Thursday, November 29, 2012

The "No Grains?!" Post


Well, here we are! The big no-grain post that I've been talking about for some time now! I know I've hinted, and mentioned that we aren't really eating grains anymore and I bet you've scratched your head at this and wondered if we've gone crazy. Sometimes I wonder that too. But here's a post devoted especially to that topic, hopefully with some answers and more details about this odd phenomenon. Since I don't do details much, I am actually hosting my first ever, guest blogger! My husband, Daniel. :) I'll hand it over to him now, and I will catch up with my comments, following his. 

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Choosing to avoid eating grain products is a bit of an unusual move although it does seem to be more popular now than a few years ago. Janel mentioned that she gets questions here on her blog about why we skip the grains and since I’m Mr. Investigator in the house -and it was my idea to stop eating them- she thought perhaps I’d like to do the ‘splaining. So here we go...

In January of 2010 I’d read a couple articles about a guy named Mark Sisson and started reading his website (Mark’s Daily Apple) where he writes about “Primal” living. He wrote about why he no longer eats grains -more on that below- other ideas on nutrition and his fitness philosophy. In addition I noticed he was much more fit looking at 50+ than I was at 25. The “success stories” section of his site was also full of some pretty impressive and encouraging results.

Since I had gained some bothersome bodyfat -and Janel was looking to avoid gaining any with pregnancy- it seemed like applying some of the ideas I’d been reading about might help.

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June 2009 Grand Canyon

I didn’t know about all these reasons to avoid grains back in 2010 but I enjoy reading and research on the topic and these are the main reasons we continue to not eat grain products on a daily basis.

1) They Push Out the Good Stuff: Grains -and generally beans as well- displace other more beneficial foods. In the work of Dr. Weston A. Price and others we can see evidence that the most robust people groups are/were typically those eating a diet based around animal products (meat, dairy, eggs and seafood) and few -if any- grains/beans. Some of the Masai peoples in Africa and Inuit in North America are examples. You can only eat so much in a day and if half of it is low-nutrition food then you’ve instantly lowered the quality of your diet by perhaps 25-50%.

2) They Don’t Have Much Nutrition to Offer: Grains are “starvation food.” We’re accustomed to phrases like “healthy whole grains” and it’s easy to overlook the relatively poor nutrient profile of grains. While it’s true that they contain some minerals that your body needs these minerals are often tied up by the phytic acid content of the grain and can be found in greater abundance elsewhere in the diet.

Imagine your bank said you had $50,000 in your account but there was an indefinite hold on the funds. Not much use if you can’t access them right? The ancient way of preparing grains involved lengthy and bothersome preparations to begin the breakdown of the grain, making it more digestible and the minerals more available for your body to use. Preparing grains this way helps but does not make them as nutritious as other options. Here is a comparison of the nutrition in a loaf of bread to a similar amount of beef liver, salmon and sweet potatoes.

You’ll also hear about the protein content of some grains -like oats maybe- and how this is beneficial. The trouble is there are many kinds of protein in the world. One author I read is fond of pointing out that Black Widow spider venom is a protein. Plant proteins in general -when compared to protein from animal products- are less usable as building blocks for your body and more likely to be bio-chemical defenses against predators (since plants can’t run away like animals can). Gluten is a type of protein and chances are you know someone who absolutely has to avoid it to stay well. It’s protein for sure but it has a tendency to damage the digestive system.

3) They Can Cause Gut Inflammation (Even If You Don’t Know It): Speaking of gluten...From what I read and hear one of the major fields of expanding knowledge is the role our gut plays in our health -both mental and physical. Basically you can’t expect to be a happy, healthy person unless you digestive system is happy and healthy as well. Gluten doesn’t make it happy. In fact proteins like gluten that you’ll find in grains tend to make your gut inflamed and damaged to one extent or another. Gut inflammation is not good for skin health, brain health (i.e. depression, attention disorders, etc.) or bone health.

