Instead of Wheat, Try These 7 Gluten-Free Grains

Wednesday Feb 26 | BY |
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Gluten-Free Grains

Quinoa is a healthy and nutritious grain alternative for those looking to avoid gluten.

Are you on a gluten-free diet? If so, you may be missing grains.

Grains provide a lot of important nutrients in our regular diet, like fiber, folic acid, iron, calcium, zinc, and more. Plus, they’re such a staple it can be difficult to forego them completely.

The good news is that you don’t have to. There are a number of gluten-free grains that substitute nicely for wheat. Here are a few you can try. Be sure to let us know if you have more!

  1. Amaranth: The common name for the species amaranthus, amaranth comes from tall plants with broad green leaves and bright purple, red, or gold flowers. It’s considered a native crop in Peru, and has long been grown and used in Mexico. The Aztecs were said to grow and eat the plant, as well as to use it in religious practices. Health benefits: Higher in protein than most other grains. Studies have shown it has potential to lower cholesterol.
  2. Buckwheat: Common buckwheat (fagopyrun esculentum) produces short, wide-spreading plants with bright green leaves and small white flowers. Used in Europe for centuries, it’s believed to have gotten its start in Southeast Asia. Health benefits: Contains higher levels of zinc, copper, and manganese than other cereal grains. Also has a high level of protein, though not as high as oats or amaranth. It’s high in soluble fiber, and is a potential source of “resistant starch,” which helps maintain colon health.
  3. Millet: With a sweet, nutty flavor, millet is an ancient seed originally cultivated in the dry climates of Africa and northern China. The Old Testament mentions it as an ingredient for bread. Today, it is a staple for a third of the world’s population, used in flatbreads, beer, and porridges. Though often used in livestock feed in the U.S., interest in this grain is growing as people work to avoid gluten. Health benefits: High in antioxidants and magnesium, and may help control diabetes and inflammation. It’s also considered to be one of the most digestible and non-allergenic grains available, and is alkalizing to the body.
  4. Oats: You’re most likely familiar with this one (Avena sativa), but did you know that unlike most grains, oats nearly never have their bran and germ removed in processing? So even if you’re eating oat flour, you’re likely to be getting a whole grain. A hardy plant capable of withstanding poor soil conditions, it’s grown in temperate regions and is believed to have originated in Asia Minor or southeastern Europe. Health benefits: Studies have shown that eating oats helps lower LDL “bad” cholesterol, and may help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. It’s also been shown to help control blood sugar, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. The grain is high in a starch called “beta-glucan,” which stimulates the immune system and may help reduce the risk of cancer. Oats are also lower in carbohydrates than most grains. Cautionary note: Pure oats and oatmeal do not contain gluten, but many brands of oatmeal on the market today may contain oats that have been cross-contaminated with a small bit of wheat, barley, and/or rye—all gluten-containing grains. Look for companies selling gluten-free oatmeal and oats.
  5. Quinoa: Referred to as a grain, quinoa (Chenopodium) is actually a seed from a vegetable related to Swiss chard, spinach, and beets. Native to Bolivia, Chili, Peru, and parts of Mexico, the plant was highly regarded by the Incas, who called it the “mother of all grains.” It grows on magenta-colored stalks three to nine feet tall, with large seed heads that vary in color from red, purple and orange to green, black, and yellow. Highly drought-resistant, it grows well in poor soils. Health benefits: High in protein—similar to amaranth—and a good source of riboflavin. Contains health-protective compounds like quercetin, and is a good source of calcium and nine amino acids. Another alkaline-forming grain with a low glycemic index.
  6. Wild Rice: Also called Canada rice, Indian rice, and water oats, wild rice (Zizania) was originally eaten in both North America and China. Strangely, this isn’t really a “rice,” but a water-grass seed abundant in cold rivers and lakes. Thought to be a staple in the diet of the Chippewa and Sioux Indians, it germinates at the bottom of the water, and then grows until the floating leaves rise above the water and spread out to the sun. Health benefits: High in protein and a good source of fiber, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, vitamin B6, and niacin. Early research also shows it’s high in antioxidants—much higher than standard white rice.
  7. Sorghum: An ancient cereal grain domesticated in Ethiopia and Sudan, sorghum [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench] is a tall, broad-leafed plant that looks like corn in the field, but is actually a type of grass. Drought-tolerant, it grows well in dry areas, and can adapt to weather extremes. This is different from “sweet sorghum,” which is grown for the manufacture of syrup, with the stalks being harvested rather than the seeds. Regular sorghum is used mostly in animal feed in the U.S., but like millet, it’s experiencing a rise in popularity as people avoid gluten. Kernels vary in color from white and pale yellow to deep red, purple, and brown. Health benefits: High level of unsaturated fats, protein, fiber, and minerals like phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and iron. More antioxidants than blueberries and pomegranates. Some early research suggests is may help reduce the risk of colon and skin cancer.

How to Cook Them?

Though each grain has its quirks, for most of these, you can cook them in the same way you might cook rice—simply boil in water and simmer until the liquid is absorbed. Cooking times can vary, so keep an eye out—they’re done when they’re tender. You can always add more water or drain the excess if you didn’t measure the water just right.

For more tips on how to cook each grain, see the Whole Grain Council’s guidelines.

Do you use these other grains in place of wheat? Please share your cooking tips!

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho.


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  1. Wow, these are all great alternatives! I can believe I wasn’t even familiar with some of these grains!
    One of my younger cousins got diagnosed with coliac disease, so he had to go on a gluten free diet. That really made me think about my food choices.
    Ever since I started paying attention to what I eat and how my body responds to the food I give it, I realized that protein obtained from non-animal sources such as grains is much much easier for me to metabolize.
    Thanks for sharing this, this kind of information is always welcome!

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