This blog post is a continuation of The Busy Mom’s Guide to Eating Well.
Step 4: Explore Meal and Snack Options that are Grain-free
This step is by far the most challenging, and most challenged, rule I write about. Because I specialize in holistic mental health and because I see a strong connection between what we eat, our digestive health, and our mental and physical health, I tend to recommended exploring grain-free options for some meals and snacks. For most patients, I don’t eliminate grains altogether, but I do encourage patients to have occasional grain-free meals to break them of the cycle or expectation that breads, pastas, and rice must accompany every meal.
From the health perspective of a busy mom, I feel that exploring and experimenting with grain-free meal options has tremendous benefits. As I will describe in further detail below, grains spike blood sugar and insulin as well as contribute to addictive and binge eating behaviors. If we are busy moms that find ourselves eating mindlessly, emotionally, or compulsively, this Step 4 is an important one to read and explore!
While there is a certain amount of mainstream acceptance and understanding that processed foods, refined sugars and trans fats should be avoided, talking about decreasing or eliminating grain is a much tougher sell. Despite considerable resistance, I do persist in stating my case because I truly believe it to be an important piece of successful treatment for conditions such as binge eating disorder, food addiction, and other mental health conditions. In my opinion, failing to look at our cravings and reactions to grains is why previous food addiction treatments may have failed; it is why we continue to crave certain foods, have food on the mind, and eat more than we need to, even after giving up sugar and processed foods.
Here are some common responses I hear. “But grains are an important food group!” “Grains are an important source of fiber for me.” “But I love bread and pasta.” “That will be so tough, I’m not sure I can do it” I am the first one to sympathize and to understand these woes. Grains are everywhere. They are comfort food. Even if we try to avoid them, they pop up at every corner.
Grains have become a staple of our diet for a number of reasons. Some reasons we know and some may be surprising. Grains have a longer shelf life than other whole foods, such as meat, fruit, vegetables and dairy. Grains tend to be less expensive and more easily available. In modern times, we have been able to grow and process grains easily and therefore they have become a very affordable source of calories.
Some diets are high in grain because we don’t feel safe eating much else! Even well-informed and well-intentioned healthy eaters eat more grain because they are concerned about, and rightly so, the safety of our food supply. A typical scenario of an individual wanting to make the right food choices may be …. I am nervous about eating fish because of metals and industrial chemicals, and I am not comfortable with the factory- farming practices of much of the meat that is available to me. I am not eating as many fruits and vegetables as I would like because I can’t afford the extra cost of buying organic. Add on to this scenario, individuals avoiding eggs and other animal products due to the fear of cholesterol and saturated fat (check out Step 3!), and the result is an individual eating a diet consisting mostly of whole and refined grains. Often times after reviewing the diet more closely, the individual realizes he/she is eating a higher percentage of refined grains than initially thought.
It is hard for many to even imagine a diet low in grain or without grain. But it is important to consider if you are someone who feels the addictive hold of food. Even if we give up all sugar and all processed foods, eating grains (yes, both refined and whole grains) seems to trigger compulsive and addictive eating. In my experience grains contribute to obsessive thinking and rumination that is focused on food. Refined grains act like sugar in our bodies, producing similar insulin and serotonin surges. While whole grains may produce less of a hormonal effect, whole-grain flours have been shown to produce a significant serotonin “high,” and the whole grain itself can impact cravings and compulsivity. Decreasing grains in one’s diet and eliminating grains during the sensitive times and meals when binging occurs, can have a significant impact on food addiction. Individuals that give up grains completely report a decrease in appetite; they no longer think about food or the next meal, and they begin eating only when they are hungry and stop eating when they are satisfied. Not to mention, folks report a clearer and sharper focus, less brain fog and more energy!
A question I get a lot is … “Is giving up grains really safe?” “Don’t we need grains in our diet?” I have been researching these questions a lot lately. What I have found is that grains do not provide us with any nutrient that we cannot get from another food. Grains can actually deplete our bodies of certain nutrients, can be challenging for many to digest, and can spike blood sugar and insulin much like sugar. We can get all the nourishment and fiber we need by eating vegetables, fruits, protein and healthy fats. If we struggle with food addiction and feel powerless to the hold foods have on us, we can certainly live and even thrive without grain in our diets.
The Mommy Tune-up is a blog solely devoted to the busy mom’s pursuit of sanity and good health!