Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Test Your Grains Challenge Survey: Initial Results and Some Anecdotes

December 22nd, 2010 · 15 Comments · Upgraded Nutrition

test your grains challenge

I wish I knew why my procrastination kicks in especially intensely on projects like this Test Your Grains Challenge. I should have been evaluating the responses over a month ago, but it was always the item on the list that I skipped for something else, even boring things like bringing some semblance of sanity to my email.

Now that I’m digging into folks’ results, it’s totally fascinating. Then again, it takes a long time to make heads or tails of anything, so maybe sometimes I just don’t want to use my brain so much.

I’ve analyzed 7 survey results, which is still less than half, but I’d love to share a little with you about what people learned about their relationship with grains.

The challenge entailed eating grains only prepared in a certain style for 7-10 days: all refined grains, all whole grains, soaked, sprouted, sourdough, gluten-free, or no grains were the choices.

People observed their energy, mental acuity, appetite, emotional stability, feeling in their gut after a meal, regular elimination of waste, gas, and weight gain or loss during the challenge. The results truly are fascinating!

Here are the subjects challenge participants tackled:

  • refined white flour: 2
  • whole grains, storebought: 3
  • whole grains, homemade only: 1
  • soaked whole grains using cultured medium (whey, buttermilk, yogurt, kefir): 1
  • sprouted whole grains: 2
  • no grains at all: 9

The majority of respondents saw no change in energy, mental acuity, emotional stability, sleep patterns or appetite, but about a third noticed improvement in each area.

Many people were hoping for an improvement in the frequency of bowel movements or constipation, but, as I myself was disappointed to see, many also found little to no change. My husband, who had the opposite problem of the majority of Americans (who are constipated), saw an immediate healing of his chronic diarrhea when he ate no grains at all. If no other lesson is learned from all this statistical analysis and anecdotal evidence, it’s that one really does need to pay attention to one’s own body to determine the best foods for them.

A number of participants did notice a drop in weight, especially those who cut grains altogether.

As we reintroduced grains to our diet, I was planning to try “only soaked” or “only sourdough” but in reality, those were harder than I expected to put into practice! Particularly the sourdough, since once we got rice and oats back, we didn’t want to lose them just because they couldn’t be “sourdoughed.” So I don’t blame most readers for watching from the sidelines, and if truth be told, I’m glad now I didn’t have 100 participants, or this project would take forever to evaluate.

At our house, we did of course start with gluten-free grains only once we reintroduced grains, and although I didn’t notice a significant difference compared to non-gluten-containing grains, I’m wondering about both my husband and son and whether they have some sensitivities there. Sometime, probably around Lent (appropriate!), we’ll probably go gluten-free for the whole family, since the kids didn’t participate fully this time.

The First Five Survey Responses

Since each person tested something different and started with different experiences, there’s almost no way to truly compile data and statistics beyond the generalities I presented above. Reading through each person’s “before and after” gives very interesting anecdotal evidence to add to our exploration of grains, however, so I am compiling each survey individually. Here is the first batch; I hope there are some science nerds out there who enjoy reading them as much as I did!

Each survey is simply broken down and the story told from the participants’ point of view with very little commentary or evaluation from me. My opinions aren’t necessary, I don’t think – the experiences speak for themselves!

“E”

  • Ate white and whole grains previously
  • Tried no grains: found some improvement in energy (rated “poor” before the challenge), sleep, and vast improvement in emotional stability.
  • Was hoping for a reduction in constipation, but didn’t see any change. However, she “didn’t feel bloated or uncomfortable,” which was a “big improvement.”
  • Another big improvement was a reduction in after meal gas, plus she lost weight!
  • “The first meal I ate with bread – I noticed right away how “heavy” it felt – my tummy felt full/uncomfortable after a few bits but I had barely ate anything and had to continue to eat because I was still hungry.”
  • Also tried only whole grains, storebought: Also found some improvement in energy and emotional stability. Constipation problems remained the same and only slight discomfort noticed in digesting, compared to none with no grains.
  • “I was surprised to find out that if I stuck with my 1/2 cup of whole-grains that I didn’t notice much of a difference compared to the no grain week – however, I was only eating 1/2 cup and then just once a day (usually with dinner.) I think I would have noticed more of a dip from all the benefits I saw during the “no-grain” week if I would have ate more re-fined grains. I would’ve like to take it to the next step of soaking but I don’t do the cooking or planning thanks to my DH.”
  • No weight was lost once grains were added in.
  • “I notice I got dehydrated very quickly the more grains I eat.”

