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Are Grains Paleo?
One of the most common (and easy to answer) questions we get here at UPG is this:
Are grains paleo?
Well, we’ve got a short and a long answer for you in this deep dive into grains and the paleo diet.
The Short Answer
Got it? Good.
The Long Answer
Okay, so you want a little bit more detail. Here’s the deal.
Despite the inclusion of a mountain of grains in both the US government’s food pyramid and the SAD (Standard American Diet), grains aren’t that great for you.
They’re just not.
There are several problems with grains but we’ll focus on just two:
- Carbohydrate content
Let’s tackle these one at a time.
The Carbohydrate Content of Grains
Grains are very simple carbohydrates. That means they break down into sugar quickly. This causes a spike in your blood sugar levels, which in turn causes a spike in your insulin levels.
High insulin levels prevent your body from burning fat because they cause your body to focus on converting the excess glucose in your bloodstream into energy and storing the rest as fat.
Constantly eating simple carbohydrates (especially in the quantities that the FDA recommends) is a surefire path to chronically high blood sugar levels, which can lead to obesity problems and pre-diabetic symptoms.
In addition to the high carbohydrate content, grains also contain a boatload of anti-nutrients that can negatively affect your digestion.
The Big Culprits (Anti-Nutrients)
We try to avoid grains largely due to the fact that they contain the following three anti-nutrients.
Lectins are sticky proteins and anti-nutrients. They’re found in various plant species and serve to discourage the consumption of the plant they’re present in by predators.
They’re hard to avoid altogether but a higher consumption of lectins can lead to intestinal damage, compromised intestinal bacteria, and leptin resistance – a pre-diabetic condition.
While lectins are not completely avoidable, grains are chock full of them. In fact, out of all the food groups, it’s grains that contain the most lectins. This is why we recommend staying away from them and eating other nutrient-dense foods with lower lectin levels.
Phytates are the salt form of phytic acid – a main form of energy storage in plants. Unfortunately, unlike plants, humans are unable to digest phytates.
That doesn’t sound too bad until you take into account the fact that phytates bind to minerals (magnesium, calcium, zinc and iron) in the body. By binding to these minerals, phytates make those minerals unavailable and take them out of the body.
So even if the grains you’re consuming contain a plethora of minerals, your body is unable to process those vitamins and minerals because they’re taken right out of your system.
Well, gluten. Gluten is a whole other animal. In fact, we’ve got a whole mini section on it.
Gluten is probably the worst offender out of these three anti-nutrients. We hate gluten. Here’s why.
Why Gluten Sucks
Gluten is a protein which causes an allergic reaction in some people (up to one third of the population). It can cause a wide variety of issues including vomiting, bloating, stomach pain, and diarrhea. Yeah – that doesn’t sound like much fun, huh? Severe versions of this are called Celiac Disease. This actually truncates the villi in the small intestine (villous atrophy).
Unfortunately even gluten-free foods, while better than gluten-full ones, still have many of the anti-nutrients and carbohydrate issues listed above.
Be careful with gluten – even Seth Rogen knows it’s bad for you. 🙂
List of Grains
This is not a comprehensive list – we’re always updating it.
- Brown rice
- Brown rice bread
- Brown rice tortilla
- Bulgur (cracked wheat)
- Farro/ emmer
- KAMUT® grain
- Oat bread
- Oat cereal
- Whole wheat cereal flakes
- Rolled oats
- Whole grain barley
- Wheat berries
- Whole grain cornmeal
- Whole rye
- Whole wheat bread
- Whole wheat couscous
- Whole wheat crackers
- Whole wheat pasta
- Whole wheat pita bread
- Whole wheat sandwich buns and rolls
- Whole wheat tortillas
- Wild rice
What about Quinoa?
Quinoa isn’t paleo. We explain why quinoa isn’t paleo here.
What about Beer?
This is about to make a lot of people sad, but I’m going to level with you.
Beer Is Not Paleo
Beer is non-paleo.
[Insert sad trombone noise here]
It’s not all bad news though. For alternatives to beer, see our paleo guide to alcohol or check out The NorCal Margarita.
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Photo credit: Iamoix
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