The number of people realizing they have a problem with traditionally eaten, gluten-containing foods is increasing and many of these folks are looking for alternatives since the consumption of grain products is such a integral part of many societies.
Perhaps you’re one of these folks looking for gluten free options and wondering, ‘Is quinoa gluten free?’. As you probably guessed from the URL we do cover the role of rice in a gluten free diet a bit in a few of the other posts. Today though let’s look at a commonly recommended alternative to wheat for people with Celiac and why it isn’t such a smart choice after all.
As many of us are aware of the top reason for avoiding wheat is because of the anti-nutrient properties it has. Basically since each kernel or grain of wheat is a seed and the life of a new wheat plant it doesn’t really want to be eaten. That would make it harder for wheat as a species of plant to thrive and maintain it’s existence. So it tries to kill you. Or at least give you stomach ache. Yep, wheat has some nasty ways of doing it too.
In wheat the lectin Wheat Germ Agglutinin (WGA) is the primary culprit but other grains have similar lectins in varying amounts and levels of potency. These lectins can damage your gastro-intestintal tract potentially penetrating it and causing auto-immune and inflammatory reactions that can lead to long term health problems.
Since quinoa isn’t exactly the in the cereal grain family on a botanical level it usually seems to get a free pass from the gluten free community when it doesn’t really deserve one. While quinoa does not contain gluten it does have natural chemical defense systems like other types of grains do and this is bad news for your GI tract and your health in general.
Ever hear of saponins? If not think of the word soap and you’ll be headed in the right direction since saponins are molecules that make a soap-like foaming reaction when shaken in a water-based solution. While they are said not to attach themselves to carriers as the gluten proteins do, saponins can poke holes in the cell membranes of the microvilli (this is all in your gut mind you). This, of course, is profoundly irritating. In short quinoa might as well be a grain and in some ways it might as well have gluten too. At least if it did people who probably should not be eating it now, would not be eating it.
So to answer the question: Is quinoa gluten free? Yes. But don’t eat it.
What do you eat besides quinoa, wheat and all these other problematic grains? We’ve talked a bit here before about how white rice is a fairly reasonable option for most people. Since white rice has had the bran removed it is primarily a starch and the potentially irritating anti-nutrients in the bran are eliminated. If you are trying to lose weight it may not be the first thing you should turn to depending on your situation and particular health status but it is probably the best option out there in terms of grains and grain-like products.
Beyond that the best way to avoid the problems faced by Celiac sufferers is to make your diet primarily one of meats, fruits, vegetables and some tubers like sweet potatoes. This will have the dual benefit of eliminating gluten and similar lectins from your diet as well as clearing out the processed food content so your body can thrive on whole, clean foods that help spark all the right hormonal signals for health and vitality.