Is Polenta Gluten-Free?

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Celiac disease is a serious condition in which the body cannot properly digest gluten products, such as wheat, barley and rye. Often, doing so can result in intestinal damage. 

In the United States, medical experts estimate 2 million Americans have celiac disease, while an additional 6% to 7% of the U.S. population claims to be gluten-sensitive. Common indicators of gluten sensitivity may include headaches, brain fog, inflammation, rashes and digestive issues. Unfortunately, many people have undiagnosed celiac disease. 

Gluten hides in nearly everything and people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity must steer clear of it. Following a gluten-free diet and finding substitutes for gluten products is essential to prevent flair-ups. 

Polenta is one food that may not be as familiar to people, yet it’s an excellent option for those who are gluten-free. It has a similar yet smoother consistency to grits and derives from mixing cornmeal with water or milk. Many gluten-free dieters consider polenta an ideal alternative to pasta; however, it tastes best alongside protein, vegetables, sauce and cheese. 

Health Benefits of Polenta

Cornmeal lacks much nutritional value, but made with other nutritious ingredients, polenta contains several healthful properties.

Polenta is a complex carb—meaning it takes longer to digest and has you feeling fuller longer. While polenta doesn’t contain a lot of vitamins and minerals, it does have vitamin A which is essential for vision and ensuring the heart, lungs and kidneys function properly.

The cornmeal that polenta derives from is also an excellent source of antioxidants, particularly carotenoids—carotenes, lutein, zeaxanthin, etc. Studies have indicated that carotenoids are associated with a lower prevalence of age-related macular degeneration, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia. 

The oxidative properties in carotenoids are also linked to a lower risk of certain cancers. While there are discrepancies in the findings, research suggests that they include cancer-fighting effects.

Of course, how you prepare polenta also can impact its nutritional value. By cooking it with water, you can keep it low-fat. With milk, you add some calories to your meal but gain vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, choline, potassium and vitamin D. 

How to Cook Polenta

Cooking polenta is relatively straightforward. At the grocery store, look for medium or coarse-ground cornmeal fortified with iron for higher nutritional value. You might opt for quick-cooking or pre-cooked polenta, as well. Pre-cooked, packaged polenta usually comes in a tube and is ready to heat upon opening.

Keep in mind that different types of polenta will have varied consistencies. For example, if you simmer polenta on the stovetop, it’ll be creamier than packaged, which will come out firmer.

As was previously mentioned, polenta could be a gluten-free substitute for pasta or an alternative to rice or potatoes. Top with roasted vegetables, red sauce and protein for a complete meal. 

It’s also quite popular to cook polenta with cheese. Top with sauteed onions and chorizo sausage for the perfect gluten-free dinner. 

Polenta: An Delicious Gluten-Free Option

Polenta is a tasty, versatile base for various toppings and sauces. If you have celiac disease or are gluten-sensitive, polenta makes it easy to transition to a gluten-free diet, delivering a delicious alternative to wheat-based products. Otherwise, it’s sometimes an overlooked ingredient that can help switch up your typical dinner menu for the week. 

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