The “whole grain” label is like a golden ticket for nutrition when it comes to healthy foods.
“A whole grain is the entire seed – the bran, the endosperm and the germ. Whole grain products contain important nutrients that, in addition to comprehensive health benefits, contribute to satiety and fullness,” says a registered nutritionist Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, Creator of BetterThanDieting.com, Author of Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You From The Label To The Table. “Many foods contain whole grains like oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, and even popcorn.”
But going grain-free has become increasingly popular in recent years, and there can be many reasons someone might give up grain. For example, popular diets like the Paleo Diet and Whole30 Diet require dieters to be grain-free.
“When grains are abandoned, this practice generally arises from a desire to get rid of carbohydrates rather than a medical need to avoid them,” says Taub-Dix.
However, people with certain health problems may need to be grain-free.
“People with food allergies and / or intolerances or congenital metabolic disorders such as phenylketonuria or celiac disease,” says Sandra J. Arevalo, MPH, RDN, CDN, registered nutritionist and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Overall, there can be many positives and negatives when it comes to going grain free. Here are 10 side effects of not eating cereals, according to dietitians. (If you’re reading this because you are making Whole30, don’t miss the ultimate guide to knowing exactly what foods you can and cannot eat on Whole30.)
A 2016 BMJ study found that cutting out grains can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
“This is due to the lack of fiber, which provides essential nutrients for antioxidant cleansing,” says Arevalo. To learn more about what can happen when you aren’t getting enough fiber, check out these 5 main side effects when you are not getting enough fiber, Science says.
“Whole grain multitasking offers a powerhouse of nutrients such as fiber, B vitamins, folic acid, protein, iron, antioxidants and a lot more,” says Taub-Dix. “Grain fortified grains can balance nutrients that we may not get in our diet from other foods like iron. Foods fortified with iron are especially important for menstruating women.”
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A May 2017 study found that giving up grains can also increase your risk of diabetes.
“The more whole grains you eat, the lower the risk of developing diabetes,” says Arevalo.
“Giving up cereals, especially whole grains, can lead to constipation, gas and gastrointestinal discomfort,” says Taub-Dix. “If you’re barely eating any grains now, slowly add the high-fiber grains back to your diet, making sure you combine them with liquids like water or tea to minimize side effects. Adding a variety of whole grains really moves.” You – in a good way! “
Ninety-two percent of participants who took the specific carbohydrate diet (a grain-free diet) said it helped them stay healthy and in remission from IBS. This was the result of an August 2015 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
A March 2017 study found that giving up grains can actually lead to weight gain.
“Not eating enough whole grains can help lower your resting metabolism, thereby lowering the amount of calories we burn,” says Arevalo. (Read More: 26 Worst Habits That Slow Your Metabolism Down, Science Says)
A meta-analysis of nine studies from October 2018 found that increasing your whole grain intake may actually help reduce inflammation. While the study did not examine the mechanism behind how whole grains can reduce inflammation, the researchers pointed out a few hypotheses: One of them is that whole grains contain phytochemicals that can have anti-inflammatory effects. Another reason is that whole grains contain compounds that are metabolized by the beneficial bacteria in our gut microbiota that produce short chain fatty acids (SCFA) that have been linked to decreased levels of systematic, low level inflammation.
Skipping whole grains can actually cause your immune system to take a hit.
“Whole grain products make your gut bacteria (the good ones) smile!” Taub-Dix says. “Science has shown that fiber fuels the microbiome and helps us support a healthy immune system.”
An August 2019 study found that eating whole grains can help prevent breast cancer.
“If your diet doesn’t include whole grains, you are missing an important source of bioactive phytochemicals that are useful in treating each stage of breast cancer,” says Arevalo.
Some grains, like whole wheat, are sources of gluten: a protein that can cause digestive discomfort in sensitive individuals. A February 2018 study found that people with gluten-related conditions, such as celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, who followed a gluten-free diet and excluded some grain foods, reported fewer symptoms.
If you are considering removing grains from your diet because you believe you may be gluten sensitive, these side effects should be taken into account when science shows you to cut gluten first.