In light of Ann Marie’s upcoming e-course in how to prepare Healthy, Whole Grains, I thought I’d ask her a few burning questions that I know many of you share with me.
It’s no secret that I eat a mostly grain-free diet. All you have to do is look at the recipes that I’ve posted and you can see the evolution from this Sausage & Swiss Stuffed French Toast made with store-bought sourdough bread, to this Soaked Zucchini Bread when I started making my own breads using whole grains, to the slew of grain-free recipes I post now like this Berry “Pancake” Souffle.
I’ve never avoided grains for health or digestive reasons. I’ve avoided them because I value my kitchen time too much to waste it experimenting with sprouting, drying, grinding, soaking, kneading, waiting, baking, waiting, and baking. I had a season of doing all that, but I never hit upon a system to make it any less work.
Ann Marie has.
In her upcoming class, she promises to teach us how to make the beautiful sourdough bread pictured above in less than 5 minutes a day! (And that’s just one goody I got her to share with me in our interview.)
So, without further ado, here are my questions and her answers:
1) In the alternative health community, it seems like a lot of people are experimenting with going grain-free to either lose weight or cope with digestive problems. A lot of them are experiencing success. Do you think it’s ever appropriate to go completely grain-free?
I do think it’s good to go grain-free for a period of time if you have food allergies or other symptoms of digestive problems.
Food allergies are caused by abnormal gut flora (not enough good bacteria and too much bad or pathogenic bacteria). We are seeing a lot of gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance and other food allergies lately because so many of us grew up on antibiotics. The birth control pill also kills off good gut flora.
I reversed my gluten intolerance in my 20s by going on a gluten-free, sugar-free, starch-free diet (very similar to the GAPS Diet). I also took strong probiotics to help rebuild my gut flora. It took a couple of years for my body to heal, but after that I could eat wheat and sugar and starches again with no problems.
As far as weight loss is concerned, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding this topic. Many people find that they lose weight on a low-carb, grain-free diet. However, over time, for many people, the weight either comes back or they experience other health problems. Low metabolism and hormonal issues are common problems. That’s what happened to me.
2) Some would argue that all grains are bad for everyone, period. Others argue specifically against gluten-containing grains. How do you respond to these critics?
There is no evidence that all grains are bad for everyone. Humans have been thriving on whole grains for thousands of years.
All grains have anti-nutrients. You may have heard of phytic acid, for example. Grains also contain enzyme inhibitors. These anti-nutrients actually block minerals so you can’t absorb them.
This is why we soak or sprout grains — to neutralize the anti-nutrients and to deactivate the enzyme inhibitors. Whole grains actually contain a lot of vitamins and minerals. For example, they are especially high in magnesium and zinc, which many of us are deficient in. But you have to soak or sprout them to unlock and release these nutrients.
If you think it’s just grains that contain these anti-nutrients, that’s not true. They are also found in all nuts, seeds, beans, and in “healthy” vegetables like dark leafy greens as well as cauliflower and beets. So the issue is not that whole grains are bad for you — but rather that they need to be properly prepared.
This is why I disagree that we need to cut out grains. Should we also cut out nuts, seeds, and beans? PS: Good luck getting ANY magnesium if you attempt eliminating all of those foods from your diet.
And what about beets and spinach and kale? Should we cut those out, too?
The answer is: Of course not! Leafy greens and other vegetables are perfectly healthy as long as they are properly prepared — they must be cooked or fermented.
3) I understand you tried a low-carb, relatively grain-free diet to lose weight for good number of years. How successful were you?
Low-carb and low- to no-grains did not work for me at all.
Here’s my story:
I gained extra weight after I had my first child in 2007. I knew it was largely hormonal, since I’ve pretty much always been slim and could eat whatever I want without gaining weight.
I had my hormones checked and found out that my cortisol was high (Hello, belly! Excess cortisol makes people gain weight around the mid-section).
I also had a chronically low body temperature. I was averaging in the low 97s. I know this is a sign of low thyroid. I have other symptoms of low thyroid, including heavy menstrual periods and little red spots that started appearing all over my body in the past few years since I have been doing low-carb and minimal grains.
