7 Best Gluten Free Grains

7 Best Gluten Free Grains

Not a day goes by where we aren’t asked about gluten. 

“Is it good for me?” 

“Should I remove gluten from my diet?”

“Is there such a thing as gluten free grains?”

“Could gluten be causing my fatigue, leaky gut, headaches, and joint pain?”

And of course, our favorite, “ What the &%*# is gluten anyway?!

While some of you sit there rolling your eyes at the new gluten free “fad” going around, there are even more of you secretly tap dancing in your kitchen, knowing that you feel significantly better after its removal. 

As a result, today we are going to review everything you need to know about gluten free grains including questions like, “Is there a gluten free grains list I can use?” and, “Does quinoa have gluten?”

First, let’s start with a little basic knowledge regarding gluten.

What the &*^% is Gluten?

Gluten is a mixture of two proteins (prolamins and glutelins) that act as the “glue” in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten is responsible for that nice soft and chewy texture when you bite into a sandwich or donut. 

We once thought the removal of gluten was only advantageous to those with Celiac Disease and now as more and more research emerges, we realize the benefits reach more than just this select population. 

For those who study the work of Dr. Alessio Fasano, you’ve heard him compare gluten to bacteria in the sense that it is all around us and it stresses our immune system, and that completely avoiding it is nearly unavoidable. So, what happens?

It wreaks havoc on all of us.

However, the way in which it affects us falls on a continuum. Just like bacteria, some of us have killer immune systems that fight bacteria so well that we are rarely ever sick. Others seem to catch every cold and flu imaginable, often seeing it transform into something more serious such as pneumonia.

While you may experience nothing but a few farts and mild bloat or even a twinge of fatigue after eating gluten, your best friend may wind up with headaches and eventually an autoimmune condition as a result of regular, repeated consumption. 

Is gluten alone the likely culprit for serious ailments such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or Multiple Sclerosis? No, but some researchers believe it plays a large role, similar to the straw that breaks the camel’s back after the camel has been stressed, ate junk, and lived in a toxic environment for some time.

If you are wondering which foods contain gluten, or you’d like to know more about why so many people feel better on a gluten free diet, check out our post that discusses why you may feel btter on a gluten free diet.  

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, gluten free diets can be advantageous for many, but ONLY if you are following a whole food approach. This means, you are not living off packaged gluten-free crackers, breads, pastas and desserts, but instead, focusing on tons of colorful fruits and veggies, nuts/seeds/oils, legumes, lean protein, and whole grains that do not contain gluten. 

It is a common misconception that all grains contain gluten so today, we are going to conduct a thorough review of gluten free grains and provide a handy gluten free grains list.

Gluten Free Grains List

Great news for all my gluten-free peeps! (And those who just want to remove 98% if from their die to reduce stress to the gut and immune system but may still have it on select occasions. We’ll use the term that Michael coined, “gluten light”. That’s how he views himself!) There is an abundance of delicious, perfectly textured gluten free grains out there, just waiting for you to sink your teeth into them.

We realize we would be doing you a disservice if we did not review the most nutrient-dense, gluten free grains, make a clean and printable gluten free grains list, and then touch upon the best ways to incorporate them into your eating regimen. So, let’s get rolling!

1. Millet

millet field

Have you ever wondered how birds keep their lightweight frame while maintaining the strength to fly? The answer is millet.

We’re only half kidding, but millet is actually a common ingredient in birdseed. 

A major staple in African, Chinese, Indian and Ethiopian diets, millet is most famous for its ability to regulate blood sugar.[1,2] Millet’s sweet and nutty, yet mild flavor is the perfect addition to flavorful dishes.

One cup of cooked millet offers almost 20% of your daily requirement for magnesium, thus making it a great choice for recovery. When measuring cup for cup, millet is also significantly lower in carbohydrates compared to other foods such as rice and pasta, thus making it perfect for the individual who wants to feel full without packing on the pounds. 

Best ways to enjoy millet: Cook and fluff with a fork for the base of your taco bowl instead of rice. You can also make a mean breakfast porridge out of millet and replace millet for cornmeal when making polenta. Many of our plant-based clients enjoy using millet as the base of their homemade veggie burgers.

2. Rice

Uncooked purple rice also known as riceberry

Rice, rice-baby, dun dun dun dada dun!

We’re not actually sure if Vanilla Ice enjoyed rice, but we’d like to think that he did.

Organic rice is one of our favorite gluten free grains. It tastes great, it is affordable, and you can find it at any grocery store on the planet. 

