There's never been a better time to go gluten-free. With thousands of new options on the market—gluten-free pasta, cookies, even beer—it's likely you won't miss wheat all that much. But there's a hidden downside to giving up gluten: When you nix whole grains, you nix a lot of fiber too.
If you’re still wondering what the deal is with gluten, it’s a protein found in cereal grains—wheat, barley, and rye. A small percentage of people are allergic to wheat, have been diagnosed with an autoimmune gluten intolerance called Celiac disease, or have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity. For all of these people, foods containing gluten can be difficult to digest, and in some cases can cause severe symptoms and disorders such as diabetes, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, and anemia.
But cereal grains—especially whole grains—are high in fiber, which can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers when eaten regularly. Plus, whole grains can contain lots of nutrients like B vitamins, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, manganese and selenium that are key to a healthy diet. And while Celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity can seemingly put carbs (and the nutrients found in grains) out of the equation, there actually are plenty of grains you can eat.
First, know that you may want to avoid the following foods if your body can’t handle gluten (unless the product is specifically labeled “gluten-free”):
- Wheat starch
- Wheat bran
- Wheat germ
- Cracked wheat
- Graham flour
- Triticale and Mir (a wheat-rye hybrid)
But never fear—here are 10 grains that are still on the table and packed with fiber, protein, and nutrients. You won't even miss cereal grains with these alternative options.
1 cup cooked: 5.2g of fiber, 9.3g of protein
Cook ½ cup of this seed with 1 ½ cups water or apple juice for a mildly sweet substitute for oatmeal.
1 cup: 4g of fiber, 1g of protein
Arrowroot flour is a great thickener for sauces and pie fillings, and can be used in baked goods as well.
1 cup cooked: 17g of fiber, 23g of protein
Names can be deceiving—buckwheat is not actually wheat. Opt for buckwheat flour for baking or making crepes. You can also try a cold or warm soba noodle dish.
1 cup: 4g of fiber, 3g of protein
Cassava flour—derived from the root of the cassava plant—is the perfect substitute for wheat flour when making light and fluffy cakes, hearty breads and bagels, and traditional tortillas.
1 cup cooked: 2g of fiber, 6g of protein
Rich in iron, B vitamins, protein, magnesium, and calcium, millet makes a yummy creamy porridge for breakfast.
1 cup cooked: 5g of fiber, 8g of protein
Had enough of quinoa yet? How could you, when there are so many different kinds? This protein-packed grain is an amazing side dish or full-on entree.
1 cup cooked: 1g of fiber, 4g of protein
One of the most accessible, approachable, and versatile grains out there, rice is naturally gluten-free, opening up lots of possibilities for ethnic eats on a gluten-free diet.
1 cup cooked: 12g of fiber, 22g of protein
This stuff is typically livestock feed, but before you write it off, consider it as a replacement for couscous, farro, or barley. It has a mild flavor and a similar texture to these Mediterranean staples.
1 cup: 1g of fiber, <1g of protein
Those little gelatinous balls in bubble tea or boba drinks are made of tapioca. It’s a starch made from the entire cassava plant, and can come in the form of flour as well. It’s best used as a thickener. Some people may be sensitive to it, though, so test it to see if you can incorporate it into your diet.
1 cup: <1g of fiber, 10g of protein
Derived from an Ethiopian grass, teff flour is extremely high in calcium and vitamin C. It’s ideal for making the spongy Ethiopian flatbread, Injera.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont