Mary Creel
April 29, 2011

For the average person who has no dietary restrictions, getting the recommended 48 grams of whole grains a day can be a challenge. But what about the 3 million Americans with celiac disease who can’t eat gluten, a protein in wheat and related grains such as barley, rye, spelt and kamut? It takes more effort. And there are many people who do not have celiac disease, but may be allergic to wheat or are gluten sensitive and have to avoid all forms of wheat.

Celiac disease runs in my family and even though a blood test was negative, I was curious to know if I had a gluten sensitivity. The best way to find out was to go a few weeks of eliminating the gluten stressors in my diet. I was surprised that some of my symptoms such as achy joints and nasal congestion improved. I’m not advocating everyone going on a gluten-free diet, especially if you have no family history or symptoms of gluten intolerance. When I realized I had to give up my chewy New York style bagel, crusty baguette, and basmati rice, I wondered, “What would replace my favorite carbohydrates?”

I took baby steps and started at the grocery store. With a little trial and error I found some tasty discoveries—a gluten-free whole-grain bread and English muffins. A few slices of whole-grain toast for breakfast contributed to my Healthy Habits goal of getting 3 more servings of whole grains a day. But mealtime was more of a challenge. No more pasta? We recently tried several brown rice pastas in our test kitchens, and I was impressed with the nutty flavors and tenderness of the noodles. That would be an easy swap to serve with Italian sauce recipes. I’m anxious to make these little, tapas-style appetizers for my next party: Polenta Squares with Gorgonzola and Pine Nuts. The cornmeal polenta subs for the usual bruschetta as a base in this easy, make-ahead dish.

As long as I was giving up white starches like noodles and pasta, it made sense to replace plain white rice with a more nutritious grain. Brown rice and wild rice blends are even more flavorful on their own. Brown rice, like most whole grains, requires a longer cooking time than its refined version. This month, I’ve enjoyed trying recipes with brown rice and quinoa. Sesame Brown Rice Salad with Shredded Chicken and Peanuts makes great leftovers and Quinoa and Parsley Salad (pictured above) works in my menus as a starch and a salad. Quinoa cooks relatively quickly and can replace rice in most recipes, so it is a good first choice if you’re a newbie trying to switch over to gluten-free whole grains. It’s known for its exceptional nutritional profile because it has a protein profile similar to cow’s milk. It is also an excellent source of iron, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, and fiber. They’re now two of my go-to recipes when I need an easy weeknight supper or unique side dish.

Next on my list of whole grains to try: millet and amaranth. The gluten-free whole grain replacements have added not only variety and more nutrition to my meals but inspired me to think beyond wheat bread and white rice.

- Learn more about gluten-free diets.

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