I admit that I’m a huge fan of grains and find it hard to completely exclude my beloved quinoa, buckwheat and brown rice from my diet. However, there are many valid arguments as to why we should limit (even exclude) grains from our diet.
First, the positives…WHY SHOULD YOU EAT GRAINS?
Whole grains are a great source of nutrients including magnesium, b-vitamins, potassium, selenium, fiber, and more. But mostly, they’re delicious and so versatile. Small amounts of whole grains (and "seed-like-grains") are an easy and yummy way to create healthy, balanced meals. They also make vegetarian meals a lot easier!
But make sure to choose ones that aren’t causing harm to your body. Avoid refined grains like white flours/breads/cereals, as the refining process strips the grains of most of their nutrients. I find that the best ones to consume are those that are actually seeds, including Quinoa, Millet, Buckwheat and Amaranth. They are naturally gluten-free, higher in protein and lower in carbs than most other grains, and can even help balance hormones.
Now on to the negatives…WHY SHOULD YOU AVOID/LIMIT GRAINS IN YOUR DIET?
Grains contain what are commonly referred to as “anti-nutrients”, including Gluten (in some cases), enzyme inhibitors such as Tannins, Lectins, and Phytic acid.
Phytic acid (found in grains/legumes/nuts/seeds) is naturally occurring in plants as part of their “protective” mechanism against pests/insects, but when consumed by us, phytic acid blocks the absorption of important minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iron, from our diets. It also blocks some of the essential digestive enzymes that help us digest the nutrients from our food.
And it’s primarily due to these “anti-nutrients” that many people develop issues from eating grains. Even if you don’t realize it, eating a lot of grains (particularly those with gluten) is likely creating some inflammation in your gut, which then leads to a whole host of other issues!
SO, SHOULD WE ALL AVOID GRAINS?
Not necessarily. There is AN EASY solution to help make grains a healthier choice - SOAK them! (Note: you can also sprout the grains, which takes it one step further).
Soaking your grains helps to break-down these “anti-nutrients”, in a way that our bodies can’t, making them easier to digest, and allowing us to better absorb their nutrients.
And soaking is so easy!
TO SOAK: Measure out your raw, dry grains that you’ll be cooking (ex. 1 cup of brown rice), rinse them, then leave the grains in a clean container on your counter-top covered with room temperature or warm water, and add a drop of apple cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and leave for a few hours (minimum 8) or overnight, then drain and rinse properly before cooking with fresh water.
Note: Different grains require different soaking times, so your best bet is to do this the night before, and soak for 8-24 hours.
The decision of whether or not to eat grains depends on you and your specific dietary needs, but for me (and most people) small amounts of pre-soaked, naturally gluten-free whole grains are an amazing part of a healthy, balanced diet. Just don’t overdo it, avoid the processed ones, eat them at home where you have control over the prep/cooking method, and of course, make sure you’re eating them with plenty of veggies - which are overall healthier and more nutrient-dense than grains!