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Top 5 Naturally Gluten-Free Grains

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Though ancient grains may sound as if they belong in the past, they hold a well-deserved spot as a staple of any well-balanced eating program. Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services highlights the health benefits of five gluten-free ancient grains—along with practical ways to incorporate them into your daily diet.

Ancient grains are a group of grains, grasses, cereals, pseudocereals and seeds that have been planted and harvested for thousands of years. They have been linked to multiple health benefits due to their substantial nutritional value. Many of these benefits are attributed to being a rich source of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals.

Since ancient grains have not been modified over time and are generally not highly processed, they are able to retain their high vitamin and mineral content. However, they have primarily been replaced by other grains producing more crop during harvest such as corn, rice and wheat.

Vitamins and minerals
Consuming a diet rich in whole grains, such as ancient grains, can help achieve the daily intake recommendations for many vitamins and minerals. Meeting these recommendations helps ensure the body's metabolic processes function correctly and can improve overall health and well-being.

As rich sources of both soluble and insoluble fiber, consuming ancient grains may help improve cholesterol, decrease triglycerides and lower blood glucose levels. Research shows high-fiber foods also increase satiety, or fullness after a meal, which can help to meet weight loss goals.

Recent studies have found ancient grains are full of phytochemicals such as antioxidants and phytosterols. Phytochemicals help the body neutralize free radicals known to cause oxidative stress and inflammation, which are major contributors to many chronic diseases including:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Neurodegenerative diseases
  • Cancer

Five common gluten-free ancient grains
1. Amaranth

Amaranth is a pseudocereal, or grain used in the same manner as cereal, loaded with nutrients which has been cultivated for more than 8,000 years. Amaranth has long served as a dietary staple in many parts of the world but has only recently gained popularity in the United States. With its rich nutty flavor, it can easily replace rice or couscous in various dishes. Amaranth also makes an excellent breakfast porridge which can be flavored or topped just like oatmeal.

2. Millet
Millet is another pseudocereal popular throughout Africa, India, Ethiopia and China. Since it has an overall neutral flavor, millet can be easily flavored as desired with spices and herbs. Try making it with your favorite chicken recipe for dinner or as a substitute for grits at breakfast.

3. Quinoa
Quinoa is one of the most commonly consumed ancient grains in America. It is heartier than rice with an earthy, nutty flavor profile. Quinoa is an ideal grain to add to any salad or use as a base for a protein bowl.

4. Sorghum
Sorghum has a mild earthy, nutty flavor and is very similar to wheat berries. Sorghum flour is one of the gluten-free flours most similar to wheat-flours—making it an ideal baking ingredient for those who cannot consume gluten.

5. Teff
This pseudocereal is the smallest of grains being less than 1% the size of a wheat kernel. It is also one of the few grains that is a rich source of vitamin C, which supports bone and immune system health. With its lightly sweet flavor it can be used in porridges, soups and stews. Teff flour is also commonly used in baking and can replace 25-50% the portion of white flour called for in recipes to add nutritional value to pancakes, waffles, bread and muffins.


*Information collected from the USDA Food-Data Central Database.

While all of these grains are naturally gluten-free, if you have a medical condition requiring a gluten-free diet, read the food label to verify they are certified gluten-free before consuming. It is also important to note current research does not support a gluten-free diet as beneficial for all individuals. Only those with medical conditions requiring a gluten-free diet should adopt a gluten-free lifestyle.

A Cooper Clinic Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can help form an individualized approach and eating pattern that works best for you and provide guidance to ensure you are meeting all of your nutritional needs. For more information or to schedule a nutrition consultation, visit or call 972.560.2655

​Article provided by Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services.