By Dr. Joey Shulman, DC, RNCP
If you want to make a healthy change to your diet, opt for ancient grains. Our guide describes five types of ancient grains and how to use each one: spelt, amaranth, quinoa, millet and kamut.
There has been a rise in the popularity of ancient grains in recent years, due largely to heightened food sensitivities and the population’s desire to become healthier. Much to my delight, it’s now possible to find quinoa dishes, spelt pizza crusts and brown rice pasta at many restaurants and fast food establishments in our local neighbourhoods.
In addition to offering a higher amount of nutrients and protein than other grains, ancient grains (also called heritage grains) are delicious in taste and can be added to a variety of meals.
Some of the most popular ancient grains include:
Also known as triticum spelta, spelt is a tasty whole grain with a nutty flavour. This distant cousin of wheat contains gluten and is therefore not suitable for those who have gluten intolerance, though it does tend to be easier to digest than wheat and may be better tolerated by those who have wheat sensitivity.
Spelt contains a wider variety of nutrients than wheat, including more protein, folate, magnesium and selenium. Spelt is also a high source of fibre, with ½ cup of the whole grain containing 4 grams of fibre. You can use spelt flour in baking, and the grain can be found in a variety of products, including cereals, breads, pasta and crackers.
Amaranth is often called a “pseudo-grain” and has been referred to as both an herb and a vegetable. However you classify it, amaranth is gluten free and has an impressive nutritional profile, being high in both protein and the amino acid lysine (which is often found in only low amounts in cereal grains). It is also high in fibre and has been shown to be beneficial in lowering cholesterol.
You will need quite a bit of water when cooking amaranth: 6 cups (1.5 L) of water for 1 cup (250 mL) of amaranth. Gently boil the amaranth for 15 to 20 minutes, rinse and then fluff it. Amaranth can be added to soups, salads and stir-fries, and amaranth flour can be used in baking.
Pronounced “keen-wah,” quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain. It has gained enormous popularity thanks to its high protein levels (it is a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids), and because quinoa is gluten free it is a perfect option for those who are sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease.
Before cooking quinoa, be sure to rinse the seeds well to remove their bitter, resin-like coating, which is called saponin. Cooked quinoa is excellent in casseroles, soups, stews and stir-fries, and is also great cold in salads. The seeds are prepared similarly to rice and cook very quickly – in about 15 minutes.
Simply boil 2 cups (500 mL) water for every 1 cup (250 mL) quinoa, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and let the quinoa simmer for 12 to 15 minutes or until the germ separates from the seed (it will look like a little curly tail on the kernel). Remove the pot from the heat and let stand for about three minutes before fluffing the quinoa with a fork.
Millet is another gluten-free seed with high nutritional value. It is an excellent source of protein and is high in fibre and B vitamins. Millet is also particularly high in magnesium, giving the seed heart-protecting properties.
Millet has a mildly sweet, nut-like flavour. Depending on the cooking style, the texture can range from fluffy to creamy. When cooking millet, you will need one part millet to two-and-a-half parts boiling water. Once the water has come to a boil, lower the heat and let the millet simmer for 25 minutes with the lid in place.
Known as an ancient cereal grain, kamut is an excellent alternative to traditional wheat. The protein content is significantly higher and it also has a high amount of selenium, giving this grain strong antioxidant properties, which help protect the immune system.
Kamut is known to have a natural sweetness, which makes it a great grain for baking. When cooking kamut, it is best to soak the grain overnight. Use three parts water for one part kamut. Once the water has come to a boil, reduce the heat and allow the grain to simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the tenderness you prefer.
Ancient grains are definitely worth exploring. High in fibre and rich in mineral content, these tasty whole grain options are definitely here to stay and can be a wonderful addition to your diet.
Joey Shulman, DC, RNCP, is a bestselling author and the founder of the Shulman Weight Loss Clinics. For more information, please visit drjoey.com.