I lost about 10-15 pounds on a low-carb diet (the 4-Hour Body diet which actually promotes eating a high-carb diet once every 7 days). But then I stalled out on it and couldn’t lose any more. It didn’t matter if I ate just 1000-1200 calories per day. I could not lose an ounce.
So I finally decided that it was time to heal my hormones. I knew that if I could increase my body temperature and get my thyroid working properly, and lower the cortisol, that I would eventually start to lose weight. Or at the very least, my body would balance and I would become the weight I’m supposed to be. (A lot of people think they should be leaner than they actually should to be healthy.)
So last October, I decided to go for it. I more than doubled my caloric intake and stopped worrying about carbs. I made myself eat 3 meals a day, and I would often also eat snacks. I wasn’t hungry at first, especially in the morning, but I ate anyway, and in time, I got hungrier and hungrier.
I now realize the lack of hunger was due to deficiencies in magnesium and zinc. Incidentally, some of the best sources of magnesium and zinc are whole grains, which I was restricting!
Fast forward to now. I’m still eating double the calories and probably triple the carbs that I used to. I don’t know if my weight is the same because I stopped weighing myself. However, I’m still wearing the same size jeans and my measurements are exactly the same.
The best news? My body temperature has risen from the low 97s to a daily average of around 98.2. My temperature is also starting to stabilize, which means my adrenals are getting stronger. I’m also not lying in bed for hours every night (high cortisol at night due to hypoglycemia causes insomnia).
Also, my menstrual cycle is starting to normalize. The painful cramping has gotten about 50% better. And those red spots on my skin? They are starting to fade from red to pink.
According to Matt Stone, “As you lose weight, metabolism slows down. As metabolism slows down, you form fewer and fewer red blood cells (and platelets, and leukocytes, etc.) – the result being “too little blood,” basically what the word “anemia” means.”
Interestingly, I noticed the biggest changes for the better in the spots and the menstrual cycle just in the past month — and I’ve been eating grains for breakfast, lunch and dinner (testing all these recipes for my class).
I believe that when my body temperature gets up to normal (98.6 F) I will probably lose more weight. But if I don’t, then I’m meant to be this weight and that’s fine by me. I’m not overweight, just a little more curvy than I used to be.
And if I had to choose, I’d rather be a little plump and have normal periods and normal blood platelet functioning and hot, healthy hormones than be super lean. I’m not sure super lean is healthy. Look at the women who lived 50-100 years ago. They were not super model thin.
4) What are properly-prepared grains? Why do grains need special preparation to make them easier to digest?
Throughout history, humans have soaked, sprouted and used sourdough to prepare grains prior to eating. It’s only in the past hundred years or so that we’ve gotten away from these traditional practices.
With the introduction of modern commercial yeast and the move away from sourdough and soaking biscuits in buttermilk or clabbered milk, we’ve opted for convenience over health. (A familiar story!) It was common in our great-grandparents’ time to soak oatmeal overnight. Rice was traditionally soaked as well.
Case in point. In the early 1900s, for example, in the American South, people were using corn more frequently in their cooking for corn breads, corn grits, etc. However, unlike our neighbors in Central and South America who were soaking grains, we Americans were not soaking it. As a result, we saw an epidemic of Pellagra — 100,000 afflicted in 1916.
According to Wikipedia:
“The traditional food preparation method of corn, nixtamalization, by native New World cultivators who had domesticated corn required treatment of the grain with lime, an alkali. It has now been shown that the lime treatment makes niacin nutritionally available and reduces the chance of developing pellagra. When corn cultivation was adopted worldwide, this preparation method was not accepted because the benefit was not understood. The original cultivators, often heavily dependent on corn, did not suffer from pellagra. Pellagra became common only when corn became a staple that was eaten without the traditional treatment.”
When we properly prepare whole grains, they are easy to digest and we can absorb all the vitamins and minerals from them. This is assuming that one has a healthy gut. If one does not have a healthy gut and has trouble digesting grains or other foods, see my answer to question # 1. I argue that it’s not the grains that are the problem; it’s the antibiotics and other pills. (Not to mention chlorinated water and a lack of fermented foods in our diet.)
