Many people choose to exclude gluten from their diet, and there are many reasons a person may decide not to eat gluten. Luckily, following a gluten-free diet doesn’t mean you have to give up all grains. There are many grains that are naturally gluten-free.
This article will explore different gluten-free grains and the best ways to add them to your diet.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. It helps food maintain its shape and acts as a glue that holds food together.
Gluten is digested by special proteins called proteases. However, these enzymes can’t completely break gluten down, so some undigested gluten makes its way into the small intestine.
For most people, this isn’t a problem. However, for people with celiac disease, the presence of gluten in the small intestine triggers a severe autoimmune response and damages the intestines, leading to unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms.
Should I Avoid Gluten?
There’s a lot of confusion about whether gluten is bad for you. However, for most people, gluten isn’t a problem. The real problem comes from how gluten is processed. When foods containing gluten (such as wheat) are heavily processed and refined, they lose a lot of their nutrients.
When nutrient-poor, wheat-based foods are a staple in our diet, we may start to see problems such as weight gain, blood sugar swings, and other health problems. Therefore, rather than cutting gluten out to be healthy, many people would do well to simply reduce their consumption of highly processed grains.
Celiac Disease and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
There are some people who need to cut gluten out of their diet completely. This includes people with celiac disease, which is an autoimmune response to gluten. Since gluten damages the intestines in people with celiac disease, it’s important to cut gluten out of the diet completely to avoid any problems associated with intestinal damage.
There’s also a growing number of people who experience non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or gluten intolerance. These people do not have celiac disease but are bothered by foods containing gluten. While we still don’t know the cause of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, these people may choose to avoid gluten if they feel better without it.
Grain-Free vs. Gluten-Free: What’s the Difference?
You might be wondering – is there a difference between a grain-free diet and a gluten-free diet?
The main difference between these two diets is that a gluten-free diet requires you to eliminate only grains containing gluten, while a grain-free diet requires eliminating all grains (including those that don’t contain gluten) from your diet.
Most people don’t need to follow a grain-free diet. Grains provide important nutrients and provide fuel for our gut microbiome. Rather than eliminating grains altogether, focus on including whole grains rather than refined grains in your diet.
Gluten-Free Whole Grains
As previously mentioned, many of the health issues people associate with gluten are in fact caused by eating large amounts of refined grains. Therefore, if someone follows a gluten-free diet, it’s important to ensure they’re consuming gluten-free whole grains. Whole grains are a good source of fibre and other nutrients important for good health. Below, we’ll discuss six gluten-free whole grains that can be included in a balanced gluten-free diet.
Rice is a staple food in over 100 countries worldwide. It is naturally gluten-free. Whole grain varieties of rice (such as brown rice) are rich in many nutrients, including fibre, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, and manganese.
To prepare rice, rinse in cool water until it runs clear to remove excess starch. In general, use a 2:1 ratio of water to rice when cooking (e.g. 2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice). Bring the water to a boil, add rice, then reduce heat to low-medium and simmer covered for 20 minutes (for white rice) to 40-45 minutes (for brown rice).
For extra flavour, cook in chicken or vegetable broth, or add spices into the cooking water.
Oats are a gluten-free cereal that is rich in a type of soluble fibre called beta-glucan. Beta-glucan helps promote feeling full and slows the release of sugar into the blood. It’s also been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
Many types of oats are available, including quick or instant, rolled or old-fashioned, steel-cut, oat groats, and oat bran. Oats make an excellent breakfast meal. Try hot oats topped with honey and berries or try overnight oats with banana and peanut butter.
Oats are naturally gluten-free, however, they are often grown next to crops of grains that contain gluten or processed in facilities that also process foods with gluten in them. Therefore, if you’re including oats as part of your gluten-free diet, it’s important to make sure the label states that they are certified gluten-free.
Quinoa is an excellent addition to a gluten-free diet, as it is one of the few plant-based foods that is a complete protein. This means it contains all nine essential amino acids that our body cannot make on its own.
Quinoa is rich in vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, iron, fibre, vitamin E, calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
Quinoa has a light, fluffy texture and can be eaten any time of the day. Try eating it as a breakfast porridge, a side dish, or a delicious salad topper.
While millet is not as well-known as some of the other gluten-free grains, it is one of the world’s oldest cultivated crops. Many different types of millet are typically a good source of protein, fibre, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, and manganese. Teff and fonio are two of the most popular types of millet.
To cook millet, start with 2.5 cups of liquid to 1 cup of grain. Once the grains and liquid are boiling, simmer for 20-30 minutes. For a creamier texture, use additional water (e.g. 3 cups water to 1 cup of grain).
Millet has a warm, buttery flavour, and pairs well with mushrooms, herbs, spices, onions, and squash.
Like quinoa, amaranth is a nutrient powerhouse containing all nine essential amino acids. Overall, it contains 14% protein, which is over double the protein content of rice and corn. Amaranth is a good source of protein, fibre, iron, selenium, and vitamin B6, and an excellent source of magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese.
To cook amaranth, combine 2 cups of water with 1 cup of dried grain. Bring the liquid and grain to a boil, then simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
Amaranth can be used in sweet or savoury dishes due to its sweet, grassy aroma. Try it as a sweet porridge, in soup, or even in muffins!
Despite its name, buckwheat is not related to traditional wheat, and is naturally gluten-free. Whole grain buckwheat has high levels of resistant starch, which reduces the glycemic response (i.e. how much your blood sugar rises are after eating), and also provides fuel for your gut microbiome.
Buckwheat is a good source of protein, fibre, phosphorus, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and niacin (vitamin B3), and is an excellent source of magnesium, copper, and manganese. Just like quinoa and amaranth, it is a complete protein, and contains all nine essential amino acids.
Buckwheat can be eaten in a variety of different ways. Try topping a salad with toasted buckwheat, cook whole buckwheat groats to use as a side dish, or use buckwheat flour to make muffins or pancakes.
Just because you’re following a gluten-free diet doesn’t mean you can’t reap the nutritional benefits of whole grains.
If you’re following a gluten-free diet and are struggling to figure out which whole grains to include, you’re not alone. Book a complimentary 15-minute discovery call to see how we can work together to balance your gluten-free diet and get you the symptom relief you’ve been looking for.