Is a Grain-Free Diet Healthy? Everything You Need to Know
Some do so due to allergies or intolerances, while others opt for a grain-free diet in an attempt to lose weight or improve their health.
This way of eating is purported to offer various health benefits, from improved digestion to reduced inflammation and blood sugar levels. However, it may also have drawbacks and may be unsuitable for some.
This article takes a critical look at a grain-free diet, including its benefits and potential drawbacks.
What is a Grain-Free Diet?
A grain-free diet eliminates all grains, as well as foods derived from them.
This includes gluten-containing grains like wheat, spelt, barley, rye, and triticale, as well as non-glutenous ones like dried corn, millet, rice, sorghum, and oats.
Moreover, unlike fresh corn, which is considered a starchy vegetable, dried corn is viewed as a grain. Therefore, foods made from corn flour are also avoided.
Plus, some people may choose to exclude ingredients derived from grains, such as rice syrup or high-fructose corn syrup. However, this is not a strict requirement of such a diet.
A grain-free diet eliminates all grains, including wheat, spelt, barley, rye, dried corn, millet, rice, and oats, as well as foods — and sometimes even ingredients — derived from them.
How to Follow a Grain-Free Diet?
To follow a grain-free diet, you need to exclude all grains, as well as grain-derived foods, from your diet. This includes bread, pasta, muesli, oatmeal, rice cakes, breakfast cereals, pastries, and cookies.
That said, most grain-free diets permit small amounts of pseudocereals, such as quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat. Pseudocereals can be prepared and eaten similarly to grains, but they are not technically considered grains.
A grain-free diet can be naturally low in carbs, but this isn't a requirement. Those who wish to include more carbs can get them from fruits, legumes, and starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, squash, and fresh corn.
There are no restrictions regarding non-grain-based foods.
Therefore, you may include as much meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, sugar, fats, or dairy as you wish — though proponents of grain-free diets tend to discourage eating overly processed foods.
Grain-free diets exclude all grains and grain-derived products but allow for small amounts of pseudocereals. They can include as much fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, dairy, legumes, nuts, seeds, sugar, and fat as you wish.
Benefits of a Grain-Free Diet
A grain-free diet may offer several health benefits.
May Help Treat Certain Health Conditions
A grain-free diet is most commonly followed by those with certain autoimmune diseases, and several studies support its use in these cases.
For example, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects around 1% of the Western population. It causes your body to mistake gluten, a protein in wheat, as a threat, sending your immune system into overdrive (1Trusted Source).
This can lead to gut inflammation, which in turn can cause severe nutrient deficiencies and other digestive issues. People with celiac disease must exclude all gluten-containing grains from their diet (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).
Similarly, some people are allergic to wheat and must avoid all foods containing it. Others may be intolerant to gluten or other compounds in grains despite not having celiac disease or a wheat allergy. (4Trusted Source).
People with such a gluten intolerance commonly report symptoms like stomach pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, eczema, headaches, or fatigue when eating grains and may benefit from excluding them from their diet (5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
Finally, in a 6-week study in people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), following a grain-free diet improved symptoms in 73% of participants (9Trusted Source).
May Reduce Inflammation
Grains may contribute to inflammation, which is believed to be the root cause of many chronic diseases.
The lack of consensus may be explained by the type of grain researched. For instance, while refined grains may increase inflammation, whole grains appear to have very little effect on inflammation, and in some cases, may even lower it (13Trusted Source, 14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source, 16Trusted Source).
Moreover, cutting out grains may cause some people to naturally increase the quantity or variety of fruits and vegetables they eat — both of which may help reduce inflammation (17Trusted Source, 18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source).
Still, it's worth noting that whole grains may offer anti-inflammatory benefits of their own. Unless you have celiac disease, wheat allergy, or gluten intolerance, you likely don't need to completely cut out grains to successfully fight inflammation (20Trusted Source).
May Enhance Weight Loss
A grain-free diet may promote weight loss, likely because it's naturally devoid of processed grains found in calorie-rich, nutrient-poor foods like white bread, white pasta, pizza, doughnuts, cookies, and other baked goods.
