When you have a food and nutrition blog, people talk to you about digestive issues quite a bit.
People ask me about stomach pain after eating, diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, and everything in between. When my husband had undiagnosed Crohn’s Disease, stomach pain after eating was a major symptom and telling factor. Seven blissfully symptom-free years after surgery to remove part of his small intestine, when he had chronic diarrhea for two months, the medical establishment couldn’t do anything to help him.
Two days of going grain-free fixed his elimination better than it had been in his whole life and nixed any stomach pain after eating. Just. Like. That.
So I guess we’re pretty comfortable talking about poo around here.
And when digestive issues come up, I often say, “You know, you should just try going grain-free. Just see what happens…”
And then people want more information.
It’s daunting to cut an entire food group out of your diet, especially one that may have previously been, say, the foundation of your eating habits (aka the Food Pyramid).
Cutting Out Food Groups IS Hard!
When we first decided to go grain-free to see if my husband might have a gluten sensitivity, I admitted here at KS that I was a little nervous, and that I expected some difficulties.
There were some folks who pretty harshly told me that new diets are easy and I should stop complaining.
I beg to differ.
Cutting something from your diet that you usually eat every day, if not every meal, is far from easy.
I’m no superwoman, and I don’t claim to be.
Going grain-free, or dairy-free, or nut-free, or gluten-free…those are BIG changes. And it’s okay to be scared to death of trying them.
It’s okay to wonder, “What in the world am I going to eat?”
It’s okay to wish you didn’t have to do it.
But it’s also okay to take baby steps and do what you can each day.
If you feel like you should try an elimination diet of some sort, well…you probably should.
Tell yourself you’ll do it for one day.
Tell yourself you’ll do it every lunchtime for five days.
Tell yourself you’ll start next week, then spend this week researching recipes, collecting ideas, making lists, and buying a few new ingredients that you might need. Make a meal plan and just start thinking about it. You’ll be so much more prepared.
My Three Best Tips for Starting a Grain-Free Diet
If you do want to try eating grain-free, do these first:
- Buy a lot of vegetables.
- Plan meals where you can just skip the grains – stir fry without rice, a burger without a bun, soup laden with veggies and no pasta or rice. For a few days, that’s really not that hard.
- If you want some bread-like products, don’t freak out about all the Paleo or grain-free recipes (or gluten-free ones) and ingredients you’ve never heard of. Buy one bag of coconut flour , found here at Tropical Traditions for typically the best price – it will seem uber expensive at first, but you don’t use much, maybe 1/4 cup at a time in recipes, so that bag should last you a while. (Check out the coconut flour testing I did with three different brands. I also tested various brands of almond flour and almond meal.)
The biggest surprise so far is that it hasn’t been nearly as hard as I thought to figure out what to have for dinner. We’ve eaten mostly salads and simple sides for lunch, and most of my husband’s lunches have been “raw” – nothing cooked at all – to mimic the “cleanse” Jordan Rubin recommends in The Maker’s Diet. Although it might not have been the best idea for a digestive inflammation like Crohn’s – raw vegetables are harder to digest and cause flare-ups for many – it seemed to have a good effect on him from day one, so we continued.
A Salad Every Day???
I figure, if you add enough fresh veggies to a salad, some crispy nuts, and a good selection of homemade salad dressings, you don’t really feel like you’re “eating light” or missing out on anything at lunch. We include:
- lots of peppers
- water chestnuts
- dried fruit
- cut fruit
- crispy sunflower seeds
- I add cooked chicken, hard boiled eggs, or cheese when I need a little something extra and don’t feel like a raw lunch
These don’t go all in at once, but you can imagine the variety we end up with. I also vary the greens a bit, using fresh spinach and cabbage sometimes.
Make a list of what you CAN eat.
As Haley discusses here about gluten, you’ll find that a great many normal, everyday meals your family already loves probably don’t include grains, and there are plenty of new recipes to find if you’re feeling adventurous.
What About Grain-Free Baking?
You may not need to eat grain-free and think this is a specialized mission that doesn’t apply to you, but I think it’s good for everyone to stretch their boundaries a bit and get out of their whole grain (or especially refined grain) comfort zone every so often.
Whether you think carbs are problematic or not, whether you are doing a food combining strategy where some meals need to be low-carb, or whether you just might have to make something for a diabetic dinner guest or a gluten-free classmate – it’s handy to have a low-carb baking recipe or two that fits the bill. Grain-free options are perfect for these and so many other reasons.
