By Lela Rabie
In modern society many people are choosing 100% wheat-free diets or diets largely wheat-free, some out of necessity due to coeliac disease or a wheat intolerance, others merely to add more variety to their diets. However, what does one use to replace wheat? Below are three different grains which can be added to a balanced diet as alternatives to wheat. Please note that not all 'wheat-free' grains are suitable for coeliacs as they may still contain some gluten. Always consult with your personal nutritionist before changing your diet in any long term way.
Rye is a grass (Secale cereale) closely related to wheat and barley and is used in many countries worldwide for products ranging from bread to Vodka.
Rye ferments in the gut to produce short-chain fatty acids and arabinoxylan, which has similar heart healthy attributes as the beta-gluten in oats. Rye also contains soluble fibre which helps slow down the release of carbohydrates and sugars, thus you feel ‘full’ for longer, a good aid in weight-loss programs. The sugars in rye are mostly fructans, a type of fructose, which help to give this grain a slightly sweet taste. This also makes rye a good option for those with type 2 diabetes.
Research done by Fazer, a Finnish company, has also shown rye to contain prebiotics thus making it a good cancer prevention food. Certain lignans (plant compounds) found in rye, help intestinal microflora to form enterolactone and enterodiol which have been shown to reduce the risks of certain cancers.
In addition to all these attributes rye also contains less gluten than wheat making it a good substitute for those with a gluten sensitivity though not for coeliacs. It contains good amounts of iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and some B vitamins, especially B1, as well as high levels of protein and Vitamin E. ‘Light Rye’ has been refined thus most nutritional benefit is found in ‘dark rye’ products.
Rye flour can be used to make pizza bases and stale rye bread fried in extra virgin olive oil makes great croutons.
The use of millet dates back to Biblical times and it is widely used in countries such as Egypt, China, Japan, Manchuria and large areas in Africa and the Indian subcontinent. It is also used extensively by the Hunza, peoples of the Himalayas. Millet is used in soups, as a cereal, as porridge and to make flat breads like chappatis or pancakes like rotis. It is also used as animal feed in many countries. It grows well in hot, dry climates where grains such as wheat and rice do not thrive.
There are four major types of millet: Pearl, Foxtail, Proso and Finger Millet, of these, Pearl Millet is usually chosen for human consumption. Millet has a very hard hull which is indigestible thus it has to be hulled before it can be used. However, the hulling process does not affect the nutrient levels as the germ stays whole throughout the process. It takes only 65 days to grow from seed to a harvestable plant and is thus very useful in countries and areas where large groups of people need nutritious food.
Millet seeds contain phytochemicals like phytic acid, which is said to lower cholesterol and phytate, which may reduce cancer risk. It has nearly 15% protein and is non – glutinous, which is good news for coeliacs. It is a warming grain so can help heat the body internally.
Millet contains lecithin, Vitamin E, high amounts of fibre, some of the B – comlex vitamins (niacin, thiamine, riboflavin), some amino seeds and high levels of magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and iron. Millet hulls and seeds contain a substance which can limit iodine uptake to thyroid which could cause goiter and may explain the high incidence of this in countries which consume large amounts of millet in their daily diet.
Millet can be cooked like a porridge or can be soaked overnight and then steamed until tender. It can be popped like corn and also used as flour for pancakes or flatbreads. It makes a good addition to stews, soups and casseroles and can be used as a stuffing once cooked. Millet can also be sprouted. (www.chetday.com)
Oats ( Avena Sativa )
Oats can grow quite well in poor soil conditions and roasted after being harvested to them a distinctive flavour. Even though oats are hulled, like millet, the hulling process doesn’t strip away the bran and germ which means that they keep their fibre and concentrated nutrients.
Beta-glucan, a type of fibre, can be found in oats, oat-bran and oatmeal. This fibre helps to lower cholesterol levels which makes oats good for helping to prevent stroke and heart disease.
As well as the fibre, oats also contain anti-oxidant compounds called avenanthramides which help stop free-radicals from damaging LDL (good) cholesterol and so helping prevent heart disease. Beta-glucan also helps increase the immune systems ability to respond to bacterial infection. It does this through helping neutrophils reach the site of infection more quickly and enhances the neutrophils ability to kill off bacteria. The beta-glucan in oats also means that oats causes a much lower rise in blood sugar compared to white bread or white rice and so is good for those with Type 2 diabetes.
Oats contains high levels of Magnesium, which is a co-factor for certain enzymes involved in insulin secretion and the body’s use of glucose. In addition to Mg, oats also contain good levels of selenium, which works with Vit.E in many different anti-oxidant systems in the body.
The UK Womens’ Cohort study found that pre-menopausal women eating a diet high in fibre (such as supplied by oats) halved their risk of developing breast cancer, an intake of 30g of soluble fibre is recommended daily. Oats also contain plant lignans which are converted in our intestines (by friendly bacteria) into mammalian lignans which are thought to protect against hormone-dependent cancers and heart disease. Oats also contain good levels of Manganese, Tryptophan, phosphorous, thiamine (B1) and protein.
Oats also contain purines, naturally occurring substances found in plants, animals and humans. Purines can be broken down to form uric acid which contributes to gout and the formation of kidney stones. For individuals who suffer from gout it may be wise to avoid excessive intake of foods containg purines. However excessive intake of any food is unwise. With all things, balance is key.
Oats does contain some gluten and is thus not recommended for coeliacs. However, people with a wheat sensitivity have been known to tolerate oats and oat- products.