Here’s how the whole grain-free thing came about: A year or so ago I got sick, pukey sick, and couldn’t eat anything for 24 hours without retching. I felt terrible…but my complexion was the picture of heath. Even the dry, irritated patch on my chin that had become somewhat of a persistent problem, gone! Obviously something in my diet was irritating my skin, but what? I tried passing on coffee, processed foods, alcohol, refined sugar, but nada.
Fast forward a couple months and I’m interviewing renowned neurologist and best-selling author of Grain Brain and The Grain Brain Cookbook, David Perlmutter, M.D. When he mentioned grains and inflammation, something clicked: What if grains were causing my skin woes? So I said so long to oatmeal, corn, barley, wheat, and all the cultivated cereal crops for what I thought would be a week. Well, it’s been a month and I’m still going strong. Here’s why.
My Skin Cleared Up
“OMG, your skin looks great!” I’ve heard this a lot lately. Longtime friends and even complete strangers have complimented my complexion. And my skin does look great. That red, scaly strip on my chin I was telling you about? After just one day of going grain-free, it disappeared, something a medicine cabinet of lotions, potions, and serums couldn’t do. And as my grain-free odyssey continued, my skin went from lackluster to luminous.
My skin's improvement wouldn't surprise Dr William David. The cardiologist and author of Wheat Belly blames grains for a whole host of skin woes, from red patches, like mine, to acne and eczema, and even goes so far as to call them out as the “perfect disruptors of skin health.” If I hadn’t seen my skin's transformation for myself, I wouldn’t have believed it.
Goodbye Energy Crashes, Hello Mental Clarity
There’s a sandwich at a local restaurant I love. It’s layers of ripe tomato, homemade mozzarella, and fresh basil between fresher-than-fresh focaccia. I’d order it about once a week and each bite was a sigh of delight. It was afterward I’d pay the price. My energy levels would plummet, my concentration would flat-line, and I’d want to nap instead of getting back to work. When I think back, a lot of carby foods had that effect on me, but my taste buds didn’t care—they wanted instant gratification! But food isn’t supposed to weigh you down, it’s supposed to nourish and energise. Since going grain-free, the brain fog has lifted and so has that after-lunch lethargy. That doesn’t mean I never get tired (hey, I’m human!), but it no longer kicks in immediately after a meal.
My Stomach Has Never Looked Flatter
I hike, I downward dog, I limit junk food…and then bloat comes along and sabotages all my toned-tummy efforts. So not fair. In fact, I didn’t even know how bloated I was until I gave up grains and—POP!—it was like someone deflated the balloon in my belly. But wait, it’s not like grains are known tummy-tenters, so what was with inflategate? “It can be from a sensitivity to gluten, a gut dysbiosis that is fed by carbs in your diet, or an intolerance to FODMAPs,” explains Aglaée Jacob, R.D., a nutritionist in Vancouver and author of Digestive Health with REAL Food. FODMAPs are a group of short-chain fermentable carbs that cause bloating and digestive issues in people with gut flora imbalances. Another possible explanation: Grains are high in fibre, a necessary ingredient for good digestion, but since fibre is an indigestible carb, a high-fibre diet can tent you up, too.
My View Of Food Changed
My ultimate treat is a bran muffin, but not just any bran muffin, a moist-on-the-inside, gooey-on-the-outside masterpiece that’s dense and delicious—and oh-so sweet. But once I gave up grains and felt the benefits firsthand, I no longer saw my fave muffin in the same light…or scones or pizza or all those carby delights I used to covet. Food started falling into two categories for me: energy-givers and energy-zappers. I knew if I ate the muffin I’d fall straight into a food coma. So not worth it.
Grains, Even The Healthy Ones, Can Cause Inflammation
My biggest question at the end of the 30 days was why did my body feel so darn good? I asked Perlmutter and his answer was simple: “You reduced inflammation.” Inflammation can manifest itself in the skin and the joints, and Perlmutter believes it’s the underlying cause of cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. As he explains it, the origin of inflammation in the body all begins in the one-cell layer thickness of the gut lining called the epithelium: “When that barrier is compromised, when we have what’s called a leaky gut, things from inside the gut get into the body and induce inflammation systemically,” says Perlmutter. So what do grains have to do with it? First off, studies show that gliaden, a protein found in gluten, increases gut permeability, even in people without Celiac’s disease like me. Studies also show that a high-carb diet can increase inflammation, and it’s not just white bread and waffles that are to blame; carb-heavy corn, rice, and gluten-free oatmeal can contribute, too. Double whammy!
Cutting Out Grains Actually Expanded My Eating
Before my grain-free adventure, a typical food day went something like this: oatmeal with nuts for breakfast, soup and bakery bread for lunch, a green apple or granola bar snack, turkey burger and a salad for dinner, and air-popped popcorn dusted with paprika at night. In other words, carb city! I was so focused on staying away from processed foods, I didn’t even realize how many carbs I was inhaling. Now when I tell people I’m grain-free, the number one question they ask is, What do you eat?!? Truth is, I don’t feel like I’m on a diet, nor do I feel limited in my food choices. If anything, I’ve expanded my eating: yogurt bowls brimming with berries and nuts for breakfast, farm-fresh salads loaded with colourful veggies for lunch, a sliced green apple with a side of almond butter as a snack, and lettuce-wrapped tacos piled with beans and fresh salsa for dinner. Delish!