The health benefits associated with grain consumption are almost always found with whole grain consumption and not for consumption of refined grains.
Whole grains are so nutritious because they contain the fiber-rich outer bran layer, the nutrient-packed germ and the starchy endosperm. For a grain to be considered whole, it must contain all three of these parts. If a grain is rolled, cracked, crushed or cooked, the resulting product still contains these three parts and is therefore still a whole grain. Refined grains contain mostly only the endosperm.
In the past, whole grains were thought to provide mostly fiber to promote digestive and heart health, but newer research has revealed that they provide additional vitamins and minerals, plus high levels of antioxidants and other healthy plant-based nutrients.
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Health Benefits Of Gluten-Free Whole Grains
Whole grain consumption is associated with:
- Decreased systemic inflammation
- Better weight management
- Lower risk of heart disease
- Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
- Lowered mortality
Note: Processing a grain is not the same as refining. Refining a grain removes one or two of the components of the whole grain, and changes its nutritional composition.
Nutrition Content Of Gluten-Free Whole Grains
Each parts of a whole grain contains different nutrients:
The bran contains:
- Antioxidants and phytochemicals
The germ contains:
- Vitamin E
- B vitamins
- Healthy fats
- Antioxidants and phytochemicals
The endosperm contains:
- The starchy carbohydrate component
- A little protein
- A few vitamins
Gluten-free whole grains can also be a good source of selenium, depending on the selenium content of the soil in which the grain is grown.
Importance Of Gluten-Free Whole Grains In A Real Food Diet
Some of the nutrients found in gluten-free whole grains can be challenging to get from other sources, especially when following a vegan diet. Whole grains can be an important staple for ensuring nutrient adequacy.
The iron, zinc and B-vitamins found in whole grains are important reasons to include them in a diet of real foods, especially for those choosing a vegan diet. Absorption of iron from whole grains is boosted by adding vitamin C to the meal containing whole grains. Soaking, sprouting, cooking and fermenting whole grains can help improve zinc absorption.
Many gluten-free whole grains are inexpensive making them a great staple in any diet. Variety is always helpful when planning your meals. Not only does each food contain different nutrients, antioxidants and phytochemicals, it’s also nice to keep meals exciting with different tastes and textures.
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List of Top 5 Gluten-Free Whole Grains
Amaranth is not only gluten-free, but is considered a complete protein because it contains all of the essential amino acids in proportions that humans need. This includes lysine which other grains tend to lack. It contains a higher protein content than most grains at just under 15%. Amaranth contains more than three times the average amount of calcium and is also high in iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. It’s the only grain confirmed to contain Vitamin C.
Amaranth can be popped like miniature popcorn. It is good for use in salads, baking, porridge, soups and is a great substitute for couscous or orzo. You can use amaranth flour to make tasty baked goods such as zucchini bread, carrot cake or banana nut muffins and pancakes.
When cooking, use at least 6 cups of water for every one cup of amaranth. Amaranth cooks in 15-20 minutes and remains slightly crunchy.
Buckwheat contains higher levels of zinc, copper, and manganese than most grains along with providing a good amount of protein, including the amino acid lysine.
Buckwheat works well with crepes, blinis, kasha, pancakes and is the grain of choice for authentic soba noodles (always check ingredients when buying pre-packaged). When soaked and then baked, they add crunch to any dish.
Buckwheat ‘grains’ or seeds, are also known as ‘groats’ and can be simmered until tender. Wash the grains well before use, simmer in boiling water for 5-10 mins and drain well.
Millet is high in antioxidants and magnesium. Research shows that millet is helpful in controlling diabetes and inflammation. Millet is popular in India, China, South America, Russia and the Himalayas and works well in making Indian roti, porridge and gluten-free beer.
Millet has a mild, delicate flavor and is often toasted before cooking and/or mixed with other grains to bring this out. The grain is very small and can be white, gray, yellow or red. It is best to cook millet with about 2 ½ cups of liquid for each cup of millet grain.
Quinoa is a “pseudo-grain” and is related to beets, chard and spinach., Quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids in the proper portions and a high ratio of protein to carbohydrate, since the germ makes up about 60% of the grain. It is an excellent source of magnesium and a good source of iron and folate. Quinoa is also highest of all the whole grains in potassium
Quinoa has a subtle nutty taste. Make sure you rinse it well before cooking because it has a bitter natural coating, called saponin. Most quinoa has had the bitter coating removed, sometimes residue remains.
While not required, toasting quinoa before boiling it in liquid enhances flavor, as does cooking it in vegetable broth. Quinoa can be made in a rice cooker, as well.
Quinoa comes in several colors including beige, red, black purple. It works well for pilafs, soups, porridge, risotto, puddings, salads, side dishes. Mix quinoa with beans or nuts for a tasty side dish, or add to salads and stir-fries.
Teff has the highest calcium content of all grains, with a cup of cooked teff offering 123 mg, about the same amount of calcium as in a half-cup of cooked spinach. Teff is especially rich in thiamin (a B vitamin), and is a good source of fiber, iron and magnesium. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin C, a nutrient not commonly found in grains.
Teff grains are tiny and have a mild nutty flavor. It is the main source of nutrition for many Ethiopians, who use it for their signature fermented injera flatbread. Tell can be used for porridge, baked goods and even cooked into a creamy hot cereal or a tasty polenta. You also can mix teff with raw or cooked vegetables for a side dish.
White or ivory teff has the mildest in flavor, with darker varieties having more of a nutty, earthy taste. Although it turns sour when fermented in injera, the tiny teff grains have a light, sweet flavor.
Gluten-free whole grains can be a staple food for a real food diet, especially when creating a balanced vegan diet. With so many varieties to choose from, it is easy to make whole grains a part of any meal.