Hello SOTGC community,
So perhaps you have made the decision to stop eating wheat to improve your Celiac, gluten-sensitivity, IBS, or for some other health concern. Or maybe you realized you are eating so many wheat-filled foods that it’s time you mix in some gluten-free varieties. Possibly you just want to know what to have in your cupboard for when your gluten-free friends or family come over to eat.
Whatever the reason, planning healthy, gluten-free meals can be achieved and done so in a manner simpler than what some of the mainstream media might otherwise suggest. The key to success is to know which grains and flours you CAN eat and have good, healthy options available to you whenever you need it.
Rice is the most commonly used substitute for wheat. Unfortunately, too much reliance on rice in your diet may not be healthy for you either, especially if you are eating US grown varieties, due to their high levels of inorganic arsenic. Inorganic arsenic is a substance found naturally in our soils and water and, because rice likes to grow in water flooded conditions, it is more likely to absorb higher amounts than other crops. For humans inorganic arsenic is a carcinogen (it is bad for you). Accumulating high levels in your system can be toxic. Brown rice, while touted for being more nutritious, has been found to contain even more inorganic arsenic than white rice. Wild rice may have high arsenic levels too as it also grows in wet conditions.
What to do? First don’t panic. Second, when making rice, select types that are known to have lower, safer arsenic levels, such as basmati or other foreign grown rice. For local or unknown origin rice sources, keep consumption down to 1-2 servings a week or less (serving= 1/4 cup raw). Before cooking, rinse the rice well to help rid some of the arsenic. Cooking the rice with lots of water (6 cups water to 1 cup rice), then draining away the excess water afterwards can further aide in arsenic reduction. If buying processed gluten-free foods, do avoid products that rely on rice as a main ingredient.
Besides rice, here are 9 handy gluten-free foods that can be great substitutes for the gluten-filled varieties:
This delicious, nutritious, petite grain is perfect whole in soups or stews, or great popped in a hot pan (like mini-popcorn) for use in energy bars or sweets. When ground into flour it is excellent in baking. Amaranth must always be cooked to be edible. Nutritionally speaking, amaranth is an especially valuable grain because, in addition to being a good source of magnesium and iron, it is very high in lysine, an amino acid which happens to be lacking in most other grains and seeds. So combining amaranth with other grains in dishes, like with the millet in the Lemony Egg Drop Soup recipe here, actually helps to make your dish a complete protein source.
These grain-like seeds can be used whole, cracked, or ground into flour. I often think of it as a breakfast grain, because it is so delicious in cereals, pancakes, crepes, and waffles. Toasted buckwheat is referred to as Kasha. Buckwheat is also wonderful in flour blends for baked goods, and can be consumed raw or cooked.
Rich in iron, zinc and selenium minerals, buckwheat is also known for rutin, an antioxidant that may help to strengthen capillary walls and help to reduce symptoms of high blood pressure.
These tiny edible pulses come in many colorful varieties and, unlike many other legumes, cook up rather quickly. Lentils are great in stews and soups, and can also be ground into flour for baked goods. In many countries, eating lentils on New Year’s Eve represents hope for a prosperous new year, partly due to its coin shape.
I do recommend soaking lentils in water in a cool place overnight or for 3-8 hours before cooking. However, unlike beans, if you decide to cook them last minute without a soak you can do so without facing annoying gastro issues later! Lentils are also delicious when sprouted and thrown into salads (sprouting also changes their nutrition content, turning them into a complete protein source).
This grain is an important food staple in many parts of the world, but here in the US we literally leave it to the birds! I love using millet flour in baked goods because it helps the end product stay moist. Millet grains are wonderful tossed in soups and stews, and great cooked as a side dish. In fact, millet was the original ancient grain used to make couscous, which now is made from wheat grain. Rich in B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, millet is a great addition to a gluten-free, or even a regular, diet.
While oats are naturally gluten-free, most are grown and processed alongside wheat, where they become contaminated with gluten. It’s this high contamination that often gets oats put on the “grains to avoid” list. But oats can be safely enjoyed on a gluten-free diet. To simply avoid the gluten, only buy oats labeled “Certified Gluten-Free.” (Note: certain people with Celiac do also react to the avenin found naturally in oats; if this is the case for you then all types of oats should be avoided).
Oats are often crushed or rolled into oatmeal, or ground into flour. They are great in baked goods, granola and health bars. Loaded with soluble fiber, eating oats is believed to be good for heart health because it may help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Yes, spuds are gluten-free. It amazes me how many people think that potatoes contain gluten, but they do not. Perhaps it’s because in most restaurants gluten-free diners are overheard avoiding the French fries. This is not due to the potato, but rather the cooking method: the potatoes go into the same fryer oil that also cooked breaded items. Potatoes are great at absorbing things out of cooking oil, including gluten. Someone with Celiac could easily become very ill from a batch of fries, or other food item, not cooked in a dedicated gluten-free fryer.
Thinly sliced potato works great in place of a regular crust for quiche, like in the recipe below. For a boost of color and nutrition, use purple potatoes.
Most everyone has heard of this Peruvian grain and its healthy, edible seeds by now. Look for the red and black colored varieties, as they have even more nutrients and better flavor than the more common white (as usual, the more color the healthier!) It is important to soak, “scrub” and rinse your quinoa before cooking to remove the outer soapy layer. To scrub: simply rub your clean hands together with the quinoa in between them within the soak water. You will see bubbles form in the water as the outer coating comes off. Some companies do offer pre-washed quinoa seeds, and those you do not have to scrub, but I so recommend you still soak them before cooking.
Quinoa is also often ground into flour and sometimes is used with corn to make gluten-free pastas. It is also pretty simple to sprout. I love quinoa in salads and sides dishes or use it in stuffing, such as in the stuffed pepper recipe here.
Sorghum works great in most gluten-free flour blends because it has a mild flavor. It also has a smooth, non-gritty texture, unlike other flours such as rice. High in protein, iron and dietary fiber, sorghum is a good addition to a gluten-free pantry. Many beverages are made by fermenting sorghum, including gluten-free beers. Sweet sorghum is often processed into a sweetener similar to molasses, but I recommend sticking to using the molasses instead as it has the higher nutritional value of the two.
Try this Pineapple Upside-Down Cake recipe the next time you want to impress friends with a sweet, whole-grain treat!
Teff is an important cereal grass to North Africa, and is a nutritional powerhouse. The grain is so tiny (about 100 teff grains would equal the size of 1 wheat berry) that the bran cannot be removed; it’s nice to know that even when used as a flour teff is always a whole grain. High in fiber (as much as whole wheat) plus lots of calcium and protein, teff is great for use in breads, stews, porridge, cakes and cookies. You will love it in the simple pudding recipe here.
Chocolate Orange Fig Teff Pudding Recipe http://healthyinthekitchen.com/?p=492
For a more complete listing of grains and flours and whether they are gluten-free, do visit this terrific glossary created by the Celiac Support Association: http://www.csaceliacs.info/grains_and_flours_glossary.jsp
Happy, healthy gluten-free eating!