4. Stick with truly whole-grain flours. To be labeled “whole grain,” the entire contents of the original kernel must be present, meaning the bran, germ and endosperm. The downside is that they are still processed. The glycemic index of whole-grain flour is roughly the same as white flour. The upside is that it is nutritionally superior because it retains the kernel’s original nutrients, including at least some of the antioxidants, which can combat the inflammatory stress of eating the flour, says David Ludwig, MD, PhD. When buying products made with whole-grain flours, prioritize those with a variety of grains (say barley, buckwheat and oats) to get a wider variety of nutrients.
5. Don’t overdose on gluten-free foods. In response to a growing market for gluten-free products, food companies are marketing alternatives to wheat flour. Unfortunately, many of the options they choose, such as potato flour, rice flour and tapioca starch, digest even faster than wheat flour and, therefore, may exacerbate many of the health issues they promise to quell. Many gluten-free goods lack fiber and deliver a megadose of sugar, says Kathie Swift, MS, RD. “I caution my clients to tread lightly when it comes to gluten-free products.”
6. Try going flour-free. Ditch all flour-based foods for a week and see how your body responds. Swift has many of her clients start going flour-free for five days. Avoiding flour, even for this short time, can help restore balance in the body by stabilizing blood sugars, soothing inflammation and increasing gut motility, she says. “I see amazing results when people give up flour.”
7. Consider a grain sabbatical. Not everyone agrees that grains are essential, or even beneficial, for health. Ludwig points out that humans rarely ate grains before the advent of agriculture. “The human requirement for grain is zero,” he says. William Davis, MD, agrees: “The promotion of ‘healthy whole grains’ in the diet by the government, dietitians and physicians will go down as the biggest nutritional blunder ever made.” One benefit of avoiding grains or even just dialing back your intake of them is that it gives you room and reason to include a rich variety of other, more nutritious whole foods, like dark leafy greens, squash, sweet potatoes, nuts, seeds and legumes. And for that, your body will thank you.