Digestive system health is super-important if you want to avoid causing\triggering a number of autoimmune diseases that occur when your immune system begins to attack your joints (rheumatoid arthritis), gut lining (Celiac), thyroid (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), nerve linings/myelin sheath (Multiple sclerosis), pancreas (Type I diabetes) etc.

Wheat isn’t the only grain that contains gut-damaging proteins. Corn contains the zein prolamine protein (you could say corn gluten I suppose) and other grains -and pseudo-grains like quinoa- have similar characteristics.

4) They Mess With Your Hormones: Grains usually = Too many refined or semi-refined carbohydrates. Basically what this comes down to is that grains tend to play unfair games with your blood sugar levels, insulin and the flora of your gut. This promotes imbalances in hormones that regulate blood sugar, appetite, fat storage, energy levels and so on. When normal function for hormones like insulin, leptin and ghrelin are disrupted it becomes easier for you to eat more than you need, store more energy as fat and have less energy to use on a daily basis for normal activities. You can also end up with a breakdown in hormone functioning around testosterone, estrogen etc. which is bad news if you want to avoid some cancers and other maladies.

5) They Are Mutants: The grains we have today are a bit different than the varieties that were around in the old days. Even non-GMO grains have been hybridized for increased resilience and higher yields. The trouble is that increasing output-per-acre doesn’t always mean that you are getting a more nutritious and healthy product. 

I mentioned briefly that plant proteins are often defenses against things that would eat the grain and spoil the yield. So if a grain is bred for increased hardiness sometimes that means it’s defenses are being enhanced. Again, this is not good news for your body. From what I’ve read this is one of the big reasons why more people are finding that they have gluten or wheat sensitivities/allergies. 

It’s not that everyone is suddenly becoming a wimpy, sensitive eater. More likely the negative aspects of grains are being enhanced because this makes them survive better in the field and produce better yields. This makes them even more undesirable as a food source. The book Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis talks about this negative aspect of wheat quite a bit or you can get the overview in this interview with Dr. Davis.

6) They Are Often Contaminated With Toxins: For most of my life I thought of mold as a bothersome phenomenon that occurred when you left you food in the refrigerator too long. As it turns out mold can be a big problem and grains are particularly susceptible to various types of mold such as fusarium which is said to contaminate much of the corn and wheat supply.

The problem with molds is that they can introduce a range of toxins -called mycotoxins- into the grain and thus into your diet. Mycotoxins created by mold/fungi have effects at very low concentrations and the persistent use of herbicides like Round Up over the past several decades has altered the soil environment and made some of these toxins much more prevalent and powerful. More about that here...

You’ve probably heard of the aflatoxin right...? Aflatoxins are created by the Aspergillus species of fungi and while normally associated with peanuts can also be found in wheat. Aflatoxins are particularly harmful to the liver. You’ve also likely heard of mushrooms that cause hallucinations or even death due to the especially potent mycotoxins they contain.
Mycotoxins can even survive the heat of cooking or -in the case of contaminated coffee- roasting. 

In short avoiding grains seems like a good way to greatly reduce our chances of trouble with:

  • Obesity and related problems (diabetes, hypertension etc.)
  • Poor bone health
  • Poor dental health
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • And so on...

It’s not the only step and there are no guarantees but in my judgement it’s a likely a big win. While I can’t predict the future when it comes to our health I do know that since beginning to eliminate grains from our diet in early 2010 we’ve seen some positive changes:

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For Daniel:

-Significant (20 lbs) fat loss. In early 2010 I weighed in at about 181 lbs. After dropping grains by end of summer in 2010 I was about 161 lbs. My jean size went from 33 or 32x32 to 30x32. I now weigh about 184 lbs (it’s more muscle) but wear the same 30x32 jeans.

-HUGE improvement in blood sugar control and virtual elimination of chronically recurring migraines (since age 8).

-No heartburn

For Janel:

-No post-pregnancy weight gain

-Less puffiness around the eyes/face when compared with photos from pre-2010


If you want to know more about the whys and hows -maybe to try a grain-free experiment for yourself- you can start where I did for free right here. Or read The Primal Blueprint book here

Another -which I mentioned above- that focuses on the effect of wheat on our health is Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis.

BTW, I’d be happy to answer questions in the comments if you have any.

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Now it's back to me!  
        When Daniel says that it was his idea, he's right. I would have never, ever, thought of this or wanted to do it myself. One evening early 2010, he cautiously introduced the idea to me, and I calmly thought he had lost his mind. He wondered if I thought I could make meals without flour, wheat products or sugar. I was gasping..."But you love lasagna! And brownies! And our favorite chicken noodle casserole! What about PIZZA?!!!"  
        Still. I said I could try it, and made up a month's worth of menus without ANY grains. When I showed it to him, that's when he carefully added that he also meant no white potatoes, rice, corn or beans! (And I was so proud of thinking I could substitute mashed potatoes for noodles with beef stroganoff.) 

        So at that beginning point, it was incredibly hard. He not only wanted to try going without grains, but go low(er) carb as well. There were many tears and many conversations about this and I have to say honestly, it's been the hardest thing in our marriage. (No worries...we are still happily in love and better for it!) I couldn't really fathom this. I mean, what do you eat?! No spaghetti. No mashed potatoes. No toast. No pineapple upside down cake. No thickened white sauces with flour OR cornstarch! get the idea. I balked, and balked loudly. What would we do if we are invited to a friend's house? Did he really want me to not use the rest of our 50 pound bag of flour in the pantry? What about the homegrown Yukon Gold potatoes there as well? 

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         See, I thought we were doing just fine eating our modified version of the Weston A. Price way. Natural, homemade, nothing from a box, etc... I liked making 4 loaves of bread and freezing 3 for the upcoming month. We didn't eat TV dinners, everything was homemade. Whole grains. Whole wheat, brown rice, cut the sugar in half, etc... I made our own grape-nuts and granola for breakfast. And of course, I made our own cottage cheese and we didn't ever, ever, ever buy margarine. Let me clarify though...we didn't do the whole soaking the grains for sourdough bread, and we certainly had our share of white flour and sugar.

         But slowly, ever so slowly, I quit cooking the long list of favorites. I used up the rest of the pasta in dishes for moms in my MOPS group with a new baby. Or took it to fellowship meals. I gave the flour to my parents. The potatoes in the pantry grew really long sprouts. (I think we finally ate them because I was getting very depressed watching them go spongy.)
          It got easier and I found new recipes and ever so slowly adjusted my thinking: You can enjoy stir-fry without rice. Lasagna can be made with zucchini as "noodles" and it still tastes like lasagna. Spaghetti squash is a great substitute for spaghetti noodles. (I learned that if you crave macaroni and cheese bad enough, it even works for that as well.) 
            After a while, I was still rather cranky about it all, and we had to come to a compromise of some sort. I kept wishing that Daniel would have never read that book! I wanted to eat like normal people and enjoy food again! But I also loved my husband and didn't feel like facing the rest of our lives on such separate pages in regards to something so big as FOOD. It's kind of hard to dodge, if you know what I mean, when I'm the main cook and you eat at least three times a day. So, we decided that at home, I would cook "primal-style" but if I wanted a dessert, and it was "primal-approved", we could enjoy it. And if we went to a fellowship meal and I had scalloped potatoes, I wouldn't feel guilty about it.

