We are continuing our look at ancient gluten free foods the final in our series on gluten and grains. This week we are looking at millet, oats, quinoa and wild rice.
Millet is a small, round, yellow grain originating about five thousand years ago in China, where it’s still a staple for a third of the world’s population. In the Middle Ages millet was more widely eaten than wheat and it’s mentioned in the Old Testament as an ingredient for bread. While it is known as “bird food”, humans can benefit from eating millet too. Like most grains, it tends to be low in lysine, so it isn’t a complete protein. It is, however, a great source of magnesium, and a fair source of fiber, iron, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium and some of the B vitamins. While traditional wheat does contain B vitamins, these precious nutrients are always stripped out during processing and manufacturing of products like white bread, pasta, and crackers. Eating whole grains such as millet in their natural form will ensure the vitamins and minerals stay intact.
Millet is one of the few grains that is alkalizing to the body, has a sweet nutty flavor, and is considered to be one of the most digestible and non-allergenic grains available. Millet has always been a favorite grain of mine since I discovered it in my hippy days in the 70s! There are many varieties of millet, but the yellow colored proso is the kind most often found pre-packaged or in bulk bins at health food stores.
In much the same way as quinoa, cooked millet for breakfast is delicious, especially when combined with nuts, seeds and chopped fruit. Rinse and drain 1 cup of millet. Add to 2 cups of boiling water, turn the heat to simmer and cook about 25-30 minutes. Millet is versatile. You can cook it like a grainy-like rice or a softer, chewier texture such as “millet mashed potatoes,” depending on how much water you use. You can toss it into any soup or stew about twenty minutes before it’s ready to thicken a dish. Once millet cools off, you can slice it, making it a great choice for polenta, croquettes, and loaves.
Oats contain protein, are high in fiber, thiamin, and minerals. Oats, oat bran, and oatmeal contain a specific type of fiber known as beta-glucan. Oats have a variety of health benefits. They can help lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, and help prevent heart disease and colon cancer. They also enhance immune system function, and can help stabilize blood sugar. A steaming bowl of fresh cooked oatmeal is the perfect way to start off your day, especially if you are trying to prevent or are currently dealing with heart disease or diabetes. Oats are harvested in the fall but are available throughout the year and can add extra nutrition to a variety of healthy dishes.
Oats are able to withstand poor soil conditions in which other crops are unable to thrive. Oats gain part of their distinctive flavor from the roasting process that they undergo after being harvested and cleaned. Although oat groats are then hulled, this process does not strip away their bran and germ allowing them to retain a concentrated source of their fiber and nutrients. All oat products start as oat groats, which are hulled and toasted, but this process keeps the bran in tact.
Steel cut oats are also called Irish oats which are the least processed type of cereal. Stone ground Scottish oats are similar to Irish, but ground into smaller pieces. Both of these types need to be cooked before you eat them between 45-50 minutes. Old fashioned or rolled oats are the most popular, which are roasted groats ran between rollers to make flakes. Finally, quick cooking oats are rolled into thinner flakes, so they cook faster, but are still healthy and they only take a few more minutes to cook than instant. Stay away from “instant” oats which are processed with sugar, trans fats and really fattening! Steel cut oats are the lowest on the glycemic index. (42), old fashioned is 50; less than 50 is better. Oats make a delicious breakfast cereal, cooked 1 cup of oats to 2 cups of water, simmer, depending on the size. And who doesn’t enjoy hearty oatmeal cookies now and then?
Oats are often grown in near wheat and may be processed in the same facilities. If you have celiac disease, be sure to look for packages labeled gluten-free, which are carefully processed and packaged to avoid cross-contamination.
Quinoa Almost unheard of a few years ago, Quinoa has become popular due to the marketing efforts companies that sell quinoa and quinoa-based pasta products. Quinoa, pronounced “keen-wa,”is similar to amaranth and buckwheat, is a seed, not a grain. Referred as a pseudo-grain, quinoa is one of the best plant sources of protein because it contains all of the essential amino acids. Remember, though, it’s also a carbohydrate, so don’t eat too much of it! Quinoa contains Omega-3, iron, copper, magnesium, B vitamins including folic acid and several minerals. Like corn, quinoa comes in a variety of colors including white, tan, red, and, black. Each has a slightly different texture and flavor, but generally speaking, quinoa has a light sesame-like flavor.
Quinoa cooks similar to other grains, rinse and drain 1 cup of quinoa. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, add the quinoa, simmer 15-20 minutes until the water is absorbed and its slightly fluffy. It has a slightly crunchy, nutty taste and is cooked alone or mixed with other grains, and it works beautifully in stews and salads. Quinoa is high in carbs, (1/2 cup equals about 40 grams) so it’s best to eat it in small portions. Quinoa is so popular that as of this writing, I’ve enjoyed a delicious Quinoa/Kale salad at the Cheesecake Factory, and Zoe’s Kitchen, a Mediterranean type restaurant, offers it on their menu.
Wild Rice is also not really a variety of rice, but rather a grass. It’s dark, nutritious and naturally gluten free. It is also a higher source of protein than most true grains, because it contains a good amount of lysine, which is missing in corn for example. It’s also high in many minerals and some B vitamins. Most of us don’t eat it very often, but when we do, we enjoy its nutty flavor and a pleasant, chewy texture. It’s not as delicious on its own, but it blends well with other varieties of rice, making it a natural for pilafs. Most of the wild rice sold in the United States is from Minnesota and California.
In our next few blogs, we’ll look at the anti-aging nutrition.