5 Healthy Gluten-Free Foods You’ve Never Heard Of
[Rice. Quinoa. Potatoes. Been there, ate that. Ready for something new? We asked EA Stewart, also known as The Spicy RD and one of NFCA's experts for Answers from a Dietitian, to share 5 up-and-coming foods that are naturally gluten-free.]
Given the task of blogging about healthy gluten-free foods no one’s ever heard of proved to be a bit of a challenge for me. But read on because, although I can’t guarantee all these foods are new to you, they are new to me, and they all deliver a healthy dose of nutrients in a tasty little package.
This “new to me” gluten-free seed is actually an ancient “grain-like food” from the Andes Mountains in Peru. Nutty in taste and texture, like its now famous cousin, quinoa, one advantage of kaniwa is that is doesn’t contain bitter saponins that must be rinsed off before cooking. In terms of nutrition, this petite seed packs a powerful punch providing even more protein and fiber than quinoa, plus a hearty dose of calcium, zinc, and iron.
- Learn more: Kaniwa: A “New” Gluten-Free Grain at Carol Fenster Cooks
- Try it: Hot Chocolate with Coconut Milk and Kaniwa at Gluten Free Foodies
- Buy it: Amazon Grocery and Gourmet
2. Sprouted Green Lentils
While lentils aren’t new to me, my recent love affair with them is, and with the recent rise in popularity of sprouted foods, I was delighted to discover pre-sprouted green lentils at my local grocery store the other day. Proponents of sprouting grains and legumes claim that sprouted foods offer greater nutrient bioavailability, easier digestion, and greater enzyme activity than their non-sprouted counterparts. Currently, there is little research to support these claims, although Professor Terry Graham, a nutrition scientist, says that, in theory, sprouting should increase the amount of healthy antioxidants in a grain, since it undergoes changes to prepare for growth.
Ultimately, whether or not more research shows health benefits to sprouted foods, it is safe to say that any type of lentil deserves an A+ for nutrition. Rich in fiber (~16 grams per cup), both soluble and insoluble, lentils are protective against both cardiovascular disease and certain digestive disorders, and help maintain stable blood sugar levels. Lentils are also a good source of vegetarian iron and protein, and are rich in tryptophan, manganese, and folic acid. Bonus: They are inexpensive and taste great, too – especially as a meat alternative in tacos or spaghetti sauce!
- Learn more: USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council; The world’s Healthiest Foods: Lentils
- Try It: Warm Lentil Salad with Grilled Portabella at NFCA
- Buy It: truRoots Sprouted Green Lentils
3. Seedy Milks (Flax and Sunflower)
Flax and sunflower seeds have been around for a long time, but I only recently found them in liquid form. This was a nice discovery, as I work with many clients who not only can’t eat gluten due to celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but also can’t tolerate cow’s milk (at least initially) due to lactose intolerance from damaged intestinal villi or due to a cow’s milk sensitivity. Fortunately, there are many dairy-free options on the market these days (almond, coconut, soy, hazelnut, rice, and hemp), but it’s always nice to have other alternatives, especially for those people who might also have allergies or sensitivities to nuts and soy.
Flax milk packs a nice dose of omega-3 essential fatty acids (12oo mg per serving), along with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12 from fortification. Sunflower milk has a nice creamy taste and is rich in vitamin E plus added calcium, Vitamin D and folic acid. For those who are sensitive to, or choose not to use gums such as xanthan or guar, you may want to have a go at making your own seedy milk!
- Brands to try: Good Karma Flax Milk; Sunrich Naturals Sol Sunflower Beverage
- Make Your Own: Homemade Flax Milk from Healthful Pursuit; Homemade Sunflower Milk from Cybele Pascal
4. Sacha Inchi Seeds
Native to the Amazon rainforest, sacha inchi seeds, aka Incan peanuts, are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, protein (8 grams per serving) and fiber. In addition, these nut-like seeds are rich in the mood-boosting amino acid tryptophan. I recently had the chance to try the SaviSeed brand of Sacha Inchi at the Natural Products Expo West, and found them to have a pleasant nutty taste and texture. Be forewarned though – they are costly. So, as with all “super foods,” I recommend enjoying them as special treats, while making sure to eat a wide variety of naturally gluten-free veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, which are all superstars in my nutrition book!
- Learn more/Buy: SaviSeed
5. Black Sesame Seeds
In my pre-gluten-free eating days, one of my favorite weekend treats was a chewy bagel smothered with sesame seeds. For the most part, my bagel eating days are few and far between now (please let me know if you have a good recipe for homemade gluten-free bagels!), but I still enjoy the health benefits of sesame seeds on top of sautéed ginger orange kale, in hummus made with tahini, and sprinkled in to smoothies. Both black and white sesame seeds are rich in copper and manganese and are good sources of calcium, magnesium, iron and fiber. Sesame seeds also contain phytosterols, which have been shown to lower cholesterol and may decrease the risk of certain cancers. The black sesame seeds I tried had their hulls intact, making them slightly higher in calcium than white (hulled) sesame seeds. In addition, some sesame experts find them tastier than white seeds, but overall, you can’t go wrong, nutrition-wise, with black or white!
- Learn more: The World’s Healthiest Foods-Sesame Seeds
- Try It: Healthy and Delicious Black Sesame Pudding
- Buy It: Gold Mine Natural Food Company-Organic Black Sesame Seeds
I hope at least some of these foods are new to you, and that you are inspired to try them out, but if I missed any of your new healthy favorites, I’d love to hear from you!
- EA Stewart, MBA, RD