Gluten-Free Whole Grains with Cheryl Harris, RD


 Gluten Free Whole Grains 

I turned to registered dietitian and gluten-free blogger, Cheryl Harris, for advice last summer to help fine tune my gluten-free diet. Cheryl joins me to introduce gluten-free whole grain choices that add fiber and nutrients to gluten-free meals.

Cooking with Great Gluten-free Grains

By Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD, LD

 Health experts agree that whole grains play a role in weight management, lowering risk of chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and inflammation.  When people think whole grains, often thoughts of wheat bread and oat bran come to mind.  So where does that leave the gluten-free community?  There are a few gluten-free whole grains that most people are familiar with, like brown rice and wild rice, but most are brave new territory.  The good news is that whether you enjoy crunchy, chewy or soft grains, there's one that will work for you, and there are plenty to choose from.   

 Brown rice: This doesn't require a lot of explanation.  It's readily available and inexpensive.  It takes a long time to cook (around an hour).  However, rice freezes very well.  It's easy to prepare a large batch, let it cool to room temperature and freeze it in portions.  It can be reheated on the stovetop or in the microwave.  Or just buy it frozen!  Trader Joe’s, Safeway, Wegman’s and other sell frozen brown rice.  To keep things interesting, there are varieties like Bhutanese Red Rice, which cooks in 25-30 minutes, or Chinese Black Rice, which turns a beautiful purple color when cooked.

 Wild rice: It's widely available, and has nearly double the potassium and more protein than brown rice.  It has a nutty flavor, and works very well in soups, hot or cold salads, casseroles, as a stuffing for poultry or vegetables, or as a pilaf.  Like brown rice, it freezes well.

 Oats: now this is a bit of more controversial territory.  Pure oats do not technically contain gluten, but the most recent studies show that conventional oats are all cross-contaminated with gluten.  Only oats marked “certified gluten-free” may be acceptable for people with Celiac Disease.  Even McCann’s and Irish oats not specially marked DO contain traces of gluten.  And not all people with CD can tolerate gluten-free oats—the protein in oats, called avenin, causes a reaction just like gluten does in some Celiacs, so do check in with your health care team and proceed with caution.  But, if you tolerate oats, that’s fabulous news, because in addition to providing fiber, oats are a good source of magnesium, B1, phosphorous and more. 

 Quinoa: this is one of the easiest "beginner" gluten-free grains.  In the past few years, it's gained popularity among gluten eaters and non-gluten eaters alike.  Quinoa is actually not a grain, but the seeds of a plant.  Quinoa is a traditional Incan food and is considered a "superfood" due to the fact that it's a wonderful source of iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and zinc and a vegetarian complete source of protein, meaning it has all of the amino acids that are needed in the body.  Quinoa is a relatively firm grain with a consistency like couscous, just a little larger.  It cooks in just 15-20 minutes.  It works well in casseroles, pilafs, as a stuffing for vegetables or poultry, or just by itself.  Quinoa flakes are also available, and these substitute well for oatmeal in cooking and baking.

 Whole Grain and Gluten Free 

 Now we're heading into more exotic territory… 

 Buckwheat: There’s much more to buckwheat than pancakes!  Buckwheat is completely unrelated to wheat and actually is a distant relative of rhubarb.  Buckwheat is a great source of protein, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, and several B vitamins. The edible portion, or groat, is also known as kasha.  It has a nutty flavor, which becomes stronger if toasted (whether that is desirable is a matter of personal preference).  Buckwheat is a great pilaf, side dish, stuffing, or hot breakfast cereal and cooks in just 20 minutes.  It is also sold as Soba noodles, but check labels carefully: most Soba noodles are a mix of buckwheat and wheat.

 Millet:  I bought millet for years and never even knew it!  Millet is commonly found in bird food in the US though it has been used in India, Asia and Africa for years.   Millet is rich in folate and fiber and a good source of other B vitamins and trace nutrients  It has a soft texture, and a mildly sweet flavor.  It is good as a hot breakfast, as a stuffing or pilaf and cooks in 25-30 minutes. Try my recipe for Apple Cinnamon Millet for breakfast.

