Sometimes we need to limit or cut out certain foods in our diet for the benefit of our health. Gluten and glutenous grains are one such food. Our years of overindulgence in processed and refined glutenous grains, like wheat, is certainly a component of the food based health crisis in our culture. However, cutting out gluten doesn’t mean you need to cut out all grains. Grains are a whole food and provide a wonderful source of complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals that create strength and lasting sustained energy.
Over the past years, there has been a significant amount of vilification of grains especially in trend diets. Now, don’t get me wrong, we may have times that we need to limit, cut out for a time or reassess our relationship to a food. However, anytime I see someone eliminating an entire whole food category, I’m concerned. Some of this has come from incorrect terminology around carbohydrates. There are simple carbohydrates (processed, refined grains and foods) and complex carbohydrates (long chains of carbohydrates that take time for the body to break down and are used as energy). It’s these long chain carbs that are found in whole grains, lentil and legumes, squashes and roots that will give your body long lasting stabilizing energy and strength. Anytime complex carbohydrates are eliminated for long periods of time the body will start to suffer. How long that takes and what form it manifests as is different from person to person, but one of the first things I’ve started to see in people on long term diets that cut out all complex carbs is that their energy level starts to drop and their muscles start to become soft and unformed – In Asian medicine terms, Spleen Yang is starting to collapse…but I’m getting ahead of myself. Again, perhaps you are taking a time to clear a few foods from your diet, but don’t leave whole grains out for too long, our bodies have evolved to be able to digest and utilize them, though some people’s digestive system may need some help. Let’s face it, not many of us eat grains in the classical way – some need soaked overnight, long cooking and are often eaten with ferments. Let’s look at some of these beautiful grains.
Read more on gluten.
Gluten free grains
Grains that are free of gluten include: rice, oats, millet, quinoa, amaranth, sorghum, teff, buckwheat and corn. Each has its own unique energetic profile and healing properties. So don’t be afraid to have them in your diet. You don’t need a lot, a serving size is about 1 cup and combined with the correct lentil or legume they can create a complete protein.
The ancient food of the Aztecs, amaranth is delicious and easy to cook. Its mild, nutty flavor lends itself to both sweet and savory dishes. Because it thickens when cooked, it can add body to stews or soups. Try flavoring it with rosemary and thyme and serving it on crostini, with steamed greens, goat cheese and sun dried tomatoes. The dried grain can also be popped and served with a little honey. It frequents my table as a breakfast cereal. Amaranth is high in the essential amino acid lysine and higher in protein than many other grains. It is packed with minerals and vitamins and is used in treatment of heart disease, hypertension, menstrual issues and helps regulate the Blood.
Buckwheat is not a member of the wheat family….okay, it’s not even a grain. It is similar to wild rice in that is it a dried fruit seed. One thing to know about buckwheat is that it is naturally bug resistant, so rarely are pesticides used in non-organic forms. Buckwheat is high in potassium and bio-flavinoid called ruten, which helps keep you from bruising easily. High in phosphorus, vitamin E, calcium, and vitamin B’s, it is one of the few grains that alkalizes the blood pH. Neutral and sweet in nature, it cleanses and strengthens the intestines. It improves the appetite and cures chronic diarrhea. Buckwheat is also one of the most hardy grains that can grow in even the coldest of climates. Avoid in cases of wind (allergies, tremors, ticks, Parkinson’s disease, convulsions and epilepsy and rashes) and high blood pressure. Buckwheat pancakes?
