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8 Gluten-Free Grains That Are Super Healthy

Health + Wellness
Buckwheat is a grain-like seed that's unrelated to wheat and gluten-free. Marco Verch / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Rachael Link, MS, RD

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It provides elasticity, allows bread to rise and gives foods a chewy texture.


Although gluten is not a problem for most people, some may not tolerate it well.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that triggers an immune response to gluten. For those with this disease or a gluten intolerance, eating gluten can cause symptoms like bloating, diarrhea and stomach pain.

Many of the most commonly consumed grains contain gluten. However, there are plenty of nutritious gluten-free grains available, too.

Here are 9 gluten-free grains that are super healthy.

1. Sorghum

Sorghum is typically cultivated as both a cereal grain and animal feed. It's also used to produce sorghum syrup, a type of sweetener, as well as some alcoholic beverages.

This gluten-free grain contains beneficial plant compounds that act as antioxidants to reduce oxidative stress and lower your risk of chronic disease.

Additionally, sorghum is rich in fiber and can help slow the absorption of sugar to keep your blood sugar levels steady.

One study compared blood sugar and insulin levels in 10 people after eating a muffin made with either sorghum or whole-wheat flour. The sorghum muffin led to a greater reduction in both blood sugar and insulin than the whole-wheat muffin.

A 2010 test-tube and animal study suggests that black sorghum bran possesses significant anti-inflammatory properties due to its high content of these plant compounds.

One cup (192 grams) of sorghum contains 13 grams of fiber, 20 grams of protein and 19 percent of the daily value for iron.

Sorghum has a mild flavor and can be ground into flour for baking gluten-free goods. It can also replace barley in recipes like mushroom-barley soup.

Summary

Several studies have shown that sorghum is high in plant compounds and may help reduce inflammation and blood sugar levels.

2. Quinoa

Quinoa has quickly become one of the most popular gluten-free grains. It's incredibly versatile and a good source of fiber and plant-based protein.

It's also one of the healthiest grains, boasting a high amount of antioxidants that may help reduce your risk of disease.

Additionally, quinoa is a good source of protein and one of the few plant foods considered a complete protein source.

While most plant foods are lacking in one or two of the essential amino acids required by your body, quinoa contains all eight. This makes it an excellent plant-based source of protein.

One cup (185 grams) of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. It's also packed with micronutrients and fulfills much of your daily magnesium, manganese and phosphorus requirements.

Quinoa is the perfect ingredient to make gluten-free crusts and casseroles. Quinoa flour can also be used to make pancakes, tortillas, or quick bread.

Summary

Quinoa contains a good amount of antioxidants. It's also one of the few plant foods containing all the essential amino acids.

3. Oats

Oats are very healthy. They also stand out as one of the best sources of oat beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber with advantages for your health.

A review of 28 studies found that beta-glucan decreased both LDL (bad) and total cholesterol without affecting HDL (good) cholesterol.

Other studies have shown that beta-glucan may slow the absorption of sugar and lower blood sugar and insulin levels.

One cup (81 grams) of dry oats provides 8 grams of fiber and 11 grams of protein. It is also high in magnesium, zinc, selenium and thiamine (vitamin B1).

Although oats are naturally gluten-free, many brands of oats may contain trace amounts of gluten. Oat products may become contaminated with gluten when they are harvested and processed.

If you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, be sure to look for oats labeled as certified gluten-free.

Keep in mind that a small proportion of people with celiac disease may be sensitive to avenin, a protein found in oats. However, oats that are gluten-free should be fine for the majority of gluten-intolerant people.

A hot bowl of oatmeal is the most popular way to enjoy oats, but you can also add oats to pancakes, granola bars, or parfaits for extra fiber and nutrients.

Summary

Oats contain beta-glucan, which may decrease blood cholesterol and help regulate blood sugar levels.

4. Buckwheat

Despite its name, buckwheat is a grain-like seed that's unrelated to wheat and gluten-free.

It provides plenty of antioxidants, including high amounts of two specific types — rutin and quercetin.

Some animal studies have suggested that rutin may help improve symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Meanwhile, quercetin has been shown to lower inflammation and oxidative stress.

Eating buckwheat may also help reduce some risk factors for heart disease.

