“Going Paleo” means eliminating grains. ALL grains! – which can have a drastic effect on your body and blood sugar levels. Dense carbs, like grains, break down into simple sugars (glucose) in our digestive system. When over consumed, or consumed in the standard manner (through refined products), these types of carbs spike blood sugar levels, place our pancreas on overdrive, and store the excess as fat. So eliminating grains has been touted in the Paleo community as a good step to regulating blood sugar levels with the side effect of losing weight. Plus, most grains contain anti-nutrients and inflammatory properties due to components such as phytic acid.
Paleo vs Traditional Foods
As I have been working toward my degree, I have been studying and learning more about Traditional Foods. Weston A. Price describes Traditional foods like this:
Simply put, traditional foods are those in their most natural state, unadulterated and unrefined. It is these real, whole, nourishing foods enjoyed for generation upon generation that provide the cells of our bodies with the necessary fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients needed for vibrant health. This state of well-being is characterized by a quiet and strong digestive system, superior brain function, blissful sleep, sturdy bones, calm mind and an immune function that prevents infection.
Sounds like Paleo right? Well, not exactly. In the effect that these are whole, unprocessed foods, then yes. But traditional diets include foods that Paleo does not, like grains, diary, and legumes for example. The difference is in the preparation. Paleo eliminates those food because of their anti-nutrients which can cause inflammation. Traditonal societies (our healthy ancestors) included them but used techniques that actually eliminated their anti-nutrient properties. Grains and beans were soaked overnight or days with whey or an acid, like vinegar. Dairy was always raw. It wasn’t pasteurized like it is today, which kills all the enzymes that allows us to successfully digest it. These foods also came from good quality sources. They weren’t sprayed with chemicals to increase crop yields. The cows always ate grass to ensure a healthy animal.
And as for the blood sugar spike, people didn’t over consume food like we do today. They didn’t include grain as a primary staple at every meal. Dairy was drank but it was typically soured or fermented which increased the enzyme and healthy bacteria and lowers the lactose sugar content. So these foods were prepared to decrease and eliminate their anti-nutrients and they were consumed differently. In addition, these foods provide nutrients in such a way that we don’t always get from other foods.
We Have Limited Ourselves!
If you want to go as far back as the Paleo Era and really look at what people ate, you will find an array of foods that we can’t even get today. Things like berries, tubers, bark, wild greens that are not available commercially and most people don’t know how to literally hunt and search for. Our foods have changed as we have moved away from a hunter gather society to an industrial one. We rely on the supermarket, and even those of us who go to the farmers market will notice the same rotation of foods. For example, did you know there are actually over 25 varieties of carrots alone? And they come in an array of rainbow colors… NOT genetically modified. We have cultivated many plants to a degree that most people are only familiar with a couple of varieties of each type, at most. Our ancestors ate a VAST variety of foods that provided them with a huge assortment of nutrients, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Yet we have limited ourselves to a handful of foods that we eat over and over again.
Why Is Limiting Our Diet Potentially A Problem?
We are only beginning to understand nutrition. I am confidant there are still many nutrients we have yet to discover. Phytonutrients, which can help prevent disease in our body, were only discovered in the 90’s. The more variety of nutrients we consume and absorb through a variety of foods, the better will are at optimizing our nutrition. It’s not about eating just enough to get by.. It’s about getting as many nutrients as possible to fight and prevent illness. And there are many nutrient rich foods out there that we may be missing out on.
We have recently discovered that the Recommended Daily Intake levels established by the FDA are not enough to provide optimal health. As is indicated by the state of our health as a nation. Even by adding fortified vitamins and minerals into processed foods, most Americans are severely lacking in nutrition. Even those of us who eat whole foods are finding that with the limited food variety, depletion of soil, and environmental factors we face daily, we need much more nutrients than we are currently getting.
This reason alone, is why I question limiting our diet even further from certain whole foods. Especially if they can be prepared in a way that decreases or eliminates their inflammatory and anti-nutrient properties. And of course, we don’t over eat them… or over eat anything for that matter. Yes, you can even overdoes on carrots. Too much carotene can actually turn your skin an orange pigment as the excess carotene that your liver can’t process is stored in your skin cells. Although that would take quite a few carrots to get to that state.
So Why Grains?
We know that our ancestors ate grains. And of course, they ate a much wider variety of grains than what most Americans now eat. Their wheat alone is drastically different than the whole wheat that is grown in America today and they had many more varieties. Our primary wheat consumed in America has genetically changed to such a degree that is no longer resembles the ancestral kind. The other grains, such as oats, amaranth, teff, kamut haven’t been tampered with quite as much.
But they also ate grains in a much different way than we do today. They soaked, sprouted, and fermented their grains prior to cooking with them. This changes their nutritional makeup. All grains contain phytic acid. This is an organic acid in which phosphorous is bound. Untreated phytic acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption. For this reason, a diet high in “untreated” grains can lead to mineral deficiencies and bone loss. Soaking (in warm acid water) allows enzymes and other helpful organisms to break down and neutralize the phytic acid. It also neutralizes enzyme inhibitors that are in all grains and seeds and produces many beneficial enzymes as well as increases their nutritional value, such as an increase in B vitamins. Soaking also breaks down grains into smaller components that are much easier for us to digest.
These grains can provide us with nutrients that cannot be found elsewhere in their same beneficial state. For instance Buckwheat is valuable for its high content of cancer promoting nitrilosides. This is why we are now including soaked grains as a regular part of our diet.
How Much Should I Be Consuming?
I don’t consume soaked grains with every meal nor do I consume them every day. But I do make the following porridge recipe a couple times a week. I combine it with 1 or 2 eggs and it’s an easy breakfast that keeps me full. Also, it’s a great way to give me more energy on days that I am active or on my feet all day. There’s no way to answer the how much question because everyone is unique. A concern is that it will spike blood sugar levels. The protein content and fat content keeps the carbohydrates from spiking blood sugar as they otherwise would and can actually keep you satiated much longer while actually providing higher energy levels.
The only recommendation I can give is try adding this to your diet every couple of days or so and see how you react. For many people, soaked grains not only provide them with the added nutrients their bodies need but also, with recipes such as the one below, gives them energy to make it through their morning without craving a mid morning snack. My argument is why should we limit ourselves if there is a benefit to our digestive system and health? Let me know how you think!
Overnight Soaked Porridge (serves 2-3)
The Good Stuff:
- 1 cup oats (rolled, steel cut, or groats – NOT instant)
- 1/4 cup chopped nuts (almond slivers, pecans, walnuts)
- 1/4 cup tablespoons coconut flakes (unsweetened!)
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 1/2 cups warm filtered water
- 1-2 tablespoons acidic ingredient (whey, buttermilk, kefir, apple cider vinegar, or lemon juice)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup filtered water
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 1 tablespoon flax seeds
- Grass fed butter or cream (their fat-soluble activators provide the necessary catalyst for mineral absorption)
- raw honey or maple syrup (optional)
The How To:
- Mix oats, nuts, coconut, cinnamon, 1 1/2 cups water, and acid in a container and let soak overnight (minimum of 7 hours).
- Bring 1 cup water and salt to a boil.
- Stir in raisins and oat soaked oat mixture.
- Reduce heat and simmer several minutes.
- Remove from heat, stir in flax, butter or cream, and sweetener.
- Let sit a couple minutes to soak the flax and firm up the porridge then consume.
The best part is this is a really cheap meal. Purchase oat groats in the bulk bin section to save $$.