Why We Should Eat Bread (and other grains)
Hands-down, the number one macronutrient (carbs, fats, protein) that I hear people say they’re avoiding are carbohydrates. From my clients – with AND without eating disorders – to family members to friends and next-door neighbor, this fear and avoidance of carbs does not discriminate.
Constantly, I hear statements like, “My weakness is English muffins,” “I’m afraid of how many calories are in grains,” or “I’ve just always heard carbs aren’t good for me.” I’ve also noticed that grains (bread, pasta, rice, pizza, crackers, any baked good, etc.) are the carb source that is typically restricted most. So, for the purpose of this post, I will be focusing on grains.
Now, although the above examples of comments I hear make me cringe, I want to make it clear that my cringing comes from a place of disgust towards diet culture, not at any person. These are people who are doing their best with trying to take care of themselves and have fallen prey to the disordered, unhealthy messages of the majority of our culture. But that’s why I’m writing this blog post – to provide some opposing information to this unscientifically-sound and even dangerous message that bread and other grains are to be feared and/or eliminated.
We Need Them!
One of the biggest reasons why I find the latest diet craze of low-carb everything (Hello, Keto) to be absolutely ridiculous is because carbs are the body’s and brain’s PREFERRED fuel source. That means that the highest percentage of our energy intake should be coming from carbs.
And when talking about grains, specifically, there are a host of reasons we need to be consuming them. Here are some of them:
Energy — For optimal energy levels, carbs are number one. They are the first macro our bodies and brains want to use, before tapping into others (fat & then protein), which is why we need carbs to make up – at the very least – half of our energy intake, and usually more. Without them, we’ll feel lethargic, always tired and not up for much. And grains specifically have vitamins & minerals that are keys for energy. For example, B Vitamins and magnesium are paramount in producing energy and maintaining stable energy levels — and many grains happen to be great sources of them!
Mood & Mental State — Restriction of food in general and of grains changes your brain. Along with restriction comes food preoccupation and obsession which makes many people think they are addicted to food, when in reality it is simply because they are depriving themselves. Also with restriction comes inability to focus and increased irritability. Grains specifically provide vitamins & minerals that help with mood regulation, such as Vitamin B12 and B6.
Regularity — Many grains provide fiber, necessary for a regulated digestive system. Need I say more?
Groundedness — ever notice feeling a bit scattered and all over the place when you haven’t had any grains? Grains absolutely have a grounding effect.
What Happens When We Restrict Grains?
When you’re not eating enough grains, all of the above benefits listed will obviously not be reaped – and your health suffers (both mentally and physically).
Also, when we deprive ourselves of any foods, including grains, we are giving them power and putting those foods on a pedestal where they don’t belong. This leads to feeling out of control around them and also makes us want them more. So, the reason for feeling out of control of, overeating regularly and bingeing on grain-based foods, is almost always restriction of those foods. Often, this is why people will get stuck in the binge-restrict cycle, and start restricting again, to later on “lose control,” and not trust themselves around certain foods like grains, or food in general.
If we are deprived for a period of time, the body/brain want food as quickly as possible, and to get as much as possible, since it wasn’t given it regularly before. It’s also common to think about food much, much more when underfed or restricting. All of this leaves us feeling powerless to food, and overall just crappy.
This is why it’s so important to give ourselves permission to eat all foods, including grains! By doing this, we take our power back, food is just food and our mental and physical beings can be truly nourished. Restriction of food does not give us control over it – full permission does.
How Much & Which Types of Grains?
At the minimum, we need to get at least six servings of grain per day. This is a minimal rule of thumb for a relatively healthy adult. More active individuals, people with some chronic illnesses or eating disorders, and teens who are still growing will typically need more.
While some grains are more nutrient-dense than others, permission to eat all foods still applies here – so, we need to give ourselves permission to eat ALL grains! If we don’t, we are still giving power to food.
And sometimes, when people get too fixated on only eating the more nutrient-dense grains (such as brown rice and NEVER white rice), this can become an obsession and cross into eating disorder territory. This is common in the newest eating disorder, orthorexia, which is an obsession with healthy eating.
Aim for a fluid balance of the more nutrient-dense grains (brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread/pasta, oatmeal, etc.) and less nutrient-dense grains (white bread/pasta, traditional pizza crust, cookies, cakes, muffins, etc.), as it fits your personal preferences, life circumstances and availability. Trust me, there is a place for all of it!
They Are Delicious!
Grains are arguably the best food group of all. If you ask me, life is way too short to not enjoy a delicious pizza with lots of cheese or bread dipped in olive oil. It’s also too short to avoid warm and soft chocolate-chip cookies or a piece of tasty carrot cake (my fave).
These messages given to us that we need to feel bad about eating carbs or grains or any food, is complete bullshit. Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures and we all deserve to enjoy that pleasure.
A Note on Gluten Intolerance & Celiac Disease
Please note that I do realize there are some people who genuinely need to avoid many grains for medical purposes, like Celiac Disease or gluten intolerances. However, it’s important these conditions be properly diagnosed by a medical team, as like I have said, unneccessary restriction of grains can negatively affect health.
There Will Always Be Something
Remember when fat was “bad”? I grew up on skim milk in the 90s because my mom thought that was what’s best. Can’t blame her – that was the message of the time. Now, it’s carbs. Next, it’ll be something else. So, be an informed consumer of nutrition information and be skeptical of any messages telling you to avoid whole food groups or go to extremes of any kind. Chances are, it’s not what’s best for you.
And if you need help developing a healthier relationship to food, your body and yourself, please visit my Nutrition Counseling page, and we can explore working together.
In true health,