for many of us among the growing numbers of gluten-sensitive or intolerant, the vegan diet takes a new twist. Some days those new to the cause might not even make it through breakfast without thinking: There's nothing to eat!
There are so many great grains that can nourish you, leave you satisfied and without all the digestive discomfort that so many of us get from eating gluten or wheat products. If you've ever finished a meal to feel bloated, crampy, with indigestion and bowel disturbance or a foggy head, you might find gluten (or some other food intolerance) to be the culprit.
Wheat has a complex protein called gluten- so do rye and barley and some other grains. Over the years wheat has been hybridized with other grasses to increase the gluten (protein) content. What we eat has much, much more gluten than what our ancestors ate. It also is a lot harder to digest. If digestion is weak, and the protein isn't broken down, it can start to damage the digestive tract, causing "leaky gut," and other digestive disturbances. Wheat is so ubiquitous to the American diet it's hard to find anything without it- It's even added to some corn tortillas to make them softer and tastier.
Luckily, if you are one of the many who are suffering from an intolerance to gluten or specifically to wheat, there are many options. Rye or older strains of wheat such as Kamut or Spelt are great alternatives for many people who can't eat the modern strains of wheat most of us eat today. Some people, however, can't tolerate gluten at all and need grains that are easier to digest.
Quinoa, many of you know, is not only a complete protein, but is easily digestible and steams up just like rice but in 15-20 minutes. A staple of the Andes and quickly becoming popular amongst health enthusiasts, this small round grain can be found in most bulk sections or packaged grain sections of grocery stores. It can be served for any meal of the day, alone or as a side dish the way you might serve rice.
Amaranth is another nourishing grain, a tiny little one that gets very gelatinous when cooked, and can be eaten by itself or mixed with other grains like quinoa or oats to make a heartier cereal. Great for breakfast, and has a nutty flavor.
Millet has long been a favorite of Russian Olympic athletes and is considered both hearty and good for those seeking to lose weight. Fluffy and warm, great by itself for breakfast or in a grain-salad at lunch or dinner. It cooks up (like rice) in 20-25 minutes.
Rice, of course is gluten free, as is corn. If you're looking for a vegan main course or side dish, polenta is an easy winner and can satisfy even carnivorous friends for dinner. Coconut polenta (with a can of coconut milk added in) is a sweet way to introduce corn as something other than a tortilla.
Oats are gluten free, however, oats often don't work for those suffering gluten intolerance. The protein in Oats, called Avenin is different than gluten, although it was thought to be the same by nutritionists for many years. Most people sensitive to wheat will want to test themselves to see if oats work for them, and be careful to buy oats from a source that make sure they are processed in facilities that don't handle wheat.
There are a number of delicious gluten free breads out there for when something toasty is all that will do. Often found in the frozen section of health food stores, rice bread and other gluten free breads are becoming more popular. G-free bakeries are sprouting up and it is possible to find baguettes that would rival any wheaty loaf you could find.
Also don't forget about sweet potatoes, yams, root vegetables and squashes when looking for a starchy addition to lunch and dinner.
So fear not, there is plenty to eat! These tasty grains are friendly even for people who are used to "standard" diets. Give each a try and feel free to mix them together for new taste sensations.