“M”

  • Previously ate soaked or sprouted whole grains with a few white bread cheats.
  • Ate only refined grains.
  • Started with good energy, mental acuity, emotions, sleep and appetite, and all five got worse across the board, with insomnia being the worst negative change.
  • “Interestingly, my bowel habits did not see much change, however, I had headaches more often, was more crabby and emotional, and have battled insomnia in a worse way than ever.”
  • She already knew wheat was a minor trigger food for crankiness and gas.
  • “I don’t think I did the soaked grains once (which is what I said I would do) I ate some “white” bread, regular brown rice, mixed up flours in pancakes and cakes and cookies – generally ate worse than usual. So, I had bloating, gas, headaches, poor sleep, crabby – ouch!” “M”‘s goal had been to test soaked grains and try all the recipes she’d accumulated, but a busy week led her to toss up her hands and just try the opposite. Life happens, and real food can be tricky!
  • “I have a daughter who had to give up grains on a doctor’s advice. She actually was very successful even while away at college (although in an apartment). She reported success with intestinal problems and more energy. She is still battling a headache issue, but she was feeling quite ill every time she ate and that seems to have cleared up. Sufficiently that she is not willing to add grains other than brown rice and buckwheat (which she had only begun to eat after 4 weeks of grain free).”

“K”

  • Typically eats all sorts of grains – whole wheat, homemade and storebought, white, soaked, sprouted, and sourdough!
  • Tried white and storebought whole wheat: her energy and emotional stability, both starting out good, got worse, and her mental acuity drastically decreased.
  • Constipation increased, particularly the feeling of having some unfinished business.
  • Had more discomfort after meals with grains and more gas.
  • Facsinating! “Eating commercial grains raised my weight, turned my skin ugly, made me prone to moodiness and and discomfort when hungry. I also needed more sleep and felt more tired during the day. The biggest annoyance is chapped lips. I’d forgotten how I used to have chapped lips all the time, but that had gone away when I switched to eating real foods all the time, and only small amounts of well-prepared grains.”
  • She also gained weight, and is determined not to let such a week happen again!
  • Also tried sprouted grains only: found an improvement in both energy levels and appropriate appetite. “I find sprouting grains to be a LOT more filling. I ate less than I normally would because I was only using sprouted.”
  • Felt good in the gutafter eating sprouted grains, but still had some constipation according to the Bristol stool chart.
  • She gained some weight, but was also very busy and struggling to drink enough liquids.
  • “I’ve sprouted grains for a while, but I usually had them mixed with unsprouted grains or a lot of other foods – it was easy to not over-eat because the sprouted grains (legumes, etc.) are so much more filling! Sprouting improves the flavor and texture as well.”

“P”

  • Previously ate all sorts of grains, soaked, sprouted, sourdough, white and wheat.
  • Tried no grains: Found no change in energy, etc. except for appetite: I think I might have been a little bit hungrier without grains. But it could also be the psychological void of “no bread!”
  • Was hoping to see more frequent bowel movements, but “Being off grains did not seem to make any change in my elimination frequency – much to my dismay.” Stools did get a bit more regular looking, but still felt constipation and didn’t go often enough. Being in the first trimester of pregnancy could have a huge effect.
  • “This is the biggest difference I noticed being off grains – much less gas in general.”
  • “I went grain free for 7 days. On the last night I dreamt about eating bread! Now that I’ve allowed myself grains again, I am giving into cravings for refined flour products (e.g. I made crepes one morning with white flour and ate a ton of them! I also bought cereal which I have not done in about a year and a half!) So far I’ve had mostly refined flour and home made sourdough whole wheat bread. I haven’t really felt different being back on grains. The morning after the crepes though, I had borderline diarrhea – which may have also been due to over eating a bit and a lot of sugar (in the jam and what not). Other than that, I am still battling pregnancy constipation.”

