Ancient Grains: Why They Are so Good For You
Ancient grains or heritage grains are the categories of grains or cereals that have remained mostly unchanged since the dawn of time. Even in many countries, they are dietary staples, i.e., China, India, Africa, and the middle east. Also, these grains are gaining popularity in western countries. Grains like these are nutrient-rich and provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It also offers several health benefits, ranging from boosting immunity, improving digestion, lower heart disease risk, and better blood sugar control and maintaining blood pressure compared to modern grains.
These grains are revered for their age and history. Greeks and Romans offered a grain named spelled to god. Farro is considered in the Old Testament. Grains like quinoa (mother of grains), chia seed, buckwheat, and many others started gaining popularity in America. However, grains like teff, millet, freekeh, sorghum, and Amaranth haven’t made their way on the plates yet. These are often referred to as “Superfoods of the future.”
Unlike modern varieties of grains like modern wheat, corn, and rice, they are never processed with hybridization or genetic modification. In a nutshell, these grains are grainy grandparents of whole wheat, brown rice, oats, and many others.
Ancient grains came out swinging when it’s come to nutritional contents as compared to modern grains. Each of these ancient grain is having their robust texture and stellar dietary profile, and that’s the reason why many individual inclining towards these grains because most of them are concerned of what they are putting in their bodies and hence started taking a substantial amount of these grains in their day to day diet as they had discovered the taste and versatility of these grains.
Now let’s discuss why ancient grains are right for you and their health benefits:
We will discuss eight types of ancient grains:
- Amaranth: Amaranth recently gains popularity as a health food. This grain has been a dietary staple of many parts of the world. It has a rich nutrient profile. It belongs to a group of more than 60 different species of grain that have cultivated for about 1,000 years. Three of them are commonly grown as food consumption. It was developed initially and harvested by Aztecs. It is often classified as pseudo-cereal, which means that its not a cereal grain like wheat or oats, but has the same set of nutrients and is used in the same way.
Amaranth is tall, mostly 5-7 ft. has broad green leaves, bright purple, green or gold flowers. The seeds that plant produced referred to as a seed. It is gluten-free and considered the best source of protein for vegans. It is rich in protein and fiber.
It is rich in manganese, which is vital for brain function and protects against several neurological conditions. It is rich in magnesium, which is responsible for close to 300 reactions in the human body. It is also rich in phosphorus, which is a vital mineral to maintain bone health. It’s also rich in iron, which helps in producing blood in the human body.
It is also a good source of health-promoting antioxidants. Amaranth is rich in various antioxidants, such as gallic acid, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, and vanillic acid, which can help protect against illness. It helps reduce inflammation, a healthy immune response designed to protect the body against any injury or infection. Amaranth helps in lowering your cholesterol level. It will help you to shed your few extra pounds. It is a gluten-free grain that adds in his diet if he/she has celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
How to cook Amaranth?
One can prepare many dishes with Amaranth that are easy and palatable. You have to sprout the amaranth seeds by soaking it in water and germinating for 1-3 days so that it becomes easy to digest and break down antinutrients.
To cook the Amaranth, use the water in a 3:1 ratio, then boil the water till the boiling point and reduce the heat after that and leave it for simmering for about 20 minutes. Make sure the water is absorbed.
Use it in soups, stews, or broth so to increase the thickness. Use it as a breakfast cereal and enjoy it with nuts and fruits. Use it in place of pasta or rice. Use it in making smoothies.
- Millet: Millet is widely consumed in Asia and Africa. It has gained popularity in the west because of its high protein, fiber, and antioxidant contents. It is often used as a primary ingredient in making flatbreads, porridge, and fermented beverages. Millet varieties are many; the primary forms are called pearl, foxtail, proso, and finger. The most commonly produced type for human consumption is pearl millet.
Millet is rich in carbohydrates. It provides essential amino acids than any other grain. It also provides the highest calcium content necessary to ensure bone health, blood vessels, and muscular contractions. It is rich in antioxidants. It helps in controlling blood sugar levels. It also helps in lowering cholesterol. It is gluten-free hence can be given to a gluten-intolerant person.
How to cook millet?
Soak the millet overnight; in case you want that nutty taste, then heat it in a pan. Add the water in 2:1 of raw millet and boil it till the boiling point. Then lower the flame and allow it to simmer for 20 minutes.
One can even grind it use it as flour. One can bake delicious baked goods such as cookies or millet cake. Research reveals that making baked goods with millet flour increases their nutritional profile. It also used to make prebiotic beverages.
- Sorghum: Many of you are not aware of this grain, but it has been around for centuries. Its small round and usually white or yellow – however, there are certain varieties which are red, brown, black, and purple. Sorghum bicolor is the famous variety of this native to Africa. It’s the 5th most-produced cereal crop, with an annual production of 57.6 million tons.
In several parts of America, it is widely used as animal feed and ethanol fuel production. It also has a rich nutritional profile. While it is in the aggregate form, it can cook like rice or quinoa. It can be milled like flour or popped like popcorn. It can even be converted into several syrups and can be used to sweeten many processed foods.
