The Gluten Free Grains

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!

QuinoaQuinoa 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!

OatsOats 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 Brown Ricewhite 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!

Blue CornCorn, 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 Milletvery 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!

Gluten-Free Chocolate Banana Protein Muffins

In my ever present search for easy recipes, I stumbled upon these delicious gluten-free muffins. But these aren’t your average muffins, filled with sugar and simple carbohydrates, creating a blood sugar spike and leaving you hungry for more. These muffins are a meal! Bake up a big batch or two (or three), and you have easy, on-the-go mini meals, filled with complex carbs, good fats, and protein to keep you full for hours! As with all recipes, the ingredients listed below function as a base. Experiment to your heart’s content!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup Almond Flour
  • 1/2 cup Oat Flour
  • 1/4 cup Amaranth Flour
  • 1 cup Egg Whites/Eggs (I use 1/2 cup each, feel free to use whatever ratio your prefer or what you have on hand)
  • 7 to 8oz Greek Yogurt
  • 3 Ripe Bananas
  • 1 tbsp Coconut Oil
  • 2 tbsp Cacao (Chocolate) Powder
  • 1 tbsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon

Preparation:

  • 1. Preheat oven to 400˚F. Coat silicone muffin cups or muffin pan with olive oil so as not to stick.
  • 2. In a large bowl, mash bananas into a paste. I like them a little chunky for texture.
  • 3. Mix all remaining ingredients into the bowl until a smooth consistency is reached.
  • 4. Spoon mixture into muffin cups/muffin pan.
  • 5. Bake in oven approximately 15-17 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool, and eat!

Thinking about going gluten free? Or not sure what gluten is? Check out this article!

Feeling Full and Satisfied with Food

The latest fad diets are hard to ignore. They are plastered in front of our faces on magazine covers, commercials, blogs, internet ads, books, and grocery stores. Low Carb? Low Fat? Paleo? Separating carbs and protein? Raw Food? HOW DOES A PERSON KNOW WHAT TO EAT????

There’s a lot of misinformation out there, but luckily science can come to the rescue. Nutritional studies come out with new findings every year, but there are some basic facts that can help sort through the endless information available. One tool: the basics of energy metabolism. This can be quite simple, and doesn’t have to be a long, boring science lecture.

The basic idea: To get the most satiation and satiety (fullness right after a meal, and the length of time you stay satisfied), it is beneficial to have carbohydrates, protein, fat and fiber in your meals. Different foods serve different purposes, and you can have eat a snack with only protein or only carbs and survive. But if you want to feel satisfied and full, it’s important to include a bit of everything. (Also, vegetables are the magic ingredient!) Here’s why:

Vegetables: They contain a lot of fiber and very few calories. The fiber and bulk of vegetable roughage causes a feeling of fullness and satisfaction, and supplies the body with a range of nutrients.
Eating only vegetables: You may feel full initially, but your body will quickly use the calories and you will soon be hungry. Also, with so few calories, a meal of purely vegetables lacks the energy it takes to be active.
Too few vegetables: You may take in too many calories, since it will take a lot of protein and fat to feel full. Fiber is super important for digestion, and the diverse micronutrients will satisfy your body’s needs, making you feel more satisfied.

Carbs: Starch and Carbohydrates provide the most immediate energy source. The body breaks them down quickly, and the calories are soon available for use. This means that you feel more full faster, and can start using the energy right away.
Too many carbs: If your meal contains too much starch, you will have a lot of energy available immediately; but if you don’t use it quite quickly it will be stored as fat.
Too few carbs: If you eat too little starch, it will be more difficult to feel full, and you may eat too many calories before feeling satiated (satisfied).

Quiche with goat cheese and spinach, salad with basil pesto dressing. A beautifully balanced meal from my new favorite restaurant, WeHo Bistro.

Protein: This includes any complete amino acid chain, including vegetables sources. Beans, hemp, soy, and eggs all count as protein. Protein takes longer to digest than carbs, so the energy becomes available awhile after you eat. To feel fuller longer, this is a good thing. If protein is in your meal, once the energy from a carb spike drops, the energy spike from protein kicks in.
Too much protein: Too much protein (especially animal protein) causes free radicals in your blood. Free radicals are bodily chemicals that will run free and ravage the body, causing various diseases and harm. Most Americans test too high in blood protein.
Too little protein: If you don’t have enough protein in a meal, (i.e. your meal is purely starch), your blood sugar may drop, and you can become irritable and hungry faster.

