Think Whole Grains Are Good For You? Think Again.


I just finished reading a wonderful post by Scott Kustes, health writer for the Life Spotlight Network.

Scott’s article, “The Real Truth About Those ‘Healthy Whole Grains'”, explores in detail a subject that is close the heart of my nutrition beliefs. And that is this (old school nutrition followers may need to sit down first) – grains are not good for you. Nup, not even whole grains. Sorry.

What I love about this post is that it goes beyond the surface reasons why grains are no good (they screw up your digestion, can impair your brain development and most definitely cause fat gain) and gives you some unarguable evidence, including:

  • The link between grains and leptin resistance. Leptin resistance comes before insulin resistance and is a key predictor of obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
  • The effects of phytates (an acid typically found in the hull of a grain) and gluten (the protein part of wheat-derived grains) on your delicate digestive system.
  • How to ‘cheat’ safely if you just can’t give up your grains (invaluable advice!)
  • And quite a bit more.

Have a read of Scott’s article here, and then come back and take the grain challenge. It’s the most sure-fire way to determine whether grains are for you.

The Grain Challenge

What you need to do is eliminate all grains for two weeks. You may eat quinoa, which is not actually a grain, but many people consider it so. The purpose of this challenge is twofold –

  1. It will force you to include more nutritional variety for just 2 weeks and thus observe a difference in your energy, your digestion, and quite likely any stomach upsets or bloating.
  2. It will indicate a possible intolerance to gluten.

And the outcome is pretty simple – you are gluten intolerant if you notice your energy, mood and general well-being improve at all during this time. Remember – intolerance does not mean allergy and does not indicate celiac disease. It just means your body does not tolerate that food well.

After two weeks, add back in one type of grain, but just at one meal. If within a day you notice adverse reactions such as stomach cramping and digestive upset, or any dip in energy and moods, you are gluten intolerant. If you are okay, on the next day add in another grain, again just a small amount.

No adverse reactions after adding back in the first grain does not necessarily indicate no intolerance – some people react more subtly than others. This is why it’s worth gradually re-introducing each grain and taking the time to see how you react. Any negative reactions indicate an intolerance, although it may not be full-blown.

While giving up your grains, make sure you read labels on sauces and packaged foods to ensure none are sneaking in. It goes without saying (I hope) that you can’t drink alcohol during this period. Keep track in a journal of how you feel and whether your weight, energy, overall health or even your moods change during this period. At the end of two weeks, start eating grains as described above, and note your reactions. Pay close attention to every detail. If your energy drops, you become bloated, you have diarrhea or constipation, or you just don’t feel good, then you should not eat grains, and if you do they will definitely cause you to stay outside of ideal health.

The long and short of it is that, intolerant or not, many people find they feel so much better without grains, and that their energy is so markedly improved, that they are strongly motivated to change their eating patterns. I’d say that possibility alone is enough to give it a go, wouldn’t you?

Sure, it’s tough initially to eliminate grains, but the physical rewards are well worth the effort. To help get you started be sure to check out my 10 Tried And Tested Rules For A Healthy Breaky to get you underway.

37 responses to “Think Whole Grains Are Good For You? Think Again.”

  1. I’m so glad you wrote this! I’ve been gluten-free for over three and a half years and grain free for almost a year and I never felt (and looked) better. Grains are totally unnecessary and dont add anything nutritionally. Just replace those grains with more veggies, nuts, seeds, etc.

    I actually consider quinoa a grain too.

    • Kat says:

      I used to as well until someone told me it was a fruit and then I did some research to back it up .. easy one to confuse! Great to hear how well your gluten-free diet is going 🙂

  2. Marilyn says:

    Thank you for writing this post Kat! I found you through your comment on the Fitness Spotlight post on grains. I’ve decided to take on The Grain Challenge and decide for myself about the effect of grains on my body. I’m blogging about my experiences over at my blog Urpi’s Dream (linked to on my name).

    I’d like to ask you the same thing I asked Scott at Fitness Spotlight: Where you put corn, cous cous, kamut and rice on the spectrum. Are any of them ok, or perhaps less bad than wheat?

    I’ve found your posts that go into further detail about the New Nutrition, particularly about the hormones. I’m super interested in this topic, and expect to be asking lots of questions! I hope you don’t mind!

