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. I’ve been reading that sprouted grains are different. Is it true that our body treats them as vegetables and not grains? If this is true would you approve the sprouted wheat bread I have been wanting to make.

    Dylan wrote on September 12th, 2012
  2. Excellent article! I didn’t even know that I was going “primal” or “paleo” until I started researching whether or not me giving up bread was healthy or not! I just decided one day that I didn’t want to eat grains, knowing that that fact in and of itself would keep me out of fast food joints. But I also gave up fried foods and red meat at the same time. I’ve lost 30 pounds but that is just a by product – I gave that stuff up to be healthy, not to lose a certain amount of weight. I don’t miss the grains at all – and I can still eat at my Mexican food spot – chicken fajitas with guacamole on the side – no tortillas!

    RC wrote on January 17th, 2013
  3. I don t eat animal food (well just some fish). Im on an alkalinizing diet.
    Get hungry without grains. what can i eat

    Hilda wrote on February 5th, 2013
  4. The tone of this post and most comments are so rude!!! “As if” the majority of people are intending to be rude by their curiosity or lack of understanding. Why do you have to defend yourself? Just say I feel healthier not eating grains. A snarky come back doesn’t sound very pleasant or very convincing to try grain free. I came on here to understand why a friend of mine is grain free and all I see is a holier than though attitude about it. Thankfully hasn’t responded to my curious questions with ANY of these responses! So perhaps she hasn’t read this article!

    Akl wrote on February 26th, 2013
  5. I admit I’m one of the people who asks all those questions…in my head, I’m especially guilty of “How do you eat a sandwich?” If you remove the bread, then it’s not a sandwich anymore.

    I’m trying to eat healthier and function better, but completely giving up my all-time favorite baked goods, rice and pasta is frustrating. And what will I do with all the baking pans I bought?

    Aruna wrote on March 17th, 2013
    • I use my baking pans more than ever now – I even bought some new ones because I bake so often! There are plenty of primal things to bake. It is perhaps also looked down upon among primal circles to recreate primal versions of baked goods. Well – I do it anyway!

      Anna wrote on May 18th, 2013
  6. Free Grain diet has a huge positive effect on arthritis diagnosed people like me… Thanks for the valuable info!

    Yaron wrote on March 26th, 2013
  7. Wow! I am glad I came across this. I have been realizing the perils of poor diet steadily and decided to dive into the reason behind the heavy emphasis on having grain heavy diets. I can say now that I intend to eliminate most grains and transition to a more plant-based diet. I am very well vested in my long term health, unlike many Americans, as most of the other posters have noted.

    Charles wrote on March 28th, 2013
  8. I suffer from a mild IBS (I say mild because I’m not controlling it with diet and a probiotic supplement, although it never was severe.) Until recently (read: today) I’ve never heard of cutting out grains as a solution to this dietary problem. I’ve read many accounts that cutting out grains can be good for people with this affliction.

    While I don’t think I will completely cut out grains, I’m absolutely going to limit them in my diet! (And maybe one day I will even eliminate them completely!)

    However, as you said before, grains are convenient and cheap. One can still lead a healthy lifestyle if they eat them, so as the lifestyle includes exercise and healthy, natural foods.

    It can be hard for people to come to terms with a new diet (or even accept someone else on this diet as anything but abnormal) and it doesn’t help when the person touting the diet is making you feel like an idiot because you’re not on the diet. There are TONS of merits to many of the different eating lifestyles (grain-free, vegan, “traditional”, etc.) but nothing makes me not want to try a new diet more than when the advocates for it make it sound like the only logical choice out there.

    I’ll be honest, after reading this page, it made me feel downright stupid because I wasn’t on a grain-free diet. I got the same exact vibe from several other pro-grain-free blogs/articles. I get that restrictive diets can be alienating (because of my sensitive stomach and family history of high cholesterol, I don’t eat red meat, eggs yolks, dairy, or anything high in fat) and have been on the receiving end of critical friends. If you explain to them in a logical manner that this is a healthful choice and the best choice for you, personally, they may want to try to see if it’s the best choice for them, too.

