Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
22 May

Top 8 Most Common Reactions to Your Grain-Free Diet (and How to Respond)

As I’m sure you’ve seen, eyes raise and questions arise when you order a burger wrapped in lettuce or discard a “wrap” and eat the contents. And then, when you answer with “Oh, I don’t eat grains,” minds boggle and mouths gape as they stumble to grasp the notion of someone who doesn’t eat bread or pasta. Eventually, though, they fire off responses, challenges, questions, and proclamations. This isn’t right, this isn’t possible, this doesn’t agree with their idea of how people should eat. It just isn’t normal. You’re not normal, and you should be ashamed of yourself for introducing a new paradigm. But not all are personally offended by your decision. Some are honestly curious and flabbergasted. Some just want to know why someone would give up grains and how they get along without them.

So, what kind of stuff do we hear out there in the wild?

Rather than just linking to yet another MDA post, maybe on why grains are unhealthy or how to give them up, let’s take a look at the eight most popular and prevalent questions and then try to come up with some good responses to them. I’ll give both longer ones and succincter ones (that you can fire off in an elevator).

“Oh, is that a low-carb thing?”

While grains represent an easy, cheap source of carbohydrates (that most sedentary people simply don’t need), they also contain “anti-nutrients,” proteins and lectins and other nutritional factors that impair digestion, perforate the intestinal lining, increase inflammation, and can even exacerbate or (possibly) induce auto-immune diseases. Since the purpose of life is to reproduce and that grain has to make it into the ground to germinate and turn into a plant, grains don’t want to be eaten, and they use the anti-nutrients to dissuade consumption in lieu of the running, climbing, flying, crawling, biting, and stinging that animals use to survive.

Response: “Kinda, but it’s more than that. In order to survive and spread their genes, a grain uses anti-nutrients to dissuade animals from eating them. Some animals have adapted quite well, but humans haven’t, so I choose not to eat them.”

“I could never give up bread. And aren’t grains the staff of life?”

For the past several thousand years of human history, bread has been a staple food. The ancient Egyptians baked it. The Greeks and Romans made it. You probably grew up with it. It was – and is – cheap and filling. Today, because billions simply need calories from wherever they can get them, grains are the ticket, the “staff of life.” But it’s not like we’ll wither away into nothingness, all because we failed to heed the biological dietary necessity to eat grains ordained by some higher power. Grains aren’t the staff of life in an inherent sense, but rather because they’re cheap, reliable, and easy to work with. They provide calories and a modicum of nutrients to people who absolutely require those calories, regardless of any nutritional downsides. Having joint pain and bloating because you ate some whole wheat, while unpleasant, is better than dying of starvation because you refused it.

Response: “An unfortunately large number of people are forced to subsist on grains as a staple, because they’re cheap and plentiful and calories are scarce, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to eat. Grains aren’t necessary if you have access to plenty of fresh animals and plants.”

“Where do you get your fiber?”

As if only cereal grains contain non-starch polysaccharides. As if all the world’s inulin, pectin, chitin, beta-glucans, and oligosaccharides are found solely in wheat, barley, rye, rice, oat, and corn. As if some of the richest sources of soluble fiber – you know, prebiotics, or the kind that our gut bacteria can ferment and convert into metabolically-active short chain fatty acids – aren’t fruits, roots, nuts, and green vegetables. And, as if the richest sources of insoluble fiber – the metabolically-inert stuff that pretty much nothing can digest and which serves only as a bulking agent for improving the robustness of our bowel movements – aren’t whole grains.

Response: “I get my fiber from fruits and vegetables. Best of all, our gut bacteria can actually digest the fiber from fruits and vegetables, thereby producing short chain fatty acids that improve our metabolic health. Grain fiber is just a bulking agent that fills your toilet bowl.”

“What about the USDA food pyramid?”

What about it? Take a look around you. The obesity rate is the highest it’s ever been, and almost everyone who’s not obese is “just” overweight. Diabetes is on the rise. People live out the end of their lives relying on a complicated cocktail of pharmaceuticals and medical apparati just to eke out a few more years. All this, despite the majestic, all-powerful USDA dietary recommendations informing everything we put into our collective mouths. How’s that USDA food pyramid working out for us so far, I’d like to ask. I’m not necessarily assigning a causative role to the pyramid (though it certainly plays a role, in my view) in the obesity epidemic. I’m just saying that it has done absolutely nothing to stanch the rise of diet-related illness. I’m saying it doesn’t have a real impressive track record.

