Are you thinking about giving up grains for good? We gotchu. Here’s everything you need to know about the grain-free diet. That includes a deep dive into the potential perks and possible problems.
Bonus: We also have a 3-day sample menu and a long list of all the foods you can and can’t eat.
A grain-free diet is an eating pattern that excludes grains. These include:
BTW, pseudocereal grains like quinoa and buckwheat are technically seeds. So, a lot of folks who follow a grain-free diet avoid them, too.
Grain-free diets don’t have a one-size-fits-all vibe. The specific do’s and don’ts vary from person to person, so there isn’t a lot of research to explain the exact perks.
But a small 2019 study showed that dietary patterns that don’t include grains have some potential benefits. Here’s the lowdown.
May reduce the risk of certain health conditions
Eating refined carbs on the reg can have a negative effect on your health. Research shows that ultra-processed foods like refined grains can increase your risk of:
Could benefit blood sugar management
Refined grains are easily digested into simple sugars, which can cause blood-sugar spikes and quick crashes. So, eating less refined grains can keep your levels in check. This is extra important for folks who have diabetes, but anyone can benefit from better blood glucose regulation.
FYI: Just because you cut out grains doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. It’s your overall diet quality and food choices that matter most when it comes to staying healthy and managing health conditions.
May improve diet quality
Going grain-free might improve your overall diet quality if your current diet is filled with a lot of processed foods. If you replace refined grains with more nutrient-dense foods, you’ll prob get more fiber, vitamins, minerals, protein, and other important nutrients.
Also, a grain-free diet is free from gluten. So, it obvs will have benefits for folks who have celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).
Might help you lose weight
A grain-free diet might help you hit your weight loss goals.
Generally, refined grains don’t have a lot of nutritional value. On top of that, processed grain products are often filled with other not-so-healthy ingredients like refined sugars. None of these ingredients are great at keeping you feeling full and satiated.
So, replacing refined grains with more nutritious foods — like proteins, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds — can help you feel fuller for longer.
Keep in mind that we’re talking about refined grains, not whole grains. Also, reducing your intake of refined carbs is great, but it’s not a weight-loss cure-all.
Like any diet that cuts out a lot of food options (we’re looking at you, keto) the grain-free diet has some downsides.
Cutting out grains might be beneficial for people who have health conditions like celiac disease, NCGS, and diabetes. But generally, cutting out all grains from your diet isn’t necessary.
Eating whole grains and pseudograins like oats, brown rice, quinoa, and amaranth, as part of a balanced diet may actually help improve health and reduce the risk of certain conditions including:
Grains can also contain important nutrients like fiber and minerals including magnesium and zinc. This doesn’t mean that a grain-free diet will always lack these nutrients. But you do have to replace these nutrients with other nutrient-dense grain-free foods.
It’s also worth noting that a lot of grains in the United States are fortified or enriched with iron and folate. According to a 2021 research review, cutting out all grains can make it harder to hit your daily requirement of these vital nutrients.
When following a grain-free diet, it’s important to fill up on:
- fruits like berries, oranges, grapefruit, and apples
- healthy fat sources like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil
- healthy grain-free products like almond flour and coconut flour
- starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, potatoes, and butternut squash
- nonstarchy vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and asparagus
- animal and plant-based protein sources like chicken, fish, eggs, and lentils
But these days, you can find loads of grain-free products in your local grocery store. You can also sub traditional grain products with tasty ingredients like:
Psst. Make sure to read nutrition and ingredients labels. Just because something’s grain-free doesn’t mean it’s nutritious.
When on a grain-free diet, it’s important to avoid (surprise!) grains and grain-based products. These include:
- grains like rice, oats, wheat, barley, and rye
- grain-based plant milks like oat milk and rice milk
- grain-based snack foods like popcorn, wheat crackers, and oat bars
- oatmeal, cream of wheat, and most breakfast cereals and breakfast bars
- wheat flour-based baked goods like bagels, bread, pizza, noodles, and pasta
- sugary baked goods made with grain-based flours like muffins, cookies, and cake
PSA: You customize your grain-free diet based on your unique preferences. A lot of grain-free folks avoid pseudocereal grains like buckwheat, amaranth, and quinoa. Also, some people give up grains that contain gluten (e.g. wheat, barley, rye, triticale, farina, and spelt), but not gluten-free grains. That’s up to you, though.
Ready to eat? Here’s an idea of what 3 days on a grain-free diet can look like.
- Breakfast: egg and veggie omelet with a side of fresh berries and sliced avocado
- Lunch: large mixed greens salad topped with shredded chicken, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, diced apple, and blue cheese
- Dinner: almond-crusted fish served with garlicky broccoli and roasted sweet potatoes
- Breakfast: chia seed pudding topped with berries, coconut yogurt, and almond butter
- Lunch: lentil and vegetable soup with grain-free almond flour crackers and a side salad
- Dinner: roasted chicken, baked potato, and grilled asparagus
- Breakfast: smoothie made with frozen mixed berries, vanilla no-sugar-added protein powder, almond butter, and coconut milk
- Lunch: veggie and bean burrito on an almond flour tortilla wrap, guac, salsa, and grain-free chips, and try Siete for grain-free products
- Dinner: turkey and veggie meatballs served with marinara and almond flour- or chickpea-based pasta and a green salad
Grain-free diets tend to be a lot more flexible than other restrictive diets. Sure, you have to cut out grains, but you can still eat a wide variety of other foods.
Meanwhile, diets like the paleo or Whole30 make you cut out grains along with many other foods like legumes and dairy. And as for keto, you can technically eat grains as long as you don’t go over your daily net carb count.
Also, while a grain-free diet is gluten-free, it’s not the same thing as a gluten-free diet. Someone following a gluten-free diet doesn’t have to exclude all grains because not all grains contain gluten.
A grain-free diet is a way of eating that excludes all grains and grain-based products like wheat, oats, and white flour. Some studies suggest cutting out refined grains from your diet might benefit your overall health. But we need more evidence to show how it stacks up to other types of diets.
P.S. If you’re interested in going on the grain-free diet, you might want to hit up a registered dietitian. They can help you decide whether going grain-free is a good idea based on your health background.