The title of this post belies the fact that I eat rice on a nearly daily basis. My trusty Zojirushi rice maker is on almost 24/7. But despite my love affair with the world’s most eaten food, there are days when it bores me, or just doesn’t work well with a particular meal. At those times, it would be nice to have some unique options in the grain department. Technorati has a nice summation of three more uncommon grains that are all naturally gluten-free.
Gluten-Free Whole Grains – Moving Beyond Rice
By Molly Robson
Let’s say you’ve just started your gluten-free diet. Maybe you have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease, a Candida imbalance, or are on a general elimination diet. Or perhaps you’ve just noticed a slight gluten intolerance and want to cut back. It’s possible you’re curious what all the fuss is and want to experiment with your own gluten intake.
It’s all too easy to reach for the rice – and I’m not just talking Uncle Ben’s here. Rice cakes, rice bread, rice crackers – they’re a convenient and safe option for anyone avoiding gluten. While brown rice and wild rice certainly offer some nutritional benefit (mostly in the form of fiber), it remains a relatively bland and mineral-deficient food source.
However, there are several other gluten-free whole grains available that often go unnoticed or avoided, simply because they aren’t as widely available or known about. These grains can be bought at any health food store, online, or at an increasing number of grocery stores. The best way, I’ve found, is to buy it from a bulk bin. Stock up with a bag that you can transfer to a glass jar at home. All of these grains last for months in this fashion. Best of all, this means you’ll always have an option for any meal of the day that provides extra protein and micronutrients.
First on the list is quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”), a whole grain that’s getting a lot of love lately and for good reason. This South American seed can be bought in its white or red variety and is cooked in a similar way to rice: simmered in twice its weight of water until fully absorbed and fluffy. It has a slight crunch, even when cooked, and a subtle nutty flavor that lends itself well to an oatmeal alternative at breakfast. I like to make warm salads with quinoa, in a similar fashion to couscous, with lots of chopped vegetables, maybe some roasted squash, a few toasted seeds, and a drizzle of olive oil. In the summer, cooled down, it works great in the same way, as a salad mixed with a cup or two of freshly chopped herbs and soft avocado pieces.
Nutritionally, quinoa is king. It stands alone as a complete protein. This means that it can and should be a staple in any vegetarian or vegan diet, especially if you are avoiding gluten. Breakfast can be tricky when you’re trying to find protein sources that don’t involve eggs, tofu, or dairy, so a bowl of quinoa is a wonderful option. It also contains a healthy amount of minerals, such as magnesium, iron, and copper, and B vitamins, such as folate.
Millet is another versatile gluten-free grain that can be used in a number of different ways. Once cooked, it can go from grainy like white rice to soft like mashed potatoes, so the options are numerous. While it is known as “bird food”, humans can benefit from eating millet too. In much the same way as quinoa, cooked millet for breakfast is a delicious treat, especially when combined with some toasted nuts and seeds and chopped fruit. Next time you want to make mashed potatoes, try millet instead. When cooked to a soft, mash-like consistency (about 25-30 minutes), it can be served as a side or on top of a traditional Shepherd’s or Fish Pie. The photo above shows a simple supper of stir-fried vegetables and tempeh alongside “millet mash”.
The key nutritional components of millet are its high levels of phosphorus, manganese, magnesium and B vitamins. While traditional wheat does contain B vitamins, these precious nutrients are stripped out during processing and manufacturing of products like bread, pasta, and crackers. Eating whole grains such as millet in their natural form will ensure the vitamins and minerals stay intact.
This Mexican grain (which is actually a seed, similar to quinoa) is another tasty and healthy option for anyone avoiding gluten. Not only can it be cooked in the same manner as the other grains I’ve mentioned, it can also be popped like popcorn. This cooking method adds texture and flavor to any number of recipes, including granola, breads, salads, and crackers. Amaranth flour is also a great alternative to a more traditional wheat flour in gluten-free baking.
High in protein, amaranth should also be considered a staple grain as part of a healthy gluten-free diet. It also contains a good amount of fiber, B vitamins, minerals, and another group of nutrients called phytosterols. These plant-based compounds have been found to reduce LDL cholesterol and contain anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.