“S”

  • Typically eats both white and whole grains.
  • Tried no grains: noticed little change if any in energy, mental acuity, but her emotional stability became worse: “As far as appetite goes, at first I was able to go a lot longer without eating, because the protein stayed with me longer. But then the cravings got the better of me and I was noshing on everything to try to keep my mind off the cookies, donuts, and PBJ’s I wanted. It was REALLY HARD to stay away from those grains! I was also under a lot of stress (baby had a cold) and that made the cravings even worse. I guess I didn’t realize how often I eat because of stress.”
  • “What used to be “normal” for me was once every several days. Since I had the baby six months ago, it’s been daily for some reason.” Then “While I was off grains, I didn’t poop for a week. As soon as I added them back in (sounds better than “gorged on free donuts at work”), I was able to go … but it was just as painful as ever. Perhaps I replaced grains with cheese a little too often? Even so, this is very unusual for me.”
  • “I did digest quite easily without grains, no “heaviness” at all (though even with grains, I only sometimes felt that way). I did notice that I got an empty stomach when it was time to eat again — before, I would feel lightheaded from hunger before my stomach felt empty. I also felt thinner. It might be because I was eating less.”
  • The main benefit was a decrease in gas, which used to send people flying from the room (including, she wishes, herself).
  • “When I broke the diet at the end and had donuts, I did feel pretty lousy after. Donuts are pretty much the worst food for me because of their high sugar. My stomach was upset and my head was a bit achey. By the end of the day (after eating a PBJ on whole wheat bread) I felt fine again.”
  • “Overall, I didn’t notice any differences big enough to warrant giving up one of my favorite food groups. I had hoped it would help with my painful bowel movements, but it actually made me MORE constipated than before! (I have since had success from eating a big bowl of lacto-fermented beets. Whatever works, I guess.) So I won’t be sticking with it.”

Was that cool or what? Not exactly Christmas week reading, so look forward to more of the same in January as we finish up the exploration of soaking grains…for good!

Even if you didn’t participate in the challenge officially, I hope you are inspired by the readers’ responses and perhaps consider testing your own grains to see if you have any individual improvements that you’d never even know about if you didn’t try something a little difficult. No grains is actually the easiest one to test!

UPDATE: Here are the rest of the survey results!

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15 Comments so far ↓

  • chuck

    i commend you for your effort in this and appreciate the readers who participated. i would be interested in seeing people go wheat free for a month and report on that. that would be interesting. i have done it for 4 years and the results are amazing. i spend a lot less time sprouting, soaking and sifting the wheat grains that even still had a negative effect. exercise is needed much less due to the fact that wheat used to turn straight to fat for me.

    Katie Reply:

    Chuck,
    I agree- it really would take more than 7-10 days to see a true effect from a huge change like no grains, but I was still curious about a smaller, more doable challenge. I found that I LOVED having extra time at night because I wasn’t soaking something for the next day. :) Katie

  • Mairzie

    Katie, thank you for the work that went into this. I find that this is a great help to me. Reading the results of your participants has helped me to make a positive decision for the health of my family. The timing of this is great–I am ready to begin the new year with a new perspective. Again, thanks. God bless. A blessed Christmas and a healthy, joyful new year for you and your family.

  • Sarah T.

    Wow. Interesting results, for sure! From what I’m reading, it sure seems like sprouting or soaking your grains is the way to go. I’ve been sprouting lentils for years, so I know how easy it is. I don’t have a dehydrator, so I’d have to do it in the oven- not a big deal. Also I’m hoping to get a mill in the next year. That’s my big goal. Thanks to the participants! I admit I’m one who sat on the sidelines. :)

  • shannon

    Interesting. We have cut out pasta for the past 2 weeks and I’ve already dropped 2 pounds, though I’ve made a couple other small changes. Still doing soaked grains and feel fine though I would be curious to try no grains for a couple weeks. Not motivated yet though!

  • Kim

    My son and I went on a candida diet for three weeks, and the biggest difference I noticed was that I had NO gas. Now, I’m back to normal flatulence, which I dislike! But I also disliked being on the candida diet. I thought I was going to go crazy with no grains!

  • chuck

    one has to wonder if the only adverse effect for the people with the gas problem is only just the gas. is there more to it than the smelly air and funny sound?

    here is something to think about:
    http://escapetheherdblog.blogspot.com/2010/11/roll-of-nickels-experiment.html

  • Joyce

    One of the things that I thought was pretty unusual about the results is that everyone complained about constipation (except for one woman’s husband.) In my quest to solve my migraine issues I have discovered that Magnesium is a great cure for constipation, even if I have eaten very little fiber that day. Adequate Magnesium is important for the function of all muscle tissue, but helps the “smooth” muscle tissue of the bowel to do what it is supposed to do, contract and push out waste.
    I take 750 to 1,000 mg. of Magnesium every night before bed and after breakfast I have a regular bowel movement that occurs in one continuous evacuation in less than 30 seconds.
    I have also added sea salt as a “supplement” to my diet as outlined in “The Water Cure” and I believe that the minerals in sea salt help with the creation of bile acids and promote regularity: .http://www.watercure2.org/ The web site looks kind of “gimmicky” but you get all the info you need for free by browsing around the various links. You may be drinking a lot of water, but if you are not retaining it, this also contributes to constipation. Sorry for such a long post that’s a little off topic, but constipation is a problem for so many of us, particularly women!