Response: “Since the USDA food pyramid was released in 1992, the obesity rate has increased unabated. What about it?”

“That must be terribly inconvenient. What do you eat for breakfast? What about sandwiches? What about dining out?”

Well, you see, all you gotta do for a bread-free sandwich is spread a little mayo on your right hand, some mustard on the left, and pile on the avocado, the deli slices, and the tomato slices in between. Easy as pie. Seriously, though, I don’t get this question. Have these people never heard of bacon and eggs? Omelets? A steak and salad? Do they think a sandwich is indivisible? That once you place the final slice of bread atop the meat, lettuce, and cheese the sandwich can never be altered, that you physically cannot pry the bread off the innards? Have they ever even witnessed the creation of a sandwich? Are they going to weird fascistic restaurants that force you to consume the bread and pasta? I just don’t get this one. I really don’t.

Response: “Just take off the bread and eat the other stuff. Bam.”

“Everything in moderation, I say. I don’t like to deprive myself of anything.”

Ah, yes, the eminent voice of reason. “Everything in moderation”, they say. Trans-fat? Bring it on, or else it’s deprivation! Margarine? Slather it on my veggies! Must not deprive! Arsenic? Sure, I’ll have a bite! Why not? That said, I’m just not seeing where the deprivation comes in. I fail to see how not eating a food that leads to poor health, digestive upset, and bloating is somehow deprivation. You could say that I’m technically depriving myself of feeling like crap by not eating grains, but that’s a good kind of deprivation. If you want to be quite literal, eating grains deprives you of a full, healthy existence.

Response: “When I eat grains, I feel terrible, bloated, and not like myself. The way I see it, I’d be depriving myself of a full, rich, healthy, happy life if I were to eat grains in moderation. Besides, do a rib-eye, some buttered broccoli, and a glass of red wine sound like deprivation to you?”

“I’ve been eating grains all my life and don’t seem to have a problem.”

You may not have an obvious problem now, but that’s only because you’ve grown accustomed to your body and it to your diet. The signals of discomfort are dulled, and the intensity of the pain has reduced. You’ve gotten used to the stomach upset, the intermittent bouts of diarrhea. You know how all those “things just happen” as you get older, a view that is reinforced when you see the same thing happening to everyone else around you (all of whom also happen to eat grains)? How you start going downhill at 40, it becomes hard to lose weight, all that stuff. Spend some time looking at what everyone is eating – grains, grains, and more grains – and you might notice a connection.

Response: “I felt the same way until I tried ditching them for 30 days. All those little niggling aches and pains and complaints that I figured were just an inevitable aspect of life have disappeared. I feel better than ever.”

“Where do you get your minerals?”

Although whole grains may look nutrient-dense, simply looking at the mineral content of a whole grain on a nutrition website tell you very little about how your body absorbs (or doesn’t absorb) those minerals. Remember those anti-nutritional factors present in most whole grains? Another one is called phytic acid, which binds to minerals in the grain and prevents their absorption in the gut. Calcium, zinc, magnesium, iron, and several others are susceptible to the lure of phytic acid, and research shows that cultures who rely on grains for the bulk of their macronutrients and micronutrients display deficiencies in these and other minerals.

Response: “Since they’re bound up to phytic acid, the minerals in grains aren’t really even all that bioavailable to your body. What you see listed on the nutritional facts isn’t what you’re actually absorbing and assimilating. I get my minerals from plants, fruits, and animals, which our bodies can actually absorb.”

Whenever you deviate from the norm, people are going to ask questions and try to challenge you. That’s fine and totally understandable. Remember – there was a time when all this Primal stuff sounded crazy to you, too. We are different. And people are going to react. They’re going to be defensive, inquisitive, accusatory, or all of the above. Try not to be defensive yourself. Try to maintain composure and think back to when the idea of giving up grains was utter madness, take a nice diaphragmatic breath, and respond. This is a time to educate, and perhaps even inspire. Utilize it.

I know I didn’t cover everything. I must have missed more than a few. So, readers, tell me: what else do people say when you tell them you don’t eat grains, and how do you respond?

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Thanks for this. But I think I’m going with the snarky sarcastic long answers. I’ve tried the polite short ones, but they don’t work.

    Bet wrote on May 28th, 2013
  2. Grain Free, It’s amazing what some people think don’t count as grain. Anyway, question- is going to the bathroom (#2) more often a side effect? If so, could it take a month of being grain free to start to detox?

