Ancient grains are making quite the comeback. To those asking, "What are ancient grains?", we have the answer!
We have broken down the science of these ancient grains to understand what makes them legendary. This is without the confusion of the mystery or myth that often surrounds them!
Read on to find out exactly what ancient grains are, how to prepare them, and more information about their nutritional value.
What Are Ancient Grains?
Ancient grains, loosely defined by the Whole Grains Council, are grains that have remained largely unchanged over the last several centuries. These grains have been studied intensely since they suggest a healthier nutritional profile than modern kinds of wheat, which are constantly bred and changed. They are thought to provide advanced nutrition and health benefits to their consumers.
Ancient grain varieties typically have more anti-inflammatory effects than more modern grain strains. Some ancient grains are gluten-free, but it is important to check with a registered health professional such as a physician or dietitian before consuming these grains as someone who is intolerant of or allergic to gluten.
Ancient Grains in the Wheat Family
Farro, kamut, spelt, and more are a part of the wheat family. Give these ancient grains in the wheat family a try:
• Einkorn: high in protein and nutrients while being mild in flavor
• Emmer/farro: savory in flavor and also rich in fiber and magnesium
• Kamut®: nutty flavor and packed with fiber, protein, minerals, selenium, and manganese
• Spelt: high in protein and fiber with a distinctive nutty flavor and chewy texture (often used as a substitute for pasta or rice)
Other Ancient Grains
From millet to quinoa, consider adding these ancient grain products to your ancient grain rotation:
• Barley: a great source of fiber, vitamin B1, and other nutrients, and is best cooked in bigger batches
• Bulgur: high in protein and manganese
• Sorghum: some varieties are high in antioxidants; used as a substitute for wheat flour in baking due to neutral flavor with a slight sweetness
• Teff: tiny in size but packed with calcium and other nutrients
• Millet: small, whole grain that is heart-healthy and rich in many minerals
• Quinoa: a popular ancient grain, and also a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids as well as higher levels of iron and phosphorus
• Amaranth: has higher levels of protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin C while remaining easy to cook and crunchy in texture
• Freekeh: young green wheat that is full of fiber, minerals, and can be incorporated easily into a stir-fry, risotto, or soup
How to Prepare Ancient Grains
It can be daunting to try something new, but ancient grains are easy to prepare and follow many of the same simple steps as more common conventional grains.
Toss in a Salad
Looking for something simple? It does not get more simple than this simple barley salad recipe!
(More plant-based salad recipes below!)
Cook with a Book
If a little inspiration is needed to kickstart the cooking, an ancient grains cookbook can be a great place to start.
Cookbooks can help create pleasing plates and pair grains with other foods that help make a complete nutritious meal.
Prepare a Hot Dish
The most popular recipes with common grains are hot cereal combinations. Pancakes and waffles can also be a safe bet when taking a first attempt at ancient grains.
Try mixing ancient grains into a breakfast dish or cook up a delicious cranberry and feta farro salad, which can be served hot or cold.
Start the Quest with Quinoa
Quinoa is an incredibly versatile ancient grain, pairing well with many flavors and seasonings. It can be incorporated into almost any meal, including these ideas:
• Mix it with milk, fruit, cinnamon, nuts, or nut butter as a warm breakfast.
• Transform quinoa into a lunch component with seasonal greens, herbs, or spices.
• Substitute quinoa for the rice in a stir fry can up the nutrients on a dinner plate.
Decide: Main Dish or Side?
Many people do not know if ancient grains should be an appetizer or the center of the plate. Either way, ancient grains can be introduced to a healthy eating plan!
Try substituting ancient grains for ones used more commonly, such as bulgur in place of oats. Farro can be added to soups or used in a risotto. Quinoa can turn into a side dish salad or offer nutrients and texture to baked goods. Really, the possibilities are nearly endless!
When in Doubt, Ask a Dietitian
Dietitians can introduce new foods into the diet and suggest ways to cook them. It can be helpful to have the guidance of a dietitian in evaluating nutrition labels and learning how to spot highly processed products that mask nutrient-poor content.
Ancient Grains Nutritional Value
The popularity of ancient grains has surged during the past decade and has many people wondering if their legendary benefits are fact or fiction.
The higher nutritional value of whole versus refined grains has been well established, but what about ancient grains?
What the Research Shows
Researchers evaluating the effects of ancient grains on human cells can confirm that these grains hold potential health benefits. Many ancient grains studied have shown positive characteristics and provide evidence that consuming ancient grains may be nutritionally important. This is largely due to the fact that most ancient grains are consumed as a whole grain.
In other words, grains can be both whole and ancient. This allows for various amounts of nutrients to be available, including protein, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber.
Whole grains and legumes such as barley, bulgur, millet, sorghum, and farro are considered one of the top categories of cancer-fighting foods. Ancient wheat varieties have shown convincing beneficial effects when linked to the following conditions:
• Cardio-metabolic diseases, including lipid and glycemic profiles
• Inflammatory and oxidative stress
• Development of type 2 diabetes
• Diabetes and cancer risk
• Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
• Intestinal inflammation and/or permeability
• Heart disease
• Colorectal and other cancers
Another upside of ancient grains is that many thrive with lower use of pesticides, fertilizers, and irrigation. Such qualities appeal to consumers wanting to eat more environmentally-minded.
As part of a balanced diet, eating an assortment of ancient grains and whole grains alike ensures that nutrient needs are being met.
Grams to Grains
In general, ancient grains are packed with much more fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals than modern grains.
• Farro, with only 1/4 cup (45 grams), provides 6 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and is fat and sugar-free.
• Teff provides 10 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber per cup when cooked.
• One cup of cooked bulgur contains 33 percent of the fiber recommended dietary allowance in addition to 5.6 grams of protein.
• Quinoa offers an impressive 6 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber per 1/4 cup dry serving.
Overall, each ancient grain has a unique nutrient profile but all offer a variety of important vitamins and minerals. And whether using amaranth, quinoa, or another ancient grain, they add fiber and protein to a balanced diet.
The Bottom Line
Ancient grain varieties offer amazing amounts of protein, fiber, and other nutrients. They can also be used in many culinary ways, including as a warm cereal or chilled salad.
So while ancient grains do not have an oﬃcial deﬁnition, they can officially be part of a balanced diet!
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