Though ancient grains like quinoa, millet, chia, oats, amaranth, and flax may have names that sound new or trendy to many of us, they have actually been around for centuries. Thousands of years ago, these grains were sacred and held their place as “food for the gods.” So, what may look like just a side dish to us was a main staple for so many populations across the globe.
Grains have become especially buzz-worthy in the last few years due to an increase in food sensitivities as well as a surge in consumers’ desire to look for healthy and trendy options. The current push is for getting back to basics – going back to the foods of our ancestors, including foods that are versatile, clean, and as close to their natural form as possible.
Although these grains are somewhat simple and basic, I’ve noticed that in conversations I’ve had with my patients and with journalists, that these grains mystify many of us and we’ve fallen prey to carb misconceptions and myth-information.
Since carbohydrates are often the nutrient we love to hate (but really love!), let’s clear up the confusion and start welcoming these grains to your table.
Myth: Grains are high in calories.
Fact: Whole grains could actually help you lose weight.
When eaten in proper portions, grains do not contribute an excessive amount of calories; they are comparable in calories to foods like better-known grains like rice or couscous. Grains not only provide important nutrients you need, like fiber, protein, and a host of vitamins and minerals, but they also help you feel that full-and-satisfied feeling, which could prevent you from overeating and improperly snacking.
In other words, these ancient grains could play an important role in weight control — and they’re quite different than highly processed carbs that are quickly digested and absorbed, and possibly stripped of valuable nutrients.
Myth: Grains make you bloated.
Fact: Ancient grains can provide a moving experience!
The “bloated” feeling some may complain about when first incorporating whole grains into their diets could be due to their fiber content, especially if a person is not used to eating fiber.
To avoid digestive upset from adding too much fiber too quickly, increase consumption gradually, and always pair fiber with water … an ideal marriage!
(And by the way, for quick tips to beat bloat in general: Grab a mug of chamomile or peppermint tea, eat slowly, don’t go for too long between meals to eat, don’t drink through a straw, don’t chew gum, and by all means, don’t give up grains!)
Myth: Whole grains are not gluten-free.
Fact: It depends on the grain you’re going with.
While some whole grains, like wheat, DO contain gluten, there are certain whole grains that are certainly gluten-free, including:
- Buckwheat (Despite the word ‘wheat’ within.)
- Oats (Check labels carefully to be sure they are truly gluten-free.)
- Rice & wild rice
Gluten-free whole grains are safe for those with celiac disease, or a gluten allergy or intolerance, but it’s important that you read labels carefully and use products that are produced by reputable food companies.
Myth: Ancient grains have no taste.
Fact: Ancient grains can be delicious.
There are preconceived notions about these foods tasting “too healthy,” or plain — and if you ever tasted the gluten-free products of the past, you’d know why they contributed to that reputation: They were awful! But today’s gluten-free choices tell another story altogether, since many brands are highlighting ancient grains to bring consumers more variety, health benefits and, of course, great taste.
Indeed, many breads, cereals, and grains are not tasteless gluten-free products, but instead are tasty products that happen to be gluten-free! Moreover, you can add you favorite seasonings and spices to boost nutritional value while jazzing up an otherwise typical meal.
You don’t have to be troubled by gluten intolerance to reap the benefits of these ancient grains. They can benefit your whole family – even if you don’t need a gluten-free diet or if you’re perfectly healthy. Ancient grains can be included in any dish where you would normally use rice or oats. For example, you can make chia pudding instead of cereal for breakfast, or a quinoa side dish with dried fruit and nuts instead of rice pilaf. Many ancient grains can also be ground into flour to be used for baking.
There’s a wealth of recipes available for preparing ancient grains creatively, deliciously, and easily. For two of my favorite grainy recipes that are also gluten-free, check out my delish quinoa dish as well as the flavorful topping for salmon that my kids actually request!
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