Dear Mark: Visting Family – Primal Compromises and Grain Alternatives

Dear Mark,

Browsing the Crossfit nutrition forums, I recently came across an interesting discussion about buckwheat, a possible Primal-friendly grain alternative. It caught my eye because I’ve been on the lookout for alternatives to pasta and bread ever since I found out that my Standard-American-Diet family will be visiting for an entire week (!) next month. What are your thoughts on buckwheat in particular and my conundrum at large?

I’ve previously covered a number of popular grain alternatives in my post about quinoa. In that post you’ll find suggestions like eggplant, butternut squash, crustless quiche, sweet potatoes and stuffed mushrooms. These are good go-to options when you are feeding family members that are used to starchier foods, or when you are making the transition to Primal eating and are finding it difficult to not revert back to eating your usual biscuits, pasta dishes, pancakes and croissants. But what of buckwheat?

At first glance, buckwheat certainly looks promising. Unlike grains, it’s not a grass, but rather a flowering pseudocereal. The triangular seed from the buckwheat plant, called a groat, is harvested and can be milled into flour or used whole in cereals. Seed? Seeds work, right? Not necessarily. While I love most seeds for their high fat content and protein, they do have to be low in carbs to pass the test. Buckwheat groats are decidedly starchier than, say, flax (another story altogether) or pumpkin seeds, so we must use caution. Buckwheat’s glycemic index is 54, which is still fairly high despite being lower than actual grains.

Historically speaking, buckwheat certainly isn’t paleo. You can put lipstick on a pseudocereal, but it’s still a high-carb, high-glycemic-loading grain wannabe. It also requires significant amounts of processing (grinding, roasting, rinsing, sprouting) to become edible to humans, and the earliest known domesticated cultivation of buckwheat was in Southeast Asia, probably around 6000 BC, well after the advent of agriculture. A wild form obviously existed before, but – as with grains and legumes – not in large enough quantities for it to become a regular food source for early man.

Is there a place for buckwheat in the modern Primal diet?

If you want my strict Primal answer, then, well, no. But your question had another nuance: that you have family visiting, and that these loved ones can’t imagine eating a meal without a starchy side. So you are looking for some sort of middle ground. If you desperately need a grainish backdrop for a meat dish, I guess you could throw in a little quinoa or buckwheat. But my guess is that your family members might be turned off more by these pseudo-grains than they would be if you prepared something genuinely Primal for them – think steamed, sauteed or grilled veggies galore with clean cuts of meat prepared in dozens of ways. (Check out my Recipe category for scores of suggestions.) With quinoa, buckwheat, or even rice for that matter, it is likely neither you nor your family will be satisfied; you because it isn’t truly Primal, and they because they had to eat… buckwheat and KEEN-WAH.

You don’t have to get all preachy on your family about what they ingest, but you could use this visit as an opportunity to subtly inform them about their foods choices. That is, just prepare Primal foods and see if they even notice. My guess is they’ll be begging for seconds without even knowing how healthy they are eating. Who knows? By the end of the week they may feel better than ever.

I’ve addressed the social dynamics of eating in the past. Here are a few of the most relevant:

Dear Mark: How to Eat a Healthy Dinner with My Family?

You vs. The Mob: Mob Eating Mentality

10 Simple Steps to Help Motivate a Friend

Diet Change and Partner Dynamics

Give advice to your fellow Apple in the comment boards!

tschorda Flickr Photo (CC)
TAGS:  gluten

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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