10 Best Gluten-Free Carbohydrate Sources
Whether you’re new to a gluten-free diet or you’re cooking for someone who is gluten-free, you’ll find this list of Gluten-Free Carbs helpful. Learn which carbohydrate-rich foods you can eat that are gluten-free.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is the general name for a family of proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley. When bread is made with the flour from these grains, the gluten forms a glue-like substance that holds everything together. It also makes the dough elastic and helps it rise, producing a chewy texture once the bread is cooked.
Gluten contains two main proteins – gliadin and glutenin. Unfortunately, some people find gliadin hard to digest and it is linked to a range of health problems, including celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy, gluten ataxia, and dermatitis herpetiformis.
Learn more about the reasons to go gluten-free.
For people affected by these conditions, the advice may be to avoid gluten altogether. But this can seem quite overwhelming at first, as gluten is present in so many different foods. Aside from bread made with wheat, rye, or barley, other foods high in gluten include:
- and many other processed foods.
Gluten & Carbohydrates
Some people rely on gluten-containing foods like breads as their main sources of carbohydrates. If you have been advised to follow a gluten-free diet, your initial worry may be how you will be able to consume enough carbohydrates going forward.
Carbohydrates are an essential part of the diet and the body’s main source of energy. They provide fuel for your body’s organs and help with other processes too – for example, fiber is a carbohydrate that helps you digest your food and feel satisfied after a meal.
But the good news is that there are lots more foods besides bread and pasta to supply your body with the carbohydrates it needs to stay healthy… and to stop you from feeling hungry!
10 Best Gluten-Free Carbohydrate Sources
Whether you’re new to eating a gluten-free diet or you’re looking to eat a less processed diet, here are some of the best gluten-free carbs to include.
1. Starchy Vegetables
Starchy vegetables are rich in complex carbohydrates – long links of sugar molecules that you digest very slowly. As a result, you feel full after consuming them, and stay full for longer. Starchy vegetables provide a wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals too, plus plenty of fiber to aid digestion.
Good vegetables to try include:
- butternut squash,
- acorn squash,
- and peas.
If you don’t like vegetables, be sure to check out my list of the best vegetables for picky eaters.
It may not surprise you to find that all fresh fruits are naturally gluten-free, but you might not have realized just how high in carbohydrates some fruits are.
The carbohydrates found in fruits are also known as complex carbohydrates, which means they include fiber which helps your body break down the carbs slower.
Some of the best fruit sources of carbohydrates include:
- dried fruits like raisins,
- some fruits juices,
- and fruit smoothies.
With any fruit that has been processed (including dried fruits), be sure to check the packaging carefully to make sure there is no warning about gluten cross-contamination.
Rich in complex carbohydrates, most legumes are also great sources of plant protein! They are also low in fat and high in iron, making them a healthy addition to any diet.
All legumes are naturally gluten-free, although some packaging – particularly for lentils – may display a warning about cross-contamination. The risk is still very low, although you may prefer to wash them to be on the safe side, or opt for cooked, canned legumes instead.
The family of legumes is wide and varied, so you have plenty of options to choose from! It contains all kinds of beans – including black beans, kidney beans, and lima beans – along with all varieties of lentils, plus peas or split peas (which are dried).
Both white and sweet potatoes are great sources of complex carbs (starches), providing you with plenty of energy, lots of nutrients, and keeping you full.
In order to be sure they are completely gluten-free, you need to eat them in their natural form. If you choose a processed potato product, check for any cross-contamination warnings on the packaging – and if you order potatoes at a restaurant, be sure to let your server know that you need to avoid gluten.
Potato is also used to produce potato flour, which is made from the ground roots. You will often see it listed in gluten-free flour blends because it keeps baked goods moist. It’s also good for thickening sauces.
All natural forms of rice – whether white, wild or brown – are free from gluten and make a satisfying accompaniment to your main meal.
But you need to take care with some rice dishes, as they will often be mixed with other gluten-containing ingredients. These include things like pre-seasoned rice packages and rice pilaf, which often contains a type of wheat pasta called orzo.