          Let me iterate, it was not easy doing this transition. I did not like it and did not want to do it. I didn't feel like I was overweight, and I didn't have any physical problems that drastically changed by not eating grains. I was healthy and felt fine! I didn't have any problem with "cheating" except that I felt incredibly guilty, because my plate would have more pasta on it than my husband's at a fellowship meal. :-/
           However, I could see that Daniel looked different. And his bothersome migraines were gone. He hardly ever has one now, and for that I'm *very grateful*. 
It Got Easier: 
          Mainly because I think a ton of other folks somehow got on this paleo/primal band wagon and it got popular. I scoured the internet for recipes and alternative ways to have our traditional foods. I read about mashed cauliflower, instead of potatoes. And riced cauliflower to replace rice. And...we bought almond flour and coconut flour. Oh happy day!!! Those two flours have really made my life (and our marriage) happier. ;) There are a ton of almond flour and coconut flour recipes for all my favorite grain-ish dishes, like muffins, bread, popovers, cookies, cake, pizza crust, pie crust, tortillas, waffles and pancakes. (Daniel wishes to remind everyone to take it easy on these)


            So now, if I want to make a traditional shepherd's pie with all the veggies and meat in a nice gravy and bake it with biscuits on top, I use our grain-free, coconut flour biscuit recipe and proceed like normal. Same thing with chili. If I want "cornbread" to go with it, I make our grain-free muffin recipe, and we then have something to crumble on our chili. Thinly sliced sweet potatoes (or zucchini) have taken the place of spaghetti and lasagna noodles. And we have a very nice pizza crust recipe that takes much less time to make than my previous yeast and flour one. Another perk? You don't have to knead anything. Ever. Ha!


          Positive Results: Daniel already covered these, but I'll add my comments. I really didn't gain any extra baby weight! We only did grain-free for about 2 months max before Natasha was born late April 2010, but if I remember correctly, I only gained about 16 pounds total, and it was gone the day she was born. I don't know if this is just typical first baby results, or what, but I really never had any baby weight lingering. (Nor stretch marks.)
           One other thing I've noticed is that after eating a meal with a fair amount of grains, I feel kind of bloated. Not exactly full, but just bigger than before I ate. Now though, if I watch what I eat and especially the serving amount, I no longer have that bloated feeling. I eat till I'm satisfied and stop. (Well, try to. It depends on how especially yummy the meal is!!)
             I think this past summer has been the biggest change for myself. Even though we have been eating grain-free for two years, until the past few months, I hadn't seen any amazing changes in myself. But I started paying much more attention to serving sizes and faithfully working out. Actually, it wasn't till we started looking at pictures that we noticed I even had some facial...softness 4 years ago. 
         A Note on Dairy: If you do the true paleo version of grain free eating, it actually goes farther than just grains and legumes. Sarah Fragoso cuts out all dairy (and sugar) too. Since we drink raw milk and make our own yogurt and cottage cheese already, and we each really love dairy, we didn't cut that out. We kind of think the benefits of good raw milk outweigh the cons that some folks find with the processed milk available in the store. Plus, neither one of us were having any problems with lactose or dairy to make us eliminate it (we did a month long dairy free test as an experiment).


         About Sugar: For some reason I don't count sugar as bad as wheat. :) In any case instead of using white sugar or brown sugar, if we're adding a sweetener we typically use honey or xylitol (the birch derived type rather than the corn based).

         Thoughts on Potatoes: When we first did this, as I said, we cut out all white potatoes. But, not sweet potatoes. (Whew!) But we didn't pig out on them...they were eaten sparingly and sometimes only after a work-out for Daniel. Because, if you're trying to watch carbs and see how certain foods effect your body, it's best to go easy. 

However, when we went to Panama for 5 months, there were no sweet potatoes to be found. So we s-l-o-w-l-y started having white potatoes again. We haven't had any adverse effects, so ever since then, we have actually had a bag or so in the pantry and we eat them.'s not every day, and for Daniel, it's usually only in the evening since he's trying to gain muscle after a work-out. With primal-style eating we eat fewer carbs than most people but it doesn't have to be a "low carb diet."


