Gluten Free Grains 101: What can you eat?

Gluten Free

I eliminated gluten from my diet in August of 2008. At that time, most people had never heard of gluten, gluten allergies, gluten intolerance, or Celiac Disease. When I told my officemates at them time, my friend Lisa said: “What’s a gluten?” They were seriously confused. Fortunately, in the 3 years that I’ve been gluten free, more and more information about the intolerance is becoming part of mainstream knowledge.

My new dietary restrictions were confusing to me at first, too. I knew that it was the protein in wheat and other grains. I knew that I couldn’t eat bread or drink beer anymore, but that’s about the extent of my knowledge. Now I know that there are many grains that don’t contain gluten or contain a small enough amount that it might not bother people with intolerances. People with severe allergies and/or Celiac Disease will need to be more cautious and consult their doctor if they are unsure about what grains they can consume.

Here are some grains that are generally safe for people with gluten intolerances –

  • Rice – This one grain opens up tons of possibilities for cooking and baking. Being able to eat rice means that rice flour is acceptable, too. Rice flour is the base for a lot of gluten free baking mixes. I’ve even made my own rice flour with organic brown rice and a coffee bean grinder. If you don’t have gluten free pasta handy, rice is a great alternative.
  • Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) – This is one of my all-time favorite grains and one I had no idea existed until I went gluten free. Quinoa originates from South American and was believed by the Incans to be the “Mother of all Grains”. It is also a great source of amino acids and a complete vegan protein (source). Quinoa cooks quickly, which makes it an easy option for weeknight dinners. I cook it in my rice cooker and it takes all of 15 minutes. Make sure you rinse your quinoa thoroughly first in a fine sieve. I use quinoa like I would use rice, in vegetable salads, and in baked casseroles.
  • Corn – Thank goodness for corn and corn meal. Corn allows us gluten intolerant folk to eat Mexican food (corn tortillas) and Thanksgiving dinner (cornbread dressing), with just a few minor adjustments to cooking ingredients or corn flour. I make quesadillas with corn tortillas and my mom has been making cornbread dressing at Thanksgiving for several years with 100% cornmeal. I need to get that recipe. Also check into polenta, if you’ve never had it. It’s a great substitution in Italian cooking and a versatile ingredient that most people have never tried.
  • Oats – Oats can be tricky to gluten intolerant people. Oats themselves are gluten-free, but the cross contamination is so likely that is makes eating them risky. Also, some varieties of oats can trigger symptoms in celiac patients and not in people with simple intolerances. To be on the safe side, gluten-free oats are available in most health food stores. These have been kept from cross contamination. I grind oats in my food processor or coffee grinder to make oat flour. I then make muffins, pancakes, or quick bread with the flour like these Cinnamon Raisin Muffins.
  • Buckwheat – I know it has a confusing name, but buckwheat is a plant that has no relation to actual wheat. Buckwheat is closer in relation to sunflower seeds. The flour from buckwheat is usually added to gluten-free baking mixes and buckwheat noodles (soba) are a staple in Japanese food. It’s also used in the making of gluten free beer.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but needless to say there are lots of options for gluten intolerant folks. Kids are more receptive to trying new things that you might initially think. Make it a goal to try one new gluten free grain a week or month. It will be a while before you get bored. Good luck!

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