Are Whole Grains Bad for You?

NutritionWhen people find out I follow a paleo lifestyle, they typically ask the same questions:

  • Isn’t it expensive?
  • So what DO you eat?
  • But aren’t whole grains good for you?

I’ve already addressed what I eat, and I’ll cover the costs of following a paleo lifestyle in another post, but today I want to focus on the third question. This is a question I hear all the time, and one that I completely understand.

After all, it was barely more than a year ago since I stopped filling every meal with every whole grain I could find, firmly believing it was the right thing to do for my health and well-being (meanwhile, wondering why my butt wasn’t getting any smaller and I wasn’t feeling any better).

The fact is, conventional health wisdom (and dietary guidelines from the USDA) heavily promote eating whole grains.

Whole grains lower cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease; the fiber in whole grains improves digestion and keeps you full; whole grains provide vital nutrients and are an essential part of a healthy diet. This is what I was always taught. It was what I always believed.

In fact, I believed it so unfailingly that I never questioned the fact that my devoted consumption of grains didn’t actually seem to be making me healthier.

I was still struggling to maintain my weight without extreme calorie restriction. I was still having blood sugar issues, out-of-control hunger, near-daily headaches, body pains and random spells of tunnel vision. I was still anxious most of the time and worried constantly about why I just didn’t feel right. At one point during my senior year of college, I was so concerned I scheduled an MRI, convinced there was something horribly wrong with me.

But throughout all of this,  I never questioned my food choices. I figured I might be eating too much, or not working out enough, or not getting enough fiber, but I never- not once- questioned whether the food itself might be the problem. It was clearly something wrong with ME. I mean this was, after all, what I was “supposed” to be eating to be healthy.

Not so.

In fact, there are many reasons that whole grains aren’t all they are cracked up to be. Among them:  the fact that they don’t provide vitamins or minerals that you can’t also get from meats, fruits, vegetables and seeds; they cause digestive issues for many people; they are often highly processed; the list goes on.

And over the last year I’ve discovered that I feel so much better without grains in my diet. I feel so much better without processed foods and “diet” foods. I feel so much better when I focus on getting the most nutrient-dense foods with every meal, when I cook my own food from scratch and when I focus on getting foods that have been raised and grown responsibly.

In fact, over the last year I can count the number of bad headaches I’ve had on one hand (and can pinpoint their cause- WORK- quite easily), I’ve completely gotten rid of the strange symptoms I experienced that led to the MRI, I’ve cleared my skin dramatically, learned to be a great cook and dropped 30 pounds.

So how does this answer the question of whether grains are bad for you? I guess it doesn’t. What it does tell you, however, is that grains are bad FOR ME. And they could be bad for you, too.

I’m obviously not suggesting that whole grains alone are what is causing America’s obesity epidemic, or that people who eat whole grains can’t be healthy. That’s just not true.

But it’s also not true that we NEED grains to survive. You will not become “gluten deficient,” if you switch out grains for whole, unprocessed carbs like vegetables and fruits. In fact, you’ll be getting far MORE nutrients and might find yourself feeling better and getting healthier.

Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last year, it’s that each individual person should explore their food choices on their own. No one should take one person’s dietary advice without doing some research and some experimenting of their own, and no one should feel pressured to eat a certain way.

What is right for me may not be right for you. But it may be! And if you’re not feeling completely 100 percent, if you you’re heavier than you want to be or feel like you’ve not reached your optimal health, then try something else! That something else just may be a paleo lifestyle.

It’s not easy, at least not at first. But if you’re like me, it will be completely worth it.

What questions do YOU have about following a paleo lifestyle? Do you want tips for making the change? Let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them!

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