Grain-Free Backpacking Food

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Thank you for joining us for another #FoodFactFriday Live Q&A. I hope this provides you with the opportunity to try to go grain-free on your own backcountry trips. I was introduced to the idea of a grain-free diet by a handful of my nutrition gurus, which include Mark Sisson of the Primal Blueprint, Robb Wolf of the Paleo Solution, and Loren Cordain of the Paleo Diet for Athletes. All of these guys were really speaking the same language and saying our bodies really have a hard time digesting the quantity and the types of grains that are really prevalent in our food system currently.

If you pick up any box of processed food, you’re likely going to see wheat, corn, and soy somewhere in the nutrition facts, in the ingredient list, or in the allergen statement. Additionally, if we look at the top eight food allergens they are; wheat, soy, corn, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, and shellfish. Those are going to be the most prevalent food allergies that we see, and a lot of those are going to be grain-based. In my experience working with athletes looking to clean up their nutrition, they tend to feel a lot better after they eliminate those foods that are highly allergenic.

My goal today is not to say that everybody should be on a grain free diet, but to propose it as an opportunity to try this on for size. I’ve seen this over and over again when working with people. If they have any sort of autoimmune condition it seems to be accelerated by having grains in the diet. So what are grains? Wheat, barley, corn, rye, and oats. You’re going to see grains in your diet if you’re eating rice, pasta, cereal, etc.

Why are grains difficult to digest?

When you look out into a wheat field you don’t see any predators living off the wheat. The wheat plant doesn’t have claws, so the way that it protects itself is by it’s built in mechanisms. Let’s contrast that to a blueberry that says, ‘Hey, come eat me!’. The built in defense mechanism is a protein called “lectins” and these lectins are hard to digest. This is the plant's defense mechanism.

The problem with digesting grains is that it’s difficult to digest because these lectins can negatively impact your gut health. We should be able to hold things in our small intestine without them leaking out into the bloodstream. If this is compromised and things can flow freely from our small intestine to our bloodstream. This is what happens to a lot of people with celiacs disease. Wheat can actually degrade the lining of your small intestine and cause leaking gut syndrome. With leaky gut we might have undigested carbohydrates or fat leaking into the bloodstream. This is when we start to have inflammation and flares in other autoimmune symptoms.

If these are a staple part of your everyday diet you are more likely to experience these problems. There might be symptoms you currently have that you don’t know are contributed to the grains in your diet. It doesn’t hurt to pull them out and see how you react. When I pulled my beloved oatmeal out of my diet and quit eating bread every day, my psoriasis  really did resolve itself.

Additionally, when we have this lack of integrity in our small intestine, we have a really hard time assimilating the nutrients from that food. Simply putting food in your mouth doesn’t mean that you’re getting all of the nutritional value from that food. If you eat a piece of bread it needs to be broken down into the smallest components (glucose) to get used by your body. This shows up in diets that are heavy in grains because a lot of the micronutrient content of grains is bound up in phytates. Minerals bound up in the phytates in your food isn’t able to get broken down and used by the body.

I experienced this a lot with women in the Crossfit gym. No matter how many supplements they took, they couldn’t get their iron up. It was contributing that their diet was high in phytates making it impossible for them to assimilate and utilize the iron in the food they were eating. Phytates are another reason I advocate for a grain-free diet. Hopefully you can eliminate some of your digestive issues by changing your diet.

I hear this a lot from people in the backcountry. They take these trips and they feel a lot of stiffness and soreness in their joints. It could potentially be because of the food you’re eating. If you have this condition and you have undigested foods floating around in your blood system, it’s very irritating to your immune system. Your immune system is basically on high alert and it can’t take care of your joints, or that head cold that you have. You can end us with this chronic inflammation going on in your whole body that really doesn’t feel good.

The inflammatory response is absolutely necessary. It helps shuttle blood to that area and stimulate the healing process. But eventually we want that inflammation to go away. If you have systemic, chronic inflammation, it can take you a long time before any of those injuries resolves itself.

All carbohydrates are broken down into sugar. If you have a cup of rice it’s going to be 50 grams of carbohydrates in 1 sitting. Compare that to an apple with 30 grams of carbohydrates. Or a cup of broccoli which is 7 carbohydrates. If you’re eating a lot of grains consistently at every meal, you’re getting A LOT of carbohydrates. If you have a lot of sugar in your body, you have an insulin response to that. You eat a lot of carbohydrates, you have a spike in blood sugar, then insulin comes along to pull that sugar out of your bloodstream. Then your blood sugar level suddenly crash and you’re reaching for a cup of coffee.

With diets that are grain free, if you’re eating food like apples, broccoli, potatoes, brussel sprouts, you can eliminate some of these blood sugar highs and blood sugar lows that you experience on a daily basis. This is another reason I recommend grain-free diets, so you can get off that blood sugar roller coaster. Think about the impact that would have on your activity in the backcountry!

What Grain-Free Foods do your recommend that still contain carbohydrates?

Dense fruits and vegetables: yams, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, apples, and bananas.

Why is there rice in the Ethiopian Doro Wat meal?

Because white rice is a refined grain and it contains less of the lectin and phytates found in other grains. White rice is an easily digestible carbohydrate.

Why is there Buckwheat in the breakfasts?

We use buckwheat in our breakfast cereal because it’s actually a seed. It’s a relative of rhubarb. People think that it’s a grain, but actually it’s a really nutrient dense seed.

#FoodFactFriday Meal Planning Nutrition

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