Nutrition experts recommend a well balanced diet that includes whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and plenty of water in order to live a healthy lifestyle. However, when “whole grains” comes to mind, many people think of bland, mushy, and unpalatable food. In reality, this is not the case and there are several ancient grains that will expand your palate and allow you to enjoy the diversity of healthy grains beyond whole wheat bread and brown rice.
While spelt has long been in existence in the European diet, it has only recently been introduced into North American cuisine. Characterized by a nutty and slightly sweet flavor, spelt is most commonly used in baked goods as a replacement for whole wheat flour. Spelt is a good source of calcium, magnesium, and iron, and it is most commonly found commercially in breads and pastas.
Packed with heart healthy fiber and high in protein, barley is a whole grain superstar that boasts msany health benefits. Barley contains both soluble and insoluble fibers, which help to reduce the risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol, and reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Pearl barley is the most common form of barley that is found on shelves in the grocery store. Once cooked, barley takes on a chewy texture along with a nutty flavor, making it similar to the flavor profile of brown rice. For this reason, barley is most often consumed in soups, and it is also a great substitution for grains such as couscous and white rice.
Farro is a whole grain that has been around for centuries, dating back to the times of Ancient Egypt. Similar to many other whole grains, farro has a nutty flavor and a delicate, chewy texture once cooked. In terms of nutrition, farro contains high levels of complex carbohydrates, which helps regulate blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol. Additionally, it is a great source of protein and lignans, which contribute antioxidant properties. A common method of preparing farro involves cooking it in the manner you would a risotto, except substituting farro for the rice.
A tiny whole grain that is native to Ehtiopia, teff is gaining global attention for its versatility and nutritional value. Teff is naturally gluten-free, so it lends itself to being a great gluten-free replacement for wheat flours. While teff is commonly used to make breads and baked goods, its uses go beyond that of simply being a flour. For example, it can be used as a thickener in soups or stews, and it can be cooked like porridge for a warm, nutty, and nutritious breakfast.
Ancient grains are gaining popularity as more students are going vegan and vegetarian or simply trying a meatless Monday every once in a while. Try these lesser-known, healthy ancient grains to get out of a food rut and add variety to you diet.
Michelle Chen is a sophomore at Cornell University majoring in Nutritional Sciences with a concentration in Dietetics. She plans to enter the field of medicine.
Photo Credit: Sammy Gitlin