5) Now that you’ve re-introduced properly-prepared grains into your diet, how has your health been affected?
Here’s the short version: no weight gain, my temperature has come up dramatically and is stabilizing, my blood platelet count seems to be coming up (as evidenced by the red spots fading to pink), my menstrual cycle is normalizing, and my insomnia is gone.
I have written elsewhere that I am very skeptical about removing whole food groups from one’s diet. We claim to follow a “traditional foods diet” and yet how many of us really eat the way our ancestors did? Many of us don’t eat organ meats, for example. We’re eating lots of chicken breasts instead. But our ancestors ate the whole animal.
Consider the Swiss villagers studied by Dr. Weston Price. They ate a diet consisting of around 50% raw dairy (cheese, butter and cream) and 50% sourdough rye bread. They ate liver once a week, and in the spring and summer, they ate some vegetables. But their diet primarily consisted of dairy and bread. There are many benefits to eating cheese with bread.
For one, cheese is high in calcium. Whole grains are high in magnesium. It’s important to have the right ratio of calcium to magnesium. If you’re only eating foods high in calcium because you’ve cut out grains, that can really mess you up.
I’m not giving up my cheese and raw milk — these are some of my favorite foods. So I’m keeping the whole grains to go with them.
6) Many argue that properly-preparing grains is a lot of work. I know I pretty much abandoned almost all grains aside from rice a couple of years ago because all the sprouting, grinding, and baking seemed too hard to do with three young kids hanging on to me. While I do love to cook, I’m pretty lazy when it comes to meal planning. Do you think your class will help moms like me?
I had the same experience in 2007 when I first discovered traditional foods. We ended up just eating soaked rice, store-bought rice pasta and sprouted bread, and for the most part, I avoided grains.
But I missed eating tortilla chips with guacamole. And nachos! So I learned how to soak corn and make my own tortillas, and fry them for tortilla chips. I found out it was actually quite easy to do.
Next I tackled sourdough bread making and then pizza and pasta and even bagels and English muffins. I found out that none of these things are hard to make and they require very little effort.
7) I’ve also tried working with sourdough. After a couple of flops (loaves that were bricks), I gave up. Do you think your class will help those of us who are sourdough incompetents?
I had the exact same experience with sourdough. And then a friend of mine taught me her method for artisanal no-knead sourdough bread. My life was changed! I couldn’t believe how easy it was to get a sourdough starter going, keep it alive (you can store it in the fridge and neglect it for several months), and make delicious bread with hardly any effort. (AND YES, THAT IS THE BREAD PICTURED ABOVE!)
Here’s how easy it is:
1. Take some of your sourdough starter out of the fridge.
2. Feed it 2-3 times over the course of 24 hours (start at 7 am, again at 3 pm and then, if necessary, again at 11 pm).
3. The next day, toss some activated starter, flour, water, and a bit of salt into a bowl.
4. Cover and let it sit there for 18 hours.
5. Preheat your oven and bake your bread.
Oh, and many people will bake a couple loaves on the weekend so you don’t have to mess with it during the weekend. With your leftover starter, you have waffles or pancakes on Sunday.
You can also freeze the loaves of bread and the waffles. We like eating “Eggo” toaster waffles for breakfast throughout the week.
The biggest factors for successful sourdough bread are:
1. Having an active starter – it should be super bubbly like Champagne
2. The temperature of your kitchen – in my class, I recommend buying a $10 indoor thermometer so you can keep your starter and your dough at the perfect temperature.
3. Using enough white flour. Most people are not used to 100% whole grain bread. You can add some white flour to your sourdough bread (I use up to 30-50% white flour) to make it more palatable to people with modern white-bread tastes.
Let’s all thank Ann Marie for her time in answering these questions! Also, if you have anything else you’re dying to ask her about her experience with grains, please do so in the comments below. I know she’d love to hear from you!
And, if you haven’t already done so, go watch her FREE WEBINAR on how to prepare healthy, whole grains right now! It’s super-informative and an excellent introduction to this subject.
(photo by Cheeselsave)