Nutrition-wise blog

Are there whole-grain options that are gluten-free?

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. February 28, 2013

Whole grains are important for everyone. They're naturally high in fiber, low in fat and filling to eat. And, when eaten regularly, whole grains help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that at least half of your daily servings of grains be whole grain. This means three servings a day for most people. Seems simple? It's not. Fewer than 5 percent of Americans meet this recommendation.

The most common whole-grain foods (breads, baked goods, cereals, pasta and crackers) contain gluten. This makes getting enough whole grains even tougher for those with celiac disease because they must avoid wheat, rye and barley because of their gluten content.

So, here are five gluten-free whole grains, how to cook them and how to add them to your diet. Remember to aim for three servings of whole grains a day.

Amaranth: About the size of a poppy seed, this pseudo-grain has a light peppery taste. Use 3 to 6 parts water to 1 part amaranth. Boil water, add grain and gently boil for 15 to 20 minutes. As it cooks, amaranth softens from the inside, releases a lot of starch and thickens the cooking liquid. Rinse cooked amaranth and let it drain before using. Use amaranth to thicken soups and stews. Add milk, fruit and a bit of honey for a healthy breakfast. You can even "pop" dried amaranth and make it into a granola-type bar.

Millet: About the size of a small mustard seed, this grain has a mild flavor. Use 2 to 3 parts water to 1 part millet. Boil water, add grain and gently boil for 35 to 40 minutes. You may also "toast" millet in a hot pan before boiling to get a nuttier flavor. Top with cinnamon and peaches for breakfast. Or make a salad with halved grape tomatoes, radishes and chopped basil. Millet is also a great alternative to rice in casseroles, ground-meat dishes and stuffing.

Teff: This smallest of grains is nutty and earthy in flavor. Use 3 parts water to 1 part teff. Boil water, add grain and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Its texture is like cream of wheat. Add cooked teff to soups or use teff as the main ingredient for polenta instead of cornmeal. Teff flour can be used to make pancakes.

Buckwheat: Despite its name, buckwheat is not related to wheat. This-pseudo grain is pyramid shaped and known as kasha or buckwheat groats. To bring out its earthy flavor, cook 1 cup buckwheat with one egg in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir to keep from clumping until the mixture is dry and separated. Add 2 cups water or broth and cook uncovered over low heat for about 15 minutes. Mix cooked buckwheat with lentils, herbs and a bit of goat cheese. Or stuff peppers or acorn squash with cooked buckwheat. Buckwheat flour can be used to make pancakes.

Quinoa: This pseudo-grain must be rinsed well before cooking to remove bitter-tasting saponins. You can also buy it pre-rinsed. The flavor is squash-like. Quinoa cooks in just 15 minutes. Use 2 parts water to 1 part quinoa. Mix with chopped fruit and drizzle with honey for breakfast. Or use quinoa instead of bulgur to make tabbouleh. Quinoa is also a good substitute quinoa for rice in rice pudding.

Whether you are going gluten-free or not, these whole grains are good for you. Share your favorite ways of preparing these grains.

-Jennifer

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Feb. 28, 2013