Gluten-containing grains, including wheat (einkorn, durum, faro, graham, kamut, semolina, spelt), barley, rye, and triticale should be avoided for those with Hashimoto’s and for some, going completely grain-free can be helpful for managing any form of autoimmunity.
But Lisa and I don’t believe that whole, gluten-free grains are categorically bad for everyone, especially after your Hashimoto’s/autoimmunity is managed. Being grain-free for life would be a difficult row to hoe for most people – including me.
The argument against grains is that they contain the anti-nutrients phytic acid and lectin, along with enzyme-inhibitors that block mineral absorption and irritate the intestinal wall, which is clearly what you want to avoid when on an autoimmunity recovery program. Yet these anti-nutrients are also found in vegetables like beets and dark leafy greens, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t eat these foods.
Grains are naturally high in vitamins and minerals and the key is to properly prepare them to release these nutrients. It’s only recently – the past century or so – that we’ve gotten away from the traditional practices of leavening/fermentation, soaking, and sprouting (germinating), which “pre-digests” grains. Additionally, Vitamin A inhibits the potentially negative effects of phytic acid.
Properly-prepared grains also help to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that brings about a sense of comfort, calm, and alertness.
When prepared traditionally, grains are much easier to digest and we’re able to absorb their nutrition. In my practice, I find that people who are intolerant of grains are once again able to digest them well once they’ve healed their digestive system. But when you consider that sprouted grains encourage the growth of friendly intestinal bacteria, help to keep the colon clean, and are high in antioxidants, we have to ask ourselves if moderate consumption of grains, along with a gut-healing protocol, is really such a bad idea.
Addressing the myth that our ancestors only ate meat and vegetables, Dr. John Douillard states, “According to the latest anthropological findings, much of the ‘gathering’ was harvesting grain from indigenous grasses. This contributed greatly to the starch that researchers believe made up some 35 percent of the hunter-gatherer diet.” He continues, “The anti-grain sentiment that floods the media today has much to do with the fact that we have over-eaten grains. New studies suggest that we have microbes and specific enzymes specially designed to break down the hard-to-digest gluten protein – when eaten in season and in moderation.” (x)
In sharing Dr. Douillard’s quote, I’m not suggesting that anyone with Hashimoto’s eat gluten. But I think that we can extrapolate his thinking about gluten to any grain meaning, grains are likely tolerable by most people, in moderation.
Justin Sonnenburg, PhD and Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford is the author of The Good Gut, co-authored by his wife Erica Sonnenburg, PhD. They’ve been trailblazers in researching how the fiber in grains (and legumes) improves the health of our gut microbiome, our 100 trillion organism-strong “mini ecosystem” also known as “the forgotten organ.”
The Sonnenburgs are considered some of today’s preeminent experts in digestive health and when asked about their family’s dietary habits, said, “We eat a lot of whole grains, a lot of legumes, a lot of vegetables and a lot of fruit. This diet is rich in complex carbohydrates…and is designed to create and maintain diversity within the gut microbiota.” (x)
Many experts also claim that grains improve digestive health by way of their prebiotic activity. Prebiotics promote the growth of good bacteria in our digestive system. Unlike probiotics, which are living organisms, prebiotics are a “functional food” and feed the good bacteria already present in the gut.