A group of KS readers got together a few years ago did this challenge together. We put our names on the dotted line, our money where our mouths were, and let the rubber meet the road…we embarked on the Test Your Grains Challenge and pooled our resources to collect anecdotal evidence to add to the soaking grain issue.
I challenged all of you to examine your body’s response to grains prepared various ways. For at least 7-10 days, I asked you to commit to eating all your grains in the same style. You didn’t have to eat the same grains – in fact, I encouraged variety – but they needed to be exclusively from one of the following categories:
- Refined “white” (e.g. white bread and pasta, white rice, white biscuits, etc.)
- Whole grains (brown rice, 100% whole grain bread and pasta, oatmeal from rolled oats, whole barley, quinoa, millet, etc.)
- Soaked whole grains with acidic medium (lemon juice, vinegar)
- Soaked whole grains with cultured medium (whey, buttermilk, yogurt, etc) (see how to soak whole grains)
- Sourdough preparation (either white or whole grain, exclusively)
- Sprouted whole grains
- Gluten-free (avoiding wheat, barley, spelt and rye – choose whole or refined grains for those that you do eat)
- No grains at all
*All of the above include legumes, too, like kidney beans, peanuts, and peas.
The people who particpated in the survey answered baseline questions, as well as an “after” version at the end of their 7-10 days, about the following:
- Energy levels (1-5 rating, 5 being high/excellent)
- Mental acuity (1-5 rating, 5 is excellent)
- Frequency of bowel movements (how many times per day, average)
- Type or consistency of bowel movements (Bristol stool chart, 1-7: please see Shannon’s post on digestion for a great “poop chart” so you can rate your excrement with numbers. It’s really lovely, and just saying, “I’m a 3,” or “I’m a 4/5,” is much easier than using descriptive terms. Believe me.)
- Gut feeling (1-5 rating)
1 – Big time OW/Had to lie down
2 – I had a tummy-ache
3 – Some discomfort
4 – Could feel a “heaviness” in the gut
5 – Didn’t even notice I was digesting
- Gas (1-5, 5 being “none” and 1 at “Embarrassing”)
- Behavioral differences (mostly for children) – anecdotal comments
- Emotional stability
- Other: nursing mothers’ milk supply, sleep issues (insomnia, for example), skin issues (acne, eczema, etc.)
- Extenuating circumstances like sleep, stress, menstrual cycles, travel, other dietary changes, etc.
We can pretty much only evaluate digestion based on what we feel inside and what we see coming out, if you will. If only we could do lab tests on mineral absorption! That would be sooooo cool. Or am I the only one who gets excited about that sort of thing?
What am I missing? Is there anything else we should be evaluating as we determine how our bodies respond to grains?
It’s not too late to participate in this challenge. Who’s in?
Please commit and accept the support of the KS community by commenting below.
You will be able to find inspiration in my post about going grain-free at our house and I offer ideas for the other grain-y options, too. You can always ask questions in the comments here or in future posts, and the KS Facebook page often has a good conversation going. If you’re on Twitter, let’s tweet about our food using the hashtag #testgrains. If you’re not on Twitter or Facebook, you can still see and read both conversations: See what I say on Twitter here, check out the Facebook page here, and follow the hashtag #testgrains at this page.
Thank you for experimenting with us. I learned a lot, both about my own body and about how grains and humans are created to work together in general.
The Results Are In
I’ve analyzed all the survey results, and I’d love to share a little with you about what people learned about their relationship with grains.
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.
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. 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!
- 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.”
- 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).”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- Eats just about all grains: refined, soaked, homemade whole wheat, sprouted, sourdough. “I typically make all of our baked goods from scratch, either soaked, sourdough, or sprouted, mostly whole wheat. Occasionally we have white rice or pasta as a treat.”
- Tried no grains: “We went off all grains and pseudo-grains. We did have seeds and nuts like flax, almonds, etc. We also avoided legumes, although I ate some leftover beans at first and they didn’t seem to agree with me (I’m usually ok with beans but my husband can’t tolerate them).”
- She saw some no change in things like mental acuity, emotional stability and sleep patterns, but “The first couple of days were difficult but I found that I literally felt lighter and had more energy. I lost 6 pounds in ten days, all around my middle from what I can tell.”
- Her digestion started out very regular and healthy (good old “brown bananas”) and the only change was a small increase in bowel movement frequency and decrease in gas.