         Working Out: Somehow, by not eating grains I think we became more aware of our lack of physical activity and "exercise". Daniel started lifting weights, doing pull-ups, push-ups and muscle-ups at the park and random times.


         I've tried to do it as well, and I have to admit that for the first time ever, I've actually seen some good results this past summer. Small example: I could hardly do 3 "guy" push-ups at the beginning of this past summer, and now I can do about 20, as well as decline push-ups, which are done with your feet elevated. I'll stop there so no one starts to feel bad. ;) It has really lifted my self-confidence and I feel much better about myself.

         Cheating: That's a horrible word. It makes you feel so guilty and that you did something wrong. So, I don't call it that! If we go to a fellowship meal or to a party with lots of desserts, I simply pay attention. I'm more aware of what I eat, and how it effects me. I feel so good about what we do every day at home now, that I don't see the occasional splurge as a huge "wrong" and so I happily enjoy a special treat or two. Then I go home and continue the way we normally eat. I don't feel bad about it. I work out the next morning, and I'm okay with that. 

             In Panama, we were thrilled to have real Korean food at our Korean's friend's home. (Funny, isn't it? We went to Panama and met Koreans. :) Anyway, they served us kimbap, which is white rice rolled up in seaweed with some meat and veggies. Did you catch that? It had white rice. We did not freak out, but thoroughly enjoyed it! 
              And, Daniel knows, that on my birthday we will be having my childhood favorite chicken noodle casserole with real pasta. *grin*

              We are right in the midst of all the holiday treats now, so I know this can be really hard. But I recently read a fabulous quote, and it fits perfectly: 

"What matters most is what you eat between the New Year and Christmas, not what you eat between Christmas and the New Year." 

              From personal experience this past Thanksgiving, I was able to see this come true. You know all the traditional foods and what is grain-free and not for such a special meal. So when the big day came, I had a little bit of just about everything. Happily, a lot of Thanksgiving foods are perfectly primal. Turkey, ham, green beans, sweet potatoes, cranberry salad? A-okay! But, what about the rest? Since it WAS Thanksgiving, I paid attention and had a little stuffing, macaroni and cheese and dessert. I even had several snitches of those amazing date bars throughout the day and the next! But, upon coming home and weighing myself, I didn't gain an ounce. I think this is where paying attention to what you eat and how much and when, comes into practice.

              So what DO you eat?!  My dear mom is always asking when family gatherings come up, if she should make anything special for us, knowing that meals can be kind of tricky. I always laugh at Daniel's response to that question: "Are they having a main meat? Is there a side vegetable to go with it? Good!" Because that's basically the answer. If you've ever had a pot roast, with roasted carrots, potatoes, a salad, and ice cream for dessert, that's a meal! We eat all of those things, and if I'm hosting I can add in a grain-free biscuit if I think it's necessary. 
            Other than the kind of obvious meat, veggies and fruit, we eat a lot of eggs, plantains, spaghetti and taco flavored meat, some quiches, meatloaf (without the oats), stir-fry, and so on. For dessert and sweetened treats, we do enjoy ice cream, and coconut flour or almond flour pies, shortcake, cookies, apple dumplings, fruit pizza, chocolate mousse type of dishes, etc... I have creme brulee planned for Christmas Eve. :)

              Conclusion: Although I would have never chosen it two and a half years ago, I think I'm able to say now that I'm glad Daniel has done his reading and introduced this to our family. I'm thrilled his blood sugar is under control and he doesn't get shaky from lack of food if we haven't eaten in a while, and those horrible headaches are gone. I don't consider ourselves on a diet, but this is just the way we eat. I don't ever call it a diet either. We just choose not to eat certain things! So....I'm rather happy with our eating habits now, and the positive changes we've seen. I'd say our little grain-free daughter is too!

So, thank you Daniel for undertaking this huge post, for getting all those nitty-gritty details for us, and doing the research. :) Like he said, if anyone has questions, we'll try and answer them in the comments! 


