Ancient Grains – Super Grains or Superhype

ancient grains
Written by Vicki Ma (Accredited Practising Dietitian and Sports Dietitian)

If we had a food popularity contest, ancient grains will (without a doubt) be the clear winner. There’s a whole lot of super grains, each with it’s own unique set of benefits and nutritional quality. Grains such as quinoa, spelt, amaranth, barley, sorghum, teff and freekah are making a big impact on our modern diet. Not only do they add texture, flavour and versatility to our everyday cooking, but they also provide many health benefits.   

Why are Ancient Grains good for you?

There’s strong evidence to suggest having a diet rich in whole grains can help reduce the risk of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Ancient grains provide high amount of antioxidants and are full of vitamins and minerals, essential for our health and well-being. They also provide a great source of fibre, helping to keep us fuller for longer and is great for our digestive system.

Types of Ancient Grains:

Amaranth

Don’t underestimate this tiny grain – it’s a nutrition powerhouse. Amaranth is high in iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. It also contains higher amount of protein compared to other grains. The protein in Amaranth is referred to as “complete” as it contains lysine, which is an amino acid essential to our body. Studies have shown this super grain is great for our heart and has cholesterol-lowering properties. Amaranth is commonly used in breakfast cereal and baked goods. Lots of people are now adding it to soups and salads.

Barley

One of the most nutritious cereal grains, barley is widely used in our society. This grain was really important in ancient times and was one of the first grains to be widely cultivated. Barely is high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. It’s also packed with soluble fibre (such as beta-glucan), which helps lower cholesterol and control blood glucose levels. You can use barley in soups (click here to see our Lamb Vegetable and Barley Soup recipe), salads, porridge and even risotto. This grain is so versatile, you basically use it in all types of cooking.

Buckwheat

Is not classified as a “true” grain, but rather a “pseudo-cereal”. This nutritious grain actually comes from the seed of a plant related to rhubarb. Despite the name, buckwheat is a gluten-free grain. It contains high amount of fibre, protein as well as varies vitamins and minerals. Buckwheat also contains a compound called rutin, a bioflavonoid which helps to control blood pressure, lower cholesterol and has anti-inflammatory properties. Buckwheat can be ground into flour and it’s widely used in pancakes and baked goods. It is also used to create Japenese soba noodles and has a wonderful nutty flavour 

Sorghum

Is an ancient cereal grain related to millet that originated from Africa. Sorghum has many nutritional benefits, it’s high in antioxidants and contains essential vitamins and minerals. It’s also high in fibre and low in GI helping to keep us satisfied for longer. This gluten-free hearty grain contains a rich source of plant sterols, which can help prevent cholesterol absorption and reduce our LDL bad cholesterol. Sorghum has a sweet taste and firm texture. It can be used in pilafs, added to salads or grounded into flour to make pasta (check out this link for a delicious sorghum pasta recipe).

Spelt

This grain was widely used in the Bronze Age and has been grown since 5000BCE. It has very similar properties to barley and is one of my favourite ancient grains to use in salads or added to roasted vegetables. Spelt is also widely used in breads and other baked goods. Spelt does contain gluten so it’s not suitable for people with Coeliac disease. This super grain is high in fibre, vitamins and minerals and also provides a great source of protein.

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