With so many people trying to go ‘Gluten Free,’ a lot of people wonder what to eat. Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, or an omnivore, removing gluten containing foods can be easy if you keep your foods simple: keep them as whole, or as close to their natural form, as possible. Load up on veggies, fruits, high quality lean meats and dairy, nuts, seeds, and excellent starches such as potato and sweet potato. But if you’re looking for another source of food in grains, what should you choose? Which grains are gluten free?
Fortunately, the majority of grains in the world actually do not contain gluten. This is excellent for variety purposes. However, many of the most widely available grains do contain gluten. Grains such as wheat, rye, barley, and spelt contain this protein. If you’re not sure what gluten is, be sure to click here!
Quinoa is a rising star in the grain world, though it is not technically a grain. Hailing from the desert highlands of Central America, quinoa is a pseudo-grain, a grain like seed of the Chempodium genus of plants — a relative of beets and spinach. Quinoa is highly revered in Central American tradition, largely in part due to its exceedingly high nutrient profile, especially in regards to manganese and magnesium. Additionally, quinoa is one of the few starches in the world to contain a protein profile said to be ‘complete.’ That is, containing all the amino acids required to support human life. Among grains, quinoa is especially high in the amino acid tryptophan. Quinoa can be found readily available in health food stores, but is becoming more a mainstream food stuff, and thus can also be found in many other grocery markets. Cook it as a porridge or keep it light and fluffy for a salad!
Oats have a long history for human consumption, being one of the first grains to be harvested in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, though gained an even stronger foothold as a crop in Europe. Oats are widely touted for their unique fiber content, of which the majority if a soluble fiber, meaning it dissolves in water. As such, they are largely promoted for helping to lower blood pressure. Oats can be found on the market as either whole-oat groats (an unroasted variety, in it’s most whole form) or as rolled oats, the most commonly available form. Rolled oats are roasted, steamed, and then pressed to give them their distinctive shape. Oats are also a very nourishing grain, being high in manganese and selenium. It is important to note that oats are commonly grown alongside gluten containing grains, or processed in facilities that also process gluten containing grains. As such, if you are extremely sensitive to gluten, it is possible to find brands that process oats and other grains in a dedicated gluten free facility. Because of the soluble fiber of oats, it is frequently eaten as a porridge.
Rice is the third most consumed and produced crop in the world! It has a very long history of consumption in the Asian area of the world, largely due to requiring large amounts of water, in which it must be immersed, in order to grow — commonly called a rice paddy. Rice also has a history of being one of the first grains to be highly processed in the form of white rice, where the hull is removed and the grain then polished. While it is interesting to note that the nutritional deficiencies brought by polished white rice and far lower than that of any other grain (such as white wheat flour), brown rice is far more nourishing variation. Brown rice is nutrient rich in B-vitamins, higher than any other grain, and also a good source of manganese and selenium. Brown rice can be found in most any market, and can be paired with almost any other food for an excellent meal!
Corn, or Maize, is the single largest most produced and consumed crop in the entire world! Corn likely hails from somewhere in Central America, most likely in the region of Mexico, and was originally used as a food crop by indigenous Native Americans. Since the arrival of the West, Corn has changed significantly. Corn was one of the first crops to be genetically modified, to have the genes of other organisms spliced into its own genome. I will touch on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in a future article, but for now know that it is best to find and consume only organic corn. There are many varieties of corn that exist, though the type we consume most is a sweet yellow corn variety. However, other varieties, especially Hopi blue corn, are gaining momentum for consumption. Corn is one of the few grains to be a decent source of Vitamin C, and like rice, can be paired with almost any other food for a delicious treat!
Millet in the United States is often considered to be and used as bird seed! Yet, this simple grain is one of the most widely consumed cereal crops in the world, frequently used as a staple food in regions in Africa and Asia. Like wheat and oats, millet was one of the first cereals to be cultivated as a food. Millet can come in a variety of colors, and looks very similar to quinoa. Millet can be found in many grocery stores, though you are more likely to find it in health food stores because of it’s lower demand as a food. Millet can be ground to make a bread called injera, a common food in Africa and Ethiopia, or can be made into a porridge. Millet has a slightly nutty flavor, but will take the flavor of whatever it is prepared with. Because of millet’s tendency to ‘cake,’ it is also excellent for use in veggie burgers or paired with other grains for a gluten free bread.
By expanding your pallet and trying new grains, going gluten free can be easy!