    Lisa wrote on July 10th, 2013
  3. Thank you for writing this article that goes beyond the anti-gluten reasoning for eliminating grains. Our family goes by the 80/20 rule as well. I have a pantry of gluten free flours and ground meal. We love Teff pancakes better than the fluffy buckwheat we were raised with. Crepes made with almond and sorghum flours are the best! No deprivation to note.
    A friend sent me this link to Becker’s Breads and their response to the book “Wheat Belly”..
    I would be interested to hear your response.
    After a summer of weddings, vacation, reunions…the 80/20 rule was likely skewed and my knees feel it. My husband and I are doing the 30 Days to Feeling Fit program, which we do 3x a year, and already my knees feel better eliminating the 7 most allergenic foods: wheat, gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, caffeine and vinegar.
    Reintroducing the foods after 30 days, one group at a time, was how we determined myself to be sensitive to gluten (knee pain) and my husband to dairy (hip pain). I am sure many of our friends think we’ve gone off our rockers – but as we see other people our age ailing, ant those 10 years older than us using walkers, we would much rather live 80/20 than finish our lives in a nursing home.
    May I use a link to this article in my next client newsletter Mark? I have been asked to feature an article on inflammation, and this is a well written piece that goes beyond the gluten aspect of grains.

    Rita S wrote on August 6th, 2013
  4. The thing is though, that guy that they discovered in South America who just turned 123 years old he said his diet was barley, quinoa, mushrooms and foxes. If grains are really terrible for you, then why has this guy been able to live so long when his diet is mostly grains? Yknow I think we really have small understanding of the human body, yes we know a ton, but still, I mean come on, we really don’t have a clue. Scientists just like to broadcast their unlimited omniscience, when in reality we haven’t even scratched the surface on what there is to know.

    Marcus Underhill wrote on August 18th, 2013
  5. I went into low carb, high fat, high protein diet 4 yrs ago after I found myself to be Type 2. The first 2 yrs was good. I lost some post pregnancy weight and my HbA1c was 6.3 range. However the next 2 yrs my body ‘deteoriated'; I shiver when the wind blows, I hv headaches (which is uncommon for me), I cannot stay in a room with air conditioning for even 5 mins. Everywhere I went I had to put at least 2 layers of clothes or wear socks to sleep (btw I reside in Asia). Lately when I add more carbs to my diet my body is warmer and I can enjoy life better. But I am worried the effect of additional carbs on myself. What is actually happening?

    Ms doubtful wrote on September 10th, 2013
  6. Hi! What can a vegetarian do about this ??!? I’d love to go primal but i’ve been vegetarian since birth and don’t think I can bring myself to eat meat .. am i doomed?? :(

    Veggie hunter wrote on September 10th, 2013
  7. I understand that a grain free diet is good but what do you do when you have family, in laws and a husband that choose to eat grains and give your children pasta, bread and bad deserts because they feel grains are alright in moderation or for treats? And what do you do when your children stay at other people’s houses or go to birthday parties etc?

    Melissa wrote on October 16th, 2013
  8. I know this post is from over a year ago, but my favorite reaction to no grains was “Jesus said, ‘I am the BREAD of life!”

    Cynthia wrote on November 6th, 2013
  9. Hey, Primals!
    I wanted to ask a question, as maybe Mark is too busy to answer.

    I went Primal a couple of months ago, but my menstruation stopped. I had to go to the gyno and the first question he asked me was “do you eat bread?”, because he had examined many girls with stopped periods, who also didn’t eat bread => lacking B-vitamins, essential for hormone production => healthy periods.
    I thought this was a joke, I never presumed it would lead to this. He prescribed a hormonal drug for 10 days, to provoke the cycle, and it did. Now I’m taking B-vitamin complex, just to substitute the grain-free eating, again because he advised me to.

    Does this make sense? What do you think? I hadn’t changed anything else, I just went totally Primal. No refined sugars, no grains.
    I’d like your take on this, thank you!

    ADI wrote on January 24th, 2014
  10. Among its finest orlando features is a long line iin
    waiting for the movie you are looking for. wrote on March 21st, 2014
  11. Great article. I get one of these questions every day. The other common one is what I eat before the races/triathlons if I don’t eat bagels and gels. They look at me like I am a crazy person when I say that I usually don’t eat and have plenty of energy to finish a marathon.

