Cereal grains are a big part of the standard American diet and you should eat the equivalent of 5 to 8 ounces a day, according to the USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov. Cereal grains, often called simply grains, are the edible seeds of certain grasses including wheat, kamut, rice, rye, spelt, corn, millet, barley and oats. Wheat is probably the most prevalent grain and is used to make breads, couscous, bulgur, pasta, breakfast cereals, granola bars, crackers, bagels, croissants, muffins and other baked goods.
If you wish to eliminate cereal grains from your diet, read food labels to ensure the foods you eat do not contain any grains or flours. Quinoa, kasha, buckwheat and amaranth are small, edible seeds – “grains” in a sense -- but are not grass seeds and therefore not cereal grains. You may include them in your grain-free diet if you like. Because cereal grains are overwhelmingly carbohydrate, which elevates blood sugar and stimulates insulin production, eliminating them can be a good strategy to lower your carb intake to either lose weight or improve your diabetes control. Going on a no-carb diet could also help you better manage an inflammatory or autoimmune condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease or rheumatoid arthritis, as explained in "World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics" in 1999. Even if you decide to go grain-free, your diet can still provide you with all the nutrients and fiber you require if you plan properly.
Cereal grains are a relatively new addition to the human diet. Humans lived on a no-grain diet for over 90,000 years before inventing agriculture about 10,000 years ago. The traditional diet of our ancestor hunter-gatherers consisted of meat, organ meat, fish and shellfish, as well as seasonal vegetables, fruits and nuts. After the Agricultural Revolution, when many humans began to rely on cultivated grains and legumes, infant mortality rates exploded and our Neolithic ancestors lost about 6 inches in height and started suffering from various diseases, as research biochemist Robb Wolff explains in his book “The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet.” However, it's important to note that this doesn't necessarily mean that grains and legumes were responsible for this effect.
No-Grain Diet vs. Low-Carb Diet
A no-grain diet may or may not be low in carbohydrate. When you decrease your grain intake, you may decide to replace these carbs with starchy, but grain-free, alternatives. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, cassava, taro, plantains and fruits, for example, were part of the some of the traditional diets eaten by our ancestors. If you prefer to keep your carbs low, replace grains with more non-starchy vegetables, protein and fat to provide you with all the energy you require, while enabling you to lose weight more easily and optimize your blood sugar levels.
No-Grain Diet vs. Gluten-Free Diet
A grain-free diet and a gluten-free diet are not necessarily synonymous. Gluten is a protein found in some grains, including wheat, barley and rye. Oats are often transported and milled with the same equipment used for wheat and are therefore often contaminated with gluten. Select certified gluten-free oats if you are sensitive to gluten, and avoid them altogether if you are sensitive to avenin, the gluten-like compound in oats. A grain-free diet can help you considerably reduce your gluten intake. However, gluten is also found in many other processed foods, such as seasonings, textured vegetable protein, soy sauces that contain wheat, salad dressings and even chocolate. If you have celiac disease or are gluten intolerant, a grain-free diet is a good start but you will need to read ingredients lists carefully to eliminate gluten completely from your diet.
A grain-free diet can be nutritionally adequate. You can get all the antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals you need by eating plenty of non-starchy vegetables, such as tomatoes, kale, leafy greens, asparagus and cauliflower. If carbs are not a concern, you can also include fruits, dairy products, tubers and winter squash. If your grain-free diet is also a low-carb diet, you will need to increase your fat intake to have enough energy, which is measured in calories. Although the "2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans" recommend that 45 to 65 percent of your calories come from carbohydrates, the Institute of Medicine states it is possible to live healthy without carbohydrates, provided that your diet contains enough protein and fat. For example, your grain-free low-carb meal could be a 4- to 6-ounce serving of chicken or fish, cooked in coconut or olive oil, served with 1 to 2 cups of green beans, broccoli or red bell peppers.
- Grain-Free Living; What To Eat on a Typical Day So It Doesn't Get Boring; March 2007
- USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov: How Many Grain Foods are Needed Daily?
- "World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics"; Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword; Loren Cordain; 1999
- "Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids"; Institute of Medicine Food and Nutrition Board; 2005
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Nutrient Data Laboratory
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services; Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010