rodents were outsmarting us.
- Industrial Farming Revolution: Radical techniques in farming have changed the structure of wheat itself. In the 1950s and 60s, the world’s wheat crop was transformed in a movement called the “Green Revolution8”. This movement led to the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, modernization of management techniques, distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers.
Similar to the industrial milling revolution, the “Green Revolution” applied new technologies to improve efficiency and output, with little regard to the effect on human nutrition. Dr. William Davis9, author of Wheat Belly says, “This thing being sold to us called wheat is this stocky little high-yield plant, a distant relative of the wheat our mothers used to bake muffins, biochemically light-years removed from the wheat of just 40 years ago.”
Wildway Takeaway –The industrial revolution led to improved efficiency and output of grains, at the cost of human nutrition. Modern day society has misaligned us from our innate way of living in terms of diet and lifestyle, including increased exposure to toxins and processed foods. Avoiding grains can help support our body’s’ overall health and align us more with our ancestral roots.
What are Some Alternatives to Grains?
There are numerous ways you can stay satiated leading a grain-free lifestyle. Do your best to choose real, whole foods above refined and processed foods. Our bodies are built to thrive on food in its purest form, so they will naturally thank us when we reach for an apple or handful of nuts over a sugar-laden granola bar. The more you choose real foods over processed and refined foods, the more you will intuitively crave the real foods. A carrot may even start to taste like candy!
Consider swapping out the refined/processed foods in your desk at work, your household pantry or your hiking pack for more wholesome options made with real ingredients you can pronounce. We at Wildway understand that life can get wild and hectic, so it’s handy to have on-the-go/packaged food options. We strive to create convenient, nutrient-dense products made with 100% real food ingredients to sustain you through the work day, help you achieve fitness goals, or fuel you through your next adventure. All Wildway products are grain-free, oil-free, dairy-free, and contain zero grams added sugar for a reason. Try replacing that bag of pretzels with some Wildway Snack Packs or try replacing your morning oatmeal with some warming Wildway Hot Cereal.
Thanks for learning all about the grain-free lifestyle with Wildway. We hope you learned something new and may even consider eliminating your intake of grains. Remember, if you eat better – you’ll live better!
Here is a list of foods that are often used as flour or look like a grain but are grain-free:
- Almond (or any nut) meal/flour
- Coconut or coconut flour
- Potato starch/flour
- Sunflower seed flour
- Plaintains and plaintain flour
- Sweet potatoes
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds