5 Reasons Grains Are Not Your Friends

5 reasons to eliminate grains from diet Paleo
Full infographic can be found here

Transitioning to Paleo way of eating can be hard because the first thing you’re asked to eliminate is grains. For many, grain-based products are a staple and the thought of avoiding pasta, bread and rice seems crazy, impractical and unsustainable long term. It takes a while to overcome the ‘addiction’ but it is possible.

At the beginning, you always crave cereal and toast in the morning and a sandwich still seems like the only lunch option. For me, it took breaking a habit and reprogramming my thinking about what breakfast looks like and I did eventually stop missing grains altogether. I wouldn’t say I don’t get tempted by delicious sourdough bread or home-made pasta, and to be honest I do give in to those guilty pleasures every now and then, but I definitely don’t crave bread anymore. Plus, there are many grain free alternatives to make cupcakes and other treats with.

So, what’s the deal with grains? Why are we told to eliminate them from our diet for optimal health? This is my not very in-depth summary of why we avoid grains as part of the Paleo lifestyle.

1. Gluten, found in wheat, barley and rye, is a protein which is very hard for our bodies to digest and causes gut inflammation in 80% of the population.  This can damage the gut lining leading to malabsorption of nutrients. This is not just a problem for people with celiac disease. Some of the other most common conditions and symptoms associated with the effects of gluten are gastrointestinal issues, skin problems, autoimmune disease and mental health issues. More about gluten from Paleo Diet Lifestyle.

2. High carbohydrate content. The palaeolithic diet is not against carbohydrates but it is definitely lower in carbs than a standard, grain-based diet. Why should we monitor our carbohydrate intake? All carbs are converted by our bodies into sugars (glucose) which is used for energy. As glucose can’t stay in the bloodstream for too long, our pancreas produces insulin allowing glucose to be distributed to our cells to burn as energy for various functions. Majority of people are not active enough to burn all the glucose we consume as part of a standard, grain-based diet and therefore some of it ends up getting stored as glycogen – to be used by our muscles and liver – and the rest as triglycerides, or fat, in the fat cells around our waists and all the other areas we don’t want fat to be. Consuming too many carbohydrates, more than your body needs, can lead to insulin resistance, weight gain and obesity, pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers amongst other things. The key is not to eliminate carbs all together but rather consume enough for the body to use up and to choose foods that release insulin slower (also known as low GI foods), keeping us satiated for longer.

3 Phytic Acid or Phytates is an antinutrient found in plant-based foods. Grains and legumes have the highest phytic acid content, nuts and seeds have some and fruit and vegetables have none (except for some tubers and strawberries but only in small amounts). Phytic acid is problematic because it binds to minerals we consume, such as calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc, preventing their proper absorption. Mineral deficiency is linked to osteoporosis, skin issues, muscle cramping, PMS, fatigue, anaemia, reproduction, poor immunity and so on. Unlike cows, we don’t have an enzyme to break this antinutrient down.

4. Lectins are another antrinutrient found in grains, legumes, as well as nuts and seeds in smaller doses. Essentially, lectin is a defence tool for plant-based foods. In order to protect plant’s reproduction and survival, lectins are present to irritate our digestive system so we don’t digest the plant’s seeds (and poop ’em out instead). In 10 Reasons to avoid grains on Paleo diet, Aglaée the Paleo Dietician says, “Some people may experience diarrhoea, nausea, bloating, reflux or vomiting when ingesting lectins. Whether you experience symptoms or not, lectins can damage your gut lining, impair nutrient absorption, compromise your gut flora and interfere with your immune system”.

5. Poor nutrient density. Compared to meat, seafood, vegetables and fruits, grains are a poor source of bioavailable nutrients.

So there you go, five reasons grains are not actually your friends. Lectins and phytates are also the reason why legumes fall in the ‘avoid this’ category of the Paleo diet. These harmful antinutrients are also present in seeds, nuts and some tubers in different doses but can be removed during various preparation and cooking methods (think soaking, cooking, fermenting, germinating). There is a great post on The Weston A Price Foundation covering phytic acid/phytates, content level in different foods and elimination methods. My rule of thumb with seeds and nuts is to use moderately rather than as a staple ingredient in my recipes. It’s also the reason I don’t tuck into almond meal/coconut pancakes every day.


