A quick guide to GRAINS.

I always, always get questions about if you should eat grains and which one's should you eat. As folks head into the Spring season, they are typically looking to clean up their diet and pantry. So here is a condensed guide on how to pick the grains you eat. I treat grains like I do every other food I purchase by following these guidelines: look at ingredients, watch for added sugars, try to get the food as close to it's natural state as possible, if it can sit on a shelf for a long time you probably want to avoid it. 

Grains are a typical food group people choose to cut when they want to lose weight. And yes, this helps when you are avoiding bread, cookies, cereals, donuts, and every other food item that was adding unnecessary energy and sugar to your day.  The thing is, people who live long and healthy lives do not avoid grains. In fact, it is a integral part of the Mediterranean diet and all the diets that fuel those people who reach to be 100 years old. Whole grains can be very nutritious and hold a bunch of B vitamins and good carbs to fuel athletic efforts! They are pretty essential for the pregnant and breastfeeding crowd, and all athletes.  If you avoid grains, due to whatever health reasons, then that may work! But if you are avoiding them to just avoid them, you may be trying really hard to get your carbohydrates through starchy veggies and fruits (which can be done! but is pretty tough).  Sometimes when we cut carbohydrates through grains, we end up eating more of something else, more fat, more protein, and that may work for some of us, but there's also a way to bring balance in by picking wholesome grains. Although I think grains are great, too much of anything can have it's side affects. Too many good carbs can spike your blood sugar. Too many whole grains can be stored as fat. And the list goes on.

SOOO, how do you know which grains are good ones and which one's aren't so nice? 

Here are the 3 key words I want you to remember about grains.


1) PORTION. Grains are NOT that great in excess. Meaning whether it’s on a “good” list, gluten-free, ancient, whole, however they are labeled, having too many grains will inherently raise your blood sugar, sent out insulin to pull sugar into your cells, and cause a series of events that can leave you hungry shortly after, gaining weight, and insensitive to sugar in your bloodstream. What’s too much? It depends (of course I'd say that). Are you working out for 3 hours or are you just wanting a piece of fresh bread with your meal. Typically, the size of your fist is an appropriate serving of carbohydrates (not in a given food, but in a given meal all together!).

2) WHOLE. The less processed the grain, the better! If a cracker is sitting on a shelf for a year, it’s likely processed. Or the bread that claims it's low calories but can somehow not grow mold for weeks.  Local, whole grain, or sprouted-wheat bread has to be kept in the freezer because it will turn bad if it sits out for a few days, that is probably made with whole, intact grains!  Another tip, think about buying whole grains in the bulk section or grain section without any added seasoning, salt, sugar. Gluten free grains can often be better tolerated than glutenous ones (but still without the sugar and added stuff). Quinoa (a seed actually not a grain) is at the top of the list of grains people can tolerate! Start there I say if you're looking to rebuild your pantry this Spring. Then move forward with other gluten-free grains like rice, millet, oats (since the likelihood of intolerance is small). I would then move to gluten containing grains that are still whole like farro and barley, both of these act like a small noodle or rice. Notice I haven't said pizza, cookies, bagels, etc. These may include whole wheat, yes, but definitely not a whole grain like the ones I just mentioned. Starting to get the picture? These should be very special occasions if you want to keep on the same path of health you are on now!

3) BALANCE. When you eat grains, don’t eat them alone. Pairing grains with protein (and fiber from veggies) will help blunt the insulin response of eating something higher in carbs. Balance your grains with protein and veggies!

Side note: Whole corn (like corn on the cob) can be counted as a grain. Most people can tolerate corn and find it to be quite satisfying. 

What do grains look like in my life? I always keep quinoa and rice in my pantry and frozen sprouted grain bread in my freezer. If I feel like waffles and don't make them, I choose a gluten free buckwheat variety. If I want crackers or tortilla chips, I look for minimal ingredients and a whole grain for the first ingredient (ie. AKMAK crackers first ingredient is cracked whole wheat. Blue corn tortilla chips first ingredient is blue corn.) This is how I make all of my packaged good decisions!

Please comment with your questions and favorite grain picks!

Picture of simply cooked millet with a soft boiled egg and avocado from one of my favorite grain cooking dietitians on Instagram @mallory.rdn. 

Picture of simply cooked millet with a soft boiled egg and avocado from one of my favorite grain cooking dietitians on Instagram @mallory.rdn. 

Jessica IsmertComment