I firmly believe that overall, grain-free baking is easier than gluten-free baking because you generally need only one flour, so especially if you’re only baking without gluten (or grains) occasionally, you’ll want to have grain-free recipes that you know how to make.
What is Grain-Free Baking?
Grain-free baking would be mimicking bread products that most people make with wheat flour: muffins, tortillas, crepes, banana bread, biscuits, pie crusts, ETC., without using any grains at all. No rice flour, no cooked oatmeal, no sorghum or buckwheat or any other seed-based grains.
Thrive Market is a great place to find these ingredients if you can’t get them at your local store. Especially if you are in a rural area or somewhere without access to Whole Foods or Costco, you might want to check them out. You get a 30-day free trial AND 15% off your first order. They carry both almond meal and coconut flour along with many other fun ingredients. You don’t want to miss out!
Some grain-free recipes use whole nuts or even legumes ground into the batter, such as these grain-free almond apple pancakes (above), brownies made with walnuts as the base from the cookbook Nourishing Meals (they’re amazing, truly) or the “looks like whole wheat” biscuits, also with walnuts, from Health Home and Happiness’s Grain-free menu plans (below), the black bean brownies found in my eBook, The Everything Beans Book, or these nifty cashew-based grain-free waffles that I’m adapting to include veggies for my Healthy Breakfast eBook.
What’s the Easiest Rookie Baby Step?
I prefer coconut flour for staring out over almond flour for a few reasons (although both make great end products):
- Although both are expensive, you use far less coconut flour per recipe, stretching one bag quite far. It feels more frugal to start out with.
- Coconut flour can also work for nut-free individuals, plus sometimes I feel like we might eat too many nuts as snacks between basic trail mix and my grain-free granola, which is all nut based.
Usually, the only way to get this recipe is to buy either one of those ebooks, but I’m sharing a preview of Healthy Snacks To Go here for free, and it includes the grain-free granola recipe!
Is Grain-free a Deprived Diet?
Would you be dissapointed if these were offerred to you?
Am I stretching the idea of grain-free “baking” a bit by including things that don’t go in the oven? Maybe. But if you asked average Jane real food cook to make pancakes without using any grains, she might look at you sideways. It’s not on the list of normal recipes people have on hand. Besides that, I heard from a creative (efficient!) reader that you can pour the grain-free pumpkin pancake batter out on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and BAKE it to make one big, huge, fluffy, grain-free pancake. Here’s the instructions.
How Does Grain Free Affect Your Food Budget?
I have no good news here. There’s just no getting around it: meat, nuts, dried fruit, and even vegetables,
most of the time, cost much more than grains and legumes, especially coming from my perspective of grinding my own bulk whole grains, making everything from scratch, and using dry beans. I just stocked up on $130 of grass-fed beef and chicken, which would usually last 2-3 months, for sure. I don’t think it will stretch that far this time, although I am still managing to stretch one package of meat into 2-4 meals, including leftovers.
I have discovered spaghetti squash, which is the one replacement for grains that is just as cheap as its namesake. I promptly bought a half bushel of them the day after we decided to go grain-free, just so I could have some easy-as-spaghetti meal options.
The one positive impact on the food budget is probably in the cheese department, because since my husband is staying dairy-free for a while, too, we just skip the cheese in most recipes. Also, thank goodness it’s apple season. We have picked four bushels of apples at under $10/bushel in the last three weeks. A bushel is a lot of apples, in case you’re wondering. We love our apples.
Someone asked last week if NOT buying the grains would at least help the budget be less out of control. Because I buy so much in bulk, it’s hard to say what we’ve spent the last few weeks compared to normal Kimball life, but I have noticed this: not preparing the grains has spared a lot of prep time, especially in the evenings. I have not missed soaking things and getting sourdough sponges started, not one bit.
I wonder what I’ve done with all that extra time? I think I’ll go look for it now.
Maybe you’d like to use your extra time on some new recipes! Here are some of my favorite grain-free and gluten-free recipes and resources:
Grain-Free Breakfast Recipes
Grain-free Pizza Quiche (or salmon version, right)
This is perfect if you’ve just been told you need a GF diet, if you have a friend or family member eating GF and you’d like to cook for them, or if you’re just curious what it’s all about!
