I became aware of some of the ill effects of whole grains for many individuals about several years ago when I read "Gut and Pyschology Syndrome (GAPS)" by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. She discusses therapeutic diets for children with autism and anyone on the spectrum, and grains are one of the big offenders to someone with leaky gut. Shortly thereafter, I remember taking my 3 month old baby to a Paul Pitchford training where he was espousing the benefits of whole grains. I raised my hand and asked him "What do you do with clients who are too sensitive for grains?". He said, "Well, yes, there are some people that can't do grains" but that was the extent of his remark on the subject.
Since then, the news that grains may promote inflammatory processes in the body has become more widespread. By stimulating insulin production, grains can make it hard to heal in a body with systemic stress and effect other hormone levels like cortisol and estrogens. Grains are also naturally high in phytates and in lectins, so if the grains are not pre-soaked and rinsed, they can especially cause an issue in the digestive system and other systems down the line. Even if you don't get a stomach-ache from grains, they could be underlying inflammation in your system. In "Perfect Health Diet", the authors go so far as to call legumes and grains "toxic" and cite medical literature to support their claims.
My own experimentation with cutting out grains for an extended period started when I noticed I was stiff in my hips after having my first baby. When I went back to work, I felt like an old lady when I stood up if I sat for any length of time. I did a 7-day digestive cleanse and figured out that the favorite pre-soaked millet breakfast was the main problem. Once I removed the breakfast cereal, no more stiffness. Shortly thereafter, I attended a functional medicine training in interpreting bloodwork. The doctor presenting the workshop said "Yep, we pretty much shouldn't be eating grains." I was newly pregnant by then but decided to experiment on myself. For about two weeks, I did not eat grains, just protein and vegetables. I felt good and my memory was much better than it had been! I've been what I would call "low-grain" ever since. I've needed varying amounts of grains and starchy vegetables in my diet in pregnancy and with nursing but avoid eating grains on a daily basis.
I often suggest to clients that they avoid grains for awhile. Here are some examples of cases where eliminating grains has been beneficial for clients:
* Skin conditions
* Digestive distress, especially heartburn and IBS
* Auto-immunity, especially arthritic tendencies and neuro
* Adrenal fatiuge
* Thyroid problems
* Sinus troubles
* Yeast infections and other chronic infections
* Food sensitivities, especially to gluten
* Menstrual disorders like PMS
Experts who study food sensitivities are now saying that if someone is sensitive to gluten, they are likely cross-reactive to all the other grains, including the gluten-free ones and the "seed" ones like quinoa, amaranth and millet. I find this is true in my practice as well. We offer blood food sensitivity testing and some saliva testing if you'd like to see what sensitivities you have.
As much as I have witnessed the value of grain-free diets, I'm not convinced that everyone should follow one. There is no one diet that is right for everyone and it is important to cultivate awareness about your own body and it's relationship to food. Pregnant and nursing women may need more carbs including grains. Very athletic people may also grains to sustain their carbohydrate need. If you do find that grains help bring you vitality, it is best to pre-soak them in water for 6-8 hrs, rinse, and then cook. This helps to eliminate the phytates that lead to food decay and the lectins that lead to sensitivities.