What's more, cutting a whole food group out of your diet may reduce your overall daily calorie intake, creating the calorie deficit needed to lose weight.
Yet, research clearly shows that, as long as you create a calorie deficit, you will lose weight regardless of whether your diet contains grains. In fact, evidence suggests that eating whole grains may promote weight loss and boost your metabolism (21Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source, 23Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source).
Therefore, cutting out all grains from your diet is not a requirement for weight loss.
May Lower Blood Sugar Levels
Grains are naturally rich in carbs.
Thus, diets rich in grains may cause problems for people who have a difficult time dealing with large amounts of dietary carbs, such as those with diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
Refined grains, such as those found in white bread, white pasta, and many other processed foods, are particularly problematic, as they're devoid of fiber.
That said, fiber-rich whole grains may help stabilize and prevent spikes in blood sugar levels. Therefore, cutting out all grains is not the only way to lower blood sugar levels (25Trusted Source, 27Trusted Source, 28Trusted Source).
Other Potential Benefits
A grain-free diet may also offer other health benefits:
- May improve mental health. Studies link gluten-containing diets to anxiety, depression, mood disorders, ADHD, autism, and schizophrenia. However, it's currently impossible to know whether grains caused these disorders (29Trusted Source, 30Trusted Source).
- May help alleviate pain. Gluten-free diets may help reduce pelvic pain in women with endometriosis, a disorder that causes the tissue lining the inside of the uterus to grow outside of it (8Trusted Source, 31Trusted Source).
- May reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia. A gluten-free diet may help reduce the widespread pain experienced by people with fibromyalgia (32Trusted Source).
Despite promising preliminary results, more studies are needed to confirm these effects.
It's also worth noting that most of these studies only looked at the effect of gluten-containing grains. There's no evidence to suggest that it's necessary to exclude all grains from your diet to attain these benefits.
A grain-free diet may reduce inflammation, aid weight loss, and improve digestion and blood sugar levels. It may also promote mental health and alleviate pain in people with fibromyalgia or endometriosis, though more research is needed.
A grain-free diet may also come with certain downsides.
May Increase Your Risk of Constipation
A diet devoid of grains, particularly fiber-rich whole grains, may limit your intake of fiber.
Unprocessed grains are a particularly good source of insoluble fiber. This type of fiber adds bulk to your stools, helping food move through your gut more easily and reducing your risk of constipation (33Trusted Source).
May Limit Nutrient Intake
On the other hand, processed grains, whose bran and germ have been removed, lack most of their fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial plant compounds (38Trusted Source).
You may be able to prevent this to a certain degree by increasing your intake of pseudocereals like quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat, as these tend to contain many of the same nutrients as whole grains (40, 41, 42).
In addition, increasing your intake of other foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, meat, fish, and eggs, can help make up for any nutrients no longer provided by grains.
May Be Unnecessarily Restrictive
Though research supports the benefits of excluding specificgrains from certain people's diets, evidence on the benefits of excluding allgrains from everyone's diet is lacking.
Plus, most of the benefits linked to a grain-free diet can be achieved in ways that don't require cutting out an entire food group.
Moreover, excluding all grains from your diet can reduce variety and make your diet unnecessarily restrictive, both of which may make this way of eating less sustainable in the long term.
What's more, unnecessarily demonizing grains under the disguise of health may serve to promote extreme fixation on healthy eating, which is common in people with orthorexic disordered eating behaviors (43Trusted Source).
Grain-free diets may limit nutrient intake, increase your risk of constipation, and be difficult to sustain in the long term. Unnecessarily demonizing grains for purported health reasons may also promote orthorexic eating behaviors.
Foods to Eat
The following food categories can be included on a grain-free diet:
- Fruits. All types of fruit are allowed, whether fresh, dried, or frozen.
- Vegetables. These can be eaten raw, cooked, or incorporated into salads or soups. Starchy vegetables like potatoes, squash, and fresh corn are good, carb-rich alternatives to grains.
- Protein-rich animal products. This category includes meat, fish, seafood, eggs, and dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt.
