Whether you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease, have a gluten-intolerance, or have decided to eat gluten-free for other health reasons, avoiding gluten-containing grains can seem tricky at first. In order to avoid gluten, you’ll have to know just what it is and where it’s found.
Scientifically speaking (thanks to Jessica R Biesiekierski for the Translational Research Center for Gastrointestinal Disorders): Gluten is the main storage protein of wheat grains. Gluten is a complex mixture of hundreds of related but distinct proteins, mainly gliadin and glutenin. Similar storage proteins exist as secalin in rye, hordein in barley, and avenins in oats and are collectively referred to as “gluten.”
If you’re eating gluten-free these are the grains and grain products, you’ll want to avoid:
Looking at the above list, you may be wondering if oats contain gluten and if they are appropriate for someone on a gluten-free diet. While oats do contain avenin, a protein falling under the gluten umbrella, studies have shown than many people with celiac disease can tolerate oats that are specially processed to be gluten-free. These gluten-free oats are increasingly available in stores and used in some gluten-free products.
However, at least 20% of people who have difficulty consuming gluten have some difficulty with oats as well. This is known as avenin-sensitivity. Whether oats are appropriate for your gluten-free diet is a personal decision that you may want to discuss with your doctor. If you do choose to eat oats, make sure you only eat oats that are clearly designated as gluten-free.
Despite there being many grains that contain gluten, the good news is that eating gluten-free doesn’t mean giving up grains! In fact, there are plenty of delicious gluten-free grains out there. Even better, finding these gluten-free grains – and products made with them – is becoming easier and easier.
Some of the most popular gluten-free grains include rice, amaranth, millet, teff, sorghum, corn, and – believe it or not! – buckwheat. In fact, despite its name, buckwheat isn’t related to wheat at all and is totally gluten-free. Buckwheat works well as a flour substitute for baking and can be a fantastic replacement for couscous.
Also, don’t be alarmed if you see “rice gluten” as an ingredient in packaged food. This use of “gluten” refers to the stickiness of rice and is not related to the proteins found in gluten-containing grains. Rice gluten is a perfectly safe and acceptable component of a gluten-free diet.
Commonly available gluten-free grains and cereals include:
When considering the above gluten-free grains, it can be hard at first to know which ones are most suitable for which purposes. As you become more familiar with eating gluten-free you’ll likely discover your own favorites. Here are a few suggestions:
Amaranth, for example, makes a great coating for fried foods because of its slight peppery taste. Meanwhile, millet and puffed rice are fantastic replacements for breakfast cereals. Quinoa can be used in both salads and baking; with the addition of cinnamon and sugar, it also makes a delicious topping for a fruit cobbler. Sorghum, you’ll discover, is often one of the main grains used in gluten-free beers. Teff, common in Ethiopian food, is a wonderful gluten-free grain to use in breads if you are looking to recreate the tanginess of traditional sourdough flavor. Finally, corn and rice will likely be the most common grains you encounter in gluten-free pasta and crackers.
Eating gluten-free can seem challenging at first, but it’s important not to get discouraged. Over time, you’ll discover that a gluten-free diet isn’t about deprivation. For every gluten-containing grain you give up, you’ll find exciting, flavorful substitutions which will please your palate and expand your culinary horizons (pinky promise!). Additionally, as more and more people discover the value of eating gluten-free an increasingly wonderful variety of gluten-free products are showing up on grocery store shelves.
Feeling confused and overwhelmed on ‘what is gluten’?
You’re not alone! I’ve put together a comprehensive list to decipher the mystery and meaning of gluten just for you.