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Are Gluten-Free Grains on Your Plate?

Prepared by Shelly Asplin, MA, RD, LMNT

Planning for good nutrition and health requires analyzing one’s diet to make sure that it is nutritionally balanced. Grains are a common topic for those who require the gluten-free diet. Often, however, the subject is how to avoid grains that contain gluten. Unfortunately, the importance of including gluten-free whole grains is frequently left unaddressed. This dialogue will discuss: the definition of whole grain; benefits of whole grains; potential nutrient consequences of a gluten-free diet; how many grains per day are recommended; a recent survey on alternative grain consumption among individuals with celiac disease; a guide for cooking gluten-free whole grains and more.

Whole Grains Defined

As defined by the Whole Grains Council, “Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, and/or cooked), the food product should deliver approximately the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed.”i Therefore whole grains contain 100% of the original kernel - the bran, germ and endosperm.

Whole Grain Benefits

The benefits of consuming whole grains have been documented for years. At a 2010 symposium, researchers reviewed current evidence regarding the health benefits associated with whole grains and its role in disease risk reduction.ii The researchers concluded that there was substantial evidence to support that adequate whole grain consumption is associated with lower risk of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The researchers also reviewed evidence that supported the use of whole grains to aid in weight management and gastrointestinal health.

Potential Nutritional Consequences of a Gluten-free Diet

The gluten-free diet may be a fashionable trend for some but for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity it’s a medical necessity. Potential consequences of the diet include increased fat intake due to decreased intake of gluten-free grains and an increased consumption of foods high in fat that are frequently substituted for grain foods. Low calcium and phosphorous intake may also result due to lactose intolerance. Other nutritional consequences secondary to decreased grain consumption include a decreased intake of fiber, iron, folate, niacin, B-12 (due to the lack of fortification of most gluten-free breakfast cereals), and zinc.iii

Survey on Celiacs Consumption of Alterative Grains

A survey conducted at an annual celiac conference in Columbus, Ohio, in 2010, provided a snap-shot of alternative grain consumption among 174 conference attendees.IV The survey analysis showed that 80% of the sampled population consumed less than half the amount of grain servings recommended by the U.S. Department of Health’s Dietary Guidelines. A mere 1% of the sample population consumed the recommended amount of 6 servings per day. Though this study was not a random sample it does allow one to reflect on one’s own personal grain consumption and consider whether increasing grains in their diet would be beneficial.

Tips to Identifying Whole Grains

The Whole Grains Council has developed a program to help make identifying whole grains easier for the consumer.v Manufacturers voluntarily using the Basic Stamp or the 100% Stamp offer a quick way to communicate what amount of whole grain is present in their product. The Whole Grains Council communicates it best by the visuals and description below.

  • If a product bears the 100% Stamp, then all its grain ingredients are whole grains. There is a minimum requirement of 16 grams (16g) – a full serving – of whole grain per labeled serving, for products using the 100% Stamp.

  • If a product bears the Basic Stamp, it contains at least 8 grams (8g) – a half serving – of whole grain, but may also contain some refined grain. Even if a product contains large amounts of whole grain (23g, 37g, 41g, etc.), it will use the Basic Stamp if it also contains extra bran, germ, or refined flour.

Each Stamp also displays a number, telling how many grams of whole grain ingredients are in a serving of the product.

Grain Recommendations - How Many Grain Foods are Needed Daily?

The amount of grains needed daily depends on one’s age, sex, and level of physical activity. The table below, provided by the USDA, offers a guide to daily amounts of recommended grains and suggests that at least half of all grains eaten should be whole grains.

Recommended Daily Grain Consumption Table

*These amounts are appropriate for individuals who get less than 30 minutes per day of moderate physical activity, beyond normal daily activities. Those who are more physically active may be able to consume more while staying within calorie needs.vii

What Counts as an “One Ounce Equivalent?”

Journaling one’s food intake is a helpful way to determine how many processed and whole grains one consumes. In order to compare actual intake to the chart, an understanding of what is considered a “1 ounce (oz) equivalent” is important.

In general, 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereal can be considered a 1 ounce equivalent from the grains group.

The chart below, also from the USDA, lists specific amounts that count as 1 ounce equivalent of grains towards one’s daily recommended intake.viii In some cases the number of ounce-equivalents for common portions are also shown.

One Ounce Grain Equivalent Table

Whole Grains Cooking Chart

Reprinted with permission from Mary Collard MS, RD, presented at the 34th Annual CSA Conference 2011

*Talk to your doctor before consuming pure, uncontaminated, gluten-free oats. See “Scoop on Oats” at www.csaceliacs.org.

Cooking and storing guide

  • Review package instructions to see if pre-rinsing of grain is recommended prior to cooking.
  • Bring water or broth to a boil over heat in heavy sauce pan; add grains, return to boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover pot and cook according to chart. Remove from heat; allow grain to sit as recommended. Cooking times may vary by altitude and manufacturer. If liquid has evaporated before grain is fully cooked, add additional liquid as needed to avoid scorching. If grain is fully cooked and excess liquid remains, drain thoroughly in strainer.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper or other herbs and spices.
  • Cooked grains may be stored in the refrigerator and used within 3-4 days. Freeze for longer storage. Uncooked grains that will not be used within a few months should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Experiment with cooking time and amount of liquid to determine one’s preferred consistency of cooked grain.
  • Rice cookers are a favorite kitchen tool for cooking a variety of grains.

Chart Comparing Nutrient Content of Gluten-Free Cooked Grains Compared to Whole Grain Wheat

*All cooked grains are 1/2 cup unless otherwise noted

**Talk to your doctor before consuming pure, uncontaminated, gluten-free oats. See “Scoop on Oats” at www.csaceliacs.org.

***Nutrient content estimated from ¼ cup dry grain.

Source compiled from USDA National Nutrition Database for Standard Reference on January 8, 2012.

Where to Find Gluten-Free Whole Grains

This document is loaded with information, but its contents will be the most useful if one can locate glutenfree grains in their area. Grocery stores, health food stores, food coops, and online sources provide a variety of purchasing options.

Sources of Gluten-Free Whole Grains

Brand names are provided as a convenience. One should always check labels and/or call manufacturers as products do change. The CSA Product Listing and website provide on-going updates.

  1. i Whole Grains Council. www.wholegrainscouncil.org/wholegrains- 101/definition-of-whole-grains. Accessed January 5, 2012.
  2. ii Jonnalagadda SS, Harnack L, Liu RH, McKeown N, Seal C, Liu S, Fahey GC. Putting the whole grain puzzle together: health benefits associated with whole grains--summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium. J Nutr. 2011 May;141(5):1011 S-22S. Epub 2011 Mar 30.
  3. iii Thompson T. ADA Pocket Guide to Gluten-Free Strategies for Clients with Multiple Diet Restrictions. ADA, 2011, pages 44-45.
  4. iv Mueller K, Nahikian-Nelms M, Sharrett MK, Taylor C. A descriptive study of alterative grain consumption among individuals with celiac disease. Printed in Medical Nutrition Matters, a publication of the Medical Nutrition Practice Group of the American Dietetic Association.
  5. v Whole Grains Council. www.wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grainstamp.
  6. vi Thompson T, Lee AR, Grace T. Gluten contamination of grains, seeds, and flours in the United States: a pilot study. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Jun;110(6):937-40.
  7. vii USDA Choose MyPlate.Gov: www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/ grains-amount.html#; Accessed January 8, 2012.
  8. viii Adapted from USDA Choose MyPlate.Gov: www.choosemyplate. gov/food-groups/grains_counts_table.html. Accessed January 8, 2012.

Reviewed 2/26/2013