In one study, buckwheat intake was associated with lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, as well as a higher ratio of HDL (good) to total cholesterol.

Another study observed similar findings, showing that those who ate buckwheat had a lower risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar.

One cup (168 grams) of cooked buckwheat groats delivers 5 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein and is a rich source of magnesium, copper and manganese.

Try soba noodles made from buckwheat as a gluten-free swap for traditional pasta. Alternatively, use buckwheat to add a bit of crunch to soups, salads, or even veggie burgers.

Summary

Buckwheat is rich in antioxidants and has been associated with reductions in heart disease risk factors, such as blood cholesterol levels.

5. Amaranth

Amaranth has a rich history as one of the staple foods for the Inca, Maya and Aztec civilizations. Moreover, it is a highly nutritious grain with some impressive health benefits).

A 2014 test-tube study suggests that the compounds in amaranth block inflammation by preventing the activation of a pathway that triggers inflammation.

Thanks to its high fiber content, amaranth may also decrease several heart disease risk factors.

In fact, one animal study found that amaranth seeds decreased both blood triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.

One cup (246 grams) of cooked amaranth contains 5 grams of fiber and 9 grams of protein. It also meets 29 percent of your daily iron needs and contains a good amount of magnesium, phosphorus and manganese.

You can use amaranth as a substitute for other grains, such as rice or couscous. Amaranth that has been cooked and then chilled can also be used in place of cornstarch as a thickening agent for soups, jellies, or sauces.

Summary

Some studies show that amaranth may reduce inflammation and several risk factors for heart disease.

6. Teff

As one of the smallest grains in the world, teff is a tiny but powerful grain.

Despite being just 1/100 the size of a kernel of wheat, teff packs a nutritional punch.

Teff is high in protein, which can help promote satiety, reduce cravings and boost metabolism.

It also fulfills a good portion of your daily fiber needs. Fiber is an important part of the diet and is associated with weight loss, reduced appetite and improved regularity.

One cup (252 grams) of cooked teff contains 10 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber. It also provides plenty of B vitamins, especially thiamine.

For gluten-free baking, try substituting teff in part or in whole for wheat flour. Teff can also be mixed into chili, made into porridge, or used as a natural way to thicken dishes.

Summary

Teff is one of the smallest grains in the world but high in fiber and protein. Both of these nutrients are essential to your health and come with many benefits.

7. Corn

Corn, or maize, is among the most popular gluten-free cereal grains consumed around the world.

In addition to being high in fiber, corn is a rich source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are plant pigments that act as antioxidants.

Studies show that lutein and zeaxanthin can benefit eye health by decreasing the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, two common causes of vision loss in older adults.

One study found that those with a high intake of carotenoids had a 43 percent lower risk of age-related macular degeneration compared with those with a low intake.

One cup (149 grams) of sweet corn contains 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein. It's also high in pantothenic acid and a good source of vitamin B6, thiamine and manganese.

Corn can be boiled, grilled, or roasted for a healthy side dish to a well-balanced meal. Enjoy it right off the cob or add it to a salad, soup, or casserole.

Summary

Corn is high in fiber and a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that are associated with a decreased risk of eye disease.

8. Brown Rice

Although brown and white rice come from the same grain, white rice has had the bran and germ of the grain removed during processing.

Thus, brown rice has more fiber and a higher amount of many micronutrients, making it one of the healthiest gluten-free grains around.

Both varieties of rice are gluten-free, but studies show that replacing white rice with brown rice comes with added health benefits.

In fact, choosing brown rice in place of white rice can lead to decreased risks of diabetes, weight gain and heart disease.

One cup (202 grams) of cooked brown rice contains 3 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. It also provides a good portion of your magnesium and selenium needs for the day.

Brown rice makes a delicious side dish on its own or can be combined with vegetables and a lean source of protein to create a filling meal.

Summary

Brown rice is high in fiber and associated with decreased risks of diabetes, weight gain and heart disease when used in place of white rice.

The Bottom Line

When you have celiac disease or a sensitivity to gluten, following a gluten-free diet can be challenging.

However, there are plenty of gluten-free options available to replace wheat.

From providing antioxidants to reducing your risk of disease, these nutritious gluten-free grains can significantly benefit your health.

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