Grain-free Appetizers, Snacks and Sides
Green Bean Chips (an alternative to potato chips)
- Brussels Sprouts People will Actually Enjoy Eating
- Plan to Eat’s blog has categories for gluten-free, dairy-free, and Nourishing Traditions recipes
Grain-free Main Courses, Soups and Sides
St. Patrick’s Day Veggie-Laden Shepherd’s Pie (arrowroot to thicken)
Homemade Burger & French Fries (just skip the buns and use lettuce or portabella mushrooms instead)
Chicken Leek & Barley Soup (Leaving the barley out and being heavy-handed with the leeks and carrots made for a surprisingly thick, very delicious and nutritious soup.)
Black Bean Soup – The first night, I already had black beans soaking for Black Bean Soup, so I made it for myself and the kids and simply omitted the beans for my husband. You would think that a soup without the main ingredient would be terribly insufficient, but he said it was really good. I did have about a half cup of leftover taco meat that went perfectly into it, so I suppose I created a taco soup, grain-free style.
St. Patty’s Day inspired grain-free waffles from The Healthy Breakfast Book
The Caramelized Banana-Apple Dessert Topping, fits nicely with grain-free recipes. It’s not exactly low-carb because of the fruit, but it IS made without any grains and without any added sweeteners, and would be a fantastic topping for the grain-free muffins or filling for the grain-free crepes.
Are you willing to take the plunge? Try one of the nut-based recipes or order a bag of coconut flour (typically least expensive at Tropical Traditions, and they usually offer free shipping once a month. Follow me on Facebook and I always share when those weekends happen).
- I have SO many more grain-free recipes! FIND THEM ALL HERE, UPDATED EACH TIME A NEW ONE IS POSTED!
- Keep in mind that almost all soup recipes can be made grain-free by removing rice or pasta and using potatoes or turnips instead
- Grain-free Tomato Pizza Tortillas
- Puerto Rican Chicken
- Honey Dijon Chicken Casserole (thicken with arrowroot)
- Potato Beef Bake (same as above)
- CSA Greens Recipe: Italian Salmon (or Mushrooms) with Greens and Goat Cheese
- plus just about all the condiment recipes
- Roasted Winter Vegetables with Fennel
More Info on Going Grain-free
The basics: getting started
- Tips to Keep in Mind When Starting a New Restrictive Diet with Kids
- How to Bake Grain-free with Coconut Flour
- How Do 3 Brands of Coconut Flour Differ?
- Comparing 3 Brands of Almond Flour (and the difference of almond meal)
- The Comparison: The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), GAPS Diet (Gut & Psychology Syndrome), and the Maker’s Diet
- Jordan Rubin and the Maker’s Diet
- Why is Gluten Such a Problem
- How Much is Too Much?
hungry for more?
- WHAT IF GRAIN-FREE DIDN’T WORK FOR ME?? Sometimes, grains aren’t the problem. If you’ve tried an elimination diet and it didn’t work to decrease bloating, constipation, or stomach pain, you’ve got to read Suzanne’s story and the very real solution.
- Five Keys to Weight Loss with Real Food
- How Did We Do on the Lenten No Grains/No Gluten Challenge?
- Monday Mission: Chew Your Food
- Key Steps You Can Take to Heal Your Gut
Other Resources Around the Web
Cara, who has been feeding her family grain-free (GAPS) for quite a few years, is an expert I turn to when I need a new recipe. She has a number of resources for sale:
- Health Home and Happiness Starter Package (most popular!)
- Grain-free freezer cooking class – do it in an afternoon!
- Grain-free meal plans
- Allergy-Free Cooking classes from Traditional Cooking School
- Customizable meal plans for any limited diet (especially FODMAPS)
- Heart of Cooking‘s Allergy Free Menu Planners (for any allergy or combination!)
- Beyond Grain and Dairy or Baking with Coconut Flour by Starlene Stewart
- Everyday Grain-Free Baking by Kelly Smith of the Nourishing Home
- Eat Beautiful cookbook by Megan Stevens. Read my review of that cookbook.
- The Grain-Free Lunchbox
- Against the Grain: Delicious Recipes for the Whole Food and Grain-Free Diet by
Phew! I think that’s it. All my grain-free knowledge, all in one place. If you have weird digestive stuff going on, diarrhea, stomach pain after eating, or just wonder about any sort of gluten or grain sensitivity…give it a try for a few days. You don’t have to have a ton of resources to skip grains, even for a week.