You can enjoy rice for breakfast, too – Cream of Rice, for example, is perfectly safe for a gluten-free diet (especially when it’s labeled as certified gluten-free).
Contrary to popular belief, however, not all puffed rice cereals are considered gluten-free. This is because many varieties are made with malt, which comes from barley. Look for puffed rice cereal that is specifically marketed as being gluten-free.
Pronounced “keen-wah”, quinoa is often described as a grain but is actually a seed. Nutritionally dense, it is high in protein and provides all the amino acids our bodies need, along with lots of fiber, calcium, and iron.
Even better news is that recent studies have suggested that patients with celiac disease can actually improve on a diet containing quinoa.
Frequently referred to as a superfood, quinoa is very versatile. It has a nutty flavor and is great served simply as a side dish, or can be cooked with milk and mixed with berries to serve as a delicious breakfast or dessert. If you are following a vegetarian diet, you can even combine cooked quinoa with binders and seasonings to create meat-free patties.
You can also buy quinoa flour to make gluten-free bread, muffins, pancakes, etc, or look for quinoa chips and crispbreads.
Some people refer to corn as a grain, others a starchy vegetable. Either way, it is a great source of complex carbohydrates and another versatile food that you can safely enjoy in its natural form.
Whilst an ear of corn on the cob makes a tasty and satisfying side dish, there are other ways you can use corn within a gluten-free diet.
Cornstarch is made by grinding up the starchy part of the kernel and is ideal for thickening sauces and stews. You can also use corn flour and cornmeal in your recipes (although you should check the packaging for cross-contamination warnings).
Popcorn makes a great gluten-free, carbohydrate-rich snack, but if you haven’t prepared it yourself, you will need to check the ingredients carefully to make sure none of the additives or flavorings contain gluten.
Millet seed is classified as a whole grain and can be served just like quinoa or rice.
It has a sweet flavor – a little bit like corn – and a fluffy texture when it’s cooked, which usually involves boiling it with twice its volume of liquid. Toasting it before cooking gives it a nutty taste which many people find even more delicious!
Millet can be used to make breakfast porridge, especially if you increase the cooking time along with the amount of water you use when cooking it. Alternatively, you can add it to soups and stews to make them more substantial.
For a simple snack, try popping millet just like popcorn. To do this, just heat it in a dry frying pan – the grains don’t jump into the air in the same way that popcorn kernels do, so you won’t even need to cover the pan.
Rich in minerals and high in fiber, amaranth seeds absorb water very easily. This makes them perfect for providing extra bulk to soups and casseroles, or for thickening sauces. You can also use amaranth to make a breakfast porridge, as the consistency when cooked is ideal.
Because of amaranth’s tendency to turn mushy when cooked, however, it’s not as good as other grains or seeds for serving alone as a side dish. If you want to cook some to eat with a meal, your best option is to mix a small amount with another grain. And – just as with millet – amaranth seeds can be popped in a dry pan.
Amaranth flour is not ideal for your gluten-free baking recipes because it stops bread from rising and makes other baked goods seem heavy and dense. If you want to cook with amaranth flour, it is best mixed with other gluten-free flour blends.
See my recipe for Instant Pot Amaranth Porridge.
10. Gluten-free pastas or bread
Going gluten-free doesn’t mean giving up bread and pasta altogether! In fact, there are so many people seeking gluten-free alternatives to these foods that there are plenty of excellent products to choose from.
Check out the gluten-free section in your grocery store for pasta made with grains such as rice or quinoa, noodles made with buckwheat, bread made with non-wheat flour, and lots more options.
You may also want to read my articles on the best gluten-free pastas.
Although it may seem daunting at first, switching to gluten-free carbohydrate sources can actually be a positive thing.
Many of us are stuck in the rut of eating wheat-based breads and pastas and have never explored any other possibilities. But there are many foods we can enjoy instead, all of which are delicious and most of which are incredibly rich sources of vitamins and minerals too!
Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations related to your individual situation.