Gluten is a protein found in certain types of grains, including wheat, barley and rye. It provides elasticity, allows bread to rise and gives foods a chewy texture (1, 2).
Although gluten is not a problem for most people, some may not tolerate it well.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that triggers an immune response to gluten. For those with this disease or a gluten sensitivity, eating gluten can cause symptoms like bloating, diarrhea and stomach pain (3).
Many of the most commonly consumed grains contain gluten. However, there are plenty of nutritious gluten-free grains available, too.
Here are 9 gluten-free grains that are super healthy.
Sorghum is typically cultivated as both a cereal grain and animal feed. It is also used to produce sorghum syrup, a type of sweetener, as well as some alcoholic beverages.
This gluten-free grain contains beneficial plant compounds that act as antioxidants to reduce oxidative stress and lower the risk of chronic disease (4).
A 2010 test-tube and animal study found that sorghum possesses significant anti-inflammatory properties due to its high content of these plant compounds (5).
Additionally, sorghum is rich in fiber and can help slow the absorption of sugar to keep blood sugar levels steady.
One study compared blood sugar and insulin levels in 10 participants after eating a muffin made with either sorghum or whole-wheat flour. The sorghum muffin led to a greater reduction in both blood sugar and insulin than the whole-wheat muffin (6).
One cup (192 grams) of sorghum contains 12 grams of fiber, 22 grams of protein and almost half of the iron you need in a day (7).
Sorghum has a mild flavor and can be ground into flour for baking gluten-free goods. It can also substitute for barley in recipes like mushroom-barley soup.
Summary: Several studies have shown that sorghum is high in plant compounds and may help reduce both inflammation and blood sugar.
Quinoa has quickly become one of the most popular gluten-free grains. It is incredibly versatile plus rich in fiber and plant-based protein.
It’s also one of the healthiest grains, boasting a high amount of antioxidants that could be beneficial in reducing the risk of disease (8).
Additionally, quinoa is high in protein and is one of the few plant foods considered a complete protein source.
While most plant foods are lacking in one or two of the essential amino acids required by your body, quinoa contains all eight. This makes it an excellent plant-based source of protein (9).
One cup (185 grams) of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. It’s packed with micronutrients as well and fulfills much of your daily magnesium, manganese and phosphorus requirements (10).
Quinoa is the perfect ingredient to make gluten-free crusts and casseroles. Quinoa flour can also be used to make pancakes, tortillas or quick bread.
Summary: Quinoa contains a good amount of antioxidants. It’s also one of the few plant foods containing all the essential amino acids.
Though most well-known as the staple ingredient in bird seed, millet is a very nutritious ancient grain that may provide many health benefits.
One animal study found that feeding millet to rats decreased both blood triglycerides and inflammation (11).
Another study looked at the effects of millet on blood sugar levels in six diabetic patients. It found that millet resulted in a lower glycemic response and lower blood sugar levels compared to rice and wheat (12).
One cup (174 grams) of cooked millet contains 2 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein plus 19% of your daily need for magnesium (13).
You can incorporate millet into your breakfast with a hot bowl of millet porridge. Additionally, you can use millet or millet flour to cook falafel, bread or croquettes.
Summary: Animal and human studies have found that millet may decrease blood triglycerides, inflammation and blood sugar.
Oats are very healthy. They also stand out as one of the best sources of beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber with advantages for health.
A review of 28 studies found that beta-glucan effectively decreased both “bad” LDL and total cholesterol without affecting “good” HDL cholesterol (14).
Other studies have shown that beta-glucan may slow the absorption of sugar and lower blood sugar and insulin levels (15, 16).
1/4 cup (39 grams) of dry oats provides 4 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein. It also provides phosphorus, magnesium and B vitamins, as well (17).
Although oats are naturally gluten-free, many brands of oats contain gluten due to contamination from how they are grown and processed.
If you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, be sure to look for oats labeled as certified gluten-free.
A hot bowl of oatmeal is the most popular way to enjoy oats, but you can also add oats to pancakes, granola bars or parfaits for extra fiber and nutrients.
Summary: Oats contain beta-glucan, which may decrease blood cholesterol and help regulate blood sugar levels.
Despite its name, buckwheat is a grain-like seed that is gluten-free and has no relation to wheat.
It provides plenty of antioxidants, including high amounts of two specific types: rutin and quercetin (18).
Some animal studies have suggested that rutin may be beneficial in reducing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Meanwhile, quercetin has been shown to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress (19, 20).
