Ancient Grains for Modern Palates

Gluten-Free and Eco-Friendly Grains Gain Favor

Ancient grains are making a comeback. Grown since Neolithic times about 10,000 years ago, varieties of barley, corn, millet and rice have helped assuage the hunger of many communities. Today, yellow millet, dark red wholegrain sorghum, brown quinoa and exotic black rice can help alleviate food shortages.

According to Harry Balzer, an expert surveyor of food and diet trends with The NPD Group, concerns about grains and gluten have prompted about a third of Americans to try to cut back on both since 2012. About 1 percent of the population has celiac disease, estimates the Celiac Disease Foundation, but many more prefer not to eat gluten. Many ancient grains are naturally gluten-free, including amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, rice and teff.

“Some think that a grain-free way of eating is healthier and also better for the planet,” says food writer Maria Speck, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, author of Ancient Grains for Modern Meals and Simply Ancient Grains. “But that may be too simplistic, a characteristic of many diet trends.”

Better for Our Health

Whole grains fill us up and provide fiber, both necessary for maintaining optimum digestion and weight, says Kathleen Barnes, a widely published natural health expert in Brevard, North Carolina.

Eating more whole grains has been previously associated with a lower risk of major diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, based on studies by the University of Minnesota and Lund University, in Sweden. Qi Sun, assistant professor in the Harvard School of Public Health department of nutrition, agrees that whole grains are one of the major healthful foods for prevention of major chronic diseases. He’s the lead author of a new Harvard study of data associating consumption of whole grains with a 9 percent reduction in overall mortality and up to 15 percent fewer cardiovascular fatalities during two 25-year-long research initiatives that followed 74,000 woman and 43,000 men. The researchers cited substituting whole grains for refined grains and red meat as likely contributors to longer life.

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