You may have heard the buzz about a gluten-free diet from your favorite blogger, your doctor or even your best friend. Superstars, elite athletes and celebrity chefs are promoting and living gluten-free lifestyles. With the holiday season fast approaching and dinner parties lurking, this time of year is a perfect opportunity to learn more about gluten and how to incorporate healthy, yet tasty, gluten-free foods into our diets. Time off over the holidays also opens up more time to cook with our friends and families, especially those avoiding gluten for various reasons.
What is gluten anyway, you may ask? Gluten is a protein found in wheat (including spelt, Kamut, einkorn, farro), rye, barley and triticale that is difficult for many people to digest. This population includes the estimated 1-2 percent of patients living with celiac disease — an autoimmune form of gluten intolerance. These people must eat a gluten-free diet for the rest of their lives and be acutely aware of cross contamination of gluten. There is also a large and growing population of people that may not actually be diagnosed with celiac disease but are allergic to wheat or have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Additionally, some people just report feeling better if they don’t eat gluten.
The gluten-free choices on the market can be overwhelming, including the options for gluten-free grains. In efforts to move to a healthier diet, many people have dabbled with quinoa or brown rice. However, the world of gluten-free grains is quite vast and overwhelming. Let’s break down some of the common gluten-free grains to make life easier when shopping for and preparing healthy, gluten-free meals.
The nutrient profile of amaranth is similar to that of cereal but far superior to other grains in the protein department. Originating from Mexico, this protein powerhouse is an excellent source of the amino acid lysine, as well as calcium, iron, phosphorous and magnesium. Amaranth is a dietary source of phytosterols and can have a cholesterol-lowering effect, making it healthy for your heart.
Found in many diets around the world, this slightly sweet and nutty grain offers high levels of magnesium. It is considered one of the most digestible and non-allergenic grains available. Millet is also alkalizing in the body and provides fiber, protein, and antioxidants. It pairs perfectly with an Asian stir fry, in breads and muffins, or as a breakfast porridge. Millet comes in a variety of colors including white, gray, yellow and red.
Don’t be confused by the name of this gluten-free grain, which is actually the seed of a plant related to rhubarb. Buckwheat is often found in pancakes and soba noodles and is also available as groats, kasha and milled flour. Buckwheat is an excellent source of zinc, copper, manganese and potassium. It is also a rich source of well-balanced protein and soluble fiber, which makes it filling and optimal for satisfying hungry appetites.
Sorghum originated out of Africa about 5,000 years ago. In the United States, it’s primarily used for animal feed, but sorghum is a good source of fiber, protein and nutrients for humans, due to the fact that the hull is edible and the outer layer is usually consumed. The sweeter variety is popular in gluten-free baking mixes and works especially well mixed with tapioca starch.
This ancient grain is tiny in size but packed with health benefits. It is high in protein, thiamin and iron, and leads the pack of gluten-free grains in calcium content. One cup of cooked teff packs 40 percent of your recommended daily allowance of calcium! Teff comes in white and red varieties and is used in the making of injera, an Ethiopian sourdough-type flatbread. Teﬀ is high in resistant starch, a source of dietary ﬁber that assists in stabilizing blood sugar, controlling weight and contributing to a healthy colon.
Here are some simple tips and tricks to incorporate these interesting grains into your everyday diet:
Cooked amaranth can be dried then sprinkled in soups or salads as a crunchy crouton alternative. It can also be used as a thickening agent.
Substitute amaranth for gluten-free oats and add blueberries and a touch of maple syrup for sweetness.
Experiment with amaranth flour in bread or muffin recipes.
Shake up your traditional rice pilaf by substituting rice with millet.
Trade in your popcorn for popped millet on movie night.
Use sorghum egg noodles in your chicken soup, pasta or noodle kugel recipes.
Buckwheat can make for a sweet gluten-free treat when used in crepes, pancakes, overnight parfaits, cookies and muffins.
Look for tortilla wraps made with the ancient grain ivory teff for your next Mexican night as a gluten-free wrap alternative.
About Stacy Goldberg, MPH, RN, BSN
CEO and Founder, Savorfull
Stacy passionately leads the Savorfull team as it sources outrageously delicious free-from foods for its online platform, which easily connects clients to discover and purchase the latest healthy food products, as well as to nutritional guidance and content. A member of the Quicken Loans Family of Companies, Savorfull also provides innovative nutrition programs for businesses, organizations as well as numerous professional and collegiate sports teams. A graduate of The University of Michigan School of Nursing with a Bachelor’s Degree in the Science of Nursing and a Registered Nurse, Stacy also holds a Master’s Degree in Public Health, specializing in Human Nutrition from The University of Michigan School of Public Health. Stacy is a nationally recognized nutrition consultant and has worked with many teams in the National Basketball Association, including the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons ( Team Nutritionist). Stacy has been named the Official Health and Wellness Consultant/Nutritionist for the NBA Coaches Association. She is also a contributing writer and television personality. Stacy has been featured in publications including Sports Illustrated, Well & Good, Shape, Self, Fox News Magazine among others.
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