There are several health conditions resulting in gluten intolerance or a wheat allergy. Gluten, found in wheat, rye and barley can trigger an immune reaction to cause damage to a person’s intestinal lining. In such cases, unpleasant bloating, constipation and even lasting damage can be caused and the only solution is a gluten-free diet.
This doesn’t mean that a person who is gluten intolerant needs to miss out on anything when it comes to taste. Thankfully, there are many alternatives. So many in fact that even those who aren’t sensitive or allergic to wheat would do well to find other healthy options bearing in mind that most breads and wheat-based products sold today are made from refined wheat and are lacking in fiber and nutrients.
Below are some alternatives.
Cooking With Quinoa
In the Inca Empire, Quinoa was referred to as “the mother of all grains”. Considered sacred back then, these days quinoa is revered as a gluten-free grain substitute though it is actually not a grain but a pseudo-cereal seed. It has protein content, numerous minerals and B-vitamins which have drawn attention among health food aficionados.
From NASA considering it as a suitable crop to grow outer space to the United Nations (UN) declaring 2013 as “The Year of Quinoa” celebrating its high nutritional value, this superfood, which comes in white, red and black, is truly a great substitute for wheat grain.
Despite its name, buckwheat is not a wheat but a fruit closely related to rhubarb. An ancient grain with a hearty, nutty flavor, buckwheat is a superfood with many health benefits, including improved heart health, weight loss and control of diabetes. A great source of protein, fiber and energy, buckwheat is a staple of Eastern European cooking thanks to its versatility.
Buckwheat can be sold raw, as kasha (toasted), and buckwheat flour can be be used as an alternative to plain flour. It has more protein, dietary fibre and Vitamin B than oat or whole wheat. It also contains thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and vitamins K and B-6.
Oats can be eaten as baked oatmeal and rolled oats, while oat flour can replace wheat flour to make a meal appropriate for those who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivities. Though, those with allergies, sensitivities and intolerance should ensure that oats are labeled as certified gluten-free oatmeal.
Steel-cut oats, which are minimally processed, are “healthier” than rolled oats because they contain more fiber. However, they take a few minutes longer to cook and have a more pronounced texture than instant or quick-cooking oats.
You can also warm baked oatmeal for a nutritious way to enjoy oats, however you can get more creative by adding them to pancakes or granola bars.
Rice, in its natural form, is gluten-free, including brown, white and wild rice. Even sticky rice, called “glutinous”, is gluten free despite the name (‘glutinous’ refers to the stickiness of the rice rather than gluten). Bearing that in mind, rice is among the most popular gluten-free grains for those with wheat allergies and other sensitivities. For this reason, numerous gluten-free foods substitute rice for wheat.
There are some instances, however, where rice may not be gluten-free. In these cases, it may include various spices which contain gluten. Rice pilaf sounds as though it is free from gluten, however it is made with orzo, a short-cut pasta shaped like a grain of rice which contains wheat gluten.
Brown rice is considered a healthier whole grain option than white rice as it is less processed. Instead of wheat flour, wild rice flour is available on the market which adds a pleasant nuttiness to baked goods.
Alternatives to Wheat Flour
There are many different kinds of flour, a common ingredient in breads, desserts and other dishes. Instead of wheat, there are other flour substitutes which can be used by those with allergies or gluten sensitivities.
Below are additional suggestions to the ones already mentioned above:
- Almond flour: Made from ground almonds with the skin removed, this type of flour can be substituted for regular flour as long as extra egg is used in the recipe to ensure the product is made denser. It should be noted that it has a higher calorie content compared to wheat flour. Almond flour is sometimes used exclusively in certain desserts, such as French macarons.
- Amaranth flour: Once a staple of the Inca, Maya and Aztec civilizations, amaranth is rich in fiber, protein and micronutrients. Ideal for making tortillas and pie crusts. Great for brain and bone health.
- Arrowroot flour: Made from a starchy substance extracted from Maranta Arundinacea, a tropical plant. The flour is versatile and can be used as a thickener or mixed with almond, coconut and tapioca flours.
- Cassava flour: Known as yuca it is extracted from the cassava root which is native to South America. Gluten- grain- and nut-free, it is similar to white flour and can be used in the place of all-purpose flour. Great for the digestive system.
- Chickpea Flour: Made from dry chickpeas. It is also known as garbanzo flour or besan. A great source of fiber and plant-based protein. Good for heart health.
- Coconut flour: Great for baking breads and desserts, it has a light texture and yields similar results to regular flour.
- Corn flour: A finely ground version of cornmeal. High in fiber, it is also a good source of carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin which can benefit eye health.
- Sorghum flour: Made from “ancient” cereal grain, it is light in color and has a sweet flavor. High in protein and fiber, sorghum flour also helps in slow sugar absorption. It should be noted that it is dense and only a small amount should be used when substituting wheat flour.
- Tapioca flour: Extracted from the South American cassava root, it is great as a thickener in soups and can be used with other gluten-free flours when making bread.
- Teff flour: This grain is 1/100 the size of a wheat kernel. Teff flour has a mild flavor and is high in protein.