Fat: Poor dietary fat. It has gotten the worst rap among “health food” and diet advocates. But, our body needs a certain amount of dietary fat. Fat gives us energy, and fatty acids (like Omega 3) promote brain activity. Plus, fats make us feel more full for longer. Studies show that people who follow a low-fat diet get hungry faster, feel unsatisfied, and end up eating more calories in a day than those who don’t eliminate fat. Since the “low-fat” craze of the 90’s, heart disease has actually been on the rise.
Fat takes the longest to provide energy to our body, so after your carb energy spike and protein energy spike have subsided, the energy spike from fat kicks in. So this provides a longer satiety (length of satisfaction and fullness from a meal), and may make you less likely to reach for unhealthy snacks in between meals.
Too much fat: Before you pour cream and bacon on your pasta in excitement, know that you can eat too much fat. It is 9 calories per gram (compared to protein and carbs which have 3 calories per gram), so you can go overboard. It may make you feel sluggish or overly full, and excess calories can be stored as body fat. Plus, fat quality is important. Cold-pressed olive oil and coconut oil are different than toxic margarine, canola oil, and bacon fat. So choose quality of quanity.
Too little fat: Your cells need fat for energy, building, and repair. Too little fat means you may get hungry too soon after a meal, and reach for unhealthy snacks. The minerals and hormones produced by your thyroid can also become off-balance. Too little Omega 3 can result in memory problems. So, add some olive oil to your brown rice, or some raw butter to your asparagus.

Sugar: Energy from sugar is the available the quickest, but this is only beneficial if you need immediate energy without the desire of a full belly (like when you’re running a marathon or riding a bike.) The sugar provides immediate energy for use, without the body needing to “waste energy” digesting. But if you don’t use the energy immediately, it will cause an insulin spike and store the extra energy as fat!

What is a Carb?

Carbohydrates are molecules composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen that all plant foods (beans, grains, fruits, vegetables, etc) contain. There are four different types of carbs, which all serve a certain purpose:

“Simple Sugars:” Monosaccharides and Disaccharides : The simplest forms of carbohydrates, simple sugars are immediate sources of energy. All other forms Simple Sugarsof energy (fat, protein, starch, complex carbs) need digestive enzymes in the stomach to break them down before they’re converted to energy for our cells. Sugar enters our blood stream as soon as it dissolves in our saliva. (This can be useful when running a marathon or riding a bike, since our body doesn’t have the energy to digest, but needs the calories.)

Sugars

What kinds of foods constitute simple sugars? Many foods contain sugar (even milk, which contains lactose), but pure simple sugar is usually extracted from a whole food (except honey.) “Concentrated fruit syrup,” table sugar, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, etc., are almost pure sugar. Many foods contain sugars, but most of them contain fiber, protein, and/or fat as well, so the sugar will not absorb into the body as quickly.

The prebiotic: Oligosaccharides: Oligosaccharides are carbohydrates made up of 3-10 simple sugars linked together, and humans cannot fully digest them. That can actually be beneficial…the undigested bits serve as food for intestinal microflora, (bacteria in our gut!)

Chicory Root

What kinds of foods contain oligosaccharides? They are found in plants in small amounts. Chicory root and Jerusalem artichokes contain the highest amount, but they’re also found in: wheat, jicama, the onion family, asparagus, burdock root, and other plants.

“Complex Carbs,” Polysaccharides: “Complex Carbs” release their energy more slowly than simple sugars, since it takes longer for our bodies to break them down. This causes a less severe spike in blood sugar, and gives your body more time to “burn off” or “use” the energy. The scientific definition of polysaccharides is a chain of monosaccharaides (sugars) linked together by glycosidic bonds. There are different kinds of polysaccharides, which are “structure” or “storage” related: Starch

Starch: Starch is the way that plants store excess glucose (energy). Almost all vegetables and grains contain starch in varying degrees-common food sources include potatoes, wheat, rice, corn, taro root, yams, cassava, barley, and rye.

Fiber (or Cellulose): Cellulose is supposedly the most abundant substance in the living world. It is present in almost all plant foods. Cellulose is classified as “dietary fiber.” It is actually indigestible to humans and most animals. (For instance, wood, cotton and paper are almost pure Dietary Fibercellulose.) That may seem odd, since fiber is supposed to be good for us. But it’s indigestibility is actually its function…it changes the nature of our digestive tract, binds to bile acids to lower cholesterol, and changes how nutrients and chemicals react in the intestines. Fiber is extremely important, and I will devote an entire blog post to explain it.

Glycogen: Humans store “extra” energy in their livers and muscles in the form of glycogen. It is a kind of carbohydrate that can be broken down in glucose, or blood sugar, when the body has been deprived of food. All the glycogen in our bodies can be used up in one 24-hour period of fasting, or an intense workout. Luckily, it is replenished by the ingestion of carbohydrates.

There are other forms of fiber (structural polysaccharides) such as chitin, the compound that shellfish exoskeletons are made from, or pectin, a form of soluble fiber found in fruits.  Most plant foods contain a combination of starch and fiber, and humans have consumed these foods throughout history, (although the amount we should consume is a hot debate). I will bring in anthropology sources as a response to that question in a later post….