What is gluten? According to the Whole Grains Council, gluten is a protein found in wheat — such as spelt, kamut, einkorn, farro/emmer, barley, rye and triticale — that’s hard for some people to digest. It helps bind and shape foods by creating elasticity. About 1 percent to 2 percent of the population has celiac disease, which is an autoimmune form of gluten intolerance.
These folks have quite a struggle and must eat a gluten-free diet for life. There are others who don’t have celiac disease but could have allergies relating to the consumption of wheat. Experts tell us that about 1 percent to 6 percent of the population falls into this category.
Thus, if you have some sort of intolerance to gluten, it’s best to replace any whole wheat with gluten-free grains and follow at least a modified celiac disease diet. What are the best gluten-free grains out there, and how do they compare to the more common gluten-containing grains we were raised on? Let’s find out, along with ways to incorporate gluten-free grains and the benefits of a gluten-free diet.
Top 9 Gluten-Free Grains
There are more gluten-free grains than you probably would have guessed. Here are the top nine gluten-free grains I recommend, which also work as gluten-free flours. Most of these are fairly easy to find at your local grocer, and they’re versatile and diverse enough to replace wheat in just about any recipe.
- Amaranth: Amaranth offers digestive benefits and helps build healthy bones. It’s a great source of protein, fiber, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and iron.
- Brown Rice: Can promote a healthy heart, provide manganese and decrease cholesterol.
- Buckwheat: Buckwheat is a nutrient-dense seed filled with antioxidants.
- Corn Grits (Polenta): Corn-based grains, like polenta, can be a great gluten-free source, but there is one key thing to consider: Is it non-GMO? Look for non-GMO versions and you will likely fare well due to the antioxidants and fiber they contain.
- Millet: Millet is also a seed often referred to as a grain. Yes, birds love this little seed, and you, too, may want to give it a shot. Its fiber content and low glycemic index help keep the body regulated while maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
- Oats: Oats always seem to be in question as to whether they make the gluten-free list. So are oats gluten-free? The short version is, yes, oats are gluten-free, but they can be grown in the same fields as wheat products. That may be where a gluten sensitivity lies with oats, as the gluten remnants can find their way into oats. Purchase brands that label them as gluten-free. If needed, call the company to ask about how they’re produced.
- Quinoa: Quinoa has been very popular over the years due to its gluten-free status. Additionally, it contains protein, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
- Sorghum: Sorghum is typically found as a flour and does well with nutrient density, offering protein, iron, B vitamins and dietary fiber. It also contains inflammation-reducing antioxidants.
- Teff: You may not have heard of teff, but this gluten-free grain aids in circulation as well as weight loss.
Top 3 Grains that Contain Gluten
Wheat is commonly found in:
- baked goods
- salad dressings
Barley is commonly found in:
- malt (malted barley flour, malted milk and milkshakes, malt extract, malt syrup, malt flavoring, malt vinegar)
- food coloring
- brewer’s yeast
Rye is commonly found in:
- rye bread, such as pumpernickel
- rye beer
Benefits of a Gluten-Free Diet
1. Helps Reduce Symptoms Relating to IBS
It’s probably no surprise that food plays a role in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a disorder relating to the intestines that affects 7 percent to 20 percent of the adult population in the United States. It’s often defined by recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort, diarrhea, and/or constipation.
Gluten has become a suspected contributor to this problem for some time now. While some patients may have celiac or food allergies, studies have shown that simply eliminating gluten from the diet may solve an IBS problem. Often, patients are asked to take on a low FODMAP diet, and gluten-free is a characteristic of this type of diet to treat IBS.
2. May Help Children with Autism
This may seem like a stretch for some, and according to Harvard and the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, gluten has nothing to do with it. However, it seems that the debate still exists.
Many parents and even hospitals, specifically the Children’s Hospitals and Clinic of Minnesota, feel strongly that a gluten-free diet makes a difference in behavior, social interaction and learning in children with autism. Apparently, more studies are needed, but reports suggest that a gluten-free diet combined with a casein-free diet has proved to be beneficial in autistic children.
3. Can Give You Energy
It’s been reported that gluten causes a tired and lethargic feeling in many individuals. In those who are sensitive people, it can prevent the proper absorption of nutrients, which in turn prevents the brain, nervous system and organs from getting the proper nourishment needed. This lack of nourishment can have a direct result of feeling tired. If you’re sensitive to gluten, giving it up may revive your energy levels.
4. Could Prevent Bloating
Bloating is one of the most common symptoms of gluten sensitivity that I hear from my patients. It’s usually defined as pressure on the abdomen but is also known as an expanded abdominal area and excessive gas. Bloating is often associated with functional gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Eliminating gluten from your diet could result in little to no bloating.
A study was conducted of 486 patients with suspected non-celiac glutensensitivity over a one-year period. Symptoms noted were abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation, nausea, epigastric pain, gastroesophageal reflux, aphthous stomatitis, tiredness, headache, fibromyalgia-like joint/muscle pain, leg or arm numbness, foggy brain, dermatitis or skin rash, depression, anxiety, and anemia.
In most patients, the time lapse between gluten ingestion and the appearance of symptoms varied. The most frequent associated disorders were irritable bowel syndrome (47 percent), food intolerance (35 percent) and IgE-mediated allergy (22 percent). An associated autoimmune disease was detected in 14 percent of cases.
By replacing gluten grains with gluten-free grains and otherwise following a gluten-free diet, digestive symptoms may decrease.
How to Include Gluten-Free Grains in Your Diet + Gluten-Free Grain Recipes
Looking for ways to incorporate gluten-free grains into your diet? Here are some ideas:
- Make a blend of gluten-free grains, such as amaranth, buckwheat and brown rice, as a side dish or add to soups.
- Add your favorite gluten-free grain, like quinoa, to soups or sprinkle over salads.
- You can add amaranth or teff to brownies, cakes and cookies for added nutritional benefits and texture.
- Cook extra gluten-free grains to make a hearty breakfast cereal. Just add some banana or fresh fruit, a drizzle of honey, a few nuts, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
- You can blend them into a great vegan or vegetarian burger with black beans, gluten-free rolled oats, or cooked brown rice, quinoa, amaranth or teff.
Source: Dr. Axe
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