There was a time when I feared all grains due to their carbohydrate content, and as a result I overlooked their many benefits. Eventually I came to realize that they are not the enemy I thought they were, especially when eaten in smaller amounts alongside protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
Some people can’t tolerate any grains, including those with refractory celiac disease. However, for those of us who can tolerate grains, there’s no denying that they offer a lot of bang for their buck. Most nutrition experts agree that whole grains in moderate amounts are an important part of a healthy diet. If you can tolerate gluten-free grains, consider incorporating these nutrient-rich options into your meals.
Gluten-free foods made from refined grains and starches are stripped of their nutrient-rich components. Whole grains, on the other hand, contain all of their beneficial layers: bran, endosperm, and inner germ. The benefits of consuming whole grains have been shown to include lowering risk of heart disease, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes, as well as helping maintain a healthy weight. Whole grains contain vitamins B6 and E, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, thiamin, and folate. They also offer important minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, selenium, and potassium. They even provide protein, fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that protect our health.
Enjoy cooked gluten-free grains for breakfast, or enjoy them as a side dish or snack. They are versatile and can also be used in baked goods. Make sure package labels say “gluten free,” and avoid buying grains in bulk to prevent the risk of cross contamination. Here are a few nutrition-packed gluten-free whole grains worth considering. (The items noted below with an asterisk are not technically grains — they are referred to as “pseudograins,” but they behave similarly to grains.)
Amaranth is high in fiber, manganese, magnesium, and calcium. It can help lower hypertension (high blood pressure) and cholesterol. It is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. It contains more protein than quinoa, gram for gram. Enjoy amaranth as breakfast porridge, in muffins, or as a side dish.
Technically, buckwheat is not a grain — it is the seed of a fruit in the rhubarb and sorrel family. Another complete protein that does not contain gluten (despite its misleading name), buckwheat is a great source of folate and zinc, which have been shown to support fertility in women and men. These nutrients are also excellent for your immune system. Buckwheat is also good source of fiber and magnesium. Enjoy it in pancakes, as porridge, or as a side dish replacement for rice.
Millet is mild in flavor, which makes it a great addition to any baked good. This grain is a good source of B vitamins, iron, and essential amino acids. Enjoy millet as a cereal or as a replacement for your mashed potatoes.
Proceed with caution when it comes to oats, and ensure that any you eat are labeled gluten-free. If you have celiac disease, find out from your physician if it’s safe for you to consume oats, as many people with the condition are unable to tolerate them. Oats contain B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, iron, and beta-glucan, which is a dietary fiber that has been shown to be helpful for people with diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. This fiber has also been linked to healthy gut bacteria.
Like buckwheat, quinoa is also the seed of a fruit. This pseudograin offers complete protein, along with many other nutrients, including fiber, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, folate, iron, and zinc. Quinoa flour is great in baked goods and can be served in its whole form as porridge, or as a main or side dish. Add it to soup as a replacement for rice.
Last but not least, teff is the world’s tiniest grain! It is an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron, which all important for immune function. Enjoy teff in its whole form as a hot cereal. It is also available as a tortilla wrap.