Yesterday I was invited to an event that involved a group who promotes eating grains – er, I mean, promote the idea that eating grains are good for your health. As a gluten-free family with no Celiac disease, my Spidey Sense started tingling. After a little while tooling around this group’s website, I found a page about Celiac disease, and how DANGEROUS it is to give up grains if you do not have unless you have such a diagnosis. Ok, get a grip people. No one is going to be in health danger if they stop eating the grains that are part of the Standard American Diet (aptly abbreviated to “S.A.D.”), like hamburger buns and packaged bread and cake – all of which should only loosely be defined as grains.
Common Myths About Why You Need Grains
Well, sure they do – but what grains? You DON’T need to consume glutens to get grains, or grains to get the nutrition they provide. Let’s break down some of the claims you might have heard:
Myth #1: Grains are great for your heart.
Ok, which grains, exactly? How do they help the heart? WHOLE grains provide fiber, which can help reduce cholesterol (bad cholesterol, presumably) and therefore contribute to improving heart health. Enriched grains DO NOTHING in this area and instead contribute more likely to weight gain. Most of what you’re getting in package bread is the enriched kind. However, it’s NOT true of all brands, but you have to read the labels, looking for those words, “Enriched” and “Fortified.”
Myth #2: Whole grains help you keep your weight down.
Here again, we’re talking about whole grains – see my first bullet. Anything made with white flour and white rice will not help here. I suspect this claim has to do with the fact that grains fill you. However, vegetables do too!
Myth #2: Grains provide crucial folate for your baby during pregnancy.
Folate is the same as folic acid and, if you’ve ever been pregnant, you know that OB’s tend to do a little freak out about you getting enough because being deficient can lead to serious birth defects. At KidsHealth.org, I read that this is pretty much beneficial only before and in early pregnancy. They clarify that folate is actually Vitamin B9, which you can get in leafy greens. Hm, kale smoothie vs. bread slice? I’ll take the smoothie – and your baby will appreciate the extra vitamins too!
Myth #3: Grains are the best source of much-needed fiber you can get.
Again, whole grains do, that’s correct, but you can get plenty of fiber elsewhere. Read below to learn more. You are never going to convince me that grains are better than vegetables. Ever.
What Kind of Fiber You Need & Where to Find It Grain-Free
Let’s learn about fiber. There are two kinds: SOLUBLE Soluble fiber mixes with water and it’s the kind that is good for your heart. Sources include:
- oatmeal (gluten-free, but often mixed with wheat, so you need to look for the label)
- barley (NOT gluten free)
INSOLUBLE Insoluble means it does not dissolve in water. If you grew up in an Italian family like mine, there was always talk of getting your “roughage” to process all that pasta. Christmas dinner meant a fennel break half way through – fennel being one of those amazing foods that contains BOTH soluble and insoluble fiber. Because insoluble fiber doesn’t break down, it helps process out the stickier foods and prevent constipation. (It turns out that soluble fiber can help this process too). Sources includes:
- barley (not gluten free) and ancient grains, which are gluten free
So, Do We Really Need Grain or Glutens in our Diet?
The real answer is NO, however, it’s a bit more challenging to get full without grain, unless you are consuming LOTS of vegetables. We do NOT, however, need gluten in our diet. In fact, according to Dr. Alessio Fasano*, of the Center for Celiac Research and world-renowned pediatric gastroenterologist, we humans do not have an enzyme to process glutens, which was not much of a problem historically – until geneticists started making strains of wheat with much stronger glutens in them. This article at SFGate tells you how to add insoluble fiber without wheat.
That said, you are going to be hearing a LOT more about how wonderful grain is for you, especially now that a new organization exists to push it. I’m guessing the Grain Lobby is feeling some hurt from all the research that now exists on how enriched foods, processed foods and glutens can hurt you or your children. I also just discovered there is a pasts lobby – this makes me crazy, because as much as people are eating gluten-free, pasta is in NO danger of going out of style any time soon. And to boot, the pro-pasta group is really just a pro-gluten group. Plenty of GF pasta out there, from Tinkyada to Tolerant to high quality store brands.
In addition, your doctor may try to persuade you NOT to do a gluten-free diet for your child with autism. It’s challenging, yes, but not nutritionally damaging. That is a flat out myth. If you have child with special needs or autism, consider consulting with a MAPS or DAN! doctor (clarified on this TACA NOW article) to get the help your child may need. *I heard him talk at the National Autism Conference in 2012 and he was wonderful. Learn more about Dr. Fasano and his work here. Image courtesy of Suat Eman, FreeDigitalPhotos.net