    Alisa wrote on July 14th, 2014
  12. Hmm is anyone else having problems with the pictures on this blog loading?
    I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or
    if it’s the blog. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Maryjo wrote on July 18th, 2014
  13. I tell them my blood sugar has totally normalized and my blood pressure has dropped 10-15 points systolic/5-7 points diastolic. Occasionally I will splurge and have a slice of sprouted toast slathered in copious amounts of grass-fed butter, but that’s as far as I’ll go. I get plenty of carbs from nutrient dense, whole food sources. And cravings? Let’s just say, I eat too much fat and protein to suffer any “cravings”.

    allegra29 wrote on March 27th, 2015
  14. Not much of what you say is true, Troll. And your manners suck.

    From a personal standpoint, I had the same wheat-belly and roller-coaster blood sugar & appetite issues when I was using exclusively 100% stone-ground wholewheat bread. Giving up all grains has been fantastic for me. At the very least, they were superfluous, at the worst, noticeably harmful.

    BillP wrote on May 22nd, 2012
  15. How did you even find this site? I suggest that you do your homework. Read any number of articles on this site and you will see the list of references and studies cited.

    On this site we prefer to let the research (or our personal success) speak for itself.

    This isn’t a diet, it is a lifestyle. There is no breaking of it, or going off of it (besides the 80/20 rule).

    Contribute something more meaningful or take your unfounded rhetoric elsewhere please.

    Aaron wrote on May 22nd, 2012
  16. Wow, what a brilliant satire of the “idiotcrities” paleo folks have to deal with. You did a fantastic job of capturing the tone of a slobbering fool! Oh wait, you were serious…

    Deadliftmcgee wrote on May 22nd, 2012
  17. For someone who knows so little, you seem awfully willing to share.

    Grains in any form are NOT low glycemic though yes, whole grains tend to be lower than processed grains. They still aren’t low. If you want a low glycemic diet, you eat animal products and vegetables.

    Most of us have found from personal experience that grain products are what makes us sluggish and ill. Any grain products, even the vaunted “whole grains” upset my guts, give me diarrhea AND constipation (a great set of alternating symptoms!), cramping, and GERD, trigger my asthma, and give me migraines. Are you really telling me that I should ignore all those problems? Or do you recommend taking tons of medications with unpleasant side effects when a simple diet change works better? I do not know anyone who has cut grains out of their diet who does not feel better for it.

    If you wish to suffer from obesity, joint pains, and heart disease, be my guest, but do not tell me that *I* am the idiot.

    Pippa wrote on May 22nd, 2012
  18. Very bad manners indeed! For starters, I would like to address your questions regarding higher education. I don’t know about Mark or the others but I, for one, have taken those and more because I needed them for medical school. Though my specialty was neurology (I also have a PhD in Applied Physics) and did bionics research I believe I have the necessary background to weed out truth from fairy tales. I also keep up with medical and scientific research and even some of our good docs at Harvard are questioning the wisdom of a diet heavy in grains. They have certainly done some impressive studies on the negative health impact of the so-called healthy diet full of starch and sugars. They have called into question the validity of the food pyramid. They, and many others–cardiologists as well–have researched and written ad nauseum about the dangers of consuming these foods that actually cause arteriosclerosis, IBS, arthritic joint pain, liver disease, kidney disease, and a host of other diseases.

    I also know from first-hand experience that eliminating grains has a healing effect on the body. I exercise regularly (now) and my own cardiothoracic surgeon is closely monitoring my health stats because he can’t believe how great my health is eating the way I do. To explain, I recently underwent an experimental heart valve repair procedure for valves damaged as a child after having rheumatic fever and that is why I see a cardio guy–not because I had a heart attack or anything…. At any rate, he is VERY interested in this lifestyle and said if my good health continues he will start recommending this to his other patients.

    So, what is your medical background? How much medical research have you read? If you read any, do you understand what you’re reading?

    Finally most people know that “studies” are often-times skewed in favor of the person/organization/interest group who is paying for them which is one of the many reasons I left research and now live in the desert in Chile where I live a simple life as a baker. I still read the articles and studies but I always read them with a little grain of salt. In this case, though, I am not concerned with what anyone reports in a study–I am living proof that this works. That’s good enough for me.

    See? Wasn’t that easy? I made my point and didn’t even have to resort to name-calling.

    mila wrote on May 22nd, 2012
  19. Darling,
    Do you work for the government? Did you help design the pyramid system?
    Afraid to change your life and feel Seriously threatened?
    Your thoughts are so old fashioned I had to laugh out loud. Thanks for the belly laughs.
    There are none so blind as those who will not see all the positive testimonies on this web site. Try it (honestly) for just one month and then come back and tell us how stupid we are.
    And, in advance, you are forgiven and loved.