There is so much debate regarding rice. Brown vs.white? Loaded with arsenic??! At the end of the day, rice is a great option, but here is what we would suggest:

  1. Be sure to choose organic rice, no matter the color. This will decrease your risk of exposure to chemicals/pesticides and heavy metals such as arsenic. 
  2. Do not consume rice day in and day out, but instead rotate it with other grains and starchy veggies. Why? There is no possible way to completely control the soil in which your rice was grown. However, by rotating what you eat each day, you naturally decrease your risk of chemical exposure if the rice you are purchasing did, in fact, come from contaminated land. 
  3. Eat a rainbow of rice. The more colorful the rice you eat, the more nutrient-dense your plate will become. Most of our athletes had no idea red rice, purple rice, and black rice existed until they came to see our dietitians!!

Best ways to enjoy rice: As the bed of your taco salad, as risotto cakes with meat and veggies for a uniquely balanced meal, and our favorite, rice croutons in soup!

Pro Tip: Use your Instapot when cooking rice. Not only does it save you an incredible amount of time, but it ensures that you end up with your desired texture. 

3. Teff

Ivory Teff on a wooden spoon on top of brown Teff, a gluten free grain.

Hands down, teff is the most nutrient dense, gluten free grain when it comes to athletic performance. Teff is chock full of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals.[3] And, it contains more calcium per cup than any other grain![4]

For those who are not familiar with this mild-flavored seed, it is an ancient seed from Ethiopia and Eritrea. (Yes, it is technically a seed but most commonly referred to and used as a grain.) A seed of teff is tiny, comparable in size to a poppy seed and contains resistant starch. Resistant starch is a form of starch that acts like slow-digesting fiber in the body, thus helping to improve satiety and blood sugar. 

Many of our athletes in small towns have reported that they cannot find teff in their local grocery store. So, here is the actual grain for porridge or soup, and here is teff flour for cooking and baking.

Bless you Amazon!

Best ways to enjoy teff: Add as a thickener to your soup, stew, porridge etc., replace teff flour with wheat flour cup for cup when baking, 

Posts related to our post 7 Best Gluten Free Grains:

4. Amaranth

bowl of uncooked amaranth

Although not as common of a grain, amaranth deserves more recognition as it is an excellent source of protein, fiber, magnesium, and iron. 

Amaranth is native to the Aztec, Maya and Inca civilizations and has been shown to fight inflammation at the cellular level. One studied proved that amaranth hydrolysates inhibited lipopolysaccharide (LPS) induced inflammation in human and mouse cells.[5]

Best ways to enjoy amaranth: Enjoy as a sweet or savory breakfast porridge instead of oatmeal (although, its texture is more similar to grits). When cooked and chilled, it can be used in replace of cornstarch when you wish to thicken a dish. Amaranth flour can be used for pancakes and also for breading fish or chicken. Lastly, amaranth “risotto” is a delicious and more nutritious alternative to rice!

5. Buckwheat

cooked buckwheat on a plate

Say hello to one of the most nutrient-packed “grains” on the planet! (Buckwheat is technically a seed.)

Don’t let the name throw you for a loop. Buckwheat does not contain any wheat, or gluten for that matter!

Buckwheat is a rich source of fiber and minerals such as copper, manganese, and magnesium. Let’s also not forget to mention buckwheat’s rich antioxidant content, therefore making it a major fighter of disease.[6] 

If there is one thing we want every active individual to understand, it is this: higher antioxidant content = faster post-workout recovery. 

Regular consumption of buckwheat has also been linked to lower blood sugar, lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol.[7]

Best ways to enjoy buckwheat: Soba noodles made from buckwheat are our absolute favorite ways to enjoy this seed-like grain. Buckwheat (flour) pancakes are also fantastic and it provides a nice chewy texture in soups and stews. 

6. Sorghum

close up of uncooked sorghum, a gluten free grain

Say hello to another little secret gem- sorghum! This iron-packed grain boasts 20g of protein and 13g fiber in a one-cup serving. Sorghum is also one of the few grains that contains such powerful, anti-inflammatory plant compounds to help speed recovery.[8]

Sorghum has also been shown to improve blood glucose and insulin levels after consumption, especially when compared to wheat flour.[9]

Sorghum has a mild, nutty flavor and can be cooked just like rice or quinoa.

Best ways to enjoy sorghum: BYO bowl! Whether you love Mexican, Mediterranean or Chinese, sorghum can be used as the base of any power bowl. Popped sorghum can be used as a nice crunchy topper for soups and salads and sorghum flour is excellent for baking. 

