Diet & Nutrition

The Update on Ancient Grains

Most of us are familiar with the term “whole grains,” but now there’s a new phrase to learn: “ancient grains.

According to an article published in the Harvard Health Blog, the term is so popular that it’s on the list of the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot in 2016.”

So what are ancient grains, anyway?

The article explains that ancient grains are grown in exactly the same way they were a thousayd hears ago. Some ancient grains include amaranth, millet, quinoa, teff and spelt. (In contrast, modern grains such as wheat, corn and rice have been genetically modified.)

“Generally speaking, [ancient grains] offer more protein, fiber, and vitamins than modern grains,” Debbie Krivitsky, a registered dietitian at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, says in the article. The Harvard experts cite the example of a cup of cooked teff, which has 10 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber, compared with 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber in a cup of cooked modern brown rice.

The Harvard experts also point out that nutrition isn’t the only difference between ancient and modern grains: That cup of cooked teff has 255 calories per cup, while a cup of brown rice has 216 calories. And ancient grains tend to cost more.

Nutrition isn’t the only difference. Ancient grains sometimes have more calories than modern grains. In our example of teff and brown rice, teff has 255 calories per cup, compared to brown rice, which has 216 calories. Furthermore, a cup of cooked modern oatmeal has only 124 calories, and a cup of cooked modern corn has only 74 calories. In addition to the higher calorie content, there is another difference between the two forms of grains: ancient grains tend to cost more than modern grains.

Don’t feel that you have to start consuming ancient grains because they’re trendy, the article says. Whole grains in general are better than refined grains. The Harvard experts explain that whole grain kernels have three parts, the brain, endosperm and germ,  that provide phytonutrients, vitamins and antioxidants. These protect against chronic disease, the experts say. And there’s no reason to be concerned about the comparative numbers for grams of fiber. Just make it up in other areas. “It’s okay to eat lower-fiber whole grains. Just make sure you include other foods that are high in fiber, such as fruit and vegetables or high-fiber breads, cereals, and crackers,” says Krivitsky.

The bottom line, the Harvard experts say: Have some of both ancient and modern grains.  “Keep eating oatmeal and brown rice if you like it, but add in some ancient grains from time to time,” says Krivitsky. Tray an ancient grain as a side dish, or consider products, such as cereal, that contain ancient grains.