One potential pitfall of going gluten-free can be to stop getting enough whole grains in your diet. Whole grains play an important part of a balanced diet, and when eaten regularly and in moderation, can be helpful in lowering the risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers due to their disease-fighting phytochemicals, antioxidants and fiber. Once you cut out gluten-filled pasta and bread, it may seem like all hope would be lost for finding other tasty sources of whole grains. But fear not, the grains listed below are all gluten-free and contain way more health benefits than wheat, rye and barley. One of these grains in particular (you guessed it), quinoa, takes the cake for us, but more to come on that below.
Amaranth. Amaranth contains a balanced set of essential amino acids making it an unusually complete protein source among grains. Considering its high protein content, it is categorised as a pseudo-cereal. However, due to its readily digestible starch, it has a high glycemic index. In addition, amaranth is relatively a good source of cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, vitamin A, C and several B vitamins. It contains about four times as much calcium as wheat and twice as much iron and magnesium.
Teff. Teff leads all the grains – by a wide margin – in its calcium content, with a cup of cooked teff offering 123 mg, about the same amount of calcium as in a half-cup of cooked spinach. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin C, a nutrient not commonly found in grains.
Millet. Millet is a grain (some call it a seed as well) that should also be included on your list of heart-healthy choices because of its status as a good source of magnesium and insoluble fiber. Magnesium has been shown in studies to reduce the severity of asthma and to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. Magnesium has also been shown to lower high blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart attack, and aid in blood sugar control.
Buckwheat. Despite its name, buckwheat (also called kasha) is actually a fruit seed that is related to rhubarb and sorrel. Buckwheat’s beneficial effects are due in part to its rich supply of flavonoids, particularly rutin. Flavonoids are phytonutrients that protect against disease by extending the action of vitamin C and acting as antioxidants. Buckwheat’s lipid-lowering activity is largely due to rutin and other flavonoid compounds. Buckwheat is also a good source of magnesium and insoluble fiber.
And last but certainly not least:
Quinoa (pronounced “keenwah”). Considered the “gold of the incas,” quinoa is actually a seed (not a grain) from a vegetable related to Swiss chard, spinach and beets. For ease of reading (and because there are so many!) we thought we’d bullet out some of the health benefits associated with quinoa:
- Quinoa is one of the most protein-rich foods we can eat. It is a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids.
- Quinoa contains almost twice as much fiber as most other grains. Fiber is most widely known to relieve constipation. It also helps to prevent heart disease by reducing high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Quinoa contains Iron. Iron helps keep our red blood cells healthy and is the basis of hemoglobin formation. Iron carries oxygen from one cell to another and supplies oxygen to our muscles and our brain, aiding in muscle contraction and brain function.
- Quinoa contains lysine. Lysine is a protein mainly essential for tissue growth and repair.
- Quinoa is rich in magnesium. As with millet and buckwheat, the magnesium in quinoa helps with blood pressure, blood sugar, energy production, detoxification and a host of other benefits.
- Quinoa is high in Riboflavin (B2). B2 improves energy metabolism within brain and muscle cells and is known to help create proper energy production in cells.
Quinoa has a high content of manganese. Manganese is an antioxidant, which helps to prevent damage of mitochondria during energy production as well as to protect red blood cells and other cells from injury by free radicals.
- Quinoa is being shown to contain anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. The unique combination of anti-inflammatory compounds in quinoa may be the key to understanding preliminary animal studies that show decreased risk of inflammation-related problems (including obesity) when animals are fed quinoa on a daily basis.
- Quinoa is higher in fat content (the good kind) than cereal grasses like wheat. It provides valuable amounts of heart-healthy fats like monounsaturated fat (in the form of oleic acid)
- Quinoa is a complex carbohydrate with low glycemic index. Something that is always helpful for weight management!
- AND best of all, quinoa tastes good and is easy to prepare! I’ve been using it as a substitute for rice in a variety of dishes/culinary experiments – my current experiment involves ground beef and frozen vegetables (carrots, peas, corn), almost like a westernized fried rice!