Monday, September 28, 2009

Gluten Free Grains...So Many to Choose From

This weekend I attended a grains class at Kitchen Kneads, a lovely cooking store on about 7500 South and Redwood Road in West Jordan. The store is run by Joe and Kathy, who have been open for around 27 years. And, boy, do they know their grains. First of all, they are one of the only stores I know of that sells the actual whole grains that you can grind yourself to make flour. And they have a great selection of mills, grinders, blenders, pressure cookers, crepe pans, anything you can think of to make your own flours and bake your own foods from whole grains.

I'll be honest. I consider myself a fairly health-conscious individual. I am committed to vegetables and fruits for my family's meals, I try to serve protein quite often and keep the fat levels down. However, I am woefully untrained in some of the rudiments of food. Number one being what alternative grains are available besides wheat. For years I have just substituted brown rice flour in my recipes. Anyone who has baked with brown rice flour knows that when I say some of the results didn't turn out quite right, knows I am telling the truth. In this class I learned more about the gluten free grains I was familiar with, and learned more about some grains I never even knew existed. There are more grains that are gluten free than there are grains that are not gluten free. It made me think there was hope for gluten-sensitive mankind.

One of the most interesting things I learned at this class was that most of the nutritional value from flours is gone 72 hours after you grind the grain. So by the time you buy your flour and put it on your shelf, it's already lost most of its vitamin content. This is why it's important to purchase a grinder and grind your own flours right before you bake with them. You will feel fuller, so you'll eat less, and you'll be healthier, because you'll be assimilating more nutrition. Most of the problems with Americans' health starts in the gut. The reason? Not enough fiber. (Now I sound like a Metamucil commercial.) When a grain is milled in a commercial mill, they remove the middlings and the bran, where most of the fiber from the grain is. They also remove the germ and the oil so it doesn't go rancid on the shelf. This is where most of the vitamins are. The leftovers are what make up your basic white flour. No wonder Americans,with our white-flour diet, are having so many health problems. Not enough fiber, not enough vitamins, tons of byproduct. Joe said, "We are literally starving to death on a full stomach." This is one of the reasons I think celiac sufferers are basically more healthy than our wheat flour counterparts: we are forced to find other food sources, like vegetables, fruits, and other grains to fill ourselves up.

Here is a basic primer on the alternatives to wheat and their uses:

Brown rice is a great body builder. It has tons of vitamins like B vitamins, thiamin, niacin, potassium, calcium, and carbohydrates, to name a few. Eating it is good for mental depression, bones, teeth, nervous system, nausea, and diarrhea.

Millet has the most vitamins of any grain. It's a complete food, packed with amino acids, minerals, and calcium. It is alkaline in nature, so it is easy to digest. Adding some millet to your beans when you cook them will reduce the flatulence factor. You can also add some into your scrambled eggs, soup, hamburger, or other hot cereals for extra vitamin power.

Corn has lots of magnesium, which helps with bowel function. It is also full of iron, proteins, carbohydrates, and potassium. All of these nutrients are good for your heart, stomach, teeth and gums, and increases your appetite! (All of you out there who are struggling with a good appetite, eat some corn. I, on the other hand, will be cutting back a bit.) Popcorn is the most nutritious of the corn varieties, so grind some into flour to get the full benefits. You still get some good fiber and some nutrition when you pop it, but the best way to get the vitamins is to grind it as flour. If you've had popcorn for a while and it's not popping well, sprinkle some water on it and let it soak in some of the moisture and it will pop up bigger and fluffier.

Oats are a soluble fiber so they really help lower your cholesterol. They've got B vitamins, protein, fat, iodine, and calcium in them. Oats are good for muscles, brain function, spleen, nerve structure, pancreas, reproductive systems, bones, and connective tissue. (Whew!) If you brew an oat tea, it will help strengthen your immunity and help fight contagious diseases.

Buckwheat is rich in vitamins and minerals like Vitamins E and B, fat, protein, and Rutin, which is a substance which helps deliver nutrition to the cells and take the toxins out. Buckwheat helps strengthen arterial walls and relieves varicose veins. It will clean and strengthen your intestines against dysentery and diarrhea.

Amaranth is an ancient grain from Aztec times. It is great for vegetarians because it is high in protein and calcium. It actually has more calcium than milk and is utilized more efficiently by the body. So if you have a problem with lactose intolerance, amaranth is a great way to get your calcium. This is a great grain for pregnant or nursing women or people who do heavy physical labor.

Quinoa is another ancient grain from the time of the Incas. It is amaranth's cousin and has the same nutritional properties. It has the highest protein content of all the grains. It has great benefits for the kidneys and heart.

Teff is very very nutritious. You don't need much teff to get great nutritional benefits. Joe and Kathy actually teach people to use teff like a supplement. Teff is the world's smallest grain. Because it is so small, it can clog your grinder, so pour it in as the grinder is grinding.

The only grain we didn't talk about was sorghum, so I'll be doing some research to let you know the properties of that grain soon.

Another benefit of using whole grains is that they will last you 8-10 years if stored correctly. I hope this information has helped you be aware of some of the alternative grains that are gluten free. I can't wait to start using these grains in my recipes. Happy eating!

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