Sticking to a gluten-free diet requires eliminating a variety of foods. But the same foods that contain what we don't want also have some good things our bodies need. So it's good to know that nowadays it's not hard to find worthy alternatives.
Wheat and other whole grains with gluten are no longer an option when you start a gluten-free diet. So, many people say goodbye to foods like pasta, bread, and baked goods, which happen to be some of the tastiest foods on Earth.
But, besides tasting good, whole grains are packed with nutrients we might miss out on if we avoid them altogether. Fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, and trace minerals are all found in whole grains. Many grains are also excellent protein sources. With plant-based diets on the rise, this is another reason we might not want to avoid them.
Luckily, you can now have your grains and eat them too. If you look beyond wheat, you’ll find there’s practically a whole-grain revolution going on out there. This is a good thing because we have more options than ever to take advantage of their health benefits while avoiding the potential problems of gluten.
The following list of gluten-free grains hopefully gives you some new ideas to jazz up your diet and boost your nutrition.
(The first four grains contain all nine essential amino acids, making them complete proteins; the last three would need to be paired with other foods to be complete.)
Pronounced “keen-wah,” this seed of the Chenopodium quinoa plant is called a grain because of its nutrients and how it’s typically eaten. It originated from South America, and the Incas regarded it as sacred. There are red, black, and white versions, and they each have slightly different nutrient profiles, but white is the most common. It’s naturally free of gluten and makes a great addition to a plant-based diet. It contains all nine essential amino acids and is high in certain ones that most other plants are low in, like lysine, methionine, and cysteine. There are about 8 grams of protein per cup.
This earthy-tasting ancient grain comes mainly from Central and South America. It’s also technically a seed, but its similarity to cereal grains puts it in the grain category. It’s part of the family that includes beets, chard, and spinach. Amaranth grain is smaller than quinoa but with a more distinct flavor and is a complete protein (like quinoa). Most often, it’s turned into flour and used in gluten-free baking. It’s also another good source of lysine, which many plant foods lack. Amaranth provides about 9 grams of protein per cup.
Buckwheat is another “pseudocereal grain” that’s technically a seed. Despite its name, it is not related to wheat and is gluten-free. It’s a relative of rhubarb. Native to Asia, buckwheat is now mainly grown in Russia, China, and the northern U.S. You may be familiar with buckwheat as a popular ingredient in pancakes (delicious!) and Japanese soba noodles made from buckwheat flour. Buckwheat is a complete protein that provides about 6 grams per cup.
This ancient grain comes from a type of grass that originated in Ethiopia and Eritrea. If you’ve ever eaten Ethiopian cuisine, the spongy bread is called “injera” and is made from teff flour. It’s commonly prepared as a porridge or made into flour for gluten-free baking. The flour is a bit denser than wheat flour, and it adds a sweet and nutty taste to recipes. Teff is not a complete protein and has about 22 grams in one cup.
Sorghum, a cereal grain from the grass family, is an ancient grain from northeastern Africa. It’s the fifth most produced crop in the world and isn’t only used as a human food source but also as livestock feed and as a natural fuel. You can enjoy it as a porridge, but more often, it’s ground into flour for gluten-free baking. It doesn’t contain enough lysine to be considered a complete protein and has about 21 grams in one cup.
Oats are a type of cereal grain from the grass family. They’re grown more commonly as livestock feed, but oatmeal is a popular breakfast favorite. Oats have been touted for many health benefits, especially heart health, and they’re highly versatile. They’re gluten-free, though sometimes they're processed in facilities that also process other foods with gluten, so you might want to look for fully gluten-free versions. They can be prepared in savory and sweet dishes and aren’t just for breakfast anymore. They come rolled or steel cut, which has a bit more fiber. One cup has about 12 grams of protein, but it’s not complete because it’s low in lysine.
Millet is also a cereal grain from the grass family. Widely used in Africa and Asia, but it’s gaining popularity in the West because of its nutrients and gluten-free status. It can be eaten in place of rice in many dishes or used as flour for gluten-free baking. Millet has a mild flavor that easily takes on other flavors. There are major and minor varieties, but the pearl millet is the primary type we eat. It’s not a complete protein but has about 13 grams per cup.
If you’re sticking to a gluten-free diet or are just tired of rice, hopefully this list will expand your horizons and give you some new grains to enjoy. And if you’re on a plant-based diet, you can use this list to help you boost your protein intake. Either way, now you know you can still enjoy all the benefits of whole grains without compromising your gluten-free status. Happy grain eating!
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