White rice is a good, clean source of carbs. It’s almost pure starch. There are no nutrients, but there aren’t any bad things in there either.
Long-grain white rice clocks in at about 55 on the glycemic index (table sugar is 100), so it won’t spike your blood sugar too badly. Short-grain white rice is more iffy, with a glycemic rating of about 72. Whichever you choose, you can upgrade the starch in your rice (and make it low-carb) by cooking it with coconut oil. Rice is also resistant to mold.
The only issue with rice is that it sucks up arsenic from the soil while it grows. That’s an easy fix: before cooking your rice, rinse it with warm water until the water runs clear. You can cook it with extra water and pour the excess off at the end to decrease the arsenic even more.
Whole grain rice
Whole grain rice has lectins and trypsin inhibitors, but they aren’t the heat-stable type. Cook your rice and nearly all of them will deactivate. Heat won’t get rid of nutrient-sapping phytic acid, though, and whole grain rice has a lot of it.
Whole grain rice has much more arsenic than white rice, so be sure you rinse it until the water runs clear before cooking.
Quinoa is unusual. It’s technically a seed, not a grain, and vegetarians like it because it’s a complete protein, which is rare for a plant.
It also has a prolamine in it that’s similar to gluten and may damage your gut. It’s carb-heavy, and it doesn’t have particularly impressive nutrition. If your gut biome is in good shape, having a bit of quinoa now and then is probably okay, but it won’t do much to improve your performance.
Buckwheat is another seed that behaves like a grain. It’s basically the same deal as quinoa – lackluster nutrition, gluten-like prolamine, and high in carbs. It doesn’t have the complete protein quinoa does. Again, if you have a strong gut you can probably weather eating buckwheat occasionally. You’re better off without it, though.
Oats (gluten free)
While all oats are technically gluten-free, a lot of oats grow next to or on the same land as gluten-containing wheat, rye, and barley, and end up contaminated. Gluten-free oats have their own dedicated fields. They’re the ones to choose if you eat oats at all.
Oats may not have gluten, but they do have a similar protein called avenin that can damage your intestinal lining if you’re sensitive to it. Whole-grain oats have a moderate amount of phytic acid, and instant oats have a high glycemic index. Oat plants are also susceptible to mold.
Oats aren’t the worst grain out there, but there are better ways to start your morning.
This is where things get ugly. Rye is the first grain on this list to contain gluten. It’s not as damaging as wheat gluten, but it will still trigger a reaction in you if you’re celiac or gluten-sensitive. Rye also has its own form of agglutinin, the sneaky little protein that contributes to asthma, joint pain, leaky gut, and allergies. Rye also tends to grow mold.
On top of that, rye bread usually has a 2:1 ratio of wheat flour to rye flour. It’s rare that you’d ever eat pure rye without wheat.
As with most other grains on this list, corn contains a gluten-like protein that can damage your gut lining. Corn’s version is called zein. Corn is one of the most genetically modified plants around, and it holds a heavy pesticide load.
It’s also often high in mold and mycotoxins. In the last 50 years, there’s been a sharp increase in fusarium root rot, where fusarium mold takes over the roots and leaves mycotoxins in the corn itself, even if no mold is present. It’s likely because pesticides and poor farming practices are wrecking the bacteria in the soil, leaving toxic mold free to take over. If you do decide to have some corn on occasion, make sure it’s organic.
Then, of course, there’s wheat.
Wheat is the worst offender, and not just because of its gluten content. It’s a who’s who of antinutrients, complete with inflammatory agglutinin, FODMAPs (sugars that feed bad gut bacteria), allergy-inducing amylase-trypsin inhibitors, lots of nutrient-sucking phytic acid, and heat-stable lectins that don’t break down when you cook them.
And, of course, it gets moldy. A 2011 study found toxic fusarium mold rot in 57% of wheat fields. Wheat is also susceptible to ochratoxin A, a mold toxin that causes kidney and liver cancer and stays in your system for at least 35 days. Plus wheat’s high in pesticides.
If you have to have a slice of bread, go for a loaf made from imported European flour, which is lower in gluten, agglutinin, and other inflammatory proteins, and lower in pesticides and mold. You can opt for a fermented bread like sourdough to avoid some of the phytic acid, too. Even then, though, there’s no compelling reason to eat wheat. It’s toxic, and you can get all the nutrients it provides from far better sources.