    Katie Reply:

    Joyce,
    Another fascinating insight! The world of nutrition certainly is vast and deep – how wonderful that you found such a simple solution for yourself! Thank you for sharing – not off topic at all! (Do I ever have a singular topic here?) :) Katie

  • Meghan

    I wanted to add something about the constipation issue, too. Based on what I know from GAPS and the Fiber Menace website, it’s not surprising to me that people continued to struggle with constipation when removing grains. Stools are mostly composed of dead bacteria, so what’s really important in eliminating constipation is healthy gut bacteria. In the short-term, however, fiber can reduce constipation. Suddenly decreasing your fiber intake, as your study participants likely did when they cut out grains, can exacerbate or cause constipation.

    For myself, I know that when I went grain-free for a few months in the spring, I started having lots of constipation problems. Now, however, I’ve been on GAPS for the last three months and haven’t had any major constipation issues. (Although it’s quite common to experience constipation when starting GAPS.) The difference is that now I’m eating a lot of fermented foods and doing heavy-duty probiotics. Maybe this is also the reason that “S” felt better when she ate lacto-fermented beets.

    Meghan

    Joyce Reply:

    Yes, Meghan, that is quite true; gut health is very important for many aspects of your health. I was quite shocked to learn that 70% of your bodies’ Serotonin is made in your gut, and only 30% in your brain. So, I do make it a point to eat several types of lacto-fermented foods every day; yogurt, Beet Kvass, pickled turnips, etc…

    Katie Reply:

    Meghan,
    That’s a great insight! Just to clarify, I interpreted people’s entries on the Bristol stool chart, which places most Americans soundly in the “constipated” category, even if the person would never describe themselves as such. So it may not be that these folks had trouble going, but perhaps had the wrong sort of stool. Yes, we got quite intimate in the survey! ;) Katie

  • Kimi @ The Nourishing Gourmet

    Hey Katie,

    I am so surprised that people noticed such a difference in such a short amount of time! WOW! I think that some people must be more sensitive than others. I eat mostly all soaked or sprouted grains, but I truthfully can get away with eating non sprouted for more than a week without noticing a difference (in about 2-3 weeks, I start to feel “yucky”).

  • Sheila

    I was “S” (and am not embarrassed to share it) and despite what I said, I’m thinking of going grain-free again. I’m tired of the spikes and crashes in blood sugar that white grains give me, but I’m noticing more that whole grains tend to sit in my stomach rather uncomfortably.

    First, though, I’m going to try soaking. I am just so attached to my grains, I’d like to have at least some option for pizza crust and tortillas and such.

    Also, I never did do the followup for my husband (and I probably won’t, because I don’t know the answers to all his questions and I think he’s a little tired of me pestering him about his health), but he had quite a dramatic improvement. He suffers from IBS, at least the doctor said that’s what it probably was. Basically, occasionally when he’s stressed out, he gets severe cramps and stomach upset, and later diarrhea and horrible gas. We’d been trying to make connections to various foods, but it clearly wasn’t any one thing. Stress made it worse, but it wasn’t just stress either.

    Well, we went grain free and he was instantly cured! Talk about dramatic. Then, we went to an Italian restaurant, had pasta, and the symptoms came back within an hour of eating. He didn’t notice any changes except the improved digestion — I had been hoping his joint inflammation would go down, but it didn’t, so far as he noticed.

    We’ve experimented a little bit and found that white rice is fine, as are small amounts of certain other grains. Ramen noodles don’t seem to cause any trouble, possibly because they are so refined, but gluten-free pizza crust caused a horrible reaction. I’m going to experiment at some point with different things — first, testing if yeast is a culprit, and then trying sourdough, soaked, and sprouted grains. Will certainly keep you posted!

    chuck Reply:

    it seems obvious to me that grains stress your husband out.

Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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