    • Kat says:

      Thanks Marilyn! No, I definitely don’t mind 🙂

      To answer your question, I would put all of those grains on the ‘no-go’ list. Corn particularly is a nasty one and is definitely over-eaten. IN fact, Michael Pollen in one of his books (can’t remember which), points out that corn is now the basis of pretty much every processed food out there. We are, in fact, literally ‘corn people’. Kamut is just an old-fashioned term for wheat, and is these days still a close relative of wheat. Same rules apply for rice and cous cous – they’re definitely grains, and I wouldn’t say any less bad than wheat. If you HAD to eat one, go with rice.

      PS – I laughed at what you said about ‘New Nutrition’ on your blog 🙂 .. I probably should call it ‘Old Nutrition’ since it’s about getting back to basics!

  3. D. J. says:

    I’ve suspected this for some time about grains…I’m just so glad to see someone with the guts to say it to the public. You’re obviously not paid/suported by the wheat industry. The US government acts concerned about the obesity problem knowing full well that it’s really good marketing by the grain industries that fool the public. Same with dairy, in my opinion. They tell you how healthy dairy products are without mentioning that all of those wonderful benefits exist BEFORE all of the processing that strips it of the natural vitamins. I’m a former Marine and have always tried to stay fit, which gets tougher when you’re over 40, but I just went off both dairy and all grains a few days ago and think it’s the right thing to do. I’m sticking strictly to meats, fish, fruits, nuts and a ton of veggies. If I notice a large difference over the next month (and I believe I will), I will be spreading the word to everyone who will listen that the food industries really don’t have our best interests at heart. Keep up the good work!

  4. RKM says:

    Over the years, virtually everything I have ever eaten has gotten bad press. You’re not the first writer to disdain the grain! But, after giving up saturated fats, dairy, meat, sweets, root veggies (Oh, yeah… There are those nutritionists who say they are not good for you!), and now grains, my diet has become extremely boring. I think it’s best to turn my back on ALL advice and do as I please. After all, no one lives forever, right?

    PS Whole grain bread was my last holdout. Now I have nowhere to spread my faux mayo, my tofuti cream cheese, and my hummus. What’s next? Fruit? Oh, yeah. Timothy Ferris’s new book says fruit is too sugary and causes you to get fat if you eat too much of it. Are you getting my drift here?

    • Kat says:

      I get what you’re saying, and I agree that eating according to ‘the rules’ can occasionally be boring. But perhaps we have been too well conditioned to think that eating should be solely about (so-called) pleasure and having what we like rather than what is actually the best fuel for our bodies. I agree that fruit is not healthy year-round – it’s a seasonal food by nature, we shouldn’t be able to access it day in and day out, and it DOES prompt your body to store fat. It’s a personal choice what you do or do not eat, and the end of the day it simply comes back to what you value most – variety and indulgence dietarily, or health and ideal weight. I’d argue that you can easily have both, and do so without needing to fall back on the staples of the typical Western diet.

      Am assuming you’re joking with that list of things I definitely wouldn’t advise eating?!

      The most important thing is to find a method that works for you – you feel and function great, and you consider it sustainable. There’s no one right way for everyone 🙂

      • Vivi says:

        But food is supposed to be about pleasure too. I don’t think God put food on this earth so we can eat it listlessly. There are many great recipes, great restaurants etc that have a delicious variety of food for us to enjoy. Many ethnic varieties etc. Mixing it up and keeping it interesting. That being said I believe in a healthy whole food diet for most of the time. But I think a good pizza, a quality artisan ice cream, and some fine dining etc are part of living and enjoying food too. Candy on Halloween, pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. Shouldn’t it be about moderation? I am trying to change things up in my diet for health and weight loss. I am going to do organic eggs, wild salmon, lots of veggies, fruits, healthy oils, nuts and some organic dairy.

        What about beans and whole grains? This is new for me to discover that now whole grains aren’t good for you.

        It does seem that all food at one time or the other has been deemed “unhealthy” except for broccoli and spinach.

        What is a gal to do?

      • Kat says:

        Well actually if it’s non-organic spinach then it’s heavily sprayed … and as for broccoli, quite a lot of people are intolerant to it on lab results!
        I get what you’re saying. But I don’t understand your point ‘isn’t food about pleasure?’ – of course it is. But (to me) it’s not pleasurable to eat foods that don’t support great healthy and vitality. I don’t agree with all things in moderation; I think that’s a ridiculous idea made up to make people feel okay about not eating as we’re designed to eat. Trans fats, sugars, processed grains- to me these are NOT foods so therefore why eat them at all? I’m talking about day to day … for sure I would eat whatever I want on those sort of special occasions you mention. But so-called moderation day to day just keeps us ‘just’ outside being truly healthy and functioning (and looking) our very best.

