What's the Deal with Grains? How to Know Which Ones to Eat

AAHH. The never-ending talk of gluten and grains continues (because it never freaking ends). Should we be eating grains and carbs? Which ones should we avoid and which ones are the best? Which ones have gluten and why is gluten bad for us anyway?

The back-and-forth is killing me. So let's just say the definitive thing that needs to be said: There is no black and white answer to the grain question. There are many different grains, and the different ways we deal with the grains will come down to one thing: who you are and the composition of your body.

Everyone is different! Praise Jesus! We don't all have to hide from gluten, and we don't all have to eat wheat, while staying away from corn. It depends on you, my friend. It is your call.

How do you know when something is not good for your body in particular? We need to watch one of two things: your digestion and your mood (which will be affected by your digestion).

After eating a grain, you should pay attention to the digestion length of time, the sensations of the digestion (gas, bloating, burping) and the actual stool when it is eliminated. 

When it comes to your mood, notice your energy levels, the clarity and speed of your brain (brain fog?), even your inclinations toward laziness, sadness or even anger. 

This has everything to with your constitution and sensitivities. It is worth the attention and awareness to realize what foods work for you and what foods don't. Also, when paying attention, take into account whether you have had sleep and/or are going through sickness or stress.

The Facts on Grains

1. Grains are eaten more than any other food group and are the main energy source for the world.

2. Grains are actually the tiny, edible seeds of plants called cereals.

3. The most commonly eaten grains are corn, rice and wheat.

4. Whole grains consist of the endosperm (biggest part that contains protein and starch, the germ (embryo of plant which has a lot of good stuff like fat, protein, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals) and the bran (hard outer shell of grain - has wonderful fiber and minerals and antioxidants).

5. Refined grains are grains that are stripped of the germ and bran to leave only the endosperm. 

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6. Refined grains have been known to spike the blood sugar because they are processed by the body's digestive enzymes easily. Whole grains will regulate blood sugar and also give the more nutritious effect of the antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and fiber in the bran and the germ. 

7. Some of these grains contain gluten, which is a glue-like protein in wheat, spelt, barley, and rye. 

8. There is a range of sensitivity to gluten among all the bodies in the world that ranges from highly allergic (celiac disease, which a serious autoimmune condition) to sensitive. It is estimated that 10% of the population is intolerant to gluten in some way.

9. People with metabolic syndrome or either type of diabetes will want to abstain from grains as much as possible due to the  nature of grains to be high carb and starch, which leads to blood sugar spikes. 

10. A lot of diets like the Paleo and Whole30 reject grains (or at least some). These are healthy diets that will lead to weight loss.  But that does not mean that grains are unhealthy at all. Many diets do include grains and also lead to weight loss and health.

In short, it depends on the grain, whether it's whole or refined, and the body that is eating the grain (how it reacts metabolically and digestively).

So let's talk about the grains and let you be the judge of which to incorporate into your life. We'll talk about the whole versions of the following grains to discuss the nutritious qualities, and list whether or not it is a gluten-free grain. 

A Look at the Most Common Grains of Today:

  • Corn: Sweet corn is said to have lutein and zeaxanthin, which are chemicals good for your eyes and vision. Not to ignored is that corn provides an awesome dose of dietary fiber. Also trace amounts of vitamins A, B and E. Gluten-free. Flavonoids and carotenes make corn wonderful for fighting oxidative stress, and the fiber prvents heart disease. 

  • Wheat: Whole grain wheat is great if you're not sensitive in any way to gluten. As long as the wheat is not stripped (refined) of its nutrients (white bread anyone?), whole wheat has a lot to offer. Not only does whole wheat have an abundance of B vitamins, but it has beautiful amounts of copper, zinc, phosphorous, calcium AND iron. So yes, if there is no sensitivity to gluten.


  • Rice: Again, brown rice, before it's stripped into white rice is a wonderful staple, and probably supports more of the world than wheat. The big daddies are rice, corn and wheat. And there are all kinds of variations in this grass seed: basmati, jasmine, arborio (risotto), wild rice, sweet rice (sushi), etc. It's gluten-free and has B1, B2, B3, and B6 and also manganese, iron, selenium, magnesium, phosphorous, and many trace minerals. It also has protein! It has been shown that though wheat has more protein and fiber, brown rice has a better quality protein (quantity of essential amino acids).


  • Oats: This the definition of soluble fiber right here. And although many health organizations proclaim that those who are sensitive to gluten need to stay away from oats, this grain is actually gluten-free. The reason they group oats into the gluten category of grains is because it is often processed with wheat and other gluten products. Oats have 3 times more magnesium than calcium which is actually needed to absorb the calcium! Boom! Perhaps the greatest of all oats' benefits is that it can lower cholesterol faster than any food out there. Oat dietary fiber is high in beta-glucan which binds to bile acids and removes these bile acids through the feces. Great source of manganese, selenium and phosphorous AND iron. Plus B1.


