Gluten-free foods are popping up in grocery stores because there has been a rise in celiac disease, a condition caused by sensitivity to gluten. Mayo Clinic reports that 1 in 100 people have celiac disease and there has been a four-fold increase in this condition since 1950. Gluten is found in many grains, so gluten-free dieters often struggle to find grain options for their meals. But don't fret if you are looking for such a thing. Quinoa is not only a delicious and versatile grain substitute for gluten-free eaters, it is also very nutritious.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It's also added to sauces, lunch meats and certain candies for texture. Some people are sensitive to gluten and therefore need to follow a gluten-free diet. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which antibodies attack the small intestine after a person eats gluten. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity causes abdominal discomfort, headaches, confusion or irritable bowel syndrome. Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are not the same as a wheat allergy. People with wheat allergies may be allergic to several proteins in wheat, not just gluten.
If you need to follow a gluten-free diet, quinoa is an excellent substitute for pasta, barley or couscous. Though the Incan word for quinoa means "mother grain," quinoa is actually a seed. Quinoa, which is a close relative of the spinach plant, does not contain gluten. For this reason, it is generally regarded as a safe grain substitute for people following a gluten-free diet.
If you need to follow a gluten-free diet but miss some of your old recipes, try making them with quinoa. Grocery stores often sell white or red quinoa. White quinoa is the most common and has a mild, nutty flavor. Red quinoa has a stronger, heartier taste. Use quinoa as a substitute for barley and couscous in side dishes. Gluten-free pasta is made with quinoa, and quinoa flour is available as a substitute for wheat flour. Quinoa flakes can be used as a breakfast cereal, or as a substitute for bread crumbs in a recipe.
Quinoa is a healthy grain alternative for any diet. It is a complete protein and contains all the amino acids your body needs to survive. Quinoa also provides fiber, a component of plants that promotes good digestive health. If you are not sensitive to gluten, however, there is no need to eliminate other grains from your diet. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that a gluten-free diet does not offer any nutritional advantage to people who are not sensitive to gluten. If you are able to eat gluten, enjoy both quinoa and whole grains as part of a well-balanced diet.
- Mayo Clinic: A Gluten-free Diet
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Does My Child Need a Gluten Free Diet?
- Mayo Clinic: Wheat Allergy
- Molecular Nutrition and Food Research: Immunological Evaluation of the Alcohol-soluble Protein Fraction from Gluten-free Grains in Relation to Celiac Disease.
- Purdue University: Quinoa
- USDA Nutrient Database: Gluten, cooked
- FDA: A Glimpse at Gluten-free Food Labeling
- Mayo Clinic: Celiac Disease on the Rise
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.