The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet – by Robb Wolf

The Definitive Guide to Grains– from Mark’s Daily Apple

Why grains are unhealthy? – from Mark’s Daily Apple

Living with Phytic Acid – from THe Weston A Price Foundation

9 Steps to Perfect Health – Don’t Eat Toxins– by Dr. Chris Kresser

Beans and Paleo Dieting

Irena Macri
By Irena Macri

About the author:Hi, I’m Irena Macri. I share delicious recipes that I have cooked and loved. I am a published cookbook author, have been food blogging for over 10 years and have a Diploma in Nutrition. You will find many healthy recipes as well as my favourite comfort food.More about me here. Sign-up for my newsletter and subscriber freebies.

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    1. Hi Gail,

      Yes, unfortunately even the oats fall into that category. However, the lack of gluten makes them a little less harmful.


      1. I have had several skin cancers removed since the early 1990’s and in the past 25 years, I’ve been to 6 different Dermatologists. One of them told me not to eat or drink anything from a cow. I can tolerate Westsoy soy milk with only 1% salt added. I cannot tolerate tofu. Other non milks, soy, and almond milk have too much salt and I learned years ago I get vertigo from salt and caffeine. Grains like plain brown rice, are okay for me but I have trouble with all kinds of pastas. Unsalted black beans are okay but I had a bad reaction once to kidney beans. I can eat unsalted sunflower seeds, and a few walnuts without problems. Almond flour is okay. Raw tomatoes cause me bad stomach problems. It took me years to figure all this out, but I learned after eating certain foods I got a skin cancer soon after. The following foods caused it. Fruitcake, Glorious Morning muffins, cow’s and goat milk. The fruitcake has dried and candied fruit in it and the glorious morning muffins had dried coconut treated with Sulfites and all purpose flour with Sulfites. I learned Sulfites also caused my skin cancers. While doctors tell us to use sunscreen and avoid the sun, the sun isn’t the only cause of skin cancer.
        All tropical fresh fruits cause me stomach problems but I can eat apples. I am also allergic to jojoba oil in shampoos and lotions. It causes rashes and hives. I only eat the plainest foods and nothing processed. I can tolerate Palmer’s Cocoa Butter and aloe vera gel from my plant, on my skin and when it does flare up from allergies both internal and external, I take a Lysine (good for canker sores too) and alternate with Ecinacea, (good for calming) and I drink decaf mint tea for stomach gas and a have a few sips before bed to help me sleep. For my Hypoglycemia I sip a little organic apple juice if I wake up at night.

  1. I am translating this to French, so that I can put it on the fridge and have my parents read it and finally understand my diet!! Thank you for making this simple yet so interesting post! 🙂

  2. I think everything said was actually very reasonable. However,
    what about this? what if you composed a catchier title?
    I ain’t saying your information isn’t solid, however what if you added a post title to possibly get folk’s attention? I mean 5 Reasons to
    Avoid Grains on Paleo Diet | Eat Drink Paleo is a
    little vanilla. You should look at Yahoo’s home page and see how they create post titles to grab people to open the links.
    You might add a related video or a related picture or two to grab people excited about what you’ve got to say.

    In my opinion, it could make your blog a little livelier.

    1. I try not to use click bait on my website 🙂 This title might sound boring but it’s better for Search Engine Optimisation as well. p.s. I used to work at Yahoo 😉

  3. Hey Irena,

    Great piece, what amazes me is how long grain based food has been advised to the general population. I remember my grand parents telling me bread was healthy and I should eat more of it. The world is really turning around, Sweden being the first to change it’s official healthy eating guidelines.


  4. Fantastic blog you have here but I was wondering if you knew of any community forums that cover the same topics discussed in this
    article? I’d really love to be a part of group where I can get comments from other experienced individuals that share the same interest.
    If you have any recommendations, please let me
    know. Thanks!

    1. Hi Lizzie!

      Are you looking for Paleo specific forums?

      Try these;

      CaveManForum / PaleoHacks / MarksDailyApple

      Hope these can help!


  5. Hi there very nice web site!! Man .. Excellent ..
    Superb .. I will bookmark your blog and take the feeds additionally?
    I’m satisfied to seek out numerous helpful information right here
    within the publish, we want develop extra techniques in this regard, thanks for sharing.
    . . . . .

  6. I love to eat wheat, barley and so on. I think they are healthy food. After read your article, I have got a new opinion about it. Thanks your article anyway.

  7. Having read this I thought it was extremely informative.
    I appreciate you spending some time and effort to put this article together.
    I once again find myself spending a significant amount of time both reading and posting
    comments. But so what, it was still worth it!

  8. Hey Irena,

    Great content! As a north Indian my main diet was Chapati (wheat). I used to have really bad migraine. Last year I came across one experienced nutritionist and after she eliminated wheat from my food, I am 80% better. I am sure Wheat is not my friend for sure.

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