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Try the hot trend in whole grains

Ancient grains have become the darlings of the culinary world, and they’re healthy, too.

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Image: marejuliasz/Thinkstock

In recent years, whole wheat has gotten all the glory when it comes to adding grains to your diet. But today’s superstars are the staples used long before wheat took center stage. They’re called ancient grains.

“Modern wheat, rice, and corn have been processed through hybridization or genetic modification. Ancient grains have not; they’ve been grown the same way for centuries,” says Debbie Krivitsky, a registered dietitian at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Hot trend or hype?

Ancient grains made the list of the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot in 2016” culinary forecast. But the trend isn’t just about foodie flair. Sure, the grains sound exotic, with names like teff, einkorn, emmer, amaranth, millet, quinoa, black rice, black barley, and spelt—but ancient grains also pack a nutritional wallop.

“Generally speaking, they offer more protein, fiber, and vitamins than modern grains,” says Krivitsky. For example, a cup of cooked teff has 10 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber, compared with 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber in a cup of cooked modern brown rice.

Other differences

Ancient grains sometimes have more calories than modern grains. In our example of teff and brown rice, teff has 255 calories per cup, and brown rice has 216 calories. But a cup of cooked modern oatmeal has only 124 calories; a cup of cooked modern corn has only 74 calories.

Another difference: ancient grains tend to cost more than modern grains.

And finally, some ancient grains, such as quinoa and amaranth, are technically called pseudograins, because they’re really from the seed family. “But grains and pseudograins are similar in nutrients and health effects,” explains Krivitsky.

Whole grains, always in style

Just because ancient grains are “in” right now, it doesn’t mean you should discount modern whole grains. All whole grains are better for you than refined grains. Whole-grain kernels have three parts—the bran, endosperm, and germ—that give you phytonutrients, vitamins, and antioxidants, which protect against chronic disease. “Refined grains get rid of the bran and germ in the processing, and you lose the fiber and many of the nutrients,” says Krivitsky.

Many whole grains contain plenty of fiber, which helps lower cholesterol, improves digestion, and controls blood sugar. “It’s okay to eat lower-fiber whole grains. Just make sure you include other foods that are high in fiber, such as fruit and vegetables or high-fiber breads, cereals, and crackers,” says Krivitsky.

Where to start

The takeaway message is to vary your whole grains. “Keep eating oatmeal and brown rice if you like it, but add in some ancient grains from time to time,” suggests Krivitsky. Enjoy ancient grains as a side dish to a meal, or sample products that contain ancient grains, such as breads and pastas.

When buying any whole-grain product, to ensure that you are getting an appreciable serving of that grain, make sure it’s one of the first ingredients listed; ingredients are listed by quantity, in descending order. Also, make sure there’s not a lot of added sugar, which takes away from the value of the food.

And remember to watch your calories when eating any grains. “Some of these are calorie-dense foods, so you really have to be mindful of portions or you may gain weight,” says Krivitsky. “But you can have less and still get more nutrients.”

Get to know some ancient grains

Amaranth

A complete protein that’s gluten-free, packed with protein, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Has a peppery taste.

Black rice

An antioxidant powerhouse that rivals blueberries, with lots of fiber, vitamin E, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, and selenium. Has a nutty flavor.

Einkorn

An ancient wheat, rich in fiber, protein, iron, magnesium, and potassium. Also contains lutein, good for eye health. Tastes like modern wheat.

Kamut

Another ancient wheat packed with fiber, selenium, magnesium, B vitamins, and protein. Contains more sugar than modern wheat, giving it a sweet, nutty taste.

Teff

Highest of all grains in calcium, gluten-free, and rich in fiber and vitamins, especially iron. Has a nutty taste.

Posted by: Dr.Health

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