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Grain-free living

Today I was asked about my current diet and eating regime. In fact since starting this practice of intermittent fasting and limited grains/sugar/carbohydrates I’m often asked:

  1. Why don’t you eat grains or sugar? I suspect that the sugar question is becoming increasingly mainstream following a spate of books, documentaries and even infomercial tv shows damning sugar (with varying levels of veracity!).
  2. The grain question however is either accompanied by a look of disbelief, horror, scorn, superiority, confusion or rarely genuine curiosity.
  3. Next often comes, do you make exceptions, you are missing out on essential nutrients, aren’t you tired, what do you actually eat, aren’t you hungry all the time, and…
  4. finally if the inquisitor hasn’t lost interest by this point the question that gets to the bottom of everything, what is your motivation?
Plot of changes in weight and waist-line measurements with time since I started severely restricting grains. Note that at about 90 days I introduced intermittent fasting as well.

Plot of changes in weight and waist-line measurements with time since I started severely restricting grains and sugar. Note that at about 90 days I introduced intermittent fasting as well.

My motivation for limiting grains/sugar was to enjoy a more stable mood, experience hunger less often, eliminate bloating, and lose fat from my middle.

  1. Mood – limiting sugar was easy because while I love the feeling of possessing super powers that sugar bestows upon me, I don’t enjoy the racing pulse or the low feeling as my super powers retreat and hunger sets in instead or the irritability that often ensues. I can now taste the natural sugars in foods and in case you are wondering, I avoid sugar replacements, fruit juices, corn syrup, basically anything that is sweetened without the insoluble dietary fibre that would normally accompany natural sugars. If you are interested in seeing some sugar-free recipes, including cakes, muffins and biscuits that we’ve been making then let me know!
  2. Discomfort – regular slight bloating after eating a baguette or plate of pasta would leave me with a distended stomach and I assumed this was simply how a full stomach looks but it turns out that it doesn’t have to be that way! Also occasional more severe bloating, caused by such delicious treats as sourdough, made me look 5 months pregnant and then stopped me from feeling hunger for 2-3 days while still looking pregnant. As you can imagine that was not fun, comfortable around the waistline or attractive and made me wonder if there might be a slight intolerance to gluten.
  3. Vanity:
  • obesity; unhealthy

    Australia’s dietary guidelines so-called “Healthy Living Pyramid” is actually unhealthy! Source: Nutrition Australia

    I was gaining podginess around my middle and couldn’t understand what could be the cause as I had a ‘healthy’ diet following the healthy living pyramid and regular exercise, including high intensity cardio workouts two-three times per week. Mystified I assumed it was due to the slowing down of my metabolism after stopping breastfeeding my second child and resigned myself to the inevitability that this would be an unceasing march outwards for the rest of my life. I even gave away some clothes that were now too tight around the waist. Finally at Christmas 2012, while playing in the pool with my children and struggling to tread water in the deep end, my brother threw a barbed comment about me having my own in-built flotation device. I was shocked because I considered myself to be pretty slender for a 35 year old mother of two (63kg and 178cm tall; BMI 19.9). I did have a small amount of soft pudginess around my middle that made the elastic from my knickers sink into my flesh leading to unsightly bulges in my dresses.

  • I gave it plenty of thought and read about the deposition of fat around the middle caused by cortisol and realised that stress is likely the cause; the problem being that I love my job, my children, my charity work and frantic exercise so to remove the main stressors from my life seemed impossible. I decided to try decreasing my carbohydrate intake and from there grains were the easy target. Interestingly I kept my exercise regime and lifestyle and adjusted my diet to eliminate grains and sugar leading to a sustainable loss of about 3kg in 3 months (BMI 18.3). My knickers waistband no longer dug in so much. I don’t know if I lost fat or water but I’m sure glad that it’s gone! Do I have a 6-pack now? No way but I’m more comfortable!
bikini, flat stomach, grain-free diet, wheat-belly, grains make me fat, sugar makes me fat

Left – Photo of in-built flotation device. Right – 3 months after severely restricting grain and sugar intake

Exceptions:

