What are ancient grains?
There is no precise definition for ancient grains other than those for thousands of years. In all these years, they have escaped the modification done by humans to other grains such as rice, corn, and wheat. Hence, they still retain most of the genetic variation that was natural to them. Due to this, they are not processed and packed with essential nutrients and minerals, along with their taste.
Many varieties of ancient grains have recently gained popularity due to their health benefits. Here are a few of them and the reasons why they should be part of everyone’s dietary staples.
Few varieties of ancient grains and their benefits
Amaranth is one of the ancient grains that have recently gained popularity. It is technically not a cereal like an oat or wheat, but it is similar. Amaranth is a highly nutritious and versatile grain that has been around for thousands of years, and it is a staple food in many ancient civilisations.
Amaranth is rich in fibre and protein. It is also a good source of Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorous, and other micronutrients. Manganese helps enhance brain and neurological functions. Iron increases the oxygen levels in the blood, and phosphorus improves bone strength. It also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It also protects the liver from the adverse effects of alcohol.
Amaranth contains a good amount of fibre which helps reduce hunger and overeating. It can also help in relieving constipation.
Millets are small and round grains, primarily grown in India, Africa, and other Asian countries. There are many kinds of millets, and all of them are high in antioxidants, nutrients, minerals, fibre, etc. They are also gluten-free. A few of the varieties of millets are:
- Foxtail millet: It contains the highest minerals in millets and boosts immunity.
- Finger millet or Ragi: It has high quantities of Calcium and Protein, which is helpful for anaemic and diabetic patients.
- Pearl millet or Bajra: It contains Iron, Calcium, Magnesium, and Manganese. It also lowers cholesterol.
- White or proso millet: It contains high lecithin content (for the brain and nervous system), minerals, and vitamins.
- Kodo millet: It has high levels of Protein, Iron, and Antioxidants. Suitable for weight loss and diabetic patients.
- Little millet: It has the highest fat content compared to all millets and helps improve digestion.
Quinoa is one of the most famous ancient grains. It is gluten-free and offers impressive health benefits. It is packed with minerals and nutrients such as Folate, Magnesium, Zinc, Iron, Fiber, Protein, etc. It also contains certain flavonoid compounds, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Due to its high fibre content, it is helpful in gut health, digestion, constipation, and weight management. It is also a good source of protein, which is necessary for people on plant-based diets or vegans. It also improves metabolism and reduces high levels of cholesterol in the blood. Quinoa and Quinoa-based products help regulate blood sugar levels, essential for diabetic patients. It is also easy to cook and incorporate into any meal.
Barley is another ancient grain with a lot of health benefits. It is rich in vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and many healthy compounds. It has Selenium, Manganese, Molybdenum, and Fiber. It also contains high amounts of Vitamin B1, Chromium, Copper, Magnesium, Phosphorus, and Niacin. It has antioxidants that reduce the risk of heart disease and cancers. It contains a large amount of soluble fibre, which helps curb hunger and improve satiety. This property helps target metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity.
It also helps in improving gut bacteria and digestion. The fibre found in barley is also known to reduce the formation of gallbladder stones and the likelihood of gallbladder surgery.
Sorghum, also known as Jowar, is one of India’s commonly used ancient grains. It is a gluten-free grain that is versatile in its uses. It can be cooked like other grains, milled into flour, or converted into a syrup for sweetening many food products.
It contains many nutrients such as Vitamin B and Magnesium, essential for metabolism, skin, hair, nervous system, bone formation, heart health, etc. It also contains many antioxidants that can lower inflammation and stress in the body. Furthermore, it is rich in fibre that promotes gut health, stabilises blood sugar levels, and manages weight. It is also a great source of protein, similar to quinoa.
Teff is an ancient grain that is recently gaining popularity in India. It is a native to Ethiopia. It is a gluten-free and highly nutritious grain. Teff is most commonly used as flour in baking and cooking. It is considered the world's smallest grain. But, it packs a highly nutritious punch with minerals like Copper, Potassium, Manganese, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Selenium, and Zinc.
It is an excellent source of protein, as it contains all essential amino acids. Most importantly, it contains Lysine, an essential amino acid not present in other grains. It is helpful in the production of enzymes, proteins, hormones, collagen, immunity, and energy production. It is also a good source of iron and calcium.
Buckwheat is another ancient grain with high quantities of fibre, which is good for digestion and gut health. It has an abundance of minerals such as iron, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, and copper. Compared to other grains, buckwheat is well absorbed. It also has high antioxidant content, which helps in reducing the risk of cancer, inflammation, blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, heart diseases, and enlargement of the thyroid.
However, some people may develop an allergic reaction when buckwheat is consumed in higher quantities.
Bulgur, also known as Dalia, is made from whole grain cracked wheat. It is not a refined white product. It is an ancient grain which is easy to make, tasty and nutritious. It contains several vitamins, minerals, and a good amount of protein and fibre. It is also helpful in controlling cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and weight. However, this does contain gluten. If you are allergic to gluten, try other gluten-free options.
All these ancient grains are not processed. They contain antinutrients that lower the absorption of certain minerals from the food. To avoid this, try to soak the millets a day before or let them sprout before cooking. It will remove all the antinutrients and can help in better absorption.
These ancient grains are gaining popularity due to their superiority in nutrition and impressive health benefits. Try to incorporate them more to have a more balanced and healthy meal.