Many Americans limit themselves to only a few varieties of grains—or worse yet, they neglect grains altogether.
But there’s a whole world of grainy goodness out there, with countless benefits to be had.
A variety making significant headway in modern diets: ancient grains.
They’re rich in taste and texture. They’re a good source of protein. They’re double the fiber of most grains and high in antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids.
And, befitting today’s food trends, many are gluten-free.
It’s also not a stretch to call them green grains.
People can enjoy ancient grains for the mere fact they’re capable of surviving with lower levels of pesticides and fertilizers, which makes them cleaner and healthier. They also require less irrigation when growing, allowing farmers to produce them with a smaller carbon footprint.
Sales of ancient grains have jumped wildly in recent years—anywhere from 123% to 686%, depending on the type of grain, according to the Whole Grains Council.
These grains got their name because they haven’t been changed or modified over time.
Many of them have been around for thousands of years.
Ancient grains are a member of the grass family, which produces a dry, edible, one-seeded fruit called a kernel, grain or berry. Varieties of these grains include farro, spelt, kamut, amaranth, chia, teff, millet and wheat berry.
Part of the fun and excitement behind these strains of grains is the history.
Want a little mystique with your meal? Ancient civilizations believed the chia seed provided supernatural powers.
In Mayan culture, chia means strength. Ancient Mayan warriors attributed their stamina to the chia seed.
For hundreds of years, the Mexican Tarahumara tribe has been known for producing runners who can run hundreds of miles—wearing only sandals.
How do they tackle this impressive feat? They have a special drink called iskiate, made from chia seeds, lemon and water. They rely on it as part of their fuel.
Quinoa, meanwhile, has its own story to tell.
The United Nations dubbed it a “super crop” to help end world hunger, given its incredible protein content.
Once planted, quinoa germinates within 24 hours and produces seedlings within three to five days. It can be harvested a few months later.
It originated with the Incas in the mountains of Bolivia, Chile and Peru. The ancients in South America considered it the “mother of all grains.”
It continues to be a prominent food source for indigenous descendants today, although it has also made tremendous inroads in contemporary meal-making.
If you’re curious about how you can incorporate these grains into your routine, first consider adding them to smoothies, on top of salads or served as a side at dinner.
They’re also a perfect addition to many soups.
Angela Fobar has worked as a registered dietitian at Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital for the past nine years, specializing in clinical work, outpatient counseling, community classes and outreach.