While going gluten-free has become a popular trend, the vast majority of Americans don’t have a health condition that truly requires them to avoid gluten. But for the more than 20 million people estimated to be gluten intolerant – and the 3 million who have celiac disease*, a gluten-free diet is not optional. If you’re among those with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, staying gluten-free may seem like a daunting task. The good news is that many healthy and delicious foods are naturally gluten-free, including:
• Meat and poultry
• Fish and seafood
• Beans, legumes, and nuts
But what about grains? That’s where things get tricky. Some, such as oats, rice, corn, tapioca, sorghum, quinoa, millet, buckwheat (kasha), arrowroot, amaranth, teff, flax and chia are naturally gluten-free. Sometimes, though, they can be contaminated by gluten-containing grains during harvesting, storage and processing. So if you are highly sensitive, look for grains that have been been tested for the presence of gluten.
If you’re shopping for processed gluten-free foods keep in mind that, despite what you might think, many gluten-free products may actually be higher in calories, added sugar and saturated fat than their gluten-containing counterparts. Always read nutrition labels carefully.
Here are four grain-based favorites that are both gluten-free and good for you:
Oats are heart healthy 100% whole grain and can help lower cholesterol. Oatmeal has also been shown to help people feel fuller longer. Research published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition reveals that eating instant oatmeal for breakfast can not only keep you fuller through the morning than oat-based cold cereal, it can even help curb your appetite at lunch.
And there’s particularly good news about oats for those who need to be gluten-free: two recent studies found that adding oats to a gluten-free diet may enhance the nutritional values of the diets, particularly for vitamins and minerals, as well as increasing antioxidant levels.
Keep in mind that, while oats are naturally gluten-free, they may come in contact with gluten-containing wheat, rye and barley at the farm, in storage or during transportation. Look for oats that have been carefully sorted to remove grains that contain gluten. They’ve been tested throughout the milling process to meet FDA standards while maintaining great quality, taste and texture.
Yes, you can have pasta and be gluten-free too. And it doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice taste, texture or nutrition. Some of my favorites are penne made with rice, potato and soy and spaghetti made with quinoa (both are good sources of protein and fiber).
There are some great-tasting gluten-free crackers for your mid-afternoon snack. Look for ones that are made with whole grains and low in saturated fat and sodium.
4. Cold Cereal
When it comes to gluten-free cold cereal, the same rules apply that you’d use for regular cereal. Aim for one that has at least 3g protein, 3g fiber, and less than 5g sugar, and no saturated fat per serving.
*If you are concerned that you may be gluten intolerant or have celiac disease, see your physician.