        It’s a personal choice, so you have to do what is right for you with the information you have. For me it’s been a gradual journey over a period of years to eliminate non-foods; it’s certainly not something I did overnight!

      • Vivi says:

        Thanks for your reply Kat!

        Yes I agree with you on the “non foods” not being part of an “everything in moderation” diet.

        I am trying to go as organic and as whole food as I possibly can. I have PCOS and I am trying to go as low grain as I can. If I do have grains it will be whole.

        Also trying to go lower on the dairy.

        I am eating wild alaskan sockeye salmon, avocados, apples, almond butter, pb, green tea, lots of vegetables, fruits and the like. Going organic as much as I can.

        But I need to start experimenting with cooking and different types of salads.

        I have a lot of weight to lose and need to get my lab numbers down. Cholesterol was 248 and blood sugar 101!

        Not only do I have PCOS but I have an eating disorder with an addiction to sugar.

        I have lost and gained weight several times since I was 14. I am 42 now.

        Each time I learned something new.

        I never did like fast food or highly processed foods. However I ate Haagen Dasz, chocolate, candy and the like.

        Even when I was eating whatever I wanted I still tried to avoid the trans fats, corn syrup and enriched flours. Though I wasn’t always successful.

        I always liked to get my treats from Whole foods or other places where I knew the quality of the food was good.

        So I am looking into Stevia now and doing some research there .

        Thanks for your note!

        I am also working on the process of eliminating non foods.

        I am writing everything down I eat now.

        So far lost about 7 lbs in a month.


      • Kat says:

        Wow, it sounds like you are putting a lot of thought into what you’re doing. Congratulations 🙂 Personally I do find it hard to avoid sugar binges once I have even a little (I also have an eating disorder background), so super super dark chocolate is one of my favourite treats. Keep up the good work Vivi!

    • Joy says:

      I suppose the subject of whole grains is much like eggs. I’m trying to do more of an alkaline diet approach because when your ph balanced that is when you’re most harmonious. If we cut out everything that was bad for us food would be very boring, but that doesn’t mean we should eat “bad” food every day for one or two meals every day. I think the big fuss about whole grains is that people are gorging on processed cereal with milk for breakfast, some possible milk and cookies with lunch (kids like mac n cheese), and a nice pizza/spaghetti for dinner. It’s very easy to “fill up” on whole grains in your diet while forgetting about fruit and veggies very easily. Moderation is definitely key. Maybe we could eat whole grains 1-2 times a week? month? i think the real debate is whether our bodies are meant to digest grains? I mean we don’t eat leaves off trees or grass on the ground and they are clearly in abundance? Jewish people did eat bread though.

      • Kat says:

        Good thoughts Joy … I myself do eat grains (gluten free) a few times each month so I guess that even though I don’t believe we are meant to eat them that doesn’t mean I never eat them. I mean I also eat processed chocolate on occasion and that’s not natural either 🙂

  5. RKM says:

    Yes, I have managed to put together a fairly decent way of eating. I have lost about 55 pounds, but it took seven years of an up and down process.

    Turns out, even vegetarianism is under fire…again. Have you read The Vegetarian Myth?

    All foods, plants included, have toxins in them, mostly to protect them from predators. So, you’re right. I and everyone must pick and choose. Lots of color, less meat, limited fruit. And very limited grains. Makes sense to me.

    • Kat says:

      I have read it … one of my favourite books. Have you read the recent undoing of The China Study? Very compelling.

  6. Carla says:

    I would have to agree with Kat here. I spent years eating what I want and wrongfully thought it was good for me because it was pleasurable until it all caught up with – in my early 20’s. I was overweight with insulin resistance, PCOS, etc. If you’re creative and learn to retrain your palate from eating sugar, grains, etc, there is still a world of possibilities out there. You just have to be motivated enough to do it was I was.

  7. RKM says:

    Yes. I have heard about that, Kat. I read The China Study when it first appeared. Even then, I was a bit dubious about all its ‘facts.’ And after studying Timothy Ferriss’s latest work, The 4-Hour Body, I am left with even more doubts. Seems there is at least a dozen views on each element of diet. But I will take my 55-pound loss as a good indication that I am doing something right. Good cholesterol, blood pressure, and sugar levels.

    I still eat whole grain bread. It’s my last habit.