- Protein-rich plant foods. Legumes, tofu, tempeh, edamame, natto, soymilk, soy yogurt, and mock meats devoid of grain-based ingredients can be enjoyed on a grain-free diet.
- Pseudocereals. This includes quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth.
- Nuts and seeds. This includes all types of nuts and seeds, as well as butters and flours made from them.
- Non-grain-based flours and foods made from them. Almond, flaxseed, chickpea, soy, red lentil, and coconut flour, as well as noodles, bread, and other baked goods made from them, are permitted.
- Fats. These include olive oil, butter, coconut oil, and avocado oil.
You may also choose to include marinades and salad dressings as added fats, as well as sweeteners, such as sugar, maple syrup, or honey. Still, you're encouraged to focus on whole, minimally processed foods.
A grain-free diet allows most foods, as long as they're devoid of grains. This includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, meat, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy, pseudocereals, nuts, seeds, and non-grain-based flours.
Foods to Avoid
Grain-free diets generally exclude the following food categories:
- Most baked goods: grain-based breads, bagels, tortillas, tacos, pizza, etc.
- Most pastries: grain-based doughnuts, cookies, croissants, muffins, etc.
- Most noodles: pasta, rice noodles, ramen noodles, udon noodles, etc.
- Breakfast cereals: muesli, oatmeal, cream of wheat, etc.
- Grain-based flours: all-purpose flour, graham flour, corn flour, and rice flour, as well as all foods made from them
- Many snack foods: popcorn, crackers, muesli bars, rice crackers, etc.
- Grain-based side dishes: rice, orzo, millet, couscous, polenta, etc.
- Grain-based meat replacement: seitan, etc.
- Grain-based milk alternatives: oat milk, rice milk, etc.
You may also want to avoid grain-based alcoholic beverages, such as beer, gin, whiskey, sake, and Scotch, as well as foods containing grain-derived ingredients like rice syrup or high-fructose corn syrup.
A grain-free diet excludes all grain-containing foods. It may also limit the intake of alcoholic beverages derived from grains or foods containing grain-derived ingredients.
Here's a typical 3-day menu suitable for a grain-free diet.
- Breakfast: egg or tofu scramble with plenty of vegetables and homemade hash browns
- Lunch: salad topped with your choice of veggies, cooked amaranth, smoked tofu, or salmon, and a raspberry vinaigrette dressing
- Dinner: coconut-lime curry with shrimp or marinated tempeh on a bed of cauliflower rice
- Breakfast: smoothie made with milk (or a plant-based, grain-free alternative), frozen mango, flax seeds, spinach, and an optional scoop of protein powder
- Lunch: hearty pumpkin, carrot, and white-bean soup topped with roasted cashew nuts
- Dinner: oven-baked sweet potato, topped with chili, fresh corn, chopped lettuce, guacamole, and salsa
- Breakfast: mini breakfast quiches with spinach
- Lunch: bun-less meat or veggie burger, topped with roasted peppers, hummus, avocado, and a side of buckwheat pasta salad
- Dinner: spiralized zucchini noodles topped with a meat or tofu Bolognese sauce, roasted pine nuts, and Parmesan or nutritional yeast
A well-balanced grain-free diet can include a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes, as well as some meat, fish, seafood, eggs, and dairy.
Easy Grain-Free Snacks
Here are a few simple yet nutritious grain-free snack ideas to tide you over between meals:
- fresh fruit with yogurt
- trail mix
- chia pudding
- flax crackers with olive tapenade
- grain-free nut and fruit bars
- kale chips
- hummus and veggies
- seaweed snacks
- almond-flour muffins
- apple chips
- nut butter fruit dip
- homemade frozen yogurt popsicles
- coconut, date, and nut balls
There are many ways to include snacks on a grain-free diet. The combinations above can be used to help tide you over between meals.
The Bottom Line
Though limiting certain grains may benefit some health conditions, cutting out all grains is unnecessary for most people and can even be detrimental to your health.
Plus, the purported benefits of a grain-free diet can often be achieved in ways that don't require cutting out an entire food group from your diet.
