8 Gluten-Free Grains (And Why You Should Eat Them)

Many people choose to avoid eating gluten, a protein found in wheat. There are many reasons that may prompt an individual to avoid gluten in their diet, including celiac disease (an autoimmune condition where gluten causes white blood cells to attack the lining of the intestine), a wheat allergy, gluten intolerance or sensitivity, or other digestive health condition.

Fortunately, following a gluten-free diet doesn't mean you have to avoid all grains. There are a number of grains that are naturally gluten-free. These grains include oats, quinoa, millet, amaranth, and corn.

This article will discuss which grains are gluten-free, where to buy them, and the best ways to enjoy them.

Gluten-Free Grains - Illustrations by Danie Drankwalter

Verywell / Danie Drankwalter

What Are Gluten-Free Grains?

Gluten is a form of protein that can be found in wheat products and some other grains such as rye and barley.

While some grains contain gluten, there are a number of naturally gluten-free grains that those following a gluten-free diet can enjoy. These include oats, quinoa, brown rice, corn, millet, amaranth, teff, and buckwheat.

Most of these gluten-free grains can be purchased at grocery stores. Some less popular grains may need to be purchased from a health food or specialty store or ordered online.

Avoiding Cross Contamination

There is a risk of cross-contamination during the processing of gluten-free grains if they are grown, milled, or manufactured near grains that may contain gluten.

If you have a severe allergy, it's important to look for products manufactured in gluten-free facilities that are third-party tested and certified gluten-free. It is also best to avoid purchasing gluten-free grains from bulk bins as the open accessibility also increases the risk of cross-contamination.

Gluten-Free Grains

There are a number of naturally gluten-free grains that can be safely consumed by those who need to follow a gluten-free diet. These grains include:

Oats

Oats are a type of gluten-free cereal grain that is revered for their rich stores of the soluble fiber beta-glucan. This fiber helps promote feelings of fullness and slows the release of blood sugar into the bloodstream.

The beta-glucan in oats has also been shown to help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. In addition to fiber, oats are also a good source of nutrients and minerals, including:

  • Phosphorous
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Manganese
  • Iron
  • Selenium

There are many forms of oats available, depending on how they are processed. Types include quick or instant, rolled or old-fashioned, steel-cut, oat groats, and oat bran. There is even oat flour available that is used in baked goods.

Enjoy a hot bowl of oats topped with honey and berries for breakfast, use them to make homemade granola or muesli, or whip up savory oats with chicken broth and cheese and serve as you would risotto. Oats are also delicious stirred into batter for bread and cookies.

Quinoa

Technically a type of seed, quinoa is edible grain-like food that comes in various colors, including black, red, white, and yellow.

Quinoa can be a great addition to the diet as it is nutritionally dense and contains a high amount of antioxidants. Quinoa is also one of just a few plant-based foods that is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids that the body cannot make on its own.

Quinoa contains a number of vitamins and minerals such as:

  • B-vitamins
  • Iron
  • Fiber
  • Vitamin E
  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium

With a nutty flavor and light fluffy texture, quinoa can be eaten as a breakfast porridge, served as a side dish instead of rice, added to salads, and even used to bulk up soups and stews.

For the best flavor, be sure to rinse quinoa well before cooking. The seed's exterior naturally develops a bitter-tasting chemical coating that acts as a pesticide when the plant is growing, but this chemical should be removed before eating.

Brown Rice

Rice is a starchy grain that is a staple of diets around the world. There are over 40,000 varieties of rice worldwide, and all types are gluten-free. This includes white, brown, red, black, and wild rice.

White rice has been milled and polished to remove the outer hull, but whole grain varieties such as brown rice and wild rice, leave the hull intact. Whole grain rice is a more nutritious option as it delivers fiber and other nutrients including:

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
  • Vitamin B6
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Manganese
  • Selenium

Depending on the length and width of the grains and the amount of starch in each grain, rice can be light and fluffy, chewy and nutty, or sticky. Experiment with varieties to find your favorite.

Rice is traditionally used to make risotto, paella, and jambalaya and as a base for stir-fries. It's also delicious in salads, added to soups, and served with meat or vegetables. Rice flour is often used in gluten-free baking mixes.

Corn

Corn is a naturally gluten-free cereal grain that is a good source of fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants such carotenoids. It is consumed in many forms in many cultures.

