According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, it is estimated that as many as 18 million Americans have a gluten sensitivity. Many people go undiagnosed and attribute symptoms of gluten sensitivity to something else entirely. The only way to determine whether or not gluten affects you is through the process of exclusion (i.e. following an elimination diet). Luckily, it’s now easier than ever to eliminate gluten from your diet as gluten-free products can be found everywhere. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that several celebs are hopping aboard the GF train–including Jessica Alba, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Scarlett Johansen, and Gwenyth Paltrow. From sleeker figures to clearer skin to more efficient digestion, the benefits wheat avoiders attribute to living sans gluten abound.
In order to reap these perks, however, it’s important to not overly rely on processed grain products, like packaged gluten-free breads and baked goods. Instead, look to whole-food gluten-free grains for optimal nutrition. Here are some gluten-free options to add into your cooking repertoire. Once you start enjoying these healthy grains, you’ll be thinking, gluten who?!
Indulge in these scrumptious Vegan Turkish Quinoa Salad.
Quinoa has exploded in popularity over the last few years, being praised in magazines and making an appearance in restaurant dishes around the country. While it might seem like the latest, new health craze, this earthy pseudo-grain is actually believed to date back to around 3,000 BC in Central and South America. Quinoa behaves like a grain but is technically a seed. Its superpower lies in its protein content, with 8 grams per cup, it’s not only a good source but a complete source meaning that it contains all the essential amino acids. Try quinoa in place of rice in your favorite dishes. It can even be a great breakfast in place of oatmeal. Also, check out Alba’s recipe for roasted butternut squash and quinoa.
Vegan *and* gluten-free–hearty lentil & millet meatballs. Mmm!
While potatoes are gluten-free, they can feel super starchy and heavy on the stomach. For lighter fare, look no further than millet. Depending on how you choose to cook this grain, the texture could be fluffy like rice or more creamy like potatoes. Millet is a whole grain that originated in Northern Africa and has been consumed since ancient times. As a good source of essential minerals like phosphorus and magnesium, not to mention fiber, this is a great way to add a little variety to your diet. (Did you know that a large quantity of millet actually ends up in commercial birdseed? Let’s take better advantage of this healthy grain!)
After hearing this grain mentioned on an NPR program a few months ago, I was inspired to give it a try. Sorghum is another ancient grain originating from Africa (ancient grains for the win!). Like other whole grains, it is naturally high in fiber and is a great source of iron and antioxidants as well. If you choose to use this ground up as flour for baked goods, its mild flavor will work as a neutral base for a variety of yummy baked confections.
Case and point–Gluten-Free Bundt Cake.
Another mild-flavored grain is teff. Although tiny in size (about as big as a poppy seed), it leads all the grains in calcium content, offering 123 mg per cup. Because it is so small in size, it cannot be processed or refined–but it’s also quite easy to digest. Teff can be used in baking as a substitute for whole wheat flour and easily added to your favorite waffle pancake or snack bar recipes.
Although now grown around the world, amaranth is a crop native to Peru which was cultivated by the Aztecs 8,000 years ago. It is dense in texture which makes it a hearty addition to soups and stews. With a light, nutty flavor, it lends not only taste to your dish, but vitamins, macronutrients, and minerals such as protein, calcium, and iron. In fact, its protein rivals that of dairy milk but is much easier for the body to digest. The next time you make vegetable soup or chili, reach for some amaranth and reap the nutritional benefits of this wonderful grain.
What are your favorite ways to cook with gluten-free grains?
Also by Kathryn: Vegan Comfort Food: Lentil Quinoa Sloppy Joes
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Photo: Century Black via Flickr, Jaclyn Enchin, Molly Lansdowne, Quincy Malesovas, Lauren Arps