Avoiding gluten? Try some healthy wheat alternatives

If you must avoid gluten because of Celiac disease or if you’re interested in adding different whole grains to your diet, experiment with these gluten-free options.

In their nutritional profiles, these ancient grains surpass the staples of wheat, corn, oats and rice in our diet. 

Amaranth comes from Central and South America and while technically a seed, it is used like a grain. Light tan in colour, this tiny seed has a nutty flavour and unique texture. High in protein, with 25% more fibre than whole wheat, amaranth contains high amounts of iron, magnesium, zinc and folate. 

Cooked amaranth can be used as a hot cereal or added to pilafs and soups. The flour can also be added to baked goods for a nutrition boost. The seeds can be popped like popcorn in a dry skillet and coated with honey for a sweet treat. 

Buckwheat is a relative of rhubarb and not related to wheat at all. Actually a fruit seed, buckwheat is a good source of protein, containing all eight essential amino acids, as well as magnesium, fibre, calcium and iron. Buckwheat also contains the entire range of B-complex vitamins. When toasted, this triangular-shaped grain is called kasha. 

The cooked grains (often called groats) make a hearty breakfast cereal. In Slavic countries, buckwheat is used in soups and savoury dishes. The flour can be used to make buckwheat pancakes or crepes. Look for Japanese soba noodles, which are made from 100% buckwheat flour. 

Millet contains more protein than wheat, corn and rice. Yellow in color, the small grains are also a good source of fibre, iron and B vitamins. Widely used in Africa, China and India, millet is a versatile grain with a mild flavour. 

When cooked, the grain can be used as a pilaf or rice substitute. Increasing the water and cooking the grain longer creates a creamy breakfast porridge. Millet flour lends a light flavour to baked goods. 

Quinoa, like amaranth, is native to South America and technically a seed. It is related to the beet, chard and spinach plants. Considered a “super grain,” quinoa contains all eight essential amino acids and has a protein profile similar to milk. Quinoa also has more calcium, iron and magnesium than whole wheat. The small round grain is available in white, red and black varieties. 

Quinoa cooks faster and has a lighter texture than most grains. Use in soups, warm or cold salads, or as a gluten-free substitute for bulgur, wheat and couscous. 

Quinoa, Lentil Sprout and Rucola Salad

Serves 4 – 6 

Use lentil or sunflower sprouts, which have a peppery flavour, in this well-textured salad. These sprouts are very easy to make yourself (see below). You can use black or red quinoa in this dish because they have great texture, but regular quinoa works as well.

Ingredients (Serves 4):

  • 1 cup cooked quinoa, preferably the red or black variety 
  • 1 cup sprouted lentils or sunflower seeds 
  • 4 cups tightly packed rucola salad
  • ¼ red bell pepper, thinly sliced 
  • 20g broken walnuts  
  • 4 tomatoes, diced
  • 30g crumbled feta 
  • 2 to 3 tbsp chopped fresh herbs, like dill, tarragon, chives and parsley 

For the dressing: 

  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice 
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar 
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper 
  • ½ tsp Dijon mustard 
  • 1 small garlic clove, puréed with a pinch of salt 
  • 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  1. Combine all of the salad ingredients in a large bowl. 
  2. Whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper, mustard and garlic. Whisk in the oil. 
  3. Toss with the salad, and serve. 

To make sprouts:

  • Place 2 to 3 tablespoons lentils or sunflower seeds in a wide-mouthed jar and cover with water. Soak overnight. Place a piece of cheesecloth over the top of the jar, and secure with a rubber band. Drain the lentils and shake them so that they are not in a big pile, but some are adhering to the sides of the jar. Place the jar in a dark place, like underneath the kitchen sink. Water and drain twice a day for two to three days until the lentils have sprouts about ½ to ¾ inch long. Leave in a sunny place for an hour or two, then refrigerate. 
  • Cooked quinoa will keep for four days in the refrigerator. The dressing can be made several hours ahead of serving. 

Nutritional information per serving: 

  • 337 calories 
  • 4g saturated fat
  • 5g polyunsaturated fat 
  • 16g monounsaturated fat
  • 6mg cholesterol 
  • 21g carbohydrates 
  • 3g dietary fibre 
  • 102mg sodium (does not include salt to taste) 
  • 6g protein

More in Health