Gluten-free derivatives of corn include:

  • Cornmeal
  • Cornflour
  • Hominy
  • Cornstarch

Corn contains nutrients like:

  • Fiber
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Potassium
  • Vitamin C
  • Folate

Try using corn kernels to make succotash or other side dishes, and use cornmeal to make gluten-free cornbread or polenta. Corn tortillas are delicious for tacos or quesadillas and cornstarch can be used to thicken soups and cobblers.

Corn can also be eaten as a fun snack like popcorn. Popcorn is naturally gluten-free, but some flavorings and additives used in popcorn at cinemas or fairs may not be gluten-free. Always check the ingredients for ingredients containing gluten, or make your own popcorn at home.

Millet

Millet has only recently gained popularity in the United States. It is a naturally gluten-free grain that has been grown in India and Africa for hundreds of years.

Millet is nutritionally dense, providing 6 grams of protein and nearly 3 grams of fiber per 1-cup serving of cooked millet. It also contains:

  • Manganese
  • Phosphorous
  • Copper
  • Thiamin
  • Niacin

This sweet, nutty grain can be used in place of rice, and even made into flour for baking. It can also be made into a porridge or used in place of cornmeal in polenta.

Amaranth

Amaranth is a high-protein, gluten-free grain that is native to Peru. Cultivated for thousands of years, it is an essential ingredient for breakfast porridge in many parts of the world, including India, Mexico, and Nepal.

Amaranth is also naturally high in:

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Phosphorous
  • Magnesium
  • Selenium

Amaranth can be toasted to bring out a nutty flavor in cooking. This versatile grain can be used in side dishes and salads. It can also be used as a hot breakfast dish served with fruit and maple syrup.

Teff

Teff is the smallest grain in the world and comes from Ethiopia. It is a staple in most of East Africa, but relatively new in the United States.

This ancient grain is gluten-free, and has a low-glycemic index, meaning it won't spike blood sugar. It contains about 20 grams of protein per cup as well other nutrients including:

  • Fiber
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Zinc

Teff can be ground into flour and is commonly made into a kind of sourdough flatbread called injera. If ordering injera at a restaurant, be sure to check Teff hasn't been mixed with flours like wheat or barley that contain gluten.

Teff can also be used in porridge or risotto.

Buckwheat

Despite having wheat in its name, buckwheat is naturally gluten-free. It comes from the rhubarb family.

A good source of fiber, buckwheat is a nutritious whole grain that also contains:

  • Zinc
  • Phosphorus
  • B Vitamins
  • Magnesium
  • Iron

Buckwheat can taste nutty with a sightly earthy or bitter taste. Roasted buckwheat is known as kasha and is delicious as a breakfast cereal or used to add crunch to salads. Cooked buckwheat can be used in place of rice. It can also be ground into flour and used in pancakes, crepes, and baked goods.

Summary

There are a number of grains that are naturally gluten-free. These grains are suitable for those following a gluten-free diet. This includes people with celiac disease, those with gluten intolerance, or those following a gluten-free diet for other health reasons.

Gluten-free grains are still at risk of coming into contact with items containing gluten during the milling and packaging process. To ensure you are not exposed to gluten, it is best to avoid buying gluten-free grains from the bulk bin and instead look for packaging that has a gluten-free label. Ideally, buy foods that have been gluten-free certified by a third party.

A Word From Verywell

Eating a gluten free diet doesn't mean you have to miss out on grains. There are a number of naturally gluten free grains that can be used in salads, soups, stews, as a breakfast cereal and even in pancakes. Always check the label to ensure products are gluten free certified.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can gluten-free grains still contain gluten?

    There are many gluten-free grains. However, these grains can come into contact with gluten-containing grains or other products during growing, milling or manufacturing. For this reason, it is important to buy foods labeled gluten-free and ideally foods that have been certified gluten-free.

  • Do all grains have gluten?

    No, there are a number of gluten free grains that are safe for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. These include quinoa, millet and amaranth, among others.

  • What’ s the difference between gluten-free and grain-free?

    Gluten-free means avoiding foods that contain the protein gluten (found in wheat, rye, and barley). People with celiac disease or gluten intolerance can't eat these foods. Not all grains contain gluten, and some grain products can be eaten safely by those with these conditions.

    A grain-free diet excludes all grains, regardless of whether or not they contain gluten. This includes wheat, rice, cornmeal, and barley, among others.

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15 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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