7. Oats

gluten free oats

Last but not least, we have oats. While oats are naturally gluten free, cross-contamination with wheat is incredibly common during its harvest and manufacturing process. Therefore, those who have Celiac Disease or a known sensitivity to gluten should only purchase oats labeled as gluten free. 

Oats are most known for being a rich source of beta-glucan. Beta-glucan is a powerful soluble fiber, famous for its ability to lower our cholesterol, stabilize our blood sugar, and grow the good bugs in our gut.[10,11,12]

Oats are also a great source of vitamins and minerals such as phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, copper, iron, folate and zinc. Most importantly, oats contain avenanthramides, a family of antioxidants known for their ability to reverse oxidative damage and prevent itching![13]

(No wonder they gave us oatmeal baths with chickenpox!)

Best ways to enjoy oats:  A nice bowl of oatmeal or overnight oats is the obvious answer, so let’s get a little more creative. (In case you haven’t tried this delicious and simple morning treat, check out our post Tasty Basic Overnight Oats Recipe (and Overnight Steel Cut Oats Recipe!)) Blending oats into a morning smoothie is a great way to add texture and additional carbohydrates for energy. You can also use oats as the base for homemade granola and for your french toast!

Wait, What About Corn? 

And last but not least, while corn is technically a gluten free grain, it is also one of the most chemically sprayed and genetically modified foods on the planet. Therefore we recommend consuming it only in moderation. 

One more thing….

We think it’s also important to note that research has shown that corn actually has molecular mimicry to gluten. In other words, those who have a strong immune response to gluten may also have that same response to corn as the body often mistakes one for the other. This is why sometimes you see someone go on a gluten free diet after finding out they have a sensitivity or allergy, and they still feel terrible. A TON of processed gluten free products are loaded with corn. 

Does Quinoa Have Gluten?

Quinoa has been such a hot food item over the past few years, it deserves its own section.

First things first, while quinoa is considered to be a pseudo-cereal, it is the seeds that we eat.  Similar to buckwheat, quinoa looks and feels more like a grain and we cook with it like it is a grain, though it is truly a seed.

But does quinoa have gluten?

NO, quinoa does not have gluten. And, it is one of the most protein-dense “grains” around, thus making it perfect for athletes. Quinoa is such a versatile and readily available food, that it would be worth your time to try incorporating it into your weekly eating regimen. 

Quinoa is touted for its high fiber, abundant vitamin/mineral and antioxidant content.[14] In fact, one study showed that quinoa had the highest antioxidant content of out of 10 different grains, psuedo-grains and similar foods such as legumes.[15]

However, this little seed is most recognized for its amino acid profile. There are 9 essential amino acids, otherwise known as proteins that your body cannot make alone and therefore must be consumed via food. Quinoa contains all 9 essential amino acids, making it an awesome source of protein and a perfect item to rotate at breakfast time when you are sick of eggs or smoothies.

Best ways to use quinoa: As the base of a sweet or savory breakfast bowl (instead of oats), in place of rice for dishes like casseroles and stuffed peppers, and as the base of a homemade veggie burger. 

Gluten Free Grains = The Real MVP

Whether you are gluten free or you are crushing gluten by the pound at each meal, incorporating more of the gluten free grains mentioned in this article will undoubtedly help you to increase your energy level, antioxidant consumption, and daily nutrient profile. 

At the end of the day, a better gut microbiome, lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar, and higher antioxidant activity is what each of us should be working towards. This is the epitome of human health and it is within your reach!

Oh, one last thing! Are you interested in a printable gluten free grains list PDF that summarizes everything in one easy list? Check out our 7 Best Gluten Free Grains List PDF, pictured below, for a convenient resource to save or print for your refrigerator.

Printable download gluten free grains list pdf

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28361824
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27729921
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31212866
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4571201/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24431078
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27046048
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17645626
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20673059
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20673059
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8033532
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25411276
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26511097
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18461339
  14. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814609011662
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19735168

About The Author

Kylene Bogden

Kylene Bogden is one of the most well respected Functional Sports Dietitians in the United States. As a high school and collegiate sprinter, she experienced recurrent injury and fatigue. After years of constant struggle, she eventually learned that an abundance of processed foods and poor fueling strategies were the root of her performance issues. Kylene's personal journey as an athlete fueled her passion for finding a more progressive approach to sports nutrition. Since then, she has helped thousands of individuals dramatically improve overall health and athletic performance by taking a whole food approach. To learn more about Kylene's story and how a functional nutrition approach can help you to achieve your goals, simply click on the contact us link in the upper right-hand corner today!

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