Grains in the form of various breads, flour, cereal, crackers, rice, and pastas are staples in our diet; they have a long history in mankind’s past as well our progressive development.
What if you are allergic to the protein gluten – found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale (a cross of wheat and barley)? Wheat, rye, and barley are found in almost every recipe, as gluten helps food maintain its shape and acts as a glue to hold it together. In addition to the above list of grain products, they are also found in condiments, malt, food coloring, soups, salad dressings, beer, Brewer’s Yeast, sauces, and more.
If you are allergic to gluten or are gluten intolerant, what grain options do you have? Are they as nutritionally beneficial? We’ll first go over the history of gluten and then get into some great gluten-free alternatives.
Grains in human history
Grains have been an essential part of mankind’s history for thousands of years. Breadcrumbs of a pita-like flatbread were discovered in July 2018 in northeastern Jordan that dated back 14,500 years. Originally, archeologists had dated breadmaking back to the start of agriculture in the Neolithic era. This last finding places breadmaking 5,000 years earlier. It was attributed to a group of Stone Age hunter-gatherers called Natufians.
How does the body react to gluten?
Gluten is a term used in reference to multiple types of proteins or prolamins, found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. The prolamins in wheat are called gliadin and glutenin, while the primary one in barley is called hordein.
Oddly enough, gluten proteins are highly resistant to protease enzymes which break down proteins through digestion. This incomplete digestion of protein allows large units of amino acids, or peptides, to go through the wall of your small intestine into the rest of your body. Your body may see these amino acids as enemies and attempt to kill them. Our body is designed to get rid of excessive proteins or protein-creating cells. This attempt to get rid of these “enemies” shows itself as an immune response which can create various symptoms in a person.
There are three conditions which may manifest as a result of having a gluten intolerance.
This disease is a combination of a genetic disorder and environmental conditions which impacts about 1% of the world’s population. It is considered an inflammatory autoimmune disease of the small intestine. Celiac disease is also seen in partner with other autoimmune disorders. For those with Hashimoto’s, a thyroid disease, Celiac is 4 times higher than the general public.
By eating grains containing gluten, damage occurs to enterocytes, which are cells lining your small intestines. This leads to intestinal damage, poor nutritional absorption, and possibly weight loss and diarrhea. It can additionally contribute to anemia, osteoporosis, neurological disorders, and skin diseases. It is possible for some to have no symptoms at all.
This condition is best diagnosed by an intestinal biopsy or by blood testing for specific genotypes or antibodies. The only “cure” is to completely eliminate gluten from your diet.
Wheat allergy affects more children than adults, and like Celiac, is an immune response to proteins in wheat. These symptoms can be mild nausea to anaphylaxis – a reaction which causes the throat to close up due to an allergic response. It is possible to have both Celiac and a wheat allergy. Wheat allergies are usually diagnosed by a blood or skin-prick test.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity:
It is possible to have intestinal symptoms and other symptoms when one consumes gluten without technically being considered allergic. Some of the other symptoms may be a headache, fatigue, and joint pain. It is important to rule out the other two possibilities before one can be diagnosed with Non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Like the other two diagnoses, removing gluten from your diet results in an improvement of symptoms. There is no test to see if you are non-celiac gluten sensitive other than to eliminate gluten from your body and see if your symptoms decrease or go away.
The good news? There are plenty of gluten-free grains available and they all have several nutritional benefits. It should be cautioned that it is best to buy these grains as “Certified Gluten-free,” as many of the companies that package these grains also package wheat, rye, and barley-related products. Even traces of gluten from the dust of those grains can be enough to create a reaction. “Certified Gluten-Free” verifies that the company has made a point to not package gluten ingredients and non-gluten grains from the same machinery so there is no cross-contamination.
Here are 10 gluten free grains that make you healthier:
This is generally used as a cereal grain or can be produced to make a sorghum syrup or even some alcoholic beverages. It contains plant compounds with antioxidants; studies have shown it to have anti-inflammatory properties as well as an ability to reduce blood sugar and insulin. It contains 12 grams of fiber, 22 grams of protein, and almost half of your daily dose of iron in one cup.
This is an amino acid powerhouse – having all 8 amino acids. It also has a high number of antioxidants. In one cup, it contains 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. It also has almost your daily dose of magnesium, manganese, and phosphorous.
Not just for the birds, millet has proven to help decrease blood triglycerides and inflammation and lower blood sugar and glycemic responses. One cup contains 2 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein, and 19% of the daily dose of magnesium.
It may sound like you should avoid this, but it actually does not contain gluten or wheat. Studies have found that it is also high in antioxidants and may lower LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol. There have also been findings of lower risks of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar in those who ate buckwheat regularly. One cup delivers 17 grams of fiber, 23 grams of protein, and over 90% of magnesium, copper, and manganese for your day.
A old and cherished grain, this grain can be traced back to the Inca, Maya, and Aztec civilizations. Studies have shown it to help with inflammation and decreasing blood triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels. One cup contains 5 grams of fiber and 9 grams of protein. It also meets 29% of daily iron needs as well as other minerals.
This is the smallest grain in the world at 1/100th the size of a kernel of wheat. It has 10 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber in just one cup. The protein and fiber make it a great way to help one feel full to reduce cravings, boost metabolism, and improve regularity. It also contains B vitamins. Wow! What a powerhouse!
- Wild Rice:
This grain may be temperamental in how it grows, but it is full of nutritional value and flavor. It is filled with protein, fiber, folate, Vitamin B6, niacin, and other minerals. It has been discovered that it has 30 times greater antioxidant activity than white rice and is effective in lowering cholesterol and other fatty lipids.
- Brown Rice:
This is the healthier version of white rice, as it has retained the bran and germ of the grain that was removed in white rice. High in protein and fiber and shown to decrease the risk of diabetes, weight gain, and heart disease, one cup yields 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein. It also contains magnesium and selenium.
Another grain used generously throughout mankind’s history, corn is also very popular. It is high in antioxidants, lutein, and zeaxanthin – which aids in eye health and decreases cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. 1/2 cup of yellow corn contains 6 grams of fiber, 8 grams of protein, and is also high in magnesium, vitamin B6, thiamin, manganese, and selenium.
Oats already have an excellent reputation, being recognized for lowering LDL and total cholesterol levels. It has also been shown that it may slow the absorption of sugar and lower blood sugar and insulin levels. A 1/4 cup of oats provides 4 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein with B vitamins and minerals thrown in for good measure.
It should be cautioned here that while oat is gluten-free, sometimes some gluten intolerant people may become sensitive to avenin, the protein found in oats. Additionally, it is more likely that oats will be cross-contaminated at packaging plants. So, make sure to only buy “Certified Gluten Free” oats.
As you can see, gluten-free grains not only have a long history of use but contain several health benefits including their levels of protein, fiber, and various vitamins and minerals. Whether you are gluten intolerant or just want to eat healthier, these 10 gluten-free grains will definitely make you healthier in multiple ways!