Grains: the scoop!

Since the introduction of The Paleo Diet and the acceleration of the real food revolution, grains have copped a bad wrap. Rightly so? Not always. Read on to find out the truth about grains, TNN style.

In summary, grains include foods that dominate our traditional and now thankfully almost obsolete food pyramid, such as wheat (i.e. bread, cereals, pasta and cous cous), rice, oats and barley. Other grains that you may be less aware of include rye, millet and corn (maize). No, corn is not a vegetable. Read this for more information.

Why you don’t need grains like our traditional food pyramid and the agricultural industry would like you to believe:

  • There is not a single nutrient, vitamin or mineral present in grains that you cannot obtain from natural, whole foods.
  • Grains are often sugary, starchy and low in nutrients.
  • While gluten is by far the worst culprit, grains can still be inflammatory and are high in phytic acid, substances that can inhibit nutrient absorption. The problem with high levels of phytate is mostly relevant when gut health is sub-optimal, and the overall nutrition is deficient in micronutrients and essential food sources. Read Gut Health 101 on how to optimise your gut health and therefore, nutrient absorption and overall health.
  • The over consumption of grains decreases the release of our major digestive and satiety hormone cholecystokinin, or CCK. This is known to be one of the major causes of insulin resistance, the precursor to obesity. Grains are used to fatten pigs, cows and other livestock after all.
  • Crops of today can be genetically modified, hybridized, fertilized, mass produced and grown in soil destroyed by modern agricultural practices.

But what about my fibre intake?

This is a common misconception, created largely by companies with a vested interested in grain production and/or consumption. Fruits and vegetables are far more nutrient dense and per serve, and more often than not contain more fibre than your standard serve of grains.

Check out this interesting comparison:

 Grains  Fibre (g)  The more natural choice  Fibre (g)
 White Bread – 2 slices


 Banana – 1 large  3.6
 Wholegrain Bread – 2 slices  3.8  Strawberries – 1 cup  3.8
 Seeded Bread Roll  2.5  Sweet Potato – ½ cup  5.2
 Wheat Pasta – ½ cup  4.1  Cauliflower – 1½ cups  3.8
 Weetbix – 2 biscuits  3.3  Broccoli – 1 cup  5.9
 Fortified Cereal – ½ cup  3.6  Almonds – ½ cup  6.3
 Cous cous – ½ cup  1.7  Quinoa – ½ cup  2.6

Grain industry funded research is hardly going to support increased broccoli consumption now is it?

When are grains appropriate to consume?

Let’s be honest, food and nutrition IS NOT a quest for perfectionism. To make things very clear, in no way am I saying to never eat grains, but here are some points to help you gain perspective:

Grains1. Nutrient density
The focus of every meal should be nutrient density. If you fill up on grains, you miss the nutrient dense, natural whole foods. The solution? Fill your plate with protein, good fats and predominately non-starchy vegetables, and only if you need, a small handful of rice for example. The best time to do this is post-exercise, when your body utilises the glucose (sugar) for recovery and not fat storage. In addition, the inclusion of grains in a complete meal offers positive blood sugar control benefits. The addition of fat and/or protein with starchy carbohydrates prevents an extremely high blood sugar and the associated insulin production and subsequent blood sugar crash, fatigue, mood swings and cravings.

2. Gluten Free
Skip the gluten please, so avoid wheat, rye, barley, triticale and (non certified gluten free) oats. Why? Read our FAQ section on the contact page. Find out more and purchase your copy of The Real Food Athlete here.
3. The Source
When you choose to eat grains, choose well. Buy organic, certified gluten free and non-GMO products. And don’t just eat plain oats for breakfast. For nutrient density and blood sugar control, add good fats and protein. Even better options include making the switch quinoa porridge, a smoothie or an omelette.
4. Real food substitutions
Honestly, you won’t miss the starchy grains with delicious whole food options like Cauliflower Rice and zucchini spaghetti (try this Grain Free Zucchinni Spag Bol or for a vegetarian option, this Walnut and Basil Zuchetti). Now that’s nutrient density at its finest.

5. Balance
Work towards an 80/20 (or 90/10) approach, with nutrient density from natural whole foods your first priority. I’m the first to admit I love the occasional rice cracker and dip (with red wine of course), or night out at my favourite Mexican restaurant, but do I eat grains every day? Definitely not. Remember, what you do every day matters more that what you do every once in a while.


  1. Sarah Howse

    Hi Steph,
    When substituting a grain for banana, is the nutrient benefit from a normal banana versus an overripe banana the same?

  2. Steph Lowe

    Hi Sarah, an overripe banana is high in natural sugars versus a green banana which is high in resistant starch.

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