Why You Should Keep Eating Grains


There’s a lot of grain-bashing going on these days. Is it true that not all grains are created equal? Yes. Should we be thoughtful about which grains we consume? Yes. But, we should not be frightened into banishing all grains from our lives forever just because some of them aren’t up to par. Grains, when chosen carefully, have a world of greatness to offer the human body. Not convinced? Keep reading to find out why some grains are worthy of grubbin’ on.

  • Whole grains eaten as whole grains are better than whole grains eaten as their pulverized friend, flour. When grains are reduced to flour, their surface area expands significantly–and this is true for all flours, no matter if they came from a whole grain initially. This expanded surface area makes it much easier for digestive enzymes to reach the starch inside the whole grain, which speeds up the starch to sugar conversion. Flour products, then, have a higher glycemic index than the whole grain itself.You can be pretty sure you’re eating a natural, whole grain with a low glycemic index if you have to chew it (or if you can see grain pieces in the food). When it comes to grains, the more work your jaw has to do, the better.  Kasha, not cake.  Quinoa instead of muffins.  RIght?
  • Eating homemade sourdough toast isn’t the same thing as eating a fried doughnut. The oily and sugar-laden doughnut is made from refined flour and is arguably nutritionally void. It’ll give you a blood sugar spike, and then a crash, leave you hungry and craving more sugar, and will likely upset your tummy. Homemade sourdough, on the other hand, is as nutritionally dense as it gets. It’s full of vitamins and minerals, won’t spike your blood sugar, and is easy on the digestive system. Read more sourdough greatness here, and allow yourself to eat some (or another fresh, whole grain bread) without telling yourself you may as well have just eaten a doughnut.
  • Sprouted grains are like whole grains on nutrition steroids, and that’s a good thing. The concentration of protein, vitamins, and minerals is much greater in sprouts than in mature grains.The science of sprouts is much like that of sourdough–easier digestion and more bioavailability of nutrients. Sprouts are also an excellent choice for vegetarians. Read more here, and be on the look out for sprouted whole grain products. You can feel good about eating them.
  • Whole grains contain complex carbohydrates. Bodies NEED complex carbohydrates. Bodies CRAVE complex carbohydrates, because they are their main source of energy and fuel. The brain depends exclusively on carbohydrates for fuel, and muscles need their fair share, too. Muscle-building requires energy, and again: complex carbohydrates = energy. In terms of calories and energy for muscles, whole grains are the most economical part of a meal. Nutrient density (the nutrient to calorie ratio) is a thing! And whole grains have got it goin’ on. The energy punch they pack is incomparable to fruits or vegetables. What does this mean for you? Whole grains are good for muscles.

See? Grains are not evil doers. In fact, they are a whole lot of good. And you needn’t shun them, or feel terrible about yourself for fueling your body with the quality ones. When it comes to grains, quality and form is key. The rest of the goodness will follow naturally.

8 thoughts on “Why You Should Keep Eating Grains

  1. This a great article about grains, if you are a healthy weight and have no gluten sensitivities. It has been my experience that people who are overweight are also very sensitive to carbohydrates. It is imperative that those individuals eat whole grains that have been properly prepared, as described in this article, but, unfortunately, not directly discussed. Homemade sourdough made from “real” sourdough starter instead of yeast makes a great bread, and sprouting grains requires soaking, which is the ideal way to prepare any grain. Flour can be used as long it, too, is soaked first. As for “needing” grains for their complex carbohydrates– that’s not true. As a species, we have only been eating grains for about 10,000 years. My personal experience has been that greatly reducing grains and, in fact, mostly avoiding grains has led to a great deal of effortless weight loss (without exercise), increased energy, increased muscle mass, and a huge reduction in aches and pains. I love Cookus Interruptus. This article almost hits the mark.

  2. Hi, Tracey. I am an MS in Nutrition student and authored this piece. Its aim was not to speak directly to individual dietary restrictions, but rather to outline a few of the benefits of grains in light of current grain-fearing trends. I agree that preparation is of utmost importance for all–again though, not the aim of this piece. Also, there was no intent to exclude flour from consumption, but it does remain that flour is converted to sugar more quickly than are larger pieces of whole grains. As far as bodies needing complex carbohydrates, this is absolutely true–otherwise they will break down (even if it is over a long period of time – bodies are resilient!). In a balanced diet grains do offer the most economical source of them in terms of calories. Whether or not one chooses to include grains as the complex carbohydrate offering part of the diet is what is variable.

  3. This article DOES hit the mark… while it’s true as an emergency measure some diabetics need to go lower carb total to hit their A1C goals, my hypoglycemics NEED some grain in small amounts througout the day to maintain a decent blood sugar….

    It’s a nice change up from the “let’s overhype this for the next news cycle” culture to show balance 🙂

  4. Hi Cynthia,
    I was one of your students at Bastyr a million years ago, or 15 maybe…

    Your cookbook is still the most used one in our kitchen and I keep wondering – why whole wheat pastry flour as opposed to regular whole wheat?

    Is it a finer flour?

  5. While I agree with you that whole grains have the potential to be very healthy (if they are fermented, or ideally, sprouted and then fermented), and that they are needlessly demonized today, there is one point I disagree with you on. Whole grains are actually much healthier as a flour. There is a reason why traditional cultures put so much effort into creating flours from grains; it allows the grains to ferment much easier, and it allows your body to break down the grains much easier. Grains are very difficult to digest and properly utilize, even with fermentation. Your point about the glycemic index is outdated; your point would only be valid if the only thing you were eating with your meal was the grain itself. This is why cultures combined vegetables, and much more importantly, fats with their grains. This will greatly slow down the digestion and absorbtion of complex carbohydrates, to allow a steady stream of broken down sugars to the cells. For more info on how fats massively change the glycemic value of grains, go here (or just do a quick google search, I found this link after 10 seconds: http://www.gnolls.org/1029/fat-and-glycemic-index-the-myth-of-complex-carbohydrates/

  6. One more thing, my post above only applies to freshly home-ground whole flours. If you are buying flour at the store, you are better off not eating flours, since many of the minerals degrade quickly with time, and the germ (the most nutritious part) is thrown away because it quickly goes rancid.

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