Eating buckwheat may also help reduce some risk factors for heart disease.
In one study, buckwheat intake was associated with lower total and “bad” LDL cholesterol plus a higher ratio of “good” HDL to total cholesterol (21).
Another study had similar findings, showing that those who ate buckwheat had a lower risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar (22).
One cup (170 grams) of buckwheat delivers 17 grams of fiber, 23 grams of protein and over 90% of the magnesium, copper and manganese you need for the entire day (23).
Try soba noodles made from buckwheat as a gluten-free swap for traditional pasta. Or, use buckwheat to add a bit of crunch to soups, salads or even veggie burgers.
Summary: Buckwheat is rich in antioxidants and has been associated with reductions in heart disease risk factors, such as blood cholesterol levels.
Amaranth has a rich history as one of the staple foods for the Inca, Maya and Aztec civilizations. Moreover, it is a highly nutritious grain with some impressive health benefits (24).
A 2014 study found that the compounds in amaranth were effective in blocking inflammation in both humans and mice by preventing the activation of a pathway that triggers inflammation (25).
Thanks to its high fiber content, amaranth may also decrease several heart disease risk factors.
In fact, one animal study found that amaranth seeds decreased both blood triglycerides and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels (26).
One cup (246 grams) of cooked amaranth contains 5 grams of fiber plus 9 grams of protein. It also meets 29% of your daily iron needs and contains a good amount of magnesium, phosphorus and manganese (27).
You can use amaranth as a substitute for other grains, such as rice or couscous. Amaranth that has been cooked and then chilled can also be used in place of cornstarch as a thickening agent for soups, jellies or sauces.
Summary: Some studies show that amaranth may be effective in reducing inflammation and reducing several risk factors for heart disease.
As the smallest grain in the world, teff is a tiny but powerful grain.
Despite being just 1/100 the size of a kernel of wheat, teff packs a nutritional punch.
Teff is high in protein, which can help promote satiety, reduce cravings and boost metabolism (28, 29, 30).
It also fulfills a good portion of your daily fiber needs. Fiber is an important part of the diet and is associated with weight loss, a reduced appetite and improved regularity (31, 32, 33).
One cup (252 grams) of cooked teff contains 10 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber. It also provides plenty of B vitamins, especially thiamin (34).
For gluten-free baking, try substituting teff in part or in whole for wheat flour. Teff can also be mixed into chili, made into porridge or used as a natural way to thicken dishes.
Summary: Teff is the smallest grain in the world but is high in fiber and protein. Both these nutrients are essential to health and come with many benefits.
Corn, or maize, is among the most popular gluten-free cereal grains consumed around the world.
In addition to being high in fiber, corn is also a rich source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, plant pigments that act as antioxidants (35).
Studies show that lutein and zeaxanthin can benefit eye health by decreasing the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, two common causes of vision loss in older adults (36).
One study found that those with a high intake of carotenoids had a 43% lower risk of age-related macular degeneration compared to those with a low intake (37).
1/2 cup (83 grams) of yellow corn contains 6 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein. It’s also high in magnesium, vitamin B6, thiamin, manganese and selenium (38).
Corn can be boiled, grilled or roasted for a healthy side dish to a well-balanced meal. Enjoy it right off the cob or add it to a salad, soup or casserole.
Summary: Corn is high in fiber and a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that are associated with a decreased risk of eye disease.
Although brown and white rice come from the same grain, white rice has had the bran and germ of the grain removed during processing.
Brown rice thus has more fiber and a higher amount of many micronutrients, making it one of the healthiest gluten-free grains around.
Both varieties of rice are gluten-free, but studies show that replacing white rice with brown rice comes with added health benefits.
In fact, brown rice in place of white rice can lead to a decreased risk of diabetes, weight gain and heart disease (39, 40, 41).
One cup (195 grams) of brown rice contains 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein. It also provides a good portion of your magnesium and selenium needs for the day (42).
Brown rice makes a delicious side dish all on its own or can be combined with vegetables and a lean source of protein to create a filling meal.
Summary: Brown rice is high in fiber and associated with a decreased risk of diabetes, weight gain and heart disease when used in place of white rice.
When you have celiac disease or a sensitivity to gluten, following a gluten-free diet can be challenging.
However, there are plenty of gluten-free options available to replace wheat.
From providing antioxidants to reducing the risk of disease, these nutritious gluten-free grains can be incredibly beneficial to your health.