    Lynn wrote on May 22nd, 2012
  20. Don’t feed the troll.

    Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on May 23rd, 2012
  21. I like your post. But this bit:

    I live a simple life as a baker.

    really threw me.

    Cal wrote on May 22nd, 2012
  22. Try making aubergine brownies. They are delicious and primal the local bakery stall in my market makes them. Here’s the recipe I used with success

    David wrote on May 23rd, 2012
  23. Thanks for the response to the “baker” question. I, too, was confused, since most of us don’t typically associate living a primal lifestyle with a baker career. We didn’t have any idea about your health background, so it threw us a little. :) Good to hear that you are doing better!

    And I’m happy to report that a good friend of mine is a gluten-free baker and she makes divine wonderful things too. :)

    Also, I apologize about the woman who ranted. She found this article via my FB posting of this article. I didn’t realize what her response would be.

    desk wrote on May 23rd, 2012
  24. I still am not convinced it isn’t satire…

    …but I’m not convinced it is either.

    JofJLTNCB6 wrote on May 22nd, 2012
  25. me too- what do you bake?
    also,Mark does have a degree in biology, I believe!

    Hopeless Dreamer wrote on May 22nd, 2012
  26. threw you how? Look, I was dying. Literally. I was morbidly obese and no amount of “healthy” dieting was working. My blood lipids were out of control, my IBS had me suffering like no one’s business–I would get impacted (TMI, I know) frequently and all anyone would recommend was an increase in whole grains. It only made the situation worse. This, on top of the leaky heart valves (3 to be precise)that I was not able to have replaced or repaired because I was too high risk with my obesity. I was also frustrated and stressed to the max with my job and lack of any sort of life.

    I was told that I needed to stop and smell the roses because my life was coming to an end. So, I found a little town in Chile in which to spend my final 2 or 3 years and just live off of my AF pension.

    I have always enjoyed baking–the best tasting science experiments ever! So, I decided to spend my “final years” doing something fun.

    Then, my sister convinced me to do the hCG diet and I started it. I lost a lot of weight and was able to keep it off but I didn’t feel good unless I was either on the weight loss phase or the stabilization phase. During the maintenance phase in which you can add sugars/starches I started to get constipated and hurt in all my joints.

    Then an online friend of mine told me about MDA and it was at that time that I was able to connect the dots. During the weight loss and stabilization phase you’re not consuming any grains or starches. None. Nada. Zip. I always felt good. So, I decided to try a little experiment and see if I ate primal for 30 days and then consumed a bit of grain what would happen. The symptoms recurred.

    I am now a firm believer and have been losing slowly but surely and feeling better with each passing day. The surgery was a success and I am now told that a normal lifespan can be expected.

    I also feel obligated to change my style of bakery. I will still make regular flour/sugar based special occasion cakes but I am going to go primal in my baking business as well–mostly, anyway. I have been creating recipes using all the marvelous fruits and vegetables that we have on offer as well as all the nuts. I really want to be able to offer wonderful, healthful options to my clients and it really is up to them to make their own choices as to how much or how often they consume these things.

    It is, however, my dream to open a health and wellness center with my husband within the next 5 years and turn my adopted city Primal.

    mila wrote on May 22nd, 2012
  27. You used double-negatives on your first statement….. so…. you don’t believe it’s satire? :p

    But yes, I too can’t tell if joking or not

    mm wrote on June 10th, 2012
  28. LOL that’s hilarious…. she really doesn’t understand the science behind the concept of “low-glycemic” foods… her head would explode if someone pointed out the problem with fructose and also that meat is zero glycemic

    mm wrote on June 10th, 2012
  29. Hey, check out “Live Raw” by Mimi Kirk. Great dessert/cake recipes all with nut crusts and primal ( and raw) fillings. Might be helpful for your future plans.

    Goddess wrote on May 16th, 2013
  30. Did IQ’s drop??!?

    If you’re feeling worse since you’ve gone Paleo I’d go to the doctor if I were you. “I have never felt so sick and had so much difficulty getting food down and keeping it there since I have been experimenting with grain free.”

    What are you eating? Are you eating foods enriched with vitamins, minerals, etc.?

    Sounds as if there could be something else going on than just changing diets.

    Cindy wrote on January 9th, 2015
  31. I get physicals yearly….. Having gone primal my physicals are the best EVER. The fat on my body is GONE… You are crazy. The proof is what happens to our body not what people say in text books! Ridiculous.

    Christine wrote on January 13th, 2015

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