  1. Yes I do make exceptions, for example I’ve made a lifestyle choice to be a flexitarian because after 12 years as a strict vegetarian I gradually (over 7 years) introduced small servings of ethically grown meat to enjoy the associated health benefits and to show my children that they have a choice rather than raising them in a vegetarian household;
  2. Similarly I occasionally eat small portions of white rice with accompanying fat and protein to slow the rate of absorption and minimise the insulin spike caused by the digestion of refined grains.
  3. Once a month at book group and occasionally at work I take great delight in sampling a wheat-based baked goodie.
  4. Similarly with sugar, I regularly eat a square or two of 85% fair-trade organic dark chocolate.
  5. Am I truly grain or sugar-free – no! I like my grains fermented and best of all triple distilled!
My grain-free food pyramid. By treats I mean  fried snacks, chocolate, alcohol etc

My grain-free food pyramid. By treats I mean fried snacks, chocolate, alcohol etc.

Nutrients:

  1. My current diet is rich in nutrients and frankly my prior diet was too, the main difference is that I’ve removed grains. Prior to quitting grains I had chronically low iron levels to the extent that I needed to climb under my desk at work to take a mid-afternoon nap. Since quitting grains I stopped taking iron supplements for the first time in my life and I no longer have that extreme fatigue each afternoon. I don’t fully understand why this would be but it’s probably linked to the anti-nutrient phytic acid content of grains and the theory that wheat in particular blocks the absorption of cations such as iron.
  2. Grains are a cheap filler and I can’t see good reasons for us to eat them, particularly when we can afford more nutrient dense food. I feel that the strength of the grain lobby group is the real reason why grains remain in the ‘eat most’ zones of the healthy eating pyramid. Perhaps ancient grains were richer in nutrients than modern grains. Modern grains grow at a faster rate and have a higher yield than ancient grains and soil is becoming depleted in nutrients due to overuse.

Energy levels:

I no longer have that horrid mid-afternoon snooziness, caused by the sedating effects of exorphins in wheat and the sudden rise and fall in blood glucose levels, that used to punctuate my day. Instead I cruise through 16 hour days without much caffeine (except a cup of tea some mornings) or other stimulants and I regularly do high impact cardio workouts or jogging without feeling tired or hungry afterwards, even exercising in the mornings while still fasting. Similarly my mood is much more stable now that I’ve essentially given up sugar and grains.

healthy grain-free eating, fresh vegetables, sustainable food, organic meat

Six typical grain free meals. Top left – Australian fresh prawns with spinach, parsley, avocado and mango; top centre – frittata rossa, ricotta-stuffed capsicum, roast carrot; top right – soy-flour pikelets with butter, vegemite, cheese and avocado; bottom right – frittata, soy-bread with butter and peanut butter, cucumber (my saviour!); bottom centre – zucchini with lemon juice and feta, roast sumac tomato, eggplant ‘pizza’, roast potato, organic pork sausage; shirred egg, salami, olives, roast carrot

Diet: My diet mainly consists of:

  1. Fresh Australian grown vegetables – favourites are avocadoes, eggplant (see eggplant ‘pizza’), zucchini (see zucchini with lemon juice and feta cheese), tomatoes (see roast sumac tomatoes), sweet potatoes (see salted roast rounds of sweet potatoes), red capsicum (see stuffed with ricotta and herbs) and my saviour cucumber (wrapped in organic ham); and
  2. Fresh Full-fat Australian dairy products or soy (Bonsoy because it’s made by a traditional recipe); or
  3. Australian free-range eggs; or
  4. A small portion of Australian preferably organic meat or Australian fresh fish or Australian fresh prawns; and
  5. Pulses (dal, pizza base, bread substitutes, home-made dips);
  6. Nuts;
  7. Saturated fats (organic virgin coconut oil);
  8. A piece or two of fresh Australian fruit; and
  9. A portion of whey protein powder.

Unlike the palaeo diet I eat dairy products and unlike the primal diet I eat pulses. In fact, every Friday evening my husband makes us grain-free pizza bases which are amazing and if we are honest, who doesn’t love pizza?! If you’d like the recipes just let me know!

no need for grains!

Left: Grain-free bread replacements of socca and panella; Right: grain-free pizza base. If you’d like any of the recipes please let me know.

I mix my own spices, grow some of my own herbs and some vegetables and fruit, I prefer to buy local produce so they are fresher and have more nutrients, I avoid preservatives where possible, and avoid tinned foods because tins are lined with BPA.

I do make exceptions, preferably fermented and triple distilled!

