Health Hacks - Ancient Grains

Posted by Jen Bruning on 10/07/19
Jen Bruning
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In ancient times grains provided reliable nutrients and vital energy to humans.  The advent of agriculture led to a more stable food environment, allowing humanity to flourish.

Cut to today, when humanity produces abundant food, available 24/7 to many of us.  Grains are everywhere.  And while some foods made from grains aren’t the healthiest choice, many whole grains are packed with texture, flavor, nutrients and health benefits.

Hi, I'm Jen Bruning, a registered dietitian with ISS Guckenheimer. Today on Health Hacks, we're talking about grains, specifically grains that have been part of humanity's foodscape for thousands of years.

Ancient grains are those that haven't really changed much over time, preserving the unique flavors, textures, and health benefits that they conferred on our ancestors.

Some ancient grains are relatives of familiar favorites: farro, kamut, and spelt are all related to modern wheat.  Fun fact: barley was actually used in determining the length of 1 standard inch measurement!  The Barley that we know today is practically identical to barley eaten thousands of years ago.  Still other grains may be new to us: teff, quinoa, amaranth, sorghum, and millet are ancient grain varieties that you can find in many well stocked grocery stores today.

Grains contribute important nutrients to our diet such as dietary fiber plus phytochemicals and antioxidants. Varying the grains you eat can have additional health benefits: 1 cup of teff, which is the staple grain of Ethiopia, contains 10% of your daily calcium needs. And while Sorghum may be a new grain to you, it’s actually the fifth most consumed crop on the planet!  Sorghum contains iron and zinc, as well as B vitamins.

Recently there has been some increase in various forms of low-carb dieting that may exclude whole grains.  While different diet plans work for different individuals, there are some important things to know when considering whether or not grains will be part of your daily eating plan:

Research suggests that those who eat whole grains have a lower risk of developing several types of cancer. Fiber is also known to help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Fiber-rich carbohydrate sources are digested more slowly and give sustained energy, instead of the quick spike in blood sugar that you get from simple sugars and refined grains.

Other reasons to consider eating whole grains are things like satisfaction: due to their fiber content, whole grains are more satiating.  In addition, including whole grains in your diet has been linked with weight loss and improved weight maintenance.

Lastly, including whole grains in your diet may help the environment: the EAT-Lancet report, which studied the way various diets impact both human and planetary health recommends up to 8 servings of grain foods per day.  When combined with the report's other recommendations, eating whole grains can help to meet your dietary needs while keeping the earth in mind.

If you feel a little intimidated about trying new grains, try finding a recipe that sounds appealing to you and give it a try.  You can buy just the right amount of grain from the bulk bins at the grocery store, so you won't have a lot left over once you make your recipe.  Try bringing the recipe to a pot luck or work celebration and get lots of different opinions on it to feel more confident. 

Or use ancient grains to connect to your family's heritage.  Look up recipes traditionally served in your family's country of origin and recreate that traditional dish to serve to your loved ones. 

Ancient Grains can help us focus on our healthy & longevity in the present, but also satisfy us body and soul by connecting us to our past.

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Topics: Nutrition (Food), Health & Human Performance (Holistic), Health and Human Performance, Nutrition, Nutrition Strategy, Registered Dietitian, health hacks

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