Therefore, it's worth considering whether this diet offers you more pros than cons before giving it a try.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
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Fireworks Can Trigger Flashbacks<p>Hyperarousal, a core component of PTSD, occurs when a person is hyper-alert to any sign of threat – constantly on edge, easily startled and continuously screening the environment.</p><p>Imagine, for instance, stepping down the stairs in the dark after hearing a noise; you're worried an intruder might be downstairs. Then a totally unpredictable loud sound explodes right outside your window.</p><p>For people with PTSD, that sound – reminiscent of gunfire, a thunderstorm or a car crash – <a href="https://theconversation.com/veterans-refugees-and-victims-of-war-crimes-are-all-vulnerable-to-ptsd-130144" target="_blank">can cause</a> a panic attack or trigger flashbacks, a sensory experience that makes it seem as if the old trauma is happening here and now. Flashbacks can be so severe that combat veterans may suddenly drop to the ground, the same way they would when an explosion took place in combat. Later, the experience can trigger nightmares, insomnia or worsening of other PTSD symptoms.</p><p>Those of us who set off fireworks need to ask ourselves: Are those few minutes of fun worth the hours, days, or weeks of torment that will begin for some of our friends and neighbors – including many who put their lives on the line to protect us?</p>
Who Else Is Affected?<p>Millions of others, though not diagnosed with PTSD, may similarly be affected by fireworks. <a href="https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics" target="_blank">One in five Americans</a> have an anxiety disorder, many with symptoms of hyperarousal. Also impacted are those with autism or developmental disabilities; they find it difficult to cope with the noise, or just the drastic change from life routines. Then there are people who have to work, holiday or not: nurses, physicians and first responders, who have to be up at 4 a.m. for a 30-hour shift.</p><h3>How to Reduce the Negative Impact</h3><p>There are ways to reduce how fireworks affect others:</p><ul><li>For those with PTSD, the unexpected nature of fireworks is probably the worst part. So at least make it as predictable as possible. Do it in designated areas during designated times. Don't explode one, for instance, two hours after the designated time window. And avoid setting them off <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/04/fireworks-ptsd-fourth-of-july-veterans-shooting-survivors" target="_blank">on the 3rd</a>. People are less prepared then.</li><li>If you're aware that a veteran or trauma survivor lives in the neighborhood, move the noise as far as possible from their home and give them prior warning. Consider putting a sign in your front yard noting the time you'll set the fireworks.</li><li>Remember, it doesn't have to be super loud to make it fun. Consider using <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/504964-its-time-for-silent-fireworks" target="_blank">silent fireworks</a>. And you don't have to be the one who lights the fireworks. Simply enjoy watching while your city or township does it safely.</li></ul>
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By Jeff Berardelli
For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world's top climate modeling groups have been "running hot" – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.
International Effort to Evaluate Climate Models<p>For the past 25 years the international community has been evaluating and comparing the world's most sophisticated climate models produced by various teams at universities, research centers, and government agencies. The effort is organized by the World Climate Research Programme under the United Nations World Meteorological Organization.</p><p>Climate models are complicated computer programs composed of millions of lines of code that calculate the physical properties and interactions between the main climate forces like the atmosphere, oceans, and solar input. But models also go a lot further, incorporating other systems like ice sheets, forests, and the biosphere, to name a few. The models are then used to simulate the real-world climate system and project how certain changes, like added pollution or land-use changes, will alter the climate.</p><p>Every few years there is a new comprehensive international evaluation called the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP). In the sixth such effort, known as CMIP6 and now under way, experts are reviewing about 100 models.</p><p>Information gleaned from this effort will act as a scientific foundation for the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) next major assessment report, scheduled for release in 2021. The goal of the report – the sixth in 30 years – is to inform the international community about how much the climate has changed, and, importantly, how much change can be expected in coming decades.</p>
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In the above CarbonBrief interactive visualization, the bars offer a comparison in the range of sensitivity in the CMIP5 models (gray) and CMIP6 models (blue).
