Ask the Dietitian – Grains

Can you help me answer the following question that came up for discussion last night at our meeting? Many see grains as bad or a sure way to gain weight/or lose weight. I have personally eliminated a lot due to a season of following Paleo. Another member was told to limit her carbs because she is pre-diabetic. Can you give me some info to share on this topic and encourage grains with a scientific/God background? 

Your question about grains comes up quite a bit.  There has been so much confusing media attention to grains in recent years, much of which falsely puts them in a bad light overall.  You have done well to speak a lot about the quality of grains in your classes–that is the best start to “undoing” the damage.  Continue to encourage them to focus on whole grains for the vast majority of their daily grain choices, if not all of them.

The main problem Americans have with grains is that we all tend to eat WAY MORE of them than we actually need, resulting in consuming more calories than we need, which results in weight gain.  If we only eat the recommended number of ounces of grain on the FP4H food plan chart, there is a positive impact on health according to huge amounts of research.  And most of this research involves the consumption of whole wheat products, which are the ones that seem to be targeted as “bad” by several fad-diet-crazed groups. Tell your groups that all of the major health organizations (Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, American Diabetic Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society) advocate the consumption of whole grains (in the amounts recommended on the FP4H food plan) to stay healthy.  For diabetics/pre-diabetics, the number of grains for their calorie level should stay the same, but they need to distribute them evenly throughout the day for the best control of their blood sugar levels.  For instance, if their calorie level is 1300-1400, which has 5 oz. of grain per day, a good sample meal plan would include maybe 1 oz. at breakfast, 1 oz. at lunch, 2 ounces at supper, and another ounce at a snack (between whatever meals had the longest break between them, or at bedtime.  It is also best to include some protein alongside the grain (like milk or meat/other protein foods) to have a “balance” of fuel for the body.

You can also tell them that grains, since primarily carbohydrate, easily break down to glucose, the brain’s preferred fuel.  You have to have glucose in your bloodstream consistently for your body and mind to operate properly.  When I worked in a hospital setting, I came in contact with people who had followed very low carbohydrate diets for several weeks who ended up feeling weak and sluggish, to the point of having to be admitted to the hospital. This is because when you don’t give your body adequate carbohydrates, it is forced to break down muscle tissue to “make” the glucose your brain needs, which takes longer to do and is more taxing on your body and your kidneys in regard to dealing with the by-products from this process (ketones in the urine, etc.).  The body also breaks down fat to do this (which is what the promoters of the low carb diet tell you), but muscle is hit first, especially if the person isn’t exercising enough (strength) along with doing the diet, which is common.

God designed our bodies to work with eating an abundant variety of foods. When we leave out any one of the food groups in the FP4H food plan, we leave out valuable nutrients that our bodies need.


Charlotte Davis, RD, LD, SNS