Even if you aren’t avoiding gluten, these whole grains are a worthy addition to anyone’s pantry.
It’s little wonder that for many people, giving up gluten makes them feel better. Going gluten-free means no wheat flour, which means no basic refined flour, which means a drastic reduction in processed and nutritionally insipid foods – foods that can make people feel sluggish, bloated and crummy. The problem is that giving up gluten also leads to giving up grains in general, and doing so can have a negative impact on health.
"And any time you eliminate whole categories of food you’ve been used to eating, you run the risk of nutritional deficiencies," Peter H.R. Green, M.D., director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, tells WebMD. "Unless people are very careful, a gluten-free diet can lack vitamins, minerals, and fiber," he adds.
The trick is to keep healthy whole grains in your diet, regardless if you are one of the several million Americans with Celiac disease (who have no choice but to stop eating gluten) or if you are one of the zillion others avoiding gluten for whatever reason. And even if you are a gluten-embracer, it’s always great to mix up the nutrients. With that in mind, the following whole grains all offer a nutritional boost, while also happening to be gluten-free.
This “pseudo-grain” was a major food crop of the Aztecs and has a remarkable nutritional profile, boasting loads of calcium as well as high levels of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Unique for grains, it contains Vitamin C – and it has a protein content of 13-14 percent, making it higher than most other grains.
Uses: Salads, baking, cereal, soups. And you can pop it like popcorn, too.
Buckwheat has higher levels of zinc, copper, and manganese than most grains – it also provides a very high amount of protein. It is rich in lysine, and its amino acid score is 100, which is one of the highest amino acid scores among plant sources.
Uses: Soba noodles, crepes, blinis, kasha, granola (pictured above, recipe here), pancakes.
Corn has 10 times more vitamin A than other grains, and recent research shows that corn is exuberantly high in antioxidants and carotenoids, especially those that are associated with eye health, such as lutein and zeaxanthin. Look for organic or non-GMO labeled.
Uses: Many already eat corn on the cob, but it comes in many other forms, think popcorn, polenta, tortillas, corn muffins, and whole grits.
Birds love millet, and so should humans. Millet is actually a staple grain in India, and is popular in China, South America, Russia and the Himalayas. It is high in antioxidant activity, and especially high in magnesium. Research shows that millet is helpful in controlling diabetes and inflammation.
Uses: Indian roti, porridge, beer.
Oats provide a unique kind of fiber known as beta-glucan, which is powerful in lowering cholesterol. Studies also show that oats also have a special antioxidant, avenanthramides, that helps protect blood vessels from the damaging effects of LDL cholesterol. However, oats and gluten have a tricky relationship. While they are naturally gluten-free, the can be contaminated by gluten-containing grains at many points between the field and the package. Because of that, look specifically for oats labeled gluten-free, a number of companies are now producing them.
Uses: Oatmeal, cookies, veggie burgers, baked fruit topping.
Another pseudo-grain (it is actually related to beets, chard and spinach), this superfood darling is one of the only plant foods that provides a complete protein. Quinoa also has an usually high ratio of protein to carbohydrate, since the germ makes up about 60% of the grain. It also has sky-high levels of potassium, which helps to control blood pressure and has other benefits as well..
Uses: Pilafs, soups, porridge, risotto, puddings, salads, side dishes.
A food staple around the world, sorghum is packed with B vitamins like niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin, as well as high levels of magnesium, iron, copper, calcium, phosphorous, and potassium. And it offers a fiber and protein bonanza.
Uses: Bob's Red Mill recommends using sorghum in soups, salads, side dishes, pilafs and more. It makes a great substitute for wheat berries, pearl couscous and other gluten-full grains in most recipes. And popped!
This ancient grains is a total powerhouse. As the New York Times reports, it has more calcium and vitamin C than almost any other grain. It is high in protein and iron, and much of its fiber is a type known as resistant starch, which has been linked in studies to health benefits such as improved blood sugar.
Uses: Teff is the principal source of nutrition for over two-thirds of Ethiopians, who use it for their signature, spongy injera flatbread (above). Also used for porridge, baked goods, “teff polenta.”