My Edited Eating newspaper column, in which I explore aspects of the Paleo lifestyle, weightloss and getting fit and healthy, appears in the Sunday edition of Weekend Argus. This one explores why grains are not Paleo…

Of all the things I cut from my diet when I decided to “go Paleo”, grains were the hardest to eliminate.

Not only because it meant no longer eating my once beloved bread – but also because they are in just about everything.

Those of us who follow the Paleo lifestyle cut grains, legumes, refined sugar, dairy and processed foods from our diets. But why do we avoid these? I’ve been asked this a lot recently, so over the next few weeks I’ll be unpacking the reasons behind eliminating these food groups, starting with grains.

Carbs are broken down into sugars and stored as fat if they are not burned

Because grains are simple carbohydrates, they are easily broken down into sugar, which can cause a spike in your blood sugar levels. To deal with this spike, your body increases its production of insulin, which regulates blood sugar. So, the higher your blood sugar levels, the more insulin your body produces. Why is this bad? According to the Ultimate Paleo Guide, “high insulin levels prevent your body from burning fat because they cause your body to focus on converting the excess glucose in your bloodstream into energy and storing the rest as fat” and “chronically high blood sugar levels … can lead to obesity and pre-diabetic symptoms.”

The reality is that most people are not active enough to work off all the carbs consumed as part of our standard diet so it ends up being stored as fat, leading to weight gain.

But avoiding high blood sugar levels and weight gain are not the only reasons it’s a good idea to avoid grains. They also contain what’s referred to as anti-nutrients which negatively affect digestion and nutrient absorption.

Gluten

Gluten, is probably the most well-known of the anti-nutrients, but many people – even those who avoid it – don’t know exactly what it is. Neither did I, so I turned to PaleoLeap.com, which explains that gluten is a protein which “enables bread to rise by forming gas cells that hold carbon dioxide during fermentation” and that industrially processed wheat contains up to 80% more gluten than ancient grains like spelt, kamut and millet. Gluten is very hard to digest and causes gut inflammation.

Phytates

The second anti-nutrient is phytates, a form of phytic acid, which is indigestible to human beings. When ingested, phytates bind with minerals like calcium and iron, which hampers your body’s ability to absorb these minerals. This can lead to mineral deficiencies which are linked to conditions like osteoporosis, anemia and fatigue, among others.

Soaking food in yoghurt or buttermilk can help break down phytates, and if you’re avoiding diary, you can use water combined with lemon juice or vinegar.

Lectins

Lectins, another anti-nutrient found in grains, is a kind of protein present in plants, which irritates our digestive systems, and prevents us from digesting a plant’s seed, thereby ensuring its survival. They are also found in legumes, and in smaller doses in nuts and seeds. According to PaleoLeap.com, lectins affect our bodies’ hunger signals, making us feel hungry even when we’ve consumed enough food.

While grains have been consumed for thousands of years, research shows that more and more people are presenting symptoms that support the idea that modern wheat is making people sick. And many who support eliminating grains from one’s diet blame the industrialisation of wheat production for this, arguing that modern milling strips the grain of any nutritional value and that “radical techniques in farming” have changed the structure of the plant itself.

Sources: paleoleap.com; eatdrinkpaleo.com.au; marksdailyapple.com and ultimatepaleoguide.com