- “I have issues with allergies and severe eczema, and I think that GAPS is the answer, so going grain free (I will also be limiting my dairy, although my husband won’t) is a good trial run to see if my skin clears up.” And the results on this subject: “I lost weight and felt good, but I had a major eczema flare. From my reading about GAPS and SCD, eczema flares can be symptoms of a die-off reaction. Since I was limiting dairy (a known potential allergen) and eating lacto-fermented veggies (including daily beet kvass) and taking probiotics, I think that this is evidence that my body was releasing toxins as I was losing weight and starving out the bad bacteria. It hasn’t been fun, but I am trying to manage it and not use any topical steroid creams. More than ever this is convincing me and my husband that GAPS is the right way to go long-term for us.”
- Didn’t cheat! “We were very strict-I think we had some soy sauce at one point, and also discovered that one of the hot sauces my husband likes actually has wheat in it! Other than that, we had no grains.”
- Final thoughts: “It’s ten days in, and we are going to keep going! We do have a vacation scheduled and will likely relax our restrictions then, so it will be interesting to see how we feel eating out. Also, if you have any recommendations on the eczema issue, I’d love to get additional resources! Thanks!”
- Katie on eczema: My son and husband both struggle with mild to medium (in the winter) eczema, too. When we went no grains (the adults), my husband did not notice a positive change in his. I’m thinking of having my son go at least gluten-free for a few weeks this winter to see if we can improve his at all. However, I’m pretty sure the biggest “catch” is that we probably need a long elimination to really see an improvement if in fact gluten or grains is the trigger. I have a local friend who struggled with terrible eczema and has found incredible relief in the past few years by supplementing with Shaklee products, and another who eliminated just about everything (wheat, soy, corn, dairy, maybe more?) and finally figured out that both wheat and dairy trigger hers. I so wish I had an easy answer, but this one’s a struggle to be sure!
- Went from eating all store and homemade whole grains to 100% soaked grains. What an accomplishment! I think that’s no easy task, suddenly using all new recipes. Well done, MJ!
- Saw little change in overall digestion, but “found [she] was more satisfied throughout the day” and went from often feeling a “heaviness in the gut” after grain-based meals to eliminating that feeling entirely.
- “The biggest change was ZERO gassy/bloated feeling,” a rather significant upgrade from something interesting she noticed previously about her occasional gas: “[It’s] usually just after dinner. I can eat the same thing for lunch the next day and feel okay afterwards. Maybe my system is tired by dinner…”
- Just one little cheat (but we learn from those too): “I did have a little whole wheat (unsoaked) pasta one night. It didn’t seem to bother me as it has in the past (mostly just an extra full feeling previously). Maybe due to not having too much in my system.”
- Regularly ate commercially prepared grains, both whole and refined, as well as homemade soaked and sourdough breads.
- Chose to eat only conventionally prepared whole grains for this challenge.
- Her energy and emotional stability were rated “poor” pre-challenge and saw no change (the caveat here was some PMS that likely played a role in all the results).
- The monthly hormonal shift may have also affected the fact that IM felt slightly more constipated on whole grains only, but her bowel movement output did have a healthy consistency and regularity.
- Here is how she described her normal digestion: “Usually when I eat refined grains, half-whole wheat bread without special preparation, or brown rice, I feel fine. I noticed heaviness after eating soaked (in yogurt) whole wheat bread or stuff like cracked wheat and oatmeal bread. However, I notice that in the winter, if I eat a bowl of oatmeal everyday, my stomach seems to get used to the whole grains and I go back to [having no notice of digestion] with whole grains. If I eat a lot of cracked wheat I get some discomfort.”
- There was a noticeable increase in gas with only whole grains, and “I was sad to see that I still got really tired after eating lunch just like I always do. Both my husband and I felt fuller after whole grain meals (he wasn’t exclusively whole grain) which helped us not to snack.”
- Some thoughts on previously noted “trigger foods” going into the challenge: “My husband’s ADD symptoms get worse if he has sodas and fast foods. My son (he’s 1) definitely seems to be addicted to sweet tastes and grains to the point where we have to hide fruit and bread to get him to eat his dinner. He will sign “more” constantly and avoid savory food. He spits out meat. Makes me kick myself for following pediatrician recommendations to start him off on grains and mushed fruit!”
- Final thoughts: “I was really pleased at how easy it was to adapt my cooking to only whole grains; it made me feel like we had already made a lot of positive changes in our diet. I did get really sick of only whole wheat bread (homemade) by the end, especially since it gave me gas.”
