Can you imagine a plate of food without grains? It has been a staple for us since forever! There’s always that crushing sense of dissatisfaction if grain-based foods are missing from our plates even for a single day. As a large component of our diet for the longest time, why is it that most people are now moving towards a ‘no grains’ diet or keeping it to a minimum? One of the reasons people avoid grains is due to digestive issues – common ones being acid reflux, bloating, gas, abdominal cramps, flatulence, etc.
Are Grain Really Hard to Digest?
Studies and various researches have revealed that there are some factors listed here which make grains hard to digest.
- Fiber: Insoluble Fiber is that part of the grain that the body can’t break down and digest into a simpler form. Instead, it passes through the body undigested. On one hand, insoluble fibers are good for us as they work as cleaning agents of our digestive system and on the other, they may cause gastrointestinal discomfort in some with weak digestive health.
- Anti-Nutrients: Grains also contain anti-nutrients like Phytic acid and lectins which reduce the absorption of minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, copper and zinc from a meal and may cause mineral deficiency. Humans need minerals to perform various functions, from building bones to transmitting nerve impulses, to make hormones and maintain a normal heartbeat.
- Enzyme Inhibitors: Various types of enzyme inhibitors are found in grains including protease inhibitors and amylase inhibitors. Enzyme inhibitors can block enzymes action. Enzymes kick-start the digestion process. Presence of enzyme inhibitors confines the digestion process to act properly and timely. This results in rotting of such food which further leads to situations such as bloating, gas trouble and cramps.
- Disaccharides: Simple sugars or monosaccharides are directly absorbed into the bloodstream, while disaccharides are two single sugars that are linked together. Grains contain disaccharide that needs to be broken down first before being absorbed in the bloodstream. Disaccharide is broken down into monosaccharide by enzymes called disaccharidases which are present in the brush like border called villi of the small intestine wall. Any kind of inflammatory damage to the cells in the small intestine lead to disaccharidase enzyme not being produced and lead to disaccharide intolerance. Disaccharide intolerance is the inability to break apart the disaccharide into two single sugars and absorb them. This often leads to uncomfortable digestive symptoms.
- Complex Protein: Grains contain the complex protein Gluten that the body can’t easily break down. The human body needs food to be in the simplest form in order to absorb and use it. While most people won’t have much difficulty digesting whole grains, some with conditions such as gluten intolerance may experience adverse effects when eating gluten-containing grains. Gluten intolerance causes digestive issues such as bloating, gas and diarrhoea. Celiac disease is a more serious condition in which gluten causes the immune system to attack the small intestine. Gluten is also known to cause Leaky Gut. Gluten is present in barley, rye and wheat.
Tips to Make Grains Digestion Friendly
- Fiber absorbs water. One should drink plenty of liquids to ensure that the fiber absorbs enough water to pass through the system easily.
- Most of the anti-nutrients are found in the skin and anti-nutrients are water-soluble. Hence, soaking grains reduces the anti-nutrients effect. It’s recommended that grains must be soaked in water and should be washed before cooking (e.g. rice) so that the anti-nutrients are separated.
- Sprouting or germination reduces phytate in grains and degrades lectins and protease inhibitors.
- Fermentation of grains leads to a significant reduction in phytate and lectins (idli, sourdough bread). Fermenting helps break down the tough outer cover of a grain, making it easier to digest and reinforce the gut flora with pro-digestive microbes.
- Incorporate probiotics like yogurt, kimchi, kombucha and kefir along with grain-based foods to improve overall digestion and heal the gut.
- Chewing is the first step of digestion. The more you chew, the more saliva gets secreted that has digestive enzyme amylase present in it which makes digestion easier. Chewing makes food small enough for the digestive juices in the stomach to further digest it effectively.
- In case of gluten sensitivity, avoid gluten-containing grains such as wheat, barley and rye. Go for gluten-free grains like oats, quinoa, rice and sorghum to subside the symptoms. When the gut heals, the symptoms subside.
While you may experience issues with some grains, that doesn’t mean you should avoid the entire food group. Maintaining a diet diary can help find the trigger and then you can consult a medical professional, dietician or a nutritionist for changes! We hope this article helps you make a positive change in your eating habits.
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