 Teff or Tef: This tiny grain is a nutritional powerhouse.  It is a great source of calcium, iron, magnesium, thiamin and zinc.  It was traditionally grown in Ethiopia, but has been increasingly available in the West.  It is good as a hot breakfast cereal or as an addition to another hot cereal, as a pilaf or as a thickener for stews.  It has a somewhat gelatinous texture, and somewhat of a crunch, even after it is cooked.

 Amaranth: This is another one of the “pseudo-grains”.  Amaranth is a seed and a great source of iron, fiber, zinc, magnesium, calcium and protein.  Amaranth can be used as a hot breakfast cereal, in soups and pilafs.  In Central America, the seeds are popped to make a sweet treat (it’s done much like popping popcorn, but with MUCH smaller yields).  This small grain has a crunch, even when cooked, and a somewhat gelatinous texture.  Amaranth cooks in 20-25 minutes.  Adventurous gardeners can even grow amaranth at home, but it does grow to 5-7 feet.

 Sorghum:   The gluten-free community is familiar with sorghum flour, but sorghum grain is becoming increasingly available.  Like the flour, sorghum is a great source of phosphorous and potassium, and contains fiber, B vitamins and iron, too.  Sorghum can be soaked and cooked as a pilaf, and makes a good addition to slow cooking stews or soups.

 By now, hopefully you’re convinced that there are a lot of great gluten-free grain options out there.  But for most people, the hardest hurdle is just getting started trying them!  If someone put a bowl of plain rice in front of you, chances are you wouldn’t be terribly inspired by the taste.  So here are a few hints for cooking whole grains:

  • Cook the grains in broth instead of water.
  • Sauté some garlic or ginger and/or vegetables, then add in the required amount of broth or water and grains, and cook as directed.
  • Add in herbs, spices, a squirt of lemon, etc.

If you’d rather start with a formal recipe, check out these website for good ideas: 

Enjoy exploring the world of gluten-free grains, and bon appétit!

Cheryl Harris blogs at Gluten Free Goodness and you can learn more about her practice at Harris Whole Health

Shirley @ gfe
3/27/2011 1:41:17 PM

Ah, editing can be tough. Great reply, Wendy. I agree on trusting one's own body. It sure has worked for me. I just always worry about those folks who don't appear to have reactions. Yes, I read the study on the different types of oats, with some being more problematic than others for those who eat gluten free. Like you said, who knew? That was quite a surprise to me and I look forward to more info on the topic. Thanks for the reply! Shirley

Wendy Gregory Kaho
3/27/2011 11:08:51 AM

Thank you, Shirley, for adding the research and the numbers. Cheryl's original paper had lots of footnotes and very academic stuff attached, but the editor (me) removed them to create a blog post for the general population. Of course, the new study that just came out showing that some oat varieties are easier for celiacs to digest than others makes this even more complex. I didn't even know there were different kinds of oat plants or that it would make a difference. I just know to look for certified gluten-free oats. With gluten-free grains it all comes down to being careful that the grains are gluten-free from the field to the grocer's shelf and then trusting your own body to tell you if they work for you or not.

Shirley @ gfe
3/25/2011 10:13:59 AM

Great article from Cheryl! Very informative. While I have issues with several other grains listed here, too (darn it!), I love learning that wild rice has so much protein and potassium. That's one of my husband's favorites, so we'll be eating that more in the future. One final note, the studies on oats several years back even showed one test sample of McCann's with 725 ppm gluten and Quaker oats went from 339 to 1807 ppm. I wanted to add this info because with the proposed level for gluten-free labeling being less than 20 ppm; those gluten levels are far more than what I consider trace amounts. There were some samples with less than 20 ppm and some tested below the level of detection (which could mean no gluten), but many gluten-free folks don't worry about warnings that show "made in a facility with wheat" or "made on the same equipment as products containing wheat" because they consider the possible trace amounts safe. All "trace" amounts are not considered equal. This often referenced study on oats shows that gluten-free individuals should only consume oats that are certified gluten free, if in fact, they can tolerate oats at all. Thanks Cheryl and Wendy! Shirley

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters