Going with the (ancient) grain.
If you’ve been tuned in to the wholefoods conversation over the last few years, you’ll know that grains have acquired a reputation as the bad guys of nutrition.
The hugely popular Paleo movement has many people questioning the nutritional benefit of eating grains, and even fearful of the harm that cereal products may cause. Pure Paleo advice tells us to cut grains out of our diets altogether.
But did our ancestors really avoid all grains in favour of a pure meat and veg diet?
Recent archaeological digs in southern Italy have uncovered an ancient grinding stone, used by the Palaeolithic Gravettian people, that shows this culture was heating and grinding oats to make bread and oatmeal for thousands of years.
For many of us, the thought of deleting breads, baked goods and a scoop of something grainy and comforting on the side of our plate is nothing short of depressing. Happily, there are some delicious, nourishing alternatives to commercial grains to choose from.
Ancient grains for modern times
Enter pseudo grains.
These little pods of goodness, (often called ancient grains) may look like grains, but are a completely different foodstuff altogether. While cereal grains (wheat, barley, rice, rye and their ilk) are the seeds of grasses, belonging to the plant group known as monocots, pseudo grains are the seeds of broad-leafed plants (dicots)—and include quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth.
These nutrient-dense foods have been cultivated by traditional societies for thousands of years. Gluten-free, packed with protein and minerals, flavoursome and versatile, pseudo grains are generally well tolerated by most people and offer excellent alternatives to standard cereal grains.
Let’s introduce you to three of the best:
Hands up anyone who reads the word ‘buckwheat’ and immediately thinks of pancakes? Yes, me too.
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum exculentum) is a full-flavoured, traditional food that was originally cultivated in Asia thousands of years ago. In spite of its name, this traditional food is related to rhubarb and sorrel and actually has no relationship to wheat.
The nutty, pyramid-shaped seeds of buckwheat, known as groats, are not only delicious, but high in zinc, manganese, copper, phosphorous, magnesium, B vitamins, protein and soluble fibre.
Buckwheat is also a potential source of resistant starch, which is important for colon health, and is rich in flavonoids, including rutin—thought to have anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties. All these goodies bring a range of benefits, including a reduced risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
But the best thing about buckwheat is its versatility and flavour.
Buckwheat is widely available as raw, sprouted or toasted groats, flour or noodles (the most nutritious option is raw, organic groats). Soak, sprout or prepare your groats as porridge or granola, or use them as a base ingredient in salads, stir fries and vegetable burgers. You can also blend buckwheat flour with other gluten-free flours to make lovely breads, pancakes, cakes and muffins.
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) has been a staple food in traditional South American diets for centuries. The lovely, circular seeds of quinoa come from the goosefoot plant (Chenopodium quinoa), a member of the spinach family.
Quinoa is packed with protein—containing all nine amino acids and a higher ratio of protein to carbohydrate than regular grains. Its resumé of goodness is impressive—it’s gluten-free, rich in iron, magnesium, lysine and manganese, high in vitamin E and B and contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory plant nutrients. It also has more healthy fats than standard grains, including the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
Quinoa is high in fibre, satisfying and filling, and has excellent benefits for digestive and immune health. Its rich mineral content supports healthy haemoglobin production, brain health, blood sugar regulation and reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Goodness overload, in other words.
To enjoy your quinoa, soak, rinse and gently rub the seeds (to remove any bitter flavours), before cooking in fresh water until they become translucent (about 15 minutes). Then, you just need to team your light, fluffy, quinoa with whatever accompaniment you desire. Cooked or sprouted quinoa is great in salads, soups, stir fries and casseroles, and is a delicious start to the day when prepared as a tasty porridge.
Teff is the seed of the lovegrass plant (Eragrostis), a traditional African food crop. Although it is the seed of a grass, teff differs from standard cereal grains in that it is gluten-free, has the highest calcium content of any grain, and is rich in protein. These minute seeds (about the size of poppy seeds) are high protein powerhouses and a great source of resistant starch, essential for feeding your gut bacteria and maintaining stellar intestinal heath.
Available as a grain or flour in white, ivory or dark varieties, teff is traditionally used to make the Ethiopian sourdough bread known as injera (a soft flat bread that is used as an ‘edible plate’ for a range of foods). It’s fast-cooking and has a mild flavour that makes it a perfect ingredient in a range of dishes.
Soak your teff seeds and add them to salads, soups, stir fries or other hot dishes, or cook in water for around 20 minutes to make a creamy porridge. Teff is a nutritious, filling and tasty addition to smoothies, and teff flour can be used to make scrumptious pancakes, breads and other baked goods.
Preparing for success
To ensure you’re getting the most benefit out of your pseudo grains and other wholegrains (if you choose to eat them), proper preparation is essential. As well as making these foods easier for your body to digest and access nutrients, correct preparation mitigates some of the potential health issues associated with eating some grains.
Many cereal grains contain anti-nutrients, including phytic acid, which is present in the bran of all grains and which inhibits the body’s absorption of essential minerals, including magnesium, iron, copper and zinc, leading to a range of significant health problems. In addition, cereal grains contain enzyme inhibitors that can negatively affect the balance of enzymes in our digestive tract.
Traditionally, grains, legumes and nuts were carefully prepared using methods including soaking, sprouting and fermenting. These processes change the composition of grains and seeds, and produce numerous health benefits, including increased vitamin B and C content and neutralising anti-nutrients and toxins.
Using these traditional preparation methods will ensure that the beneficial nutrient content of your ancient grains is preserved and that you can enjoy the full benefit of this nourishing food source, without the negative impacts.
The goodness embedded in your ancient grains is only as good as the way they are grown. Always choose organic, non-genetically modified products to ensure you are receiving the optimal nutritional benefit packed in these beneficial foods.
GPA Wholefoods supplies a range of highly nutritious products in our Ancient Grains range:
Blanck and Co Raw Buckwheat – high in protein, minerals, flavonoids, soluble fibre and resistant starch. Perfect when prepared as a creamy, gluten-free porridge or as a substitute for rice.
Blanck and Co Raw Quinoa – delicate and tasty, quinoa is high in protein, antioxidant phytonutrients and minerals and has excellent anti-inflammatory qualities. Use a base for salads or hot dishes, or serve with fresh fruit as a delicious breakfast porridge.
Teff Tribe Brown/Ivory Teff – Teff’s tiny, nutty-tasting seeds are packed with protein and resistant starch and are high in fibre and low GI. Use as a tasty porridge or to make your own traditional sourdough bread.
The GPA pantry
You can buy your ancient grains from the GPA Wholefoods pantry here.
I hope this article has given you some helpful ideas for preparing and including healthy grain and cereal alternatives in your diet.
If you have any questions, or would like to get in touch, you can email us here.
Until next time, eat well, and stay well.
- Image 1 : newyorker.com
- Image 2 : brainscape.com
- Image 3 : authoritynutrition.com
- Image 4 : huffingtonpost.com.au