The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Exploring Gluten-Free Whole Grains

Exploring Gluten-Free Whole Grains

Health and Wellness

September 25, 2011

It's Whole Grains Month and as September winds down, it's a good time to explore a surprising fact: there are many more gluten-free whole grains than there are grains containing gluten. And that is good news for retailers intent on providing their customers with more options as interest in gluten-free continues to rise. 

The trend was noted in a recent "Popularity" cover story in Businessweek, which gathered a diverse range of people, products and trends experiencing a surge in popularity. According to the article, "Although just 0.75% [less than 1%] of Americans have celiac disease, some 15% of consumers buy gluten-free foods, helping to create a $2.6 billion market."

This group covers the nearly three million Americans with celiac disease – an autoimmune form of gluten intolerance – as well as others who may not have celiac disease, but may be allergic to wheat nonetheless, and must avoid all forms of wheat.

Cynthia Harriman, Director of Food and Nutrition Strategies for the Whole Grains Council and Oldways, points out that whole grains, an important part of any healthy diet, are often missing in the gluten-free diet. 

"Although new gluten-free products are coming on the market at an ever-increasing rate, they can often be too costly, hard to find, or relatively low in the important nutrients your body needs," Harriman said. "What many people don't realize is that gluten-free does not have to mean whole grain-free."

While whole grains such as wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut and triticale do contain gluten, there are many more that don't. Healthy and delicious gluten-free whole grains that can be enjoyed include:

  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn
  • Millet
  • Montina (Indian rice grass)
  • Oats (if certified gluten-free)
  • Rice – Brown and wild rice are both good options
  • Quinoa
  • Sorghum
  • Teff

People who regularly eat whole grains have a lower risk of obesity, lower cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer. 

"No one should have to sacrifice those health benefits because they are eating gluten-free," Harriman said, adding that the USDA and the Whole Grains Council recommend three to five servings of whole grains per day.

Gluten-free whole grains can serve as bases for salads, pilafs, soups, breads, and desserts and are becoming easier to find on grocery store shelves. Because of the nutritional and health benefits of these whole grains, and because they store and freeze as well as their gluten-containing cousins, they have the potential to become staple items in the pantry of anyone living a gluten-free life.

According to Harriman, the Whole Grain Stamp, now on nearly 6,000 products, is a helpful tool for identifying whole grains in general and then those needing a gluten-free option can drill down from there. 

In their report "Whole Grains and the Gluten Free Diet," Carol Fenster, PhD, and Shelley Case, RD, offer simple solutions to adding these grains to a gluten-free diet for appealing texture, flavor, visual appeal and greater variety. Retailers can offer ideas such as:

•    Add cooked buckwheat, oat groats, steel-cut oats, quinoa, sorghum or wild rice to rice pilaf
•    Enrich soups with cooked brown rice, buckwheat, oat groats, quinoa, sorghum or wild rice
•    Boost nutritional content of brownies, cakes and cookies with ¼ cup cooked amaranth or teff
•    Sprinkle cooked whole grains over mixed green salads
•    Choose pasta that is made with quinoa, corn, or rice
•    Enjoy popcorn as a nutritious snack

Shoppers can find more information, ideas and recipes at the Whole Grain Council's web site: They can also celebrate Whole Grains Month by entering the Whole Grains Council’s "Whole Grains Stampede Sweepstakes" with prizes including $5,000 worth of groceries and a year’s supply of Quaker Oats products.