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The Worst Grains to Digest

author image Tammy Dray
Tammy Dray has been writing since 1996. She specializes in health, wellness and travel topics and has credits in various publications including Woman's Day, Marie Claire, Adirondack Life and Self. She is also a seasoned independent traveler and a certified personal trainer and nutrition consultant. Dray is pursuing a criminal justice degree at Penn Foster College.
The Worst Grains to Digest
A bowl of quinoa with shrimp and parsley. Photo Credit: nata_vkusidey/iStock/Getty Images

For most people, grains are fairly easy to digest, as long as they’re cooked. The exceptions are people who are gluten intolerant and those who suffer from Complex Carbohydrate Intolerance, or CCI. People with CCI lack the proper enzyme needed to digest grains, so they might experience cramps, diarrhea and abdominal pain after eating grains.

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People with wheat allergies cannot eat any amount of wheat without developing sudden reactions that include difficulty breathing, projectile vomiting and other serious side effects. People with wheat intolerances are not allergic to wheat, but cannot digest it properly. Different level of intolerance may occur. Some people experience only subtle symptoms like eczema or aching joints, while others might suffer from gastrointestinal distress.

Other Gluten-Rich Grains

People who can’t digest any grain containing gluten have celiac disease. People with gluten sensitivity can digest gluten, but experience some side effects when they eat it, such as abdominal pain and diarrhea. Gluten sensitivity is fairly common, affecting one in seven people. Grains containing gluten include barley, wheat, oats and rye.

Raw Grains

The human digestive system cannot process raw grains. Only graminivorous animals, such as birds, can digest raw grains. Still, people who follow a raw diet often eat grains without cooking them. The key to doing this is to soak, ferment or sprout the grains. Even after soaking, however, raw wheat, quinoa and barley are still difficult to digest. This is because the cooking process breaks down enzymes, complex sugars and starches the body cannot properly digest.


Quinoa has a nutty flavor and is high in protein. This grain is also gluten-free and low in calories. However, you must cook quinoa, or you’ll have trouble digesting it. Undercooked quinoa is chewy and very difficult for your body to process.

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