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Gluten-Free Whole Grains: Delicious and Healthy

It’s becoming increasingly clear that consuming more whole grains is an important way to improve health. In fact, a paper published in the British Medical Journal in 2016 that reviewed 45 research studies found that consuming whole grains is associated with reduced risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, infectious diseases, and diabetes.1 The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage making at least half of your grain choices – bread, cereal, pasta, crackers, tortillas, etc. – whole grains as an important source of nutrients, such as dietary fiber, iron, zinc, manganese, folate, magnesium, copper, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, selenium, riboflavin, and vitamin A that are important to promote health.2

What are whole grains?
Whole grains contain the entire grain, including the endosperm, germ and bran while refined grains remove the outer bran layer and germ during milling. Because whole grains include all three components of the grain, they’re a good source of fiber, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, zinc, vitamin E and antioxidants necessary for good health.1

Gluten intolerance and whole grains
Approximately 1% of the population has celiac sprue, an autoimmune disorder, and cannot digest gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. There is also a growing number of people who either are sensitive to gluten without having celiac sprue, or who choose to avoid gluten for other reasons.3 While it’s becoming easier to find gluten-free bread, cereals, crackers and pastas it’s also important to choose gluten-free whole grains to enjoy the healthy benefits of these foods.


Include these five gluten-free whole grains in your weekly meal plans to gain the benefits of a variety of flavors and textures while consuming foods that promote health.

The Aztecs enjoyed amaranth as one of their major foods beginning 6000-8000 years ago. Amaranth is high in iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium to improve blood pressure and build strong bones and teeth. Amaranth has a mild, nutty taste that adapts to both savory and sweet flavorings and maintains a pleasant crunchy texture when cooked. To cook amaranth, use 3 cups of water for every cup of dry amaranth, and simmer in a covered pot for 15-20 minutes until most of the water is absorbed and it has a creamy, pudding-like consistency. Or spread the cooked amaranth to dry on a flat surface, then sprinkle on salads or stir into soups.4

Buckwheat, also known as kasha when toasted, was first used as a cereal crop around 4000 BC in the Balkan region of Europe. It’s a good source of zinc, copper and potassium that regulate blood pressure. Buckwheat is high in soluble fiber and resistant starch that help to keep blood sugar levels stable and promote a healthy digestive tract. To prepare buckwheat, first toast 1 cup buckwheat groats in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, stirring constantly for 4-5 minutes until they become a shade darker. Pour 2 cups boiling water over the toasted buckwheat, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the water is absorbed.5 Use buckwheat instead of oatmeal for a breakfast cereal, or use in soups or side dishes in place of rice or pasta.

While often found in birdseed, millet is also an important food for humans, and is thought to pre-date rice in Asia and China over 10,000 years ago.6 Millet is a good source of fiber that helps to slow digestion which improves blood sugar management, digestive health, and lowers cholesterol levels. Millet also contains polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that helps protect against chronic disease such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.7 Cook 1 cup of dry millet in 2.5 cups of liquid, using the cooked grain in pilaf or as a breakfast cereal. Millet can also be added to soups, and can even be popped like corn to eat as a snack.6

Quinoa, pronounced ‘keen-wah’, is related to beets, chard and spinach and both the leaves and the grains can be eaten. Quinoa was sacred to the Incas, and was grown throughout South America starting 5000-7000 years ago.8 It’s high in potassium, iron, and antioxidants to promote overall good health.9 To prepare, first rinse the dry grains under cool running water to remove a bitter outside coating. Simmer 1 cup quinoa in 2 cups of water for 15-20 minutes until the water is absorbed. Use cooked quinoa in place of rice in a pilaf or casserole, or mix cooked and cooled quinoa into vegetable salads.8

Teff is native to Ethiopia, where the name ‘teff’ means “lost” because the teff seed is so tiny. Teff is higher than any other grain in calcium, with 123 mg per cup of cooked teff, about the same as 3 ounces of milk. Teff also contains resistant starch that helps promote blood sugar management and a healthy digestive tract. Simmer 1 cup teff in 3 cups of water for about 20 minutes to prepare a creamy breakfast cereal, or cook a bit longer until it’s fluffy and use as a side dish.6


Use these 4 tips to incorporate these gluten-free whole grains into your meals, even if you don’t need to eat gluten-free.

  1. Replace 1/4 to 1/3 of the rice in your favorite pilaf recipes or casseroles with quinoa. Use brown rice, another naturally gluten-free whole grain for additional nutrients and flavor.
  2. Enjoy buckwheat, millet or teff for a hot breakfast cereal instead of oatmeal. While oats are naturally gluten-free, many oat products come into contact with wheat during processing. Be sure to look for oat products with a gluten-free label if you need to avoid gluten.
  3. Add amaranth to soups or stews for a creamy texture.
  4. Replace up to one-third of the flour in recipes for pancakes, cookies and breads with amaranth, millet or buckwheat flour.

Gluten-free whole grains nutrients in ½ cup cooked portions10

Grain Calories Protein Carbohydrates Fat Fiber
Amaranth 125 5gm 23gm 2gm 3gm
Buckwheat 155 6gm 33gm 1gm 4gm
Millet 104 3gm 21gm 1gm 1gm
Quinoa 111 4gm 20gm 1gm 2gm
Teff 127 5gm 25gm 1gm 4gm



  1. Aune D, Keum N, Giovannucci E, et al. Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. The BMJ. 2016;353:i2716. doi:10.1136/bmj.i2716.
  2. Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020. Chapter 1: Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/a-closer-look-inside-healthy-eating-patterns/  Accessed 8-20-17
  3. Lebwohl B, Ludvigsson JF, Green PHR. Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The BMJ. 2015;351:h4347. doi:10.1136/bmj.h4347.
  4. Oldways Whole Grain Council. Amaranth:  May Grain of the Month. https://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/easy-ways-enjoy-whole-grains/grain-month-calendar/amaranth-may-grain-month Accessed 8-20-17
  5. Oldways Whole Grain Council. Buckwheat: December Grain of the Month. https://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/easy-ways-enjoy-whole-grains/grain-month-calendar/buckwheat-december-grain-month  Accessed 8-20-17
  6. Oldways Whole Grain Council. Millet and Teff:  November Grains of the Month.  https://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/grain-month-calendar/millet-and-teff-%E2%80%93-november-grains-month Accessed 8-21-17
  7. Devi PB, Vijayabharathi R, Sathyabama S, Malleshi NG, Priyadarisini VB. Health benefits of finger millet (Eleusine coracana L.) polyphenols and dietary fiber: a review. Journal of Food Science and Technology. 2014;51(6):1021-1040. doi:10.1007/s13197-011-0584-9.
  8. Oldways Whole Grain Council. Quinoa:  March Grain of the Month. https://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/grain-month-calendar/quinoa-%E2%80%93-march-grain-month  Accessed 8-21-17
  9. U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedLine Plus. Healthy Food Trends:  Quinoa. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000731.htm Reviewed 4-24-16. Accessed 8-22-17 
  10. United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service. USDA Food Composition Databases.  https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb Accessed 8-28-17