Beyond Whole Wheat: Why You Should Try Ancient Grains
Ancient grains like quinoa and millet are delicious in salads and served as side dishes.

Beyond Whole Wheat: Why You Should Try Ancient Grains

With many people cutting back on baked goods or even going gluten-free, it seems there’s some confusion about grains and which ones are good for you. Here’s the lowdown: Whole grains – those that are in their original state – are good for you, those that have been processed are not.

But even so, when it comes to nutrient content, not all grains are created equal. For this reason, many people are rediscovering “ancient grains.” Not only are these grains high in fiber and protein and rich in minerals, many of them are free of gluten. And like other whole grains, they can lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar and reduce belly fat. One study found that people who ate two to three daily servings of whole grains had a 30 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Here’s a guide to some of the most popular ancient grains and how to serve them.

1. Buckwheat

Despite the name, buckwheat isn’t actually a type of wheat, but a fruit seed that when hulled resembles wheat or rye. Humans have eaten buckwheat for 8,000 years and it’s a valuable source of protein, containing all eight essential amino acids. Buckwheat is also high in B vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium, manganese,  and zinc.

How to Eat: Eat buckwheat in hot cereals, pancakes, and soups. Kasha is a traditional porridge made from buckwheat groats.

2. Amaranth

A staple in the diets of the Incas and Aztecs, amaranth is unusual in that it offers a complete form of vegetable protein. Amaranth is high in folic acid, potassium, iron, calcium and other minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, copper and manganese and is a good source of essential amino acids, especially lysine, which strengthens the immune system.

How to Eat: Add amaranth to soups, salads and stir-fries, or use as flour in baking.

3. Quinoa

Considered by many a “superfood,” quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) was a staple of the South American diet starting 5,000 years ago. Like buckwheat, quinoa contains all eight essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. High-fiber quinoa is rich in many minerals, including iron and calcium, making it useful for vegans and those who are lactose intolerant. Quinoa is gluten-free and doctors recommend it for those with digestive issues.

How to Eat: Serve quinoa as a side dish or add it to soups, stews, and salads.

4. Millet

Another gluten-free seed similar to buckwheat, millet has long been a staple in Africa, China and India. High in fiber and an excellent source of protein, millet is also rich in B vitamins. It has a high magnesium content, making it a useful addition to a heart-healthy diet.

How to Eat: With its sweet, nut-like flavor, millet is delicious in soups and as a side dish with stews, casseroles and entrees. And popped millet makes a tasty snack.

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Melanie Haiken, Health and Fitness Expert

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.