Gluten Free Grains, Part One
So what are the grains that I mentioned in my last blog and how do you add them to your diet?
It’s so easy to just reach for your favorite grain, which for me would be brown rice. But there are so many other great gluten free options. I’ll take this part to start with amaranth, brown rice, buckwheat and corn. Part two will look at millet, oats, quinoa and wild rice.
Amaranth is a small, slightly nutty flavored ancient grain. It’s high in protein, is a great source of iron (a half cup contains more than 40% of your daily iron requirement) calcium, magnesium, B vitamins and fiber. Not only can it be cooked in the same manner as rice, it can also be popped like popcorn. I tried this by washing and rinsing the grain through a wire strainer. Put a teaspoon of coconut oil and heat the rinsed amaranth until it dries and slightly pops. This cooking method adds texture and flavor to any number of recipes, including granola, breads, salads, and crackers. It can also be added to soups and muffins. Amaranth flour is also a great alternative to wheat flour in gluten-free baking.
Amaranth is delicious cooked on its own or combined with other grains in pilafs, or as a cereal porridge with oatmeal, dried fruits, and nuts. I’ve also eaten it as a cereal and it was delicious. Wash and rinse about one cup of amaranth seeds, and bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Simmer and add the amaranth; cook about 20-25 minutes. I lightly seasoned it with Celtic Sea Salt and a teaspoon of butter. Yum!
Brown rice, perhaps one of the most popular gluten free grains, is rich in iron, fiber, manganese, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, and B1, B3, B6 vitamins. Unfortunately, milling and polishing brown rice destroys 67% of vitamin B3, 80% of vitamin B1, 90% of vitamin B6, half of the manganese, half of the phosphorus, 60% of the iron, and all of the dietary fiber and essential fatty acids. Fully milled and polished white rice is required to be “enriched” with vitamins B1, B3 and iron. It’s also unfortunate that enriched vitamins are synthetic and nothing like the original vitamins that occurred naturally. So when it’s processed into white rice, almost all of its valuable nutrients are lost, so its resulting white rice offers little nutrition.
Brown rice comes in several forms and I personally like the short-grain variety, which is a bit chewier than the long-grain type. It’s versatile. You can cook it as a side dish at dinner, or as a brown rice cereal for breakfast. There are some brown rice pasta and noodles on the market as well. Like most grains, wash and rinse one cup of brown rice. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil; add the rice and simmer for about 50 minutes (longer in a cold season and shorter in warm seasons). I can usually tell when the rice is done by the wonderful aroma.
For those on a gluten-free diet, rice comes to the rescue as pasta in the form of numerous types of Asian noodles, as well as a few good brands of rice pasta that you’ll find in most natural food stores.
Buckwheat While many people think that buckwheat is a cereal grain, it is actually a seed making it a suitable substitute for grains for people who are sensitive to wheat or other grains that contain protein glutens. Buckwheat is almost a complete protein, rich in iron, selenium, and zinc, and a fair source of B vitamins. Buckwheat’s beneficial effects are due in part to its rich supply of flavonoids, particularly rutin. Flavonoids are phytonutrients that protect against disease by extending the action of vitamin C and acting as antioxidants. Buckwheat’s lipid-lowering activity is largely due to rutin and other flavonoid compounds. These compounds help maintain blood flow, keep platelets from clotting excessively all of which help to protect against heart disease.
Buckwheat is also a good source of magnesium. This mineral relaxes blood vessels, improving blood flow and nutrient delivery while lowering blood pressure.
It cooks very quickly (just fifteen minutes). Buckwheat groats are white to pale green and have a mild flavor. You can cook them as is, sprout, or roast them, and buy them already roasted, also known as kasha, traditionally stuffed cabbage rolls. The way I love buckwheat is in the form of Soba buckwheat noodles which are delicious and cook in a few minutes. (Be sure to buy the non-wheat form.)
Corn is unusual because it’s both a vegetable and a grain available in a rainbow of colors, each with a slightly different nutritional profile, so I recommend cooking with different varieties. Like amaranth and quinoa, corn has a long history in traditional cultures. Because all varieties of corn are low in tryptophan and lysine, it isn’t a complete protein, but all varieties of corn are a good source of magnesium and thiamin, and a fairly good source of a few other minerals and B vitamins.
Who hasn’t enjoyed freshly picked corn on the cob in the summertime? Most people are surprised to learn that corn contains various antioxidant benefits from all varieties of corn, including white, yellow, blue, purple and red corn. Yellow corn has antioxidant carotenoids of both lutein and zeaxanthin. Blue corn contains anthocyanins. Purple corn contains protocatechuic acid. All of these phytonutrients are especially protective against disease
Corn is also a good source of fiber and gives us plenty of chewing satisfaction due to its high ratio of insoluble-to-soluble fiber.
Cornmeal is an excellent source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamin B-6. Because up to 88 percent of corn grown in the US is often genetically modified, look for corn products that are GMO free. Obviously, we should all steer away from high fructose corn sweeteners, but if you are not eating corn in a highly processed form, it could be a healthy addition. For example, organically grown, non GMO popcorn has an abundant source of fiber, B vitamins and minerals such as manganese, magnesium, iron, zinc and phosphorous. Popcorn’s crunchy hull is rich in polyphenols which are the antioxidants that provide several important health benefits such as protection from coronary artery disease, and protection from cancers.
I like to pop it in coconut oil and sprinkle a little Celtic sea salt over it, with a drizzle of olive oil or flaxseed oil. Way Better Blue corn tortilla chips are delicious.
Corn grits, millet and teff can be cooked together in the same pot since they all take 15-20 minutes. Corn grits and polenta are delicious for a quick breakfast, or at any time of day. For a super main dish made with grits, add sautéed onion, kale, and cheddar cheese.
Next week we’ll look at the last four gluten free grains: millet, oats, quinoa and wild rice.