P.S. All pictures of food in this post are grain-free, and from our own kitchen! 


  1. Oh wow! WHat an interesting read! I really enjoyed it and found it "right down my alley". a couple months ago I got introduced to Primal and have read quite a bit since then and tried to start making changes. I feel sooooo much better this way, and it will def make extra weight start coming off!
    Where do you buy almond flour? Im anxious to experiment with it, ive only tried coconut flour.
    So thanks, your long post was an encouraging read for me today!

  2. Nice...Where'd you first hear about primal eating?

    We've bought almond meal from before although right know it looks like they only have 25# bags. We did get a 25# box before but I wouldn't really do that again since fresher is better especially with nuts.

    I usually order coconut flour from Tropical Traditions ( when they are having one of their frequent free shipping promotions. Overall I'd rate coconut as better than almond flour from a health standpoint if you use them much. It can be easy to eat too many almonds when they are ground into flour and turned into delicious treats :)


  3. Thank you so much for this post! I've had such a curiosity about this for a while. I've thought to myself very often that the root to my chronic fatigue issues lies within my very starchy diet, as I am a hispanic female and the brunt of what we eat is white rice and white bread, lots of beans, and well, just lots of starchy types of food--at almost every meal. I am so serious about changes, but for me and my family those changes have been slow going because of the cultural barrier that we have with food. It's almost like we (as a culture) think our way (the hispanic way) is the best way to eat and enjoy food! LOL! Yet we have the second highest rate of diabetes and highblood pressure in the nation, second only to African Americans.

    I'm writing down all of these books for further research. Once again, thank you for taking the time to share with us all of your changes and for showing the pics of your results as well. A picture is definitely worth a thousand words.

    Blessings in Jesus' mighty name,

    Dee :)

    1. Glad to try and help Dee. I'm guessing that with chronic fatigue there is likely more of an autoimmune issue going on so the problem is probably less related to starch per se and more about wheat gluten and the potentially gut damaging lectins in other grains, beans etc.

      Diane Sanfilippo keeps the blog Balanced Bites (which I read sometimes) and recently came out with a book -Practical Paleo- that has a specific meal plan for folks dealing with chronic fatigue. You might check it out as well -> (info on the meal plan is part way down the page)

      Also -as an anecdote of success- I recently read this story about a lady who's seen great improvement with chronic fatigue by following a primal-style diet:


  4. Thank you! Already ordered, The Wheat Belly!! I can't wait for it to arrive.

    You are right in that it is more an autoimmune thing with me...and I found out most of our starchy foods have wheat in them--even our white rice. Yesterday I tried very hard all day not to eat anything with wheat. Wow! This is way harder than I thought, as literally every single item in our cupboard has enriched wheat flour in it.

    But I'm on a mission, and I am tired of feeling sick and feeling tired. Off to check out these books and sites!



  5. I keep thinking about this post and came back to read a little bit of it again. I might, just might, be convinced to try fewer grains in my life. And then I remember my husband. And how he would not be convinced. And how hard it is to feed him. And I go back to feeding him a sandwich for lunch. And it's so easy. :)

  6. This was really well written, Daniel! I'm really impressed with both of you for making this change and sticking with it! I've gone completely dairy-free before twice with both my newborns for about 4 months each and found it got easier once I figured out what I COULD eat. I haven't tried grain-free yet, (and to be honest I reeeeeaaaallllly don't want to!!) but I will take what I've just read, mull it over, and definitely make an effort to cook with way less grains. I think right now we have some sort of grain with every single meal... By the way, both of your before/after pictures are pretty amazing. I mean, in no way did either of you look overweight before, but the after pictures are like "ideal" proportions!

  7. A diet is what I need for now. I eat too much fat and carbs. I want to be healthy again.
    no sugar no grains


Thoughts and comments are always nice. So, if you're feeling so inclined, leave a comment.