We’ve all heard of the Paleo Diet, the diet that avoids grains and legumes, that our ancestors supposedly ate. People love it because they have heard that it will help them lose weight. Whether that’s true depends on many factors. But, that’s not something I focus on, myself.
Sure, many of my clients want to lose weight, but they usually see me for help with their digestive issues like IBS and food sensitivities, or issues like PMS and PCOS. (As a side note, you can download your FREE PMS Survival Guide here.) Weight loss just kind of happens once their other issues are back on track.
It turns out that avoiding foods like grains and legumes can help with more than just weight loss. Does that mean that you should go grain free and legume free? Well, not necessarily.
Why I mostly don’t eat grains and legumes
I found out in university that I had a ton of food sensitivities after stuffing myself with the typical student diet (ramen noodles, KD, etc). I ended up cutting out gluten, and went vegan. For months, I lived off of whole grains and legumes, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. I felt better than I did before, but still felt like crap.
A few years later, I went to nutrition school. As I learned new things about different foods and diets, I became my own guinea pig. I had a new diet every other month.
One of the things emphasized in nutrition school is the importance of eating a variety of whole foods (i.e. unrefined foods). Because whole grains and legumes have all kinds of nutrients, I was firmly against the idea of eliminating them from my diet.
However, over time, I started noticing that many of my digestive problems happened when I ate less meat. I would eat whole grains and legumes to cover my protein needs during those times. Let’s just say that I had unbearable acid reflux for hours, I looked 5 months pregnant, and everything came out of me in liquid form. I felt crappy (pun intended!).
Then, I decided to try the paleo diet briefly. To my surprise, my digestive issues completely disappeared. You have to understand that I’ve had digestive problems for as long as I can remember.
Are my digestive issues 100% better now? Nope. But that’s my own fault. When money gets tight, I’ve been known to eat gluten free grains. I also have a complete weakness for black bean and brown rice chips (that will remain unnamed), so I occasionally eat them when I’m pressed for time.
Why grains and legumes can be problematic
Grains and legumes can aggravate issues in those with IBS, autoimmune diseases, and conditions like food sensitivity induced PMS.
Grains are difficult to digest because they have a coating called phytic acid that prevents them from sprouting until they are in ideal conditions to sprout. This coating happens to block the absorption of many nutrients.
Additionally, grains contain a type of carbohydrate that is difficult to digest for those with digestive issues. To make matters worse, they affect the production of enzymes needed to break down your food. As a result, you end up feeding the unfriendly bacteria in your gut, as they digest your food for you.
Legumes (and some grains) contain lectins, which are a plant’s defence mechanism against other organisms that may want to eat them. Since we can’t digest lectins, the immune system launches an attack on them when it sees them. With repeated attacks, the immune system becomes tired.
You know how when you’re tired at work, you make more mistakes? So does your immune system. A burdened immune system may start attacking its own cells, resulting in autoimmune diseases.
Some of these issues can be minimized by soaking and sprouting grains and legumes. However, no amount of soaking or sprouting will entirely eliminate the accompanying problems.
Should you follow the paleo diet?
Just because avoiding grains and legumes works well for me, doesn’t mean that it’s the right diet for you. Some people find that they have a much harder time breaking animal protein down.
All I can say is that you should experiment and see what helps you feel your best. But if you choose to eat grains and legumes, PLEASE soak them for 12+ hours and rinse them before cooking them! Healthy consumption of these foods requires effort.
Are you ready to put in that work?