- Formerly ate any sort of grains, from refined to sourdough to soaked whole grains and chose to take the plunge with no grains for the challenge.
- Saw no changes in energy or emotions, but the appetite saw a huge difference: “I was ravenous all the time, so that’s probably not a good thing for someone (like me) trying to lose weight!”
- Similar to my husband, Owie Mama saw a marked difference in her frequency of bowel movements (down from 3 or 4 to only one a day) and the consistency (from loose and fluffy to separate hard lumps). She also lost the feeling of constipation: on grains, she often felt “unfinished,” but with no grains felt satisfied.
- Another huge change was the overall feeling in her gut after a meal. With grains, Owie Mama often had stomach-aches and frequently experienced gas. Without grains, both issues completely disappeared.
- She ended up gaining weight (this surprised me, I admit), perhaps related to feeling “Crazy hungry all the time, evening sugar cravings made me insane.”
- I would love to hear what happened when Owie Mama started back up with grains, wouldn’t you? These radical changes (omitting grains altogether) seem to always have a dramatic effect on people, but always so unique to each person!
- Another brave participant moved from commercially prepared whole wheat to no grains at all!
- She experiences low energy and poor sleep regularly but saw no marked change in either.
- Her bowel movement vary wildly both in frequency and quality, and she seemed to see a slight increase in regularity on no grains.
- Her overall gut feeling after a meal improved.
- With her normal diet, KD noticed “After eating grains my energy level always drops to an even lower point. Appetite increases as does cravings for sweets and more grain products.”
- Once off grains: “I have lost 5 lbs since eliminating grains. I still feel very tired most of the time, so no real change there. I have had a little more difficulty falling asleep, but seem to do well once I do fall asleep.”
- KD was also limiting all sugars and other starches, including starchy vegetables and legumes.
- Just one little cheat: “Just remembered I had a small amount (2 Tbs?) of soaked, dried gf oats with a bunch of chopped crispy nuts in milk one morning when I was in a rush and didn’t want to skip eating. No noticeable effects.”
- Went from eating only whole grains, soaked and unsoaked, to omitting grains altogether.
- She noticed some improvement in energy, mental and emotional acuity, and vast improvement in sleep patterns.
- Digestion showed a marked change: from signs of regular constipation to quite regular digestion, including an improvement in frequency, consistency, and feeling of satisfaction, as well as some general gut discomfort disappearing.
- This family made a permanent change in diet, from regularly eating conventionally prepared whole grains to only sprouted grains, and KT was gracious enough to share her experiences with us.
- One reason for the dietary changes (of which sprouting grains was one piece of a puzzle) was “In children there were serious behavior problems. Screaming, tantrums, whininess, lack of attention.”
- Vast improvement was achieved with the behavioral issues, as well as some improvement in energy, mental acuity, and sleep patterns.
- Digestion and discomfort in the gut seemed to improve somewhat overall, but certainly the biggest change for this family is behavioral, even mom: “I felt more calm and even, more patient.”
- Final thoughts: “If we cheat, white flour goes okay because it doesn’t contain phytic acid. Whole grains unsprouted is a nightmare — even after months off them.”
- For the challenge, LH moved from eating refined and whole conventionally prepared grains to using only freshly ground spelt with zero other grains.
- She noticed vast improvement in energy: “I don’t have as much trouble getting out of bed in the morning and I have seen a huge improvement in my issues with depression.”
- Digestion changed from every other day bowel movements to daily and also softened up; any heaviness in the gut after meals or feeling of being unsatisfied after a BM also disappeared.
- One more change: “I lost several pounds– and I made zucchini bread (4 loaves in 2 days) and pumpkin muffins which are all loaded with sugar – and ate a ton of it! I would say that at least half of the food I eat is grains. I only use whole spelt, though.”
Was that cool or what?
If I know anything, it’s that diet and lifestyle changes impact different people in dramatically different ways. I do think we can learn from others’ experiences, and more likely just nod our heads in fascination, but I do want to make sure I remind readers that anecdotal evidence is just that: one person reporting about how they interpreted their experience based on what they could observe (and remember!). It’s called self-reporting, and by nature, anecdotes are incomplete and unscientific. But they’re doggone interesting nonetheless, and perhaps some of these experiences will encourage you to pay more attention to your digestion and/or try some dietary experiments yourself!