Do grains promote weight gain?
Certain fad diets sure seem to think so! And the misconception that grains are synonymous with carbs has led to some very unhealthy diets.
Carbohydrates are not the enemy! Your body needs 3 macronutrients – protein, fats and carbohydrates – to be properly nourished. If you remove one of these macronutrients from your diet, your body will pull nutrients from other organs and eventually stop functioning normally.
Grains are not the only type of carbohydrate available. Fruits and vegetables are also carbohydrates because of their molecular make up. Basically, any food that breaks down into glucose through digestion is considered a carb.
Now onto the question that plagues so many people: Do grains promote weight gain? Well, yes, and no.
Grains and Obesity
First, let’s talk about how grains can lead to obesity.
Most people jump to the wrong conclusions about the relationship between grains and weight gain because they often see fast results when they cut ‘carbs’ from their diets. The problem, though, is not only have they cut ‘carbs’, they’ve also cut out sugar, salt, preservatives and additives, and excess fat.
This is because the carbs (or grains) that dominate the North American diet are processed, refined and laden with extras to improve taste. The typical North American diet is heavy on these refined carbs so eliminating them will reduce overall caloric intake and toxic load, both of which will lead to weight loss.
And, in conjunction with a diet high in refined grains, insulin levels get out of whack because the body gets quick, high doses of glucose after eating, causing blood sugar to spike; after this spike, a dramatic fall happens, and you feel hungry all over again.
Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that helps your cells take in glucose for energy from the carbohydrates you eat.
Each cell has insulin receptors that, when insulin is circulating, activate and open to allow glucose to enter the cells. Cells have a capacity for glucose, so excess is either stored in the liver or, if it becomes too much, stored as fat.
A typical North American diet that is heavy on refined grains and lower on protein and fat will mess up this delicate blood sugar stabilization system. Insulin is less effective when too many carbs are eaten.
Eventually a condition called insulin resistance occurs, in which the cells’ receptors no longer respond to insulin and stop allowing glucose to be taken in. Refined grains promote a huge rush of insulin. Overtime, the cells’ insulin receptors become desensitized to insulin, prompting the pancreas to produce even more to try to force the cells to open up. With insulin resistance, blood sugar rises because the cells cannot take in glucose from the blood stream.
How Does Canada’s Food Guide Compare?
Canada’s Food Guide recommends 6-7 servings of grain per day, which is reasonable.
I consume 2-3 servings of grains per day and choose instead to fill my carbohydrate allotment with fresh vegetables and fruit. But, since a true serving size for grain products is quite small, 6-7 healthy grains is fine.
The problem with the Guide, though, is that it only recommends at least ½ of your daily grain products be whole grain; for a truly healthy diet, 100% of your grains should be whole grains, free from added salt, fat and/or sugar.
Choose real whole grain products such as plain raw oatmeal (not instant), brown rice, quinoa, steel cut oats and sprouted grains.
All flour, by definition, is refined.
Products labeled ‘whole-grain’ or ‘multi-grain’ are usually made with refined grains that contain added sugar and salt. If you’re gluten-intolerant, be very careful as most gluten-free foods are processed and contain a lot more sugar and additives than their gluten-containing counterparts. Opt for whole foods first before buying packaged gluten-free products.
Fiber-rich, nutrient-dense whole grains are important for a balanced, nutritious diet. Whole grains can reverse heart disease, lower blood pressure, help prevent cancer, improve digestion and reverse or protect against diabetes.
Whole grains are an important source of vitamins and minerals, especially the vital B vitamins. Processed grains contain a lot fewer nutrients than whole grains and really don’t offer your body any nutritional benefit.
Choose low glycemic index foods to help stabilize blood sugar and reduce hunger and cravings. Keep in mind that grains contain more glucose than vegetables or fruits so over eating grains promote weight gain.
Meat and Alternatives
Overall, Canada’s Food Guide does a good job on the Meat section. I recommend always choosing lean cuts of meat, poultry and fish. And, consume at least one protein per meal and snack.
Your meat and alternatives intake will increase above the 2-3 serving recommendation but this is okay. Lower carbohydrates and increase protein to manage weight and stabilize blood sugar. Plus, you’ll feel a bunch of other health benefits!
Remember, a nutritious meal is one with lean protein and a plate full of fresh veggies! Add natural nut butters to your diet to curb cravings for sweets.
Eat wild cold-water fish at least 3 times a week. The healthy fats in fish are important for hormonal and metabolism health. Lean red meat (bison, elk, grass-fed beef) should only be consumed once per week or less.
Now that I’ve dissected Canada’s Food Guide for you, what does a nutritionally sound diet look like? I am going to finish off this series with a plan to eat for health! I will help you turn your SAD diet in a more health supportive diet with only a few tweaks.