The Grain Game: More Than Gluten

We’ve all been assaulted by “Gluten-Free” labels lately which has now become synonymous with health. If you are at all sensitive to gluten then these foods are a way to regain some social freedom and normality. It’s only natural to want to replace gluten containing grains with “safe” alternatives that resemble the foods we’re accustomed to eating, even those you feel you’ve lost (especially if this lifestyle wasn’t a choice for you). The thing we need to realize is that gluten is only one component (a protein if you were wondering) in the vast grain family and it may not be be the only one to be weary of.

So who are the players in the grain game? We know the gluten containing ones are wheat, rye, barley, farro, spelt, and some oats. And the traditionally substituted non-gluten grains are corn, rice, and millet. Pseudograins such as amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa. And the seeds themselves, like flax, chia, hemp, and sunflower. It may not be apparent but all of these have a lot in common biologically, whether or not you have an immediate reaction, you may find they can cause you subtle harm leading to inflammation and immunity issues. So the question becomes not can we eat them, but should we?

Tricky to Digest

All seeds contain biological defenses in the form of lectins, saponins, and protease inhibitors which are chemical compounds designed to cause digestive irritation to the animal eating them in hopes that they will remember the discomfort and not come back for more. (1) The most infamous lectin is gluten but there are many more found in the grain family. The body treats lectin and saponins as simple sugars (which they aren’t – they’re proteins) and passes them into the bloodstream where they don’t belong. This is what is known as leaky gut which triggers inflammation and possibly an autoimmune response. If by chance it does make it to the stomach, protease inhibitors will block the digestive enzymes from breaking down proteins – not just the ones from the seed, but from the whole meal! So when we think of quinoa being a good source of vegetarian protein, that’s an ideal value and not what we are actually able to absorb.

And it’s not just protein absorption that’s affected. All seeds and nuts also contain a coating of phytic acid which binds to the minerals in your food making it unusable by your body. No matter what the Nutrition Label says, you won’t actually be getting that amount. The main reason nutritionists advocate whole grains for their fiber contribution which helps elimination. But that’s nothing you can’t find in a serving of vegetables and not worth the added aggravations.

Proper Preparation Needed

If you decide that you want to eat these grains then proper preparation methods are needed in order to get rid of these compounds.

  • Soaking reduces the enzyme inhibitors
    • Put in a jar filled with filtered water and let soak overnight, then you can store in the fridge until you need to use them  **Pro tip** Add vinegar or any acid to the water for the best results.
  • Sprouting is a step further that increases total nutrient density
    • Spread pre-soaked nuts/seeds on a large plate giving them plenty of room. Cover with a cheesecloth or paper towel. You’ll have to rinse them 2 times a day. When they start to grow a white tail that’s when they’re ready. Store in the fridge until you need them.
  • Cooking is needed to remove the lectins
    • Pressure cooking your grains is needed for total lectin removal, though normal cooking can reduce them slightly.

This can be a lot of work, especially if you are preparing these grains because you are already short on time. If you are going to eat any grains and don’t have the time to go through these steps it is possible to buy sprouted versions at many grocery stores.

Pseudograins and non-gluten grains can be a blessing for those suffering from Celiac or any gluten sensitivity but they should not be touted as a health food for all. Every now and then these foods can be a good way to treat yourself but your diet should not rely on them as your staple foods. Your previous way of eating is what got you into this mess, so it should be easy to see that a diet change is how you’ll get out of it. My advice is to treat your condition as a way to explore new foods and broaden your palette, you may be surprised what you find. For those looking to improve your health, you should definitely not be lured into the “Gluten-Free” marketing trap because it really doesn’t apply to you. Gluten-free grains are no better for you than traditional grains without the proper preparation methods. It’s just a way for grocery stores to hike up the prices by calling it a health food, but it’s still junk food in disguise. A lot of the substitutes are loaded with added sugars and artificial ingredients to make them more palatable. It would be better if you just did your gut a favor and removed the chronic inflammation that these grains caused in the first place. It will do wonders for your journey towards a healthier you!



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