Will I Feel Tired if I Stop Eating Grains?
In my last blog, I addressed the common fear that people have about giving up grains because they believe they will be hungry if they don’t eat breads, rolls, baguettes, flat breads, pastries, donuts, muffins, or other grain-flour products.
In this blog, I want to address the objection I often hear from people that they believe they will feel tired without eating grains. But if you are willing to listen to my advice, you will find avoiding grains will actually give you more energy. More importantly, if you avoid most grains as much as possible, you will decrease your chances of joining the group of one in three adult Americans who has pre-diabetes, or the 1 in 4 Americans over the age of 65 who has full-blown diabetes.
The fear of feeling tired by not eating grains
Feeling tired if one does not eat a lot of grain-based products is largely a belief that you can change if you pay attention to how you eat, rather than what you eat.
For thousands of years, before farming started to be exact, humans have derived their energy and needed nutrients from fruits, nuts, vegetables, dairy products, seafood and meats without the reliance on grain-based products such as we consume today.
What you need to understand to alter your sense of being tired is that your body’s energy needs are generally fulfilled with very little food. Unless you are an athlete practicing all day long, or working in a very physically demanding job that burns a lot of energy in a short period of time, adult humans can survive and thrive on two or three modest meals per day or, if your prefer, multiple smaller meals. You do not need to consume grain-based food to feel energetic. In fact, consumption of grains and grain-based foods clearly makes most people gain weight by adding pounds of fat made from the unused glucose that must be stored in your fat cells. The extra weight, added usually at a rate of one or two pounds a year, is what makes you feel tired. In addition, overconsumption of grains and grain-based foods can make you feel tired immediately after a meal when the body responds by releasing a robust amount of insulin to clear the blood of any excess glucose.
Take breakfast, considered by some as the most important meal of the day, as an example. How much carbohydrate do you need to eat at breakfast to recharge your energy without undue elevations of blood sugar and insulin? Since the liver can store only 120 grams of glucose as glycogen (the storage form of complex carbohydrate to be released into the blood when blood sugar level dips), the amount of carbohydrate needs to match only what has been depleted in the night when you slept.
A rough estimate can be made if one assumes a steady release of glucose from the liver on an hourly basis. Since 120 grams of glucose represents 24 teaspoons of sugar (there are 5 grams of sugar per teaspoon), fasting overnight for 12 hours will require one half of the liver’s capacity — 12 teaspoons of complex carbohydrate — to replenish its stores.
This is only an estimate, but your brain knows the actual need and will help you to better quantity control, based on how you eat. For example, if you slowly eat a fresh fruit, your brain knows the amount of carbohydrate consumed based on the registration of fruit sugar by your sweet tasting taste buds. You may also eat some meat or eggs, if desired, and you will feel the sensation of fullness.
On the other hand, when it comes to grains and grain-based foods, it is difficult for your brain to match the quantity needed in the body because the taste buds can’t register complex carbohydrate molecules that are naturally too large. This is not to say that I am totally against any grains or grain-based food such as ½ cup of oats for oatmeal. However, it helps to add something like nuts that you can chew. The more you chew, the slower you eat. Eating slowly allows you your taste buds and smell receptors to register the nature of what you eat. This will allows your brain to decide how much of that food you should you eat at a given meal.
Unfortunately, people in the U.S. and many other Western cultures appear addicted to eating far more grain-based food than their body actually needs, contributing to today’s obesity problem and the pandemic of diabetes. This is because, as I have stated in my prior blogs, your muscle cells, the most significant consumer of glucose in the body, are like a hybrid car that uses gasoline or electricity to run the engine. Muscles are naturally programmed to use either glucose or fatty acids as fuel. When you don’t eat for a long time, or are active for long hours, you muscles still work. You can still walk, jump, dance, or exercise even though you haven’t eaten. This is because your muscles are burning fatty acids that were stored in your fat cells to produce energy.
But when you overeat grain-products, your body absorbs more glucose that your cells can burn. If you have been overeating for years, you eventually fill your fat cells, and any excess glucose you produce from continuing to overeat has nowhere to be stored. Your body converts some of the glucose into fatty acids that your muscles begin burning, leaving the remaining glucose in your bloodstream. This is the cause of weight gain, high blood sugar, and eventually diabetes.
You will see that even after avoiding grain and grain-products, you will have the energy to do your activities without feeling tired while keeping your blood sugar level within normal limits.
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