My love / hate relationship with grains


A year ago, I was working with a woman who was trying to lose a lot of weight, had blood sugar issues and was therefore subscribing to the Atkins, then the Paleo diet and swore that grains, even in their whole form, made her gain weight. Challenging her, I put her on 100% carbs (grains and beans) diet for 3 days at breakfast, lunch and dinner followed by 7 days of veganism with 50% grains and 50% vegetables and she lost 8lbs. Half of which were lost during the first 3 days of a pure starch diet. This diet was not a calorie restriction diet. When she exited the program and got back to her regular ways she gained the weight back. She could not understand what had happened.

THAT is the dilemma that we are left with when we do not understand how our bodies work, cannot make sense of apparently conflicting nutritional advice or are blindly following a fad diet that may have worked for others.

I also have a love / hate relationship with grains because for the longest time I did not know whether I could/should or could not/should not eat them. I cannot recall they affected my weight or performance growing up in Europe but I became aware something was wrong when after moving to the US, I started to suffer from terrible digestive distress after eating grains. Every time I ate a sandwich, I felt like sleeping. Forget trying to get something done at work between 1PM-3PM. I had to take a nap, hiding in the lactation room. Even oatmeal or whole grains toast in the morning would lead to brain fog and immediate bathroom stop. Worse, this lethargy expanded to other starchy foods I was eating, even after I had considerably reduced eating grains.
I did a lot of research and experimentation. I thought I was gluten-intolerant (negating that for 20 years of living in France eating bread and nothing wrong happened) so I stopped eating gluten. It was about the time when the book Wheat Belly by Dr. David was published, with whom I had studied in Nutrition School. It helped with the bloating but not with the energy and brain fog as much. So I decided to remove all processed grains, not just wheat and gluten. I even said goodbye for a year to my Friday morning treat: a pain of chocolat (chocolate croissant) because even made in the best bakery it would put my gut out of commission for 3 days. I also experimented with the type of grain, where it comes from, the way it is prepared, the timing of eating grain, the combination with other foods, with the seasons, etc. I spent years on the matter to heal my gut.

And I succeeded.

In fact, I can eat my pain au chocolat again (It is now my Wednesday treat and I recommend the Pain Au Chocolat, fresh from the oven at Arcade Bakery in Tribeca). I can enjoy my pain au chocolat without side effects and even better without unleashing a whole set of cravings for more carbs. I can also skip the Wednesday treat just fine. No addiction!

I learned that I was not gluten-sensitive. That there were grains that worked better for me, that there was a quantity threshold to observe, that the weather and the seasons mattered to meet my body's needs and that grains were an incredible source of long lasting energy, stabilizing for the mood as well as a great ally in the fight against obesity and heart disease. I am leaner and stronger in the gym when I eat grains. The athletes I coach are usually eating 60-80% carbs to sustain high levels of strength, energy during their workout. In fact, our body uses primarily glucose and secondly fatty acids for energy (not protein).

Whole grains have been a central element of the human diet since early civilization. Humans ceased being hunter-gatherers and settled down into farming communities when they were able to cultivate grain crops. People living in these communities—on all continents—had lean, strong bodies. In the Americas, corn was the staple grain. In India and Asia, it was rice. In Africa, people ate sorghum. In the Middle East, they used wheat, making pita bread, tabouli and couscous. In Europe, corn, millet, wheat, rice, pasta, dark breads and even beer were considered health-providing foods. In Scotland, oats were a staple food. In Russia, they ate buckwheat or kasha. Very few people were overweight.
Whole grains are an excellent source of nutrition, as they contain essential enzymes, iron, dietary fiber, vitamin E and B-complex vitamins. Because the body absorbs grains slowly, they provide sustained and high-quality energy. Each grain has a different nutritional profile so one really needs to get down to the specifics to understand which grains work and which do not. I know that oats are not my friend but spelt berries are and I can last a long time on those. Teff is another one that I love and as a woman, it is good to know that one serving packs 20% of an adult woman's daily iron intake (and nearly half of a man's). Teff is awesome and very common in Ethiopian cooking. Its mildly sweet and earthy taste works well for gluten-free pancakes and banana bread. So you see where I'm going with that?

So I invite you to get out of your rut with grains, go beyond quinoa and brown rice as wheat alternative and even reconsider whether you are gluten intolerant (unless you've officially been diagnosed with Celiac Disease) and get to the root cause of the matter. Interestingly, I thought that my intolerance to wheat may have to do with my blood type -I am 0 negative - and the "Eat for your blood type diet" suggests that 0 blood types are intolerant to wheat and most grains. I discovered it was not exactly true and certainly not cut that dry.
So figuring out whether grains have a place in your diet and how to incorporate them is something only YOU can discover. But I am happy to lay the ground work for your experiments and give you all the information you need to safely try things out. If anything, it will expose you to new flavors and ways of eating.

My virtual group health coaching program “30 For Life” is focusing on Grains in March. I will teach you everything I know about whole grains and encourage you to experiment in several ways:
1- Eat whole grains for energy and healing of your digestive system (learn ancient recipes for health)
2- Experiment with gluten-free and glutenous grains
3- Discover less known grains and how to prepare them
4- Experiment eating a balanced diet without any grains at all (while keeping animal product to 10% of less of your diet or going vegan all the way. I call it the heart healthy Paleo)
5- How to reduce carbs cravings and understand the root cause of your (sweet or salty) carbs addiction
I would love for you to join me, even just for one month only. You can sign-up HERE.
6- Learn how to read food labels
Spelt salad
Here is a Hearty Winter Salad Recipe using the grain Spelt Berries (it is a glutenous grain which is a great alternative to wheat). There are other grains recipes on my website for glutenous grains.

See you next month. Have a great rest of your week!

In health, success and happiness,