It is rich in numerous nutrients, including B vitamins, which play an essential role in metabolism, neural development, hair, and skin health. It is rich in magnesium. It also has high antioxidants like flavonoids, phenolic acids, and tannins, which lower oxidative stress and inflammation. It also provides 20% of recommended daily fiber intake in a half-cup. It is also renowned for its high protein content. As it is gluten-free, this can be given to the person who is allergic to gluten.
It also helps make sorghum syrups widely used as a sweetener in the food industry.
- Teff: It is known as the world’s smallest grain, just 1/100 of a wheat kernel. It is a traditional grain of Ethiopia. Even if the grain is tiny, but it’s rich in essential nutrients, magnesium, and iron. It is also amongst the grain, which provides vitamin C, a vital nutrient for immune and bone health.
Teff is resistant to drought. It can grow in a variety of environmental conditions and comes in both darker and lighter varieties, with brown and ivory being the most common. It can be used as whole grain or gluten-free flour. As it is the traditional grain of Ethiopia, people prepare several dishes with it, the one which is very renowned in the world is the soft, spongy sourdough flatbread named injera. Teff can be cooked and eaten in flour as whole grain or ground and used for making baked goods, bread and pasta.
Teff is an excellent source of copper, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, zinc, and selenium. It is an excellent source of protein as well as essential amino acids. Compared with other gluten-free flours, teff flour is relatively expensive. Few teff products are mixed with wheat flour, which makes them unacceptable for anyone avoiding gluten.
- Freekeh: Freekeh is the staple grain of Middle Eastern cuisine. It has a variety of nutrients and potent carotenoid compounds. It is harvested while green. After roasted over an open fire, its straws and chaff are burned and rubbed together. As the grain inside is too moist to cook, you are left with a firm, slightly chewy grain that has a distinct flavor, which is a bit smoky.
Now when it comes to nutrition, freekeh is above all the grain. It is high in protein and fiber. One cup of freekeh serving has 16 grams of fiber and 24 grams of protein. It is also rich in iron and calcium.
Freekeh is versatile, and it can be used in making both sweet and savory delicacies. Try to add freekeh as your breakfast cereal. Use it in soups, stews, and summer salads.
- Barley: It is highly nutritious and also the most consumed ancient grain popular in America. Barley also helps in making beer and whiskey. As per archeological evidence, barley was grown in Egypt thousands of years ago. It is also the 4th most grown grain after corn, rice, and wheat. The most commonly grown barley is the pearl barley.
The primary type of antioxidant found in barley is beta-glucan, which lowers cholesterol and improves blood sugar control. It helps improve digestion.
There are numerous ways where one can make it as a regular part of the diet:
- Try barley flakes as breakie porridge.
- Add it in stews or soups.
- Combine wheat flour and barley flour to make baked goods.
- Eat it as a side dish.
- Farro: It is a wheat-based grain that is gaining popularity day by day, which originated in Mesopotamia. Studies showed that it tastes good and is packed with fiber, protein, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. The most famous variety which is available in America is Emmer wheat. People are fond of this grain because of its nutty flavor and chewy texture.
Farro is rich in antioxidants like polyphenols, carotenoids, and phytosterols, helping reduce the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. It is also rich in protein and fiber.
It can be used like any other grain, widely used in soups, salad, and stews.
- Quinoa: It is an ancient grain that is renowned, gluten-free, and offers impressive health benefits. It is also known as pseudo-cereal. It was an essential crop for the Inca empire. It is referred to as the “mother of all grain.” Nowadays, one can find quinoa products worldwide, restaurants around the globe having various quinoa dishes on their menu. It generally is of three types: white, red and black.
It is high in fiber than the other grains. It is gluten-free hence can be given to the person who is allergic to gluten. It is high in protein and also packed with essential amino acids. Due to its low glycemic index, which is 53, it is best for blood sugar control. It is also having the right amount of minerals like iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. It helps in improving metabolic health. It is high in antioxidants.
Now that we have discussed these ancient grains, including has several nutrition and benefits, one cant resists himself to add these in his regular diet. They are less processed and have more vitamins, minerals, and fiber then modern.
Common foods such as brown rice, whole grain pasta, oatmeal, popcorn, and whole wheat bread offer the same goodness of whole grain, and often at lower prices.
Several ancient are gluten-free and can be given to people who are allergic to gluten.
The takeaway message is you are free to eat common food if you like it, but try some ancient food in your diet so that your body can get more nutrition. The federal government website even has related articles that show how you can add it to your regular diet, so to get these grains from the past make a comeback on our plates soon. As per National Restaurant association culinary forecast as people are getting so much health conscious and are concerned about what they are putting in our body, we prefer healthy alternatives to everything that we eat, which makes ancient grains a growing trend among U.S. chefs.
To stay healthy (includes both physical and mental health), you have to eat healthy and ancient grains help you to do it.