The ancient secret to great nutrition, now available everywhere

When the children’s breakfast cereal, Cheerios, came out with an ancient grains version earlier this year in the US, it was a clear indicator that a grains revival has begun.

The cynical amongst us might suggest it’s just another marketing ploy, an excuse to charge more for a sugary breakfast cereal. But the truth is that eating a wider variety of grains can only benefit our health.

Still recoiling from the advances of Paleo and the gluten-free movement, grains are ready to make a comeback. Which is no bad thing. Plenty of evidence suggests that people who eat quality grains (and that generally means whole grains) have improved blood lipids including cholesterol, better blood glucose control, and less inflammation.

They also enjoy the benefits of a high fibre diet, including a healthy mix of gut bacteria, now linked to optimum immune function and improved mood.


What are ancient grains?

Ancient grains generally refer to quinoa, chia, amaranth, millet, wild rice and ancient forms of wheat such as spelt, faro, and Kamut™, as well as freekeh (see side box).

Nutritionist Catherine Saxelby, author of the book Ancient Grains: Whole foods Recipes for the Modern Table, explains that the term refers to the ancient types of grains that have only recently been ‘discovered’ by the West.

“These heritage grains…have been grown and enjoyed by different communities the world over, as they began settling in one place,” she says.

Traditionally, eight grains are considered cereals: wheat, rice, corn, oats, rye, barley, millet and sorghum. Buckwheat, wild rice, amaranth, chia and quinoa are not true grains but are grown and cooked in the same way.

These grains are full of nutrition. For a start, they are generally consumed as whole grains, coming with their bran and germ intact.

Each grain offers a unique nutrient profile. Barley is an excellent source of selenium, teff and spelt are high in manganese, chia provides twice as much fibre as other grains, while oats have high levels of thiamine. Meanwhile, quinoa is one of the few plant foods that’s a complete protein, meaning it contains significant amounts of all the essential amino acids.

Experiment with a new grain today - barley and quinoa are good ones to start with as they can replace rice in many dishes. 

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