With most grains and flours out of the question, how do you eat your favorite foods and cook your favorite gluten free recipes?
It’s not easy, but ancient grains are your answer.
Why are they called ancient grains?
They all have histories that span far back, but they’re all pretty new to modern European and American culture. Not only are they new and novel, they’re nutritious. And in most cases, they can effectively replace your traditional grains.
One gluten free brand that’s leading us into the new generation of nutritious and delicious gluten free foods is Cocomama Foods, creator of an innovative line of quinoa-based cereals and soon other ancient grain-based products. “When I was diagnosed with food allergies, I was confused why gluten free and natural brands thought delicious and nutritious were mutually exclusive. It didn’t make much sense to me,” says Sara Gragnolati, Founder and CEO of Cocomama.
She adds, “The explosive growth of the gluten free sector has helped to bring ancient grains to the forefront of the food industry. These grains provide versatility and nutrition.”
Most of the following ancient grains are available in different colors, flavors, and varieties. My purpose here, however, isn’t to tell you what they taste like or which varieties are best.
I’m writing to you, dear gluten free reader, to hammer home the point that you should use them – period. Unfortunately, most of you aren’t yet.
Now with increasing availability, more recipes, and more varieties, it’s not the back-breaking effort it used to be. Let’s have a look.
- Quinoa – Most people have heard of quinoa (keen-wah). This one is getting really nice recognition over the past few years. The funny thing is, it isn’t really a grain. However, when the Incas introduced it as a staple of religious ceremonies (and their diet) thousands of years ago, they called it the “mother grain” – but it’s actually a seed related to the spinach and chard family of leafy greens.Quinoa is one of the rare plant-based foods that contains all essential amino acids – in other words, it’s a complete protein. Protein is one of the core parts of the gluten free diet that can be difficult to absorb. And for vegans and vegetarians, it’s especially great news since complete proteins that aren’t meat are few and far between.Quinoa is, of course, naturally gluten free and does the work of antioxidants in that it protects the energy centers of your cells from free radical damage. Quinoa is also a good source of iron, copper, magnesium, fiber, and B vitamins. Magnesium is a core bone-building nutrient, and B vitamins are important in almost all functions of the body and mind. That said, quinoa can be quite helpful.
- Amaranth – Most Amaranth originated in South America and Mexico, and it was used by the pre-Columbian Aztecs in religious ceremonies and was thought to have supernatural powers. In Mexico, Nepal, and Africa its nutritional value has been long known. It’s been used for centuries by these cultures, but it’s just in recent years making its way into Europe and North America.
Amaranth is a terrific source of fat-soluble vitamins A, C, and K, which are all difficult to absorb. When fat’s not absorbed, these core fat-soluble vitamins aren’t absorbed either. Not to mention Amaranth is rich in B vitamins. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, Amaranth is rich in folic acid, which most gluten free dieters are deficient in. It’s also high in fiber, low in cholesterol, and has up to 30% more protein than traditional grains.
One interesting thing about Amaranth is that it’s high in calcium, yet that calcium goes unabsorbed. This is important. Amaranth is high in something called oxalic acid, which causes some minerals like calcium and zinc to go unabsorbed. For that reason, it should be eaten in moderation. Same thing as spinach. Spinach is also high in calcium and extremely good for you. But since it’s high in oxalic acid, it interferes with the absorption of calcium.
- Teff – Native to Ethiopia, where it’s used in more than 25% of cereal production, Teff made its way to Australia and the central United States when it started to be cultivated in the 20th century. But it’s known to have been eaten in Ethiopia as early as 4000 BC!Teff is available in health food stores in the United States in flour and grain forms, and it’s higher in protein content than wheat. A cup of teff has 40% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of calcium, and has twice as much iron as both wheat and barley. Like quinoa, it’s a complete protein, which makes it a very attractive alternative to traditional grains even for those not following a gluten-free diet.
- Flax – Flax has gained a lot of traction recently for its tremendous concentration of omega 3 fatty acids, but it’s been around since 9000 BC in Egypt! There, doctors used to tote it from place to place to treat patients.Flax fights inflammation, which is great news for people with celiac disease. Getting adequate fat in your diet, especially the good kind of fat (omega 3’s), is key to absorbing fat-soluble vitamins D, A, C, and K. Since omega 3 fatty acids are so hard to get in your regular diet, I suggest a nutritious gluten-free breakfast to make sure you start your day right.It’s also high in both soluble and insoluble fiber. One ounce is approximately worth a third of your fiber RDA. As Max mentions regarding digestive health, you must drink water to absorb your soluble fiber, so you actually digest it properly. If you don’t, it can actually cause constipation rather than softening your stool to properly pass through your colon.
- Chia – With the soaring popularity of flax seed and flax-based products, chia seed may be its new competition. Chia oil is 30% omega 3 oil and 40% of omega 6 oil. What’s the big deal? Americans are recommended between a 1:1 and 4:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids, but most Americans get about a 15:1 ratio (very bad). A serving of chia per day can help improve your ratio. The unquestioned health benefits of a strong ratio support fish oil supplementation.Chia also provides antioxidant activity, which helps to fight free radicals that cause inflammation and cell damage. It’s also high in fiber, which can be very beneficial for people on a gluten-free diet.
These ancient grains have survived for centuries for a reason.
With the ancient grains, you have complete proteins, fiber, and folic acid at your fingertips again.
Remember: just because it’s newer, doesn’t mean it’s better.
Make these a staple of your diet and especially gluten free cooking and gluten free baking, and you’ll be better off in the long-term.