Keto, paleo, gluten-free, high protein, Atkins, Whole30… The list of low-carb (or no-carb!) diets seems to go on forever. People embark on these diets for any of a number of reasons, usually with good intentions: to lose weight, to get healthier, to have more energy, to reduce bloating, to improve digestion.

But what if, despite the best of intentions, a low-carb diet actually blindsided you with poorer health, more bloating, less energy, and funky digestion?

The thing is — and I’m sure you’ve heard it before — no single diet works for everyone. Sure, some people experience adverse effects to grains, but these people usually have some sort of sensitivity, allergy, or medical condition that makes it hard for their bodies to properly digest grains.

Even if that’s you, you may not need to give up all grains. For example, someone with Celiac disease should certainly avoid grains and other products that contain gluten. But people who have Celiac disease can safely eat gluten-free rice, oats, amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat.

It’s time to end the misconception that a grain-free diet is the healthiest diet. That said, here are some answers to common questions about fitting grains into a healthy diet.

How can grains be part of a gut-friendly diet?

Grains are inherently gut-friendly diet because they are considered prebiotics. Like other prebiotics, whole grains provide the best food source for microbes that benefit your health (the good guys). By supporting the growth of beneficial microbes, you open yourself up to a number of benefits.

Particularly, these good guys will help keep Candida (bad fungus) under control. Grains also contain resistant starch, which feeds the good bugs and allows them to flourish. When the good guys flourish, they produce small molecules or compounds such as short chain fatty acids which support your immune system and make you healthier.

That’s not even an exhaustive list, but those benefits are a big part of why fiber-rich whole grains (especially those with resistant starch) are genuinely good carbs for your microbiome.

What kinds of grains should I consume, how much in a portion, and how often?

I recommend a variety of whole grains, including:

  • Multi- grain products, if 100 percent whole-grain only
  • Sprouted grain products, if 100 percent whole-grain only
  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Rye
  • Spelt
  • Whole-grain corn
  • Oats, 100 percent whole-grain, old-fashioned, or steel-cut

As for how much and how often you should eat these grains, that’s a highly variable question that depends on your lifestyle, height, weight, activity level, and genetics. Experiment with what feel good in your body and make adjustments from there. Keep in mind that everyone has different needs for calories and carbohydrate intake.

What should people look for when they’re shopping for grains?

The most important thing to look for on a package is “whole grain.” If a grain product is labeled as whole grain, it must contain the nutritious bran and kernel of the grain. Packages that say “multi-grain,” “cracked grain,” “stone ground,” or other production terms don’t necessarily contain the whole grains your gut is after.

In addition to looking for whole-grain products, you should watch out for these things, too:

  • The ingredients label shouldn’t include white flour or refined flour
  • There should be no corn byproducts, such as corn oil or corn syrup
  • Look for naturally-occurring preservatives like ascorbic acid, vinegar, and cultured wheat
  • When buying packaged snacks with grains, try to avoid added sugars

So, I don’t need to give up grains?

I give you a loud, resounding, happy “no” (yay carbs!).

You do not need to give up carbs for a healthy diet or a healthy gut. In fact, adding more carbs to your diet might be the very thing you need to improve your gut health. The good bacteria and fungi in your gut will thank you for providing them with their fuel of choice, and in turn, your body will thank you by feeling more energized and all-around healthier.

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