    Anyway, even though I am skeptical of the way that this information was presented, it was extremely enlightening and I will be trying to cut out grains, starting now.

    Alex wrote on May 12th, 2013
  9. Great article! It further elaborates on all the answers I have been giving. Haha. I find that most people, even though if they resort to the “I couldnt live without bread” argument, are still curious, and I have been able to convert (or at least pique interest) in quite a few people. Even the ones that seem to reject it at first will approach me later on and ask more questions or call just to tell me they have tried it and that it made their lives better! It was about this time last year that I embarked on this journey myself. Keep on inspiring Mark!

    michael wrote on May 14th, 2013
  10. I read the article and all the comments above, and I am convinced. Now, announce officially, I have eaten my last slice of bread yesterday. Wish me luck.

    Emil wrote on May 14th, 2013
  11. Statement: Oh, I could never give up bread/pasta/cereal, etc.
    Response: “Giving up” is just another way of saying “quitting” and I’m not a quitter. I’m not giving up anything, I’m just enjoying all the other stuff so much.

    Mantonat wrote on May 14th, 2013
  12. I love this article! This why I usually do not even talk about it to anyone outside of my family. I lost 50 lbs, since going primal about 10 months ago, and I feel wonderful! When asked how I lost weight, I simply say “I’m eating healthier!” End of story!

    Janet McLaughlin wrote on May 14th, 2013
  13. I have read many of your posts, but this one got my laughing out loud.

    Through my own life experience (ex-obese, pituitary tumor, digestive problems) and my profession (helping other people lose weight) I am already practically primal, but not completely. I purchased your books (cooking books included) and left behind the final thing leaving me to go completely primal (rye/amaranth crackers, although I did not eat many). Have started a serious attempt at 3 weeks of full primal and am on my second day, but so far, so good!

    Mark wrote on May 14th, 2013
  14. You know, I’ve done tons of “diets” in my life. Eliminating grains goes so far behind simply telling myself something is “off limits.” The proof: achy joints, foggy brain, crankiness, mental and physical fatigue, planning my errands around bathrooms on account of debilitating stomach aches has led me to simply feel with my whole being that grain free is simply the right way for me. Period.

    It’s funny how true this rings from deep within: As I walked to my car at lunchtime I saw a couple women walking with Subway bags in hand. Both were obese, and I thought to myself: “These women I’m sure feel like they made the “good” choice today, while” while cringing at the thought of all that bread, processed meat, baked chips, and diet sodas with man-made sweeteners in it. I don’t eve judge other people for what they eat, so it’s not about that, but so many of us were raised to think THIS is “healthy” eating. :/ It’s disheartening.

    Andrea wrote on May 14th, 2013
  15. I don’t tell them that I don’t eat grains. I just say ‘meh’, didn’t like that bit’ or ‘not really hungry right now’, or ‘ick, that’s really dry and gross’, as I leave the crust of the quiche, or the wrap, or whatever behind. When people eat at my house, they don’t usually even notice the ‘lack’ of bread at dinner. As long as there is wine, most people are more than happy.

    Sara Lake wrote on May 14th, 2013
  16. You know how older people sit around discussing their ailments and doctor appointments? Well, I always hear mothers in the playground discussing their children’s ailments and specialist doctor appointments while they roam around snacking on corn/wheat/soy/sugar based junk. Whenever I take my kids to friends, there is an immediate unloading of some junk bag. Also at preschool. It is everywhere and constant. Drives me insane!!! Let’s dope them up on sugars and anti-nutrients and then expect them to sit at a desk all day and concentrate on useless subjects that won’t help them in life. Sounds like a recipe for success!!! Of course, when I open my mouth about it, people throw all sorts of grains of salt (pun intended) at me.

    Natasha wrote on May 15th, 2013
  17. Does grain-free also mean quinoa-free?

    N.B. wrote on May 16th, 2013
    • Yes.

      Goddess wrote on May 16th, 2013
  18. 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
  19. 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
  20. 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
  21. 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
  22. 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
  23. 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

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