New and Encouraging Evidence Is Emerging<p>At first, scientists were uncertain whether the new model runs were on to something, so the international modeling community dug in to produce multiple studies. The results are not yet conclusive, but a gradual collective sigh of relief seems to be materializing.</p><p>"Evidence is emerging from multiple directions that the models which show the greatest warming in the CMIP6 ensemble are likely too warm," explains Dr. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.</p><p>For example, <a href="https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2020-23/" target="_blank">a study</a> released April 28 evaluated the past performance of the models making up the CMIP6 ensemble. The team assigned weights to each model based upon historical performance of their warming projections, weighing the poorer performing models less. By doing so, both the mean warming and the range of warming scenarios in the CMIP6 ensemble decreased, meaning the warmest models were the ones with weaker historical performance. This result supports a finding that a subset of the models are too warm.</p><p>That conclusion is supported by another new study evaluating one particular model – the Community Earth System Model (CESM2) – that showed greater warming. Using that model, the researchers simulated the climate in the early Eocene era, about 50 million years ago, when rainforests thrived in the Arctic and Antarctic. The CESM2 simulated a historical climate that seems way too warm compared with what is known about that era from geological data, indicating that the model is likely also too warm in its future projections.</p><p>Two other recent studies of the CMIP6 models being evaluated use clever analysis methods to <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2019-86/&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNHYwFB-1KqndGfJ4sXdrrm9DpbLaQ" target="_blank">narrow the range</a> of future warming projections and also <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/12/eaaz9549&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNEhKY1YZ19qgjSZ_hJM14JmzqXOXw" target="_blank">reduce the projected warming</a> of the CMIP6 models by 10 to 15%.</p><p>Through the intensive research spurred by the CMIP6 climate-sensitivity curveball, scientists have been able to turn a confounding challenge into a confidence builder, providing even greater certainty than they had before in both the abilities of the climate science community and in the computer models used. Moreover, the experience has helped unearth uncertainties remaining in the modeling process.</p><p>Experts conclude much of this uncertainty probably lies in the complexity of clouds. "We have been looking as a community at why the models with greater warming are doing what they are doing – and it's tied to cloud feedbacks in the southern mid-latitudes mostly," explains Schmidt.</p><p>In fact, <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/26/eaba1981" target="_blank">a new study</a> addressing the increased sensitivity was published in Science Advances stating, "Cloud feedbacks and cloud-aerosol interactions are the most likely contributors to the high values and increased range of ECS [sensitivity] in CMIP6."</p>
Understanding the Complexity of Clouds<p>It's long been known in climate modeling circles that cloud processes and interactions are a potential weak link for climate modeling. That reality has been brought front and center by the urgent challenges posed during this CMIP6 evaluation period, but the current evaluation of models also provides an opportunity for discovery and improvement.</p><p>Cloud complexity comes from the reality that clouds have a multitude of sizes, altitudes, and textures. Some clouds cool Earth by providing shade, reflecting sunlight back into space. Others act like a blanket, trapping heat and warming the world.</p><p>Given that about <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/icesat_light.html" target="_blank">70% of the globe</a> is covered by clouds at any given time, it's no surprise that they play an integral role in regulating the climate. The challenge is to figure out which types of clouds will increase, which will decrease, and what the net effect will be on cooling or warming as the climate changes.</p><p><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0310-1" target="_blank">One study</a> last year reached an alarming conclusion: Left unchecked, the release of CO2 into the atmosphere may lead to a tipping point where shallow low clouds disappear – leading to runaway, catastrophic warming of nearly 15 degrees F. While scientists see that outcome as only a remote possibility, it drives home the urgent need to better understand clouds.</p><p>"We have a saying at NOAA: It isn't rocket science – it's much, much harder than that," quips Dr. Chris Fairall, ATOMIC's lead investigator. "One of the major problems for modeling is there is not clean separation of scales." The photo below is one that Fairall took from the NOAA P-3 aircraft.</p>
Investigating the Secrets of Clouds<p>To address the urgent question about the dynamics and role of clouds in a warming world, NOAA and European partners launched their ongoing research effort unprecedented in scale. The U.S. contribution, ATOMIC – short for Atlantic Tradewind Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Interaction Campaign – is an international science mission that was featured recently on "<a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/video/study-aims-to-examine-links-between-climate-change-and-clouds/" target="_blank">CBS This Morning: Saturday</a>."</p>
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