What is a grain? What is a seed? What are pseudo-cereals? When first going grain-free it can be a challenge to work it out, especially as grains can be hidden in the most unlikely of places. Here is a useful list of what is a grain, and what is NOT a grain. It doesn’t include everything. but covers most commonly known grains and hidden sources of grains. Regularly updated.

Grains - containing gluten

  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Barley, including barley malt
  • Bran
  • Bulgar
  • Couscous
  • Farina
  • Kamut
  • Orzo
  • Semolina
  • Graham flour (wheat)
  • Spelt
  • Cornflour made from wheat
  • Oats (unless certified gluten-free)

Grains - gluten-free

  • Corn
  • Cornflour made from corn
  • Cornmeal
  • Rice
  • Wild Rice – this one is open to debate – some people swear it is a grain, some people swear it isn’t and is, in fact, another one of the grain-like seeds.
  • Millet – this one is also open to debate about whether it is a seed or a grain.
  • Teff
  • Montina flour
  • Sorghum
  • Oats (if certified gluten-free)

So anything made from these products would also contain grains – like cakes, biscuits, pizzas, bread, pasta, bread crumbs, spaghetti and pasta.

Beware of Hidden Grains in Unexpected Places

Grains can often be found as an ingredient in many condiments, sauces, soy sauce, processed drinks and alcohol (Beer is made from wheat).  It is often in most commercially made stock – like chicken, beef or vegetable stock in either powder or liquid usually contains some kind of grain.  Glucose from wheat is a common additive in many processed foods.  Purchased hot chips or fries are another common source of hidden grains.

Pseudo-Cereals – gluten-free grain-like seeds

These foods are “grey area grain free”, they are technically considered seeds but are treated as and considered grains by many people.  They are not allowed on Paleo, GAPS, AIP, SCD but are allowed on Body Ecology and some healthcare practitioners do allow them.

Amaranth – is a grain-like seed, from the broadleaf (dicot) plant family. (OK for Body Ecology, or if tolerated, not paleo or GAPS). Is generally treated as a grain when discussing due to being cooked and used much the same way as cereal grains, but is in class Magnoliopsida, while the cereal grain family Poaceae stems from class Liliopsida.

Buckwheat also called Kasha – is a grain-like seed, related to rhubarb, from the broadleaf (dicot) plant family. (OK for Body Ecology, or if tolerated, not paleo or GAPS). Is generally treated as a grain when discussing due to being cooked and used much the same way as cereal grains, but is in class Magnoliopsida, while family Poaceae stems from class Liliopsida.

Quinoa – is a grain-like seed, from the broadleaf (dicot) plant family. (OK for Body Ecology, or if tolerated, not paleo or GAPS). Is generally treated as a grain when discussing due to being cooked and used much the same way as cereal grains, but is in class Magnoliopsida, while family Poaceae stems from class Liliopsida.

Millet – The Body Ecology diet says it is a pseudo-cereal, a gluten-free grain-like seed.  However, it is a member of the plant family Poaceae, of which the other cereal grasses belong and is generally recognized as a grain in most sources I have checked.  Because of this, I have listed it on the grey area grain list and it is up to your own research/opinion as to whether you choose to treat it as a grain or not.

Further Reading

In reviewing this list, it may be helpful for you to also view the article Not All Seeds are Grains” by herbologist Roy Collins.

You may also find the Wikipedia entry for “Food Grain” helpful and my discussion on Pseudo-cereals here.

Foods that are grain-free

 

These foods are often used as a flour or look a bit like a grain but are grain-free

Almond meal or any other nut meal. (OK for paleo, GAPS or SCD)
Arrowroot
Cassava
Chickpeas (made into flour, not paleo, AIP, GAPS or SCD)
Coconut (used in flours) (OK for paleo, GAPS or SCD)
Cottonseed
Dal
Fava bean
Flaxseed (OK for paleo, GAPS or SCD)
Gram flour (chickpea, not paleo, AIP, GAPS or SCD)
Lentils
Manioc
Potato Starch/Flour
Sago
Sesame – seed
Sunflower seed flour
Taro flour
Soy flour
Tapioca
Glucose made from tapioca
Plantain flour (can get at African grocers)
Yam (iyan) flour (can get at African grocers)
Mesquite flour
Sweet potato flour
Banana flour

So anything made from these products would be technically grain-free (but not necessarily ok to consume – for many people they would still cause problems for various reasons).  For example, bread, cakes or pasta made from grain-free flours do not contain grains.  Reading ingredients is important!

Grain-free foods are automatically gluten-free

Dairy products or anything from an animal like milk, cheese, butter or meat do not contain grains.

All fruits and vegetables are not grains, (except for corn, which is a grain).

Just because something is “technically” not a grain, doesn’t make it automatically ok.  

If following Paleo or GAPS, you wouldn’t touch any of the grain-like seeds or most of the starchy grain free alternatives in the above “not a grain list”.  So for many, the alternatives are nuts and seeds but not pseudo-cereals.

For my family, they do ok on soaked & sprouted quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and millet, so I cook them sometimes, although not every day. For myself, I stick to the paleo versions: cassava flour, plantains, sweet potato flour, coconut flour, tapioca and possibly nut and seed flours like almond meal and ground up seeds.