Everything You Need to Know About Grains

The Food Pyramid/My Plate: Grains

Last week we took a look at the history of the Food Pyramid/My Plate.  Click Here for Our Blog What is the Food Pyramid?  In this article we will take a closer look at what was the bottom of the Food Pyramid, and is now part of the My Plate: Grains.

Refined Grains

Refined grains and the flours made from them have been stripped of almost all their nutrients, which means that in order to digest it, your body must pull those missing minerals from your bones and other tissues. Refined grains are high in calories but very low in nutrients. When you eat them, your body knows it did not receive the nourishment it needed, so you remain hungry. Refined grains also quickly raise your insulin levels, which leads to weight gain, cravings, and diabetes.

Anything that says “enriched flour,” “wheat flour,” or “unbleached” on the label is a refined grain. Refined grains must be enriched, meaning they have a few synthetic vitamins added back in. Unfortunately, this does not make up for the lost phytonutrients, fiber, enzymes, healthy fats, minerals and other vitamins present in the original whole grain.
Examples include pasta, white bread, tortillas, pastries, pizza crust, fast food items, bagels, crackers, baked goods, cereals, and most processed food. Avoid refined grains as much as possible. They do not add any nutrients to your diet and overtime have serious health consequences.

Sprouted Grains are the Best!

Sprouted Grains are the Best!

Whole Grains

Whole grains are “whole” because they still contain their outer bran and germ, which is the part of the grain with all the fiber and nutrients! The carbohydrates are also absorbed much more slowly into the bloodstream than when you eat refined grains.

When most people think of whole grains, they usually think of whole wheat. The average American diet contains far too much wheat and very little in the way of other whole grains. Whole grains include amaranth, barley, brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, corn, kamut, millet, oats, quinoa, rye, spelt, and more! Try expanding your whole grain horizons and incorporate some of these other whole grains into your diet.

Also, make sure to read your labels! Just because something contains “whole grains” does not mean it is healthy. If the product contains high fructose corn syrup, food colorings, MSG, hydrogenated oils, or other unhealthy food additives, avoid it.

Concerns Regarding Grains

Although whole grains are much better than refined grains, there is a growing body of scientists, doctors, and nutritionists who believe grains are not an essential part of a healthy diet, and in some cases, should be avoided altogether. Below is a list of some of the reasons grains might not be as healthy as we previously thought, and why they no longer hold the prized place at the bottom of the Food Pyramid.

1. Grains tend to displace the other food groups. Most Americans eat bread products at every meal and every snack, leaving little room for vegetables, protein, and other healthy foods.

2. Grains can make weight loss difficult. Carbohydrates break down into glucose molecules. Any unused glucose gets stored in the body as fat.

3. Most grains create an acidic body pH. All foods create either an acidic or an alkaline body pH. An alkaline body is essential to disease prevention, particularly cancer prevention. Click Here to Read Our Blog on Body PH

4. Grains contain “anti-nutrients” such as phytic acid and lectin. These are defense mechanisms that protect the grain. All plants have some natural protection, but grains can be particularly difficult to digest, and these anti-nutrients can block the absorption of calcium and other minerals.

5. The rising number of people with ciliac disease and gluten intolerance is alarming. It is estimated that 1 in 133 people are now diagnosed with a gluten allergy, and as many as 1 in 7 may have a gluten sensitivity. (1) Gluten is a protein that can attack the microvilli in the small intestine which causes an immune response. This can lead to leaky gut syndrome, allergies, autoimmune diseases, arthritis, mood disorders, and other health problems. If the microvilli are badly damaged, they will no longer be able to absorb nutrients and will cause malnutrition.

6. Many people see significant health improvements on a grain free diet. A no-grain diet can lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, promote weight loss, alleviate dermatitis or acne, end digestive disturbances, increase fertility and dramatically improve energy levels. (2) Many nursing mothers have also found that a grain free diet has cured their babies of skin conditions and digestive problems.

7. There is nothing in grains we cannot get from vegetables and other plant foods. This is another argument against grains being an essential part of our diet.

The best way to determine if you are negatively affected by having grains in your diet is to do an “elimination diet” where you avoid eating all grains (without cheating!) for at least a month, then add them back into your diet and see if you notice any changes in your symptoms or overall well-being. If your health improves without grains, consider reducing or eliminating them.

Sprouted Grains

While some people find it best to avoid grains, there are options that maximize their nutritional value and reduce the health concerns. One of these methods is called “sprouting.” Most grains are difficult to digest. Nature made them this way so that if the grain is ingested by an animal, the grain remains intact and unharmed as it passes through the digestive tract. Once the grain is back in the ground, it sprouts and becomes a plant.

Once this “sprouting” has taken place, most of the anti-nutrients and even some of the gluten is deactivated and the grain is much easier to digest. This also makes the nutrients in the grain much more available for your body to absorb! Sprouted grains also alkalize your body whereas most traditional grains make your body more acidic.
While you can sprout grains in your kitchen, there are also sprouted grain products available at most grocery and health food stores. Products such as sliced bread, English muffins, bagels, tortillas, buns, pizza crusts, cereal, and even sprouted flour for baking are available! A popular brand is Ezekiel 4:9. (3)

You will usually find these products in the refrigerated or frozen section of the store as these breads do not contain preservatives and are highly perishable. Just look for “sprouted” on the label and buy organic whenever possible.


1. Avoid refined grains and flours as much as possible.

2. Try to include a variety of whole grains into your diet.

3. Avoid grains if you find that your health improves on a grain free diet.

4. If you do eat grains, choose sprouted, organic grains when possible.

5. Make sure you diet is rich in alkalizing (rather than acid forming) foods.

Other Resources:

1. http://draxe.com/whats-the-deal-with-gluten
2. http://wellnessmama.com/575/how-grains-are-killing-you-slowly
3. http://foodbabe.com/2014/02/24/healthiest-bread-on-the-market
4. http://wellnessmama.com/354/grains-sabotaging-health
5. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/01/02/truth-about-eating-grains.aspx
6. http://draxe.com/refined-carbohydrates-avoiding-white-on-rice

Elena Spraguer

About Elena Spraguer

Elena obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Community Health from Saint Cloud State University in St. Cloud, MN. She has extensive experience in the healthcare industry and continues to work to advocate healthy living. She is passionate about educating people on how to focus on good nutrition and promoting a safer, cleaner food supply. She loves yoga, baking, and all things coconut. Elena lives with her husband Shawn in beautiful Castle Rock, Colorado.
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