Great Grains

Grains get a bad rap because of gluten containing grains and people’s perception that grains are a high calorie food. Grains offer B Vitamins, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and fiber. Grains also offer great texture and flavor to dishes. Whole grains eaten in moderation, properly cooked and as part of a balanced meal offer big benefits to nutrition.

For several years now gluten has been blamed for aches and pains and digestive upset, this is not completely unfounded, but it can be prevented. Some people do have a genetic disease called Celiac that is very damaging and makes it necessary to eliminate gluten containing grains from the diet. Gluten intolerance manifests as headache, ‘foggy mind’, joint pain and numbness of the legs, arms and/or fingers. You should be examined by a doctor to determine your gluten tolerance. And if you have not developed these symptoms, then you will want to take steps to prevent gluten intolerance.

Why do people develop gluten intolerance?

One theory for the increase in gluten intolerance and sensitivity, is due to over consumption of wheat and processed foods with gluten additives. Another theory is that improper cooking of gluten containing whole grains have led to distressed digestive systems, causing an inflammatory response.

Variety and proper cooking are both important in preventing symptoms of gluten intolerance.

Variety: Have you ever eaten a bunch of strawberries or pineapple and felt a reaction like a rash or swelling? People can often eat a small amount of a food they are sensitive too without reaction, but not a large amount. Our food system is full of highly processed wheat and gluten containing additives and preservatives. Without being aware of it, the average person’s consumption of gluten has increased through these processed foods. By eating a variety of grains, some with gluten and some without gluten, you can help protect yourself from becoming sensitive to gluten from over consumption.

Non-gluten containing grains to incorporate into your diet:

  • Millet
  • Polenta
  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Teff
  • Amaranth
  • Steel-cut oats
  • Wild rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Sorghum

Proper Cooking: When grains are not properly cooked, the intestinal tract can become distressed and allow larger particles of food across the barrier causing an inflammatory immune response. The inflammation may cause digestive upset and malabsorption which in the long-term could contribute to lethargy, joint pain, numbness and other symptoms of malnutrition.

Soaking grains will help with digestion which will aid in avoiding gluten intolerance. Soak grains over night or for a few hours prior to cooking. The grain will be easier to digest because:

  • Enzyme inhibitors get neutralized.
  • The amount of vitamins your body can absorb increases.
  • Gluten breaks down so digestion is much easier.
  • Phytic acid, which inhibits the absorption of vital minerals, is reduced.

The best way to prevent gluten intolerance and sensitivity is to eat a variety of whole grains and avoid processed foods. Soaking grains before cooking helps with digestion and vitamin availability.

Do grains cause weight gain?

Regardless of whether or not you have Celiac disease or gluten intolerance, grains are often associated with weight gain. When people are trying to lose weight, higher protein and fiber foods are recommended because of their ability to keep you feeling full longer, but that does not mean you have to eliminate whole grains from the diet completely. Whole grains can be a part of a healthy diet when portion size, quality and variety are used in planning your meals.

Portion size: The amount of grains you ingest is important to take into consideration. Pasta, rice and other grains are relatively inexpensive and are used as a filler in restaurants and at home. 1 oz. of pasta (a bundle the size of a quarter), ½ cup of cooked rice, and 2 slices of Ezekial bread all contribute approximately 150 kCal. Pasta and rice especially, are often mounded onto a plate with a sauce or sauté on top. This mound of rice or pasta can add up to 4-500 kCal pretty quickly. I recommend starting with one serving of grains per meal and eating more only if you are truly hungry. Staying mindful to the quantity of grains you are ingesting will help eliminate the worry of unwanted weight gain while enjoying the nutrition and flavor benefits of grains.

Quality: Whole and unprocessed are good quality grains. Processing reduces the nutritional value, dietary fiber, and flavor. Dietary fiber helps to leave you feeling full longer and is good for your digestion. Whole grains offer vitamins and minerals that can be stripped away during the processing and heating of grains. Whole grains have a nutty flavor and chewy texture that compliments meals. High-quality whole grains can add a lot of benefit to a healthy diet.

Variety: Eating a variety of whole grains adds nutritional value and flavor to your meals. Eating a variety of grains, some that are gluten containing and some that are not will aid in preventing gluten intolerance. Each grain offers different nutritional composition, by eating a variety you can benefit from all of the nutrients the different grains have to offer.

 New Grains to try:

  • Millet
  • Teff
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth
  • Wild rice
  • Steel cut oats
  • Kasha
  • Barley*
  • Farro*
  • Freekeh*

*Barley, farro and freekeh contain gluten


Warm Millet Salad


3½ cups vegetable broth

1 cup whole-grain millet

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

½ teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1 celery rib, diced

¼ cup dried cranberries

¼ cup sherry vinegar

2 tablespoons agave nectar or honey

½ cup seedless green or red grapes

¼ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a medium, heavy saucepan, bring the broth to a boil. Add the millet, rosemary, and salt and

cook, covered, over low heat until the grains are soft, about 35 to 40 minutes. Drain any excess liquid.

2. Meanwhile, in a large, heavy saucepan heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and

celery and cook, covered, over medium-low heat about 5 minutes, or just until the vegetables are

somewhat softened.

3. Add the cooked millet mixture, cranberries, vinegar, and agave to the saucepan and stir to coat the

grains thoroughly. Stir in grapes and walnuts, and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm. Serves 4

Being mindful of moderation, variety and quality, grains can be a beneficial part of a healthy diet. Grains add nutrition and flavor to your meals and should not be avoided.

Tara Hire, is a weight loss and nutrition coach on Monhegan Island in Maine. She helps people to find their individual balanced diet through her retreat offering Yoga for Balanced Eating which is offered July 25-27 and August 30-September 1. To learn more about Tara and her retreat offerings visit or call 207-594-0707, email