I do make exceptions, preferably fermented and triple distilled! Like my favourite Polish vodka, Zubrowka

Hunger:

In the first two weeks I was crazily hungry and ate cucumbers instead of grains, which was deeply dissatisfying and I felt highly dubious about why I would ever want to give up my staple food. My wheat-based breakfast (Weet-bix with muesli) was the hardest to give up until I introduced a marvellous breakfast smoothie. Now I can cruise for hours on that smoothie alone, then lunch and dinner without really contemplating food whereas I used to have a 2nd breakfast, morning tea and often two afternoon teas (presumably due to insulin spikes associated with eating grains and sugars).

I’m no longer fixated on the next meal and don’t experience hunger very often, perhaps because I am fortunate to be intellectually stimulated most of the time. I’m unsure if it would work that way for other people but I’m exceptionally pleased because hunger used to dominate my day. Does this make me a fringe-dweller? Absolutely! Do I think it’s the solution for everyone? Absolutely not. Will I continue with it? Yes, as long as it makes me feel good. Does that mean I follow or align myself with a recognised diet/regime? No, I’m making this one up as I go along based on what feels good.

Grain and sugar-free breakfast smoothie recipe

Ingredients

Mass (g)

Berries

80

Organic virgin Coconut oil

10

Bonsoy milk

100

Aussie Bodies Natural whey protein powder

30

Chia seeds

10

Nut meal

10

Vital Greens

10

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28 comments on “Grain-free living

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  23. Anna
    April 14, 2017

    I was on one of my old blog posts and you had commented on it. Came to visit, and stumbled upon this post which is “hitting home” for me at the moment. Have been told to cut out grains as I’ve been having terrible gut problems lately. I struggle with breakfast – what is that smoothie you have for breaky? Thanks for all your info, it’s been helpful!

    • strivetoengage
      April 24, 2017

      Hi! Thanks for dropping into my blog. It’s not good to read that you have gut problems. Have you thought about reading the book: https://www.amazon.com/Gut-Inside-Story-Bodys-Underrated/dp/1771641495 My husband just finished reading it and highly recommends it. I’ll read it soon too. We can also recommend intermittent fasting to give your gut a break from new inputs.

      But, to answer your specific question!
      Originally, and while I lived in Australia, the smoothie was comprised of whey protein powder, Vital Greens, nut meals, chia seeds and cocoa mostly. For the whey powder I would only use Aussie Bodies natural, as other whey powders have all sorts of weird additives and many have high levels of heavy metals (Aussie Bodies uses whey from grass-fed NZ cows I think). The Vital Greens was an essential component (http://www.vitalgreens.com/vital-greens/). The cocoa is just for taste, and the rest of the ingredients (nuts or seeds) are to add fibre and fat, to make it satisfying.

      I have changed it considerably now. In Norway, I can no longer get Vital Greens or anything similar. And I find the coconut oil unpalatable because it makes me nauseated. Also, I now drink coffee (with cows milk) so I have greatly reduced the amount of dairy in my smoothie, usually having just a dash of kefir (cultured milk) which is sold alongside milk here in Norway. Also, I rotate the nuts (typically almonds and hazelnuts still, but sometimes walnuts – we use the food processor to grind the nuts freshly ourselves rather than buying prepared meal because the fat in it can be already rancid) and occasionally make a batch (which might last a month) with seeds (sunflower or pumpkin) either as well as or instead of the nuts.

      I’ll make a new post and include the quantities in there because I don’t think I can do it here in a comment box.

      Best wishes to you and your gut!

      • Anna
        April 25, 2017

        Thank you so much for your in depth reply, you are too kind! Its so funny but a friend just the other day mentioned the “gut”book too. I will have to buy it. I have seen vital greens around here too, i will have to include it in my smoothies. thanks for your tips, really appreciated!

      • strivetoengage
        April 25, 2017

        I hope that what I said is helpful.

        In Spain last week I just ate and drank whatever I felt like having and by the end of the week I was really bloated. I have a suspicion that beer causes it so I’m going to cut it out altogether. I also need to read the Gut book!

      • Anna
        April 25, 2017

        I think wheat and grain free is definitely an option for me…. I’m always so bloated but I do eat a lot of wheat. I will have to try eliminating from my diet I think.

  24. Anna
    April 25, 2017

    Thanks for the smoothie numbers too. Cheers!

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