The Essential Guide to Whole Grains and Gluten

Whole grains have been getting a bad rap, and in turn we are not getting enough of them. With the emergence of the anti-gluten movement, whole grains have been lumped alongside other breads and flours that are getting the blame for irritated intestines and bloated waist lines. However, whole grains are not necessarily the enemy.

The Health Benefits of Whole Grains

Diets rich in whole grains are a great source of fiber and has been linked to decreased rates of coronary heart disease (CHD). The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study in which they followed the whole grain intake of 1,818 subjects diagnosed with CHD over a 14 year period. The results concluded,

“These studies suggest a 20–30% reduced risk of CHD in persons with a daily intake of ≥3 servings of whole-grain food items.”

What separates whole grains from the processed grains used in many bakery, bread, and television dinners is in its name. They are WHOLE grains. A grain is a comprised of three parts.

  • Bran – The hard outer layer of the grain. The bran makes up about 14% of a whole grain. It is high in B vitamins and contains a sufficient amount of protein and fiber.
  • Germ – The embryo inside the seed of the grain. This is where the seed sprouts. The germ is high in protein and B-vitamins. Meat substitutes such as seitan are created with wheat germ.
  • Endosperm – This comprises of 83% of the grain. It has the most amount of protein than any other section, but also contains the most carbs.

The breads that are most readily available in stores have been put through the milling process. These are called refined grains. Bran and germ do not tend to have long shelf lives due to their elevated levels of fat. So most flours are stripped of them, leaving just the endosperm.

The endosperm is high in carbs and protein. This can cause the bloating we feel when we eat bread. On top of that, the endosperm-dominant flour is a source of soluble fiber, which makes it harder for the body to digest. Whole grains that also have bran and germ help break down the fiber of the endosperm.

Whole Grains and Gluten

Marla Reicks ran a study for the University of Minnesota where she found that,

“39 percent of children and teens and 42 percent of adults consumed no whole grains at all. Only 3 percent of children and teens and about 8 percent of adults ate at least the recommended three servings per day.

The researchers also found people who ate the most whole grains had the highest fiber intakes: on average, 24.5 grams per day for kids and 28 grams per day for adults.”

With all the marketing out there claiming that gluten adds bulge to the belly, many people are swearing off gluten products altogether. However, only 1-2% of people in America (which is still 3 million) have Celiac Disease, which an allergy to gluten. Many others may experience symptoms of gluten intolerance, which is when the intestines become irritated when breaking down gluten. If you believe you have an intolerance or allergy to gluten, please consult a gastrointestinal physician. Otherwise, you are denying yourself vital nutrients for no reason.

Whatever the reason be for staying away from gluten, as registered dietitian, Kelly Toups, of the Whole Grains Council put it,

“Gluten free does not mean grain free.”

The truth that many are not aware of is that not all whole grains contain gluten! In fact, whole grains may be the answer to some of the most bothersome problems of those with Celiac Disease.

Many who feel constipation associated with Celiac Disease are not getting an adequate amount of fiber. Swearing off whole grains is not the answer to warding off stomach pains. Kelly Toups offered a solution to those suffering from stomach pains due to their gluten allergy by stating,

“Fiber and whole grains go hand-in-hand, so these little kernels of flavor are the perfect way to sneak more fiber into the gluten-free diet.”

Here is a list of gluten-free options for those looking to get more whole grains in their diet.



One cup of this tiny seed has more protein than any other whole grain, containing a whopping 28.1 grams. On top of that, amaranth also provides the body with more of the amino acid lysine, than any of the grains can. Lysine is one of the nine essential amino acids that our bodies do not naturally produce. It is responsible for breaking down fatty acids to produce energy.


These pearl shaped whole grains are high in fiber, making it a heart-healthy choice for grain consumption. However, what furthers barley’s cardiovascular powers is an organic chemical called 7-hydroxymatairesinol. This lignan allows the body to metabolize bacteria in the gut, and in turn balance out the good-to-bad ratio of bacteria. With the relief of bad bacteria, inflammation reduces, which then narrows the risk of cancerous growths.


Rice is good for you because it of its valuable levels of manganese, selenium, and magnesium. It is also high in antioxidants, which is good for the immune system. If you are going to get rice, opt for brown instead of white. White rice is stripped of the bran and germ. Therefore it is not a whole grain.


Technically, buckwheat is a fruit seed. However, it is used like many whole grains are. The seeds of buckwheat are used in the creation of crepes and soba noodles. Buckwheat’s high amounts of fiber help control blood sugar levels and aid in the prevention of gallstones.


Corn may not be on the radar as a whole grain for many, but it is. It is also pretty healthy. Not only is corn mostly water, making it low in fat, but it is also good for eye health. Maize is chock full of carotenoids that give corn its yellowish hue. These antioxidants are lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been linked to an increase in eye health.


Also known as spelt, this sweet, earthy grain contains high levels of copper and zinc. In fact, half a cup of farro provides 10 percent of your daily recommended intake of the immune-boosting zinc.


This ancient grain is a great source for manganese, phosphorous, and magnesium. With the absorption of these minerals, the body is able to repair body tissue and dispose of debris and dead cells. Millet is very high in protein.


Being high in fiber already makes oats a viable cholesterol remover. However, they also contain a unique compound called avenanthramides. These chemicals speed up the oxidization process of LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol in the body. Therefore, it helps eliminate the LDL cholesterol from the system.


In all reality, quinoa is a seed. However, it is used in the same way that many whole grains such as rice are. What makes quinoa such a powerful food is that the little seed is a complete protein. That means that it contains the nine essential amino acids that humans need for survival. Quinoa is a great staple for those who live a vegan diet, as many people ingest those nine essential amino acids through a diet of animal fats.


This grain is versatile as it is used as both a whole grain and a whole grain flour. As a grain, sorghum can popped as a protein-heavy popcorn substitute. The wheat is suitable for healthier versions of muffins or cookies. One single serving of sorghum has your daily recommended intake of fiber.

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