What is it about that morning, afternoon or bedtime bowl of cereal that is just so special? For western cultures, cereal is as much of a staple as meat, eggs and dairy. So much so, that entire grocery store isles are dedicated to the sales and marketing of these non-paleo products.
The problem with cereal: Lectins and Phytic Acid
If your new to the Paleo diet you may be wondering, what the heck is so wrong with my bowl of whole grain organic nutty "0"'s anyway? Well, aside from the obvious suspects (sugar, food colouring and additives), the problem is that cereals are made primarily from grains. Grains are smart...smarter than you may imagine. They contain compounds called lecthins and phytic acid that are designed to protect the plant from predators and aid in their reproductive success.
Lecthin is a toxic compound that acts somewhat like a natural pesticide, protecting the plant from harmful predators like bugs. Phytic acid is a substance found in seeds that protects the nutrients the plant requires for reproduction. Pretty smart! When we eat foods containing high levels of these compounds (like our morning flakes of goodness), we expose our bodies to toxins, which act as irritants and also bind to minerals like calcium, zinc, iron and magnesium, that our bodies need to stay healthy and grow a sweet little baby. This is why these two compounds are often called 'anti-nutrients'.
"BUT ALL I CAN EAT IS CEREAL!"
I hear you sister! If you've made the transition to a Paleo-friendly diet, you've likely cut out cereal products entirely, but what happens when you become pregnant? For many, the craving for cereal becomes overpowering in the first trimester. In fact, many women find breakfast cereal is all they can tolerate during the first few months of pregancy. So how do you navigate this when you're trying to maintain a paleo friendly grain free diet? Here's how...
Seek out soaked & sprouted grain cereals
Most traditional cultures sprout and soak their grains. Sprouting grains helps break down many of the anti-nutrients. When grains are soaked, they engage an enzyme called phytase. Phytase, helps break down phytic acid (in small amounts) and aid in nutrient absorption. Lethicin is also reduced a small amount during the soaking and sprouting process.
Gluten free cereals such as One Degree Organic's Rice Cereal or Arrowhead Mills Sprouted Corn Flakes are all good options for the pregnant mama who just can't tolerate much other than cereal and needs something fast she can buy from the store.
You could also try a Paleo Cereal alternative, such as any of these 15 Cereal Recipes. The version of cinnamon toast crunch is my fav and isn't as fiddly to make as it seems. You could also pick up some of Steves Paleokrunch Cereal. They ship across the country and are good alternatives to grain based cereal when eaten in moderation.
The process of fermentation seems to have the greatest effect on reduction of the grains anti-nutrients across the board. The problem is that it's tricky to find pre-packaged cereal! Actually, it's impossible.
In traditional West African cultures, fermented cereals are a staple food. Sometimes called Ogi, it is typically made from maize, sorghum or millet sprouted for 3 days before straining to remove the husk (often then fed to livestock) and prepared as a porridge.
The process of making traditional sourdough breads includes a substantial fermentation process. If a piece of toast would serve as a good substitute for your cereal craving, I suggest you seek out a traditional bakery in your area and ask if they can make a gluten free sourdough or make your own.
If you feel like toast may be a good cereal substitute, you could try to avoid the grains entirely and enjoy a good slice of Paleo friendly grain free bread. Here are two recipes I've tried that are pretty great and rather easy to make.
Stay away from Gluten: Period
Even though gluten and lethicin levels may be reduced a small amount by soaking, fermenting and sprouting, the effect is minimal (when compared to other grains) and should still be avoided. Foods containing gluten irritate the lining of the gut and affect its permeability. Some believe this can lead to "leaky gut syndrome". Many people also may experience a full blown inflammatory immune system response when exposed to gluten. During pregnancy, when your body is already in an immuno-compromised state, best to avoid gluten entirely. For this reason sprouted cereals such as Ezekial 4.9 and wheat based sourdoughs should be avoided.
Be gentle on yourself
Remember, there is no such thing as a 'good' and 'bad' food. You aren't a terrible person if you break the 'paleo' rules and give your body what it is asking for every now and again. "Paleo perfectionism" (thanks Diane for that awesome phrase), can create unnecessary stress in your life and hold you back from reaching your goals of a happy, stress free pregnancy. Do your best, nourish your body with nutrient dense foods and if you need to live on sprouted brown rice cereal for a few months, so be it. Just try to make the best choices you can.