Corn is a part of the ‘three sisters’ group of foods, a staple for Native Americans, that included corn, with squash and legume which varied on region and culture. Corn is both a vegetable and a grain. With the addition of lysine it becomes a complete protein. Neutral, sweet and diuretic, corn nourishes the Heart and Stomach and helps to regulate digestion. Relatively low in niacin, corn is often served with lime to increase niacin absorption. Which had me wondering why no one in Interstellar suffered from scurvy–I mean, they were reduced to eating just corn, right. I digressed – back on topic. As a neutral grain, it can be eaten by those with cold or hot patterns. The problem – corn is one of the largest GMO crops so be sure to find it organic. Blue corn boasts higher levels of iron, magnesium and protein. Use corn as polenta, in stew and soups or as tortillas – but get it organic. Basic Polenta
Millet holds the third highest level of protein in the grain family following amaranth and quinoa. It has been eaten and cultivated for centuries by the Tibetans, and eaten as peasant food for the Chinese and Japanese. It is high in iron, lecithin and choline. Millet benefits the Spleen, Pancreas, Stomach and Gall Bladder. It helps keep cholesterol in check and reduces gall stones. Sweet, cooling and salty in nature in nourishes yin fluids and softens masses (stones and lumps). Millet builds strong bones, tendons and ligaments. It’s wonderful for athletes..so don’t just feed it to the birds.
Oats, by nature, do not have gluten in them. However, they are often processed in plants where glutenous grains are processed and therefore become contaminated. Oats contain the highest amount of fats of any of the grains. Oats create strength and stamina. They contain high amounts of easily absorbed protein, calcium, iron, all the B vitamins except B12, iodine, phosphorus and vitamin E. Warm, sweet and slightly bitter, oats enter the Stomach, Spleen and replenish and nourish the nerves. They are building so use in deficiency and avoid if you have excess or need to trim. Try whole oat groats in soups or grain salads. If you are avoiding gluten, be sure to buy them with “gluten-free” on the label.
The grain of the Incas, quinoa rocks when it comes to protein. Quinoa is high in calcium, Vitamin E, phosphorous and iron. Warm and sweet in nature, quinoa creates strength through the entire body and is one of the most easily digested grains. It helps to regenerate the Liver, nourish the Kidneys and Spleen and helps to treat depression. Quinoa needs to be rinsed to remove the natural pesticide called saponins that the plant produces to protect itself. Grilled Ratatouille with Quinoa.
There are more than 40,000 varieties of rice cultivated in the world ranging in color from white to black. Staggering number isn’t it? Each grain has slightly different energetics, but as a general whole rice is neutral and sweet and nourishes the Stomach and the Spleen. It is high in B vitamins, calcium and proteins. It builds Qi (energy) and creates vitality. Whole rice can be difficult for clients with IBS and digestive issues to start with. Try mixing white rice like Basamati or Jasmine with brown rice until your system adapts. If you have a lot of dampness or parasites eat whole brown rice slightly under cooked, as it passes through the system it will pull out the excess. Rice congee is my go to for illness especially in children and elderly. I mentioned different energetics, right? Forbidden rice is a gorgeous black rice and is one of about 4,000 varieties (some glutenous, some not) of black rice and has the same energetics but adds in nourishing the Water organs of Bladder and Kidney – and it’s particularly delish with cinnamon chicken.
Sorghum is America’s third leading grain crop – and one that doesn’t find it’s way to many people’s table. High in iron, potassium and phosphorus sorghum is another building grain. Warming and sweet, it enters the Spleen and the Stomach. Add sorghum at a 15% ratio to wheat flour in baking recipes. Great in cookies, cakes and pies.
Teff, the traditional grain of Ethiopia, dates back to 4000 BC and is the smallest grain in the world. It’s produced in Ethiopia, India, Australia and…Idaho. Teff’s name is derived from the word ‘teffa’ meaning lost, which is easy to do with this minuscule little grain. Rich red and brown color teff has a nutty sweet flavor. A 1/4 cup of teff packs 7 grams of protein. It’s high in calcium, iron, phosphorus and fiber. Teff enters the Stomach and Spleen and drains dampness. It is ground into flour for baked goods, fermented as a drink, used to thickens soups, stews, gravy or stir fry. Or eat it as sweet or savory porridge. For fun, pop a little dry teff in a skillet over medium heat until little white puffs appear. Teff porridge makes a wonderful breakfast.
Not a rice and not really a grain, wild rice is a seed. Like grains, it is high in fiber, use for constipation and overall bowel health and to lower cholesterol. Wild rice is high in protein and superior to white rice in antioxidants. it is also high in folic acid making it beneficial during pregnancy. Add wild rice to soups or how about a lovely pilaf?