Whole grains are an important element of a healthy and balanced diet. Low in fat, high in fiber and naturally filling, whole grains also reduce the risk of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. However, around 1-2% of the population suffers from celiac disease – or an autoimmune intolerance or sensitivity to a component called gluten, which is found in many whole grains.
Wheat (any type, such as kamut, faro, spelt, durum and semolina), Barley, Rye and Triticale all contain gluten and should be avoided by anyone with an intolerance or sensitivity. However, there are still a variety of grains that are gluten free and just as effective in order to meet your daily dose.
Amaranth – This poppy seed sized pseudo-grain tastes light and peppery. Amaranth is often used to naturally thicken soups or stew as the starch within is released during the cooking process. It can be boiled and added to both savory and sweet dishes.
Buckwheat – Despite the misleading name, Buckwheat is not actually related to wheat. It is a pseudo-grain that is also known as buckwheat groats or kasha. Buckwheat has an earthy flavor and can be cooked whole in a variety of dishes or ground as a flour substitute in pancakes.
Corn – Corn is a delicious gluten –free option and is versatile enough to supplement a variety of dishes. Although corn itself is considered safe, it is often subject to cross contamination depending on how and where it is prepared. Dishes such as creamed corn, corn muffins and corn tortillas may all be made using additional ingredients that contain gluten. Corn meal is safe as long as it is processed in a facility that is gluten-free. Always check the labels on any corn products and when it doubt, opt for something else.
Millet – This small grain has a very mild flavor and must be cooked before eating. Toasting the raw grains in a hot pan before boiling them adds a nuttier and deeper flavor. Millet can be topped with fruit and cinnamon as a healthy breakfast or added to salads, casseroles and stuffing.
Oats – Oats are a light and nutty flavored grain that can be made into oatmeal or granola, or ground and substituted for regular flour. Although oats are technically a gluten free option, they are often cross contaminated during the growing or packaging process. Consumers with Celiac should carefully research the source of their oats before implementing them into their meal plan.
Quinoa – Quinoa (pronounced “Keen-wa”) has a renewed and well-founded popular reputation as a delicious and versatile pseudo-grain. The flavor is described as “squash-like”, but the raw grains must be rinsed well before cooking to eliminate the bitter tasting saponins on the outer shell. Raw Quinoa can also be toasted before boiling to release a richer and nuttier flavor. It is often substituted for bulgur in tabbouleh or used as a filling element in casserole dishes. Quinoa is also a popular element in side dishes.
Rice – All forms of rice are considered gluten free, making them an ideal staple for anyone on a gluten free diet. However, prepared or pre-packaged options often have hidden gluten somewhere in the ingredients. When checked out and used properly, rice can be boiled and then added to any number of dishes, from pudding to casseroles and side dishes. Rice flour can be used as a thickener for soup, stew and gravy or as a substitute for wheat based flour.
Sorghum – Sorghum has a mildly sweet flavor which makes it adaptable to many dishes. Ground sorghum can be substituted for wheat flour in most recipes and it also works to improve the texture of other dishes. Because sorghum is relatively new to the North American diet, it is still being experimented with as a food source.
Teff – This grain tastes both earthy and nutty. Once boiled, it resembles cream of wheat in texture and can be used as a breakfast staple or a substitute for cornmeal in polenta. Teff flour can be used to make bread items, such as pancakes.