How do I know if I’m sensitive to grains?

July 2nd, 2009  |  Published in Stumpblog  |  7 Comments

A reader asked this elsewhere on the site and I thought it worth answering here as well, since many of you may be suffering unknowingly. Grain intolerance — or more precisely, an inflammatory response to the proteins in grains, which can touch off a host of autoimmune symptoms — is relatively common. Unfortunately few affected people realize it, because the symptoms aren’t always stomach-based, and/or typically appear hours after consumption. And since most North Americans’ diet is grain-based, people with intolerances find themselves just chronically, generally ill from multiple ongoing exposure.

If you find yourself having vague autoimmune symptoms, consider eliminating grains for a week and see if that helps. Be sure to check for things like wheat gluten in ANY processed/prepared foods, including sauces and condiments… but if you’re eating Stumptuous style that means whole foods, so you shouldn’t be eating that crap anyway. Bear in mind that it isn’t just gluten; gluten is just one substance that can trigger the autoimmune response.

Here are some typical symptoms. You may have one, a few, or all of them. They may range from mild to severe. My own symptoms manifest themselves as allergies and skin irritation, which are almost precisely timed at 4 hours after grain consumption.

  • Excessive fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Vague digestive complaints: nausea, bloating, not feeling “right”
  • Acute digestive complaints: cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, or alternating constipation and diarrhea — anything related to irritable bowel syndrome
  • Skin irritations: rashes, psoriasis-type lesions, eczema
  • Nasal allergies and irritation: sinusitis, the snufflies, congestion
  • Joint pain and muscle aches — including exacerbated menstrual cramps and pain
  • Chronic yeast infections
  • Chronic urinary tract infections
  • Iron deficiency anemia (since grains contain phytates that may inhibit proper mineral absorption)

Basically anything that seems like an autoimmune-type chronic disorder may be caused by intolerance. The mucosal tissues (gut lining, nasogastric passage, vaginal lining) are the most likely affected, but effects can persist throughout and manifest themselves as chronic autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, allergies and asthma, chronic fatigue, etc. Some people even suggest that things like type 1 diabetes are linked to the autoimmune response to grains (since T1D is generally understood to be an autoimmune disorder).

The only way to know for sure is to eliminate ALL grains for a period of time and see.

More reading:

Gluten sensitivity

Celiac disease


  1. JKC says:

    July 2nd, 2009at 11:28 am(#)

    This message can’t get out enough, really. I suffer from CFIDS/Fibro and the only thing that really controls my symptoms (besides being careful not to overstress my body in general) is a strict diet free of whole grains and legumes. Gluten is the worst, eating it causes me to develop flu-like symptoms within 12 hours. Other whole grains and legumes seem to have more of a slow build-up effect contributing to fatigue, brain fog and joint/muscle pain. So if you have any kind of mysterious chronic symptoms, it might be worthwhile to try a few rounds of dietary elimination. The biggest culprits seem to be wheat, corn, soy, and dairy, but almost any food can cause problems in sensitive individuals.

  2. Siobhan says:

    July 2nd, 2009at 7:31 pm(#)

    I’m interested in what you eat to replace grains–and how you stay away from them. I find it difficult, even though I was a childhood asthmatic and have a few of the symptoms you listed. It’s almost as if gluten calls me.

  3. Mistress Krista says:

    July 2nd, 2009at 8:34 pm(#)

    Well, it depends what you would use the grains for. For sugary/starchy carbohydrates, fruit and yams are great; butternut squash is also fairly starchy. For pasta, make carrot and zucchini “noodles” or have spaghetti squash. For cereal, a combo of ground seeds and coconut. For bread/baking: flax meal, hemp flour, sunflower seed flour, ground almonds and other nuts, coconut flour, chestnut flour, mesquite pod flour, carob flour. Mashed potatoes and yams can also add starch. Instead of crackers try apple or veggie slices. Instead of curry on rice have it over veggies.

    Most meals don’t really need that grain portion. We just have it out of habit.

  4. MaryL says:

    July 16th, 2009at 6:14 pm(#)

    I’m curious: what about quinoa? It’s really a seed, not a grain, so can you eat it without a bad reaction?

  5. Mistress Krista says:

    July 17th, 2009at 10:17 am(#)

    Mary, all grains are seeds. The problem with grains comes from the seed coat that is designed to protect the seed in order for it to be dispersed. Many seeds evolved so that they have a tough coat that can survive being eaten (e.g. by an animal) so that the seed can be distributed by first being eaten then excreted by an animal. This allows the seed to travel. Other seed coats enable the seed to survive a period of dormancy under poor conditions (e.g. in the winter or during a dry season).

    The plants evolve tough, indigestible seed coats as defenses. This is what causes the problem — the defenses often work too well for us.:)

  6. lara says:

    September 6th, 2009at 12:30 am(#)

    Add acne to the list. I have a lifelong acne/rosacea problem and generally bad skin. Once, a friend of mine who is a natural healer type of person told me that if I wanted to fix my skin problem, I had to stop eating bread. I did, and my skin cleared up.

  7. Maxine says:

    September 10th, 2009at 1:39 pm(#)

    My body has forced me to get on a very healthy diet. Chicken, fish, fruits, veggies. Plain food, nothing processed, and no wheat, rye, barley, or any kind of bread. And no rice.
    It took me years to figure out what was going on. There were allergy perscriptions. A iron test (low). Funny how no doctor asked if I was constipated. When you’ve been constipated for a while your brain doesn’t work properly and you don’t even know you’re constipated. You think it’s normal. You wonder if your stomach is shrinking. You don’t know why you feel like you’re wearing a tight corset. Anyway, I was so sick for so long and wondered if it was just how life was and I couldn’t do anything about it. But now, things are much better. However I’ve had to look at food a different way. I’ve realized that food does not have to be fancy, or breaded, or deep fried. And it doesn’t even have to go together. I give my mind the healthy choices that I have to choose from and take the one I want the most. Once in a great while tho, I have a grilled cheese sandwich. It is wonderful!!! But that’s just once in a blue moon. It’s like I can sneak one through the intestines and the body doesn’t notice, lol. I did feel left out of the whole world tho, having to eat so wierd. Until I got rid of the television about six months ago. Those ads showing happy happy people drooling over tall proud loaves of bread. Just my opinion but I think advertising and bad health go hand in hand. People didn’t used to eat the way they do now. And back then there weren’t nearly as many ads, and the ads weren’t like they are now.

Get "Fuck Calories"

Enter your information below and the magical gnomes that run Stumptuous will send you a copy of the "Fuck Calories" e-book for free!
Email Marketing by Javelin