  8. Abrianna says:

    I tried not eating grains, dairy, or processed foods for a month. The results were opposite for me. I lost all of my energy: I play basketball and I could hardly run anymore, I quit jogging because I had no energy, I had to sleep an excess of 12 hours a night or I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. The only positive was I noticed a reduction in bloating during my period (I usually gain around 10 pounds of water weight) but that might have just been cutting out processed foods and not the grains/dairy.

    I went back on a poor diet (with processed foods) and instantly noticed my energy return. Now I can sleep 6 hours a night and run miles twice a day again. Currently I’m cutting out the processed foods, but just processed foods, and most dairy. I eat a diet mostly of vegatables, fruit, and some grain.

    What do these results mean? Is my current diet healthy?

    • Kat says:

      When you cut out carbs it’s often best to do it gradually. Also, you need to ensure you are adding enough lean protein and good fats in … that could be it. It’s tough for the body to come off carbs, and it’s crucial you replace what you take away!

      • Abrianna says:

        I did do it gradually, months before I wasn’t eating processed foods at all and only brown rice, legumes, and some bread, as far as grains go. I always added healthy oils to my meal and ate plenty of nuts. I tried making paleo bead wich was high in fat too.

      • Kat says:

        How about protein? Ideally you need to be eating protein 4x p/day minimum, 1-2 teaspoons good fat at each meal, and LOADS of green veg … everyone is different and some people do need higher carb, but processed food is not optimal for health compared with whole …

      • Abrianna says:

        Yeah, I probably wasn’t eating often enough because I get side stichteches so I don’t eat 4 hours before I work out. And it was in the middle of basketballl season, so maybe it was to overwhelming for my body to make the switch. I’ll try again over the summer.

  9. Kat says:

    Let me know how you go!

  10. emma says:

    i have been grain free for 2 months. i LOVE it.
    i have lost 20lbs, dont feel bloated anymore, have more energy, more “regular” and everything positive you can think of.
    the great thing is, im not as hungry as i use to be. my body doesnt require as much food.
    my favorite things to eat are bacon, eggs, rib eye steak, brussels sprouts, pineapple and beef jerky.
    my husband has lost almost 15 lbs on this diet.

    I will NEVER have grains be a part of my daily diet anymore. i could literally live like this for the rest of my life

  11. RKM says:

    What do you think about supplements and protein powders? And nuts and seeds. Do you recommend heavy on the seeds?

  12. kati says:

    kat, have you studied the effects of “low fat” vegetable oils, and products? how our omega 6 to omega 3 ratios are completely out of whack? eating a diet that uses saturated fats more than vegetable oils (except coconut oil), has made me have bounds more energy, my sex drive has improved, my skin is clearing up, and i’m not as tired. i have recently started trying to cut back on grains, i don’t know if i can go without pasta, lol.

    • Kat says:

      ha 🙂 it does take time to get off pasta and the like! Yes, I have studied that, if you search Omega 3 in the blog search bar I’ve written about it a little 🙂

  13. Phillip says:

    I love whole grain bread! I usually eat it when i feel the diarrhea squirts coming on after a night of drinking hard liquor, only thing that helps bind me up is whole grains. I guess whole grains have one benefit, Lol.

  14. musoka03 says:

    I have been following all kinds of diets off and on and trying new things especially after watching a few food documentaries like Food Inc. and Forks Over Knives. I have read about eating primal and how grains are not natural for us to eat, but I have also read about how casein, the protein in animal products is also very bad for us and unnatural to our bodies. I have always had digestive problems when eating any types of white flour like pastas, breads, and white rice. I tried a diet rich in fruits, veggies, lean meats, and “healthy” fats eliminating all grains unless they were sprouted like the Ezekiel bread by Food For Life. I felt much better! However, I have to say I am now eating sort of a vegan diet of whole grains, fruits, veggies, legumes and beans, few fats: nuts and avacado, no meat and no dairy and I feel even better than before! Whole grains do not affect me the way white flour and processed grains do. I feel like eliminating dairy was also key and perhaps meat too. I never get that food coma, super sleepy feeling after eating even if I do eat whole grains or other carbs. I have not gained nor lost any weight on either diet, they both helped me maintain a steady weight. Both diets made me feel better, the vegan diet and the grain elimination diet, but I think the vegan diet with whole grains makes me feel best. I don’t know anything about the science of it, but I cannot imagine that eating a no grain, no meat, no dairy diet would be very good for you, but I suppose you can live off of just fruits veggies, nuts, and legumes/beans if you needed to.

    • Kat says:

      I would definitely not cut meat out! Whole grains are a very modernised food, we survived without them as a species for a long time. It’s all about finding what works for you 🙂