For those that have celiac disease, a type of autoimmune disease that is marked by an inability to digest the protein gluten, life can seem hard when you first give up favorite foods like bread, pasta, and crackers that are made of wheat, barley, and rye, (the three most prominent grain sources). The processed food industry has given us limitless options in terms of gluten-free snacks and other replacement products, but most of us know by now that these foods aren’t the healthiest option because they’re not only processed, but most have little nutrition and are made of refined gluten-free flours. So, approximately eight years ago, when quinoa first became popular as a grain replacement, gluten-free eaters everywhere rejoiced and have been loving it since. Even those that don’t have celiac disease and still consume gluten, have come to love all the ways quinoa can be included in a healthy diet. Though it’s referred to as a whole grain, quinoa is actually a seed known as a pseudo-grain, as are many of the other popular grain-like seeds available today.
Pseudograins act like a grain in cooking and are similar to grains in nutritional content, providing iron, potassium, magnesium, fiber, and protein, but are actually seeds at heart and don’t come from a grass like wheat, barley, and rye. Quinoa is one of the most well-known pseudo-grains because it’s an easy-to-use complete source of protein in a plant-based diet. But no matter how great quinoa is, let’s be honest- sometimes you can get a little sick of it. Or maybe, you just don’t like it at all. Whatever the case, no need to worry. It’s not your only option when it comes to making delicious grain-style meals that have protein, iron, fiber, and quality vitamins and minerals.
So for the sake of spicing it up a bit, try out these other options:
Another pseudo-grain that’s becoming increasingly popular for its nutritional benefits is teff. It’s actually the tiniest pseudo grain to exist, so small in fact, that it is almost the size of a speck of coarsely ground black pepper. Don’t let its size fool you though – this tiny African seed is packed with nutrition! Providing iron, calcium, magnesium, protein (a complete source at that!), B vitamins, zinc, and potassium, teff is one food everyone should consider adding to their diets if they’re looking to get in a large amount of nutrition in one serving. It has a mild, nutty flavor and will cook up just like other grains in pilafs, on top of salads, in porridge, and you can even bake with it if you like.
Millet is the only grain with an alkaline-forming property, which means it counteracts acidity directly in the body to lower inflammation. Millet is almost as tiny as teff, but not quite. It is slightly sweeter in flavor, with earthy, nutty undertones. Millet is not as high in protein as quinoa or teff, but has a very high calcium content, a decent amount of fiber, and is very easy to digest. It can be cooked just like oatmeal as a breakfast option, eaten as a savory side at dinner, or you can grind it to make flour and bake with it.
Amaranth is another psuedo-grain becoming more and more popular with each passing year. It’s a great source of calcium in a plant-based diet and high in another important bone-building mineral: magnesium. Amaranth is also very small in size, but is a mighty source of iron and complete protein, despite its tiny nature. It has a mild, nutty texture and is often dry-toasted before eating as a porridge. It cooks up rather quickly, so it’s easy to whip up as a side for dinner, or for a nutty, flavorful breakfast. Try it out in these homemade veggie burgers!
4. Wild Rice
Wild rice is a wonderful source of nutrition and flavor. It’s higher in antioxidants than brown rice and is actually a grass, not a grain. Minnesota grown wild rice is one of the most popular types of wild rice since this is where the crop originates from. Wild rice is high in magnesium, iron, potassium, and zinc. It’s also twice as high in protein as brown rice, and contains an array of amino acids. With a nutty, sweet flavor, wild rice can be enjoyed as a breakfast cereal in place of quinoa, as a side dish, in soup, and you can also stuff veggies like sweet potatoes and winter squash with it. Just like regular rice, you can buy it in quick-cook form so it’s ready to go in just minutes!
Buckwheat is also a high protein, grain-like seed. It’s a great source of iron, zinc, selenium, magnesium, and fiber. It also tastes slightly nutty and sweet, making it a tasty choice. Buckwheat is commonly eaten as a porridge, dinner side, or can be easily sprouted or baked with as a whole seed or flour. Soba noodles are another popular way to enjoy buckwheat, which is a noodle made from buckwheat instead of wheat. Here are some other ways to use buckwheat if you need some ideas to start.
Other nutrient-dense alternatives to quinoa to obtain fiber, vitamins, minerals and amino acids include chia, flax, and hemp seeds, though these will not cook up like grains. They can, however, be used in many baked goods, raw food dishes, and sprinkled into bowls of porridge or into entrees. Gluten-free oats are also another good option for gluten-free eaters due to their high nutritional content and versatility. And finally, corn, brown rice and black rice are also a good source of fiber and minerals, though they don’t offer as much protein as some of these other options.
If you do happen to love quinoa, then you should certainly keep eating it, but know you have other options too. Do you eat any of these other highly nutritious gluten-free foods?
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