Gluten-free Grains

By Katie Wilhelmi RD, LD

This month I’ve been writing about the importance of whole grains. They help reduce the risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Whole grains are also helpful when it comes to weight maintenance and appetite control. Unfortunately even though the recommendation is to get at least 3 servings of whole grains per day, on average Americans only get one serving each day. This task can be even more difficult for those who need to avoid grains containing gluten.

Gluten is a protein found in some grains: Wheat, Barley and Rye. Some people have a problem digesting this protein, including those with celiac disease, which affects approximately 1-2% of the population. For these people the only treatment is a gluten-free diet. Others may have an allergy to wheat or gluten intolerance. If you do not have one of those intolerances there is no reason to follow a gluten-free diet. But if you do fall in the gluten-free diet group, the good news is there are a number of whole grains that are gluten-free. Here are a few:

Corn Corn kernels contain all parts of the seed, making them whole grain. Generally fresh corn is classified as a starchy vegetable and the dried corn (including popcorn) is considered a grain. Since sweet corn season is rather short, you can enjoy corn either frozen or no-added salt canned versions. To get more whole grain corn use corn meal, corn flour and grits when cooking. When purchasing products made from corn, such as tortillas, look for the label to say “whole grain corn” or “whole corn.” If the label says “degermed corn” it is no longer a whole grain. Whole grain corn provides B vitamins and 10 times more Vitamin A than other grains.

Oats Oats are naturally gluten-free, but are often contaminated during growing and processing. When purchasing oats, make sure it is a gluten-free variety. The health benefits of oats include lowering blood pressure, reducing inflammation, decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes, lowering cholesterol and may even reduce the risk of asthma in children. For an easy way to add more oats to your diet, add cup of uncooked oats to each pound of ground beef or turkey when you make meatballs, meatloaf and burgers.

Rice Rice is commonly used for gluten-free foods. Brown rice has a wide range of nutrients, including manganese. One cup of brown rice provides 88% of the manganese we need in a day. Manganese is important in digesting fat. To cook rice perfectly keep the lid on and avoid stirring (unless you want sticky rice).

Other gluten-free grains include amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum, teff and wild rice. For additional information on these grains watch for my upcoming articles or visit

The simple black bean and corn salsa recipe below provides complete proteins by combing amino acids from corn with those from beans. Serve with whole grain corn tortilla chips for an additional serving of whole grains.

Simple Black Bean and Corn Salsa


All you need:

1 (15 oz) can whole kernel corn, drained and rinsed

1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 (14.5 oz) can diced Italian tomatoes, drained

2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

white onion, chopped

All you do:

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Serve with tortilla chips.

Nutrition Information per serving: 15 calories, 3g Carbohydrate, 1g Protein, 0g Fat, 75mg Sodium, 1g Dietary Fiber

This information is not intended as medical advice. Please see a medical professional for individual information.

Katie Wilhelmi is a registered dietitian at the New Ulm Hy-Vee.

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