  • Amaranth: Little amaranth kernels are so small that a whole pound of amaranth could have 750,000 seeds. These little seeds are 15-18% protein (high in lysine and methionine) which other regular grains cannot boast (besides quinoa). It's also gluten-free. So we have a lot of protein, and it's absorbed very well. Amaranth outperforms whole wheat too, on the level of vitamins and minerals, as well as on the level of fiber. They contain an amount of calcium that's comparable to a glass of milk. Don't forget its iron and B vitamin content too. Zinc and vitamin E. Because of its high fiber content, it's a sweet, earthy food suitable for those with type 2 diabetes. It can also drop cholesterol levels.


  • Freekeh: Guess what? This new supergrain contains gluten. So tell anybody that compares freekeh to quinoa that you just can't compare bananas and apples. But it does actually have more protein and double the fiber of quinoa. Among its amino acid profile, it actually has a high amount of glutamic acid which is an amino acid that helps to build strong muscles by producing glutamine, which can increase strength and endurance. So that's great. Like corn, it contains lutein so it's good for the eyes, inhibiting macular degeneration. It has a wonderful amount of zinc, iron, copper and magnesium. So 100 g of freekeh would give your more than your daily value of all those minerals I just mentioned. Then it also can provide magnesium and calcium. Because of the high fiber content, it can regulate digestion and so prevent digestive issues.


  • Barley: Really closely related and comparable to wheat, this grain does have gluten and has a nutty flavor with a chewy consistency. Good source of fiber and selenium. Copper, magnesium, and phosphorous. Vitamin B3 shines here as niacin is available in barley.

Are these getting confusing? Are you thinking you're going to forget this like I always do? Here you go:

Free Grains Cheat Sheet

We'll send you a PDF that you can download so you don't forget about your grains!


Each grain is listed, noted whether it is gluten-free or not, and names the main benefits for you to refer to, especially if you have specific health goals (lower cholesterol, lose weight, stimulate innume system, etc.).


Everyone should know the truth about all grains.


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    • Buckwheat: This gluten-free grain is actually a fruit seed, but in my opinion, a grain is a grain. So not surprisingly, it has two significant flavonoids: rutin and quercetin. Both of these are wonderful antioxidants that fight oxidative stress and maintain blood flow while protecting LDL from free-radical oxidation too. It also has magnesium and quality protein because it contains all 8 essential amino acids. Plus manganese, phosphorous, pantothenic acid. And even though, buckwheat lacks a bran and germ, it still rates very high in fiber, which is wonderful for the heart.


    • Millet: Millet is gluten-free and like so many of the above, has a wonderful protein and vitamin content. Its fiber can also protect against heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.


    • Quinoa: I feel like we've been talking about protein a lot. Well, this grain has the most protein of all of them, plus it is also gluten-free. Fantastic amino acid profile, providing all 8 essential amino acids and then some. It is an excellent protein source for vegans. Plus it is the least allergenic of all the grains. It also contains three times as much magnesium as calcium and also has B2, vitamin E, manganese and of course, magnificent dietary fiber.


    • Rye: Commonly used as a bread grain, rye is very comparable to wheat. So it definitely contains gluten. Due to its high fiber content, it can reduce a diabetic's blood sugar level and reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. It encourages butyric acid production in the colon, which is a fatty acid needed for the health of the colon cell. It is a source of non-cellulose polysaccharides which means it has a major water-binding capacity. Binding water increases the sensation of fullness and normalizes bowel function.

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      • Spelt: Older, distant cousin of wheat, this grain has gluten, although all gluten is not alike. For those who allergic to the gluten in wheat, they might be able to consume the gluten in spelt. Because of the difference in molecules, the gluten in spelt is more fragile and so more easily digested. Excellent source of complex carbs, protein and fiber. B vitamins and minerals. Spelt contains special carbs called mucopolysaccharides, and these have been shown not only to stimulate the immune system but also to lower cholesterol and play a role in blood clotting. It provides double the amount of protein than commercial wheat can offer.


      • Sorghum: Closely related to corn, this grain is gluten-free. And like corn, it has some wonderful phytochemical antioxidant compounds. These phenols and phytochemicals have been shown to block the initiation, promotion, and progression of several different types of cancers, as well cardio diseases. These antioxidants inhibit free radical-scavenging ability (especially in the lungs), which is what causes oxidative stress throughout the body. These antioxidants promote vitamin C, strengthen collagen, improve circulation and safeguard eyesight. It is also comparable to wheat in its highly complex carbs, high protein and a wonderful source of fiber.

      Comment below if you need to add something! Or if this helps or if you have a story or if you have a question. Whatever floats your boat!

      Related: Love Your Heart: 10 Important Foods to Improve Heart Health

      Please share with one of those buttons below because there is so much damn confusion about grains, but as you can see, they're pretty wonderful!