By Mary Walker, Registered Dietitian
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a way to reduce your risk for many of the leading causes of death and disease in the United States is to consume three servings of whole grains each day.
You may have noticed that the number of whole grain products has increased on the shelves of many supermarkets. Some of the familiar grains include whole wheat breads and cereals, brown rice and oats. I would like to encourage, and perhaps challenge, you to try some of the unfamiliar ones which have earned the title of ancient grains.
What makes whole grains different from refined grains is the fact that you are enjoying all the parts of the grain kernel (except the hull, the tough external coating that protects the seed or kernel).
A whole grain has three parts: the bran, the part of the kernel with the most fiber; the germ, the part which is rich in vitamins, minerals and fat; and the endosperm, which is rich in complex carbohydrates as well phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals such as magnesium, copper and iron.
Here are some interesting and fascinating ancient grains for you to consider:
- Amaranth – is considered a super grain because it contains all nine of the essential amino acids for humans which makes it a complete protein. It is a golden grain that cooks to a porridge-like consistency and can be used in cereals, breads, muffins, crackers and pancakes. When shopping at the grocery stores in our area, this grain was not readily available.
- Barley is one of the oldest cultivated grains. It is a highly adaptable crop which can be grown north of the Arctic Circle and as far south as Ethiopia. It has a tough hull which is difficult to remove. The best type of barley would be hulled; however, the one most easily accessible in the stores is pearled. Even though pearled barley is not considered a whole grain, it is a rich source of fiber/3 gram in a half of a cup and since it is soluble fiber, it can aid in lowering blood cholesterol levels. An excellent grain to add to homemade vegetable soup.
- Bulgur – is the result of whole wheat kernels being boiled, dried and cracked. It is often referred to as the “Middle Eastern pasta” due to its versatility as a base for all sorts of dishes. Because it has been boiled and dried, it is ready in 10 minutes. You may be familiar with it if you have eaten a minty grain and vegetable salad known as tabbouleh. I found it to be an excellent grain for adding to soups and chili.
- Quinoa (keen-wah) – is an ancient grain coming to us from the Incas in the Andes. It cooks in 10-12 minutes and has a fluffy appearance and pleasant mouth feel. It is available in red, purple and black as well as white. For this grain, it is recommended that the grain be rinsed before cooking to remove the bitter residue of saponins, a plant defense that wards off insects. Just like Amaranth, Quinoa is a complete protein meaning that it provides all the essential amino acids that our bodies cannot make.
- Kamut – is a type of ancient grain that was eaten in Egypt and brought to the United States by tomb raiders in the 1960’s. It is a large, oversized grain (two to three times larger than conventional wheat) that is difficult to overcook. Time required for cooking varied, depending on the source, from 30 to 60 minutes. According to the Whole Grains Council, this is grain that could be soaked overnight to help shorten cooking time.
- Farro – is a type of ancient wheat which is best known in Italy. It was a staple among the ancient Greeks and Romans. Farro is available in pearled and semi-pearled versions and is used in salads and risottos. This grain absorbs the flavor of whatever it is cooked with.
- Teff – is the traditional grain of Ethiopia. Teff is a tiny, sand-like grain that is grown in three colors, red, white, brown. Do not be deceived by its appearance because this grain has twice the iron and three times the calcium as other grains. It is a gluten-free food that cooks in 15-20 minutes and can be used to thicken soups/stews, as a cereal or a creamy grain dish, such as Teff Porridge with Dates and Honey.
- Spelt – is the traditional grain of Germany and is a distant cousin of wheat. Whole spelt berries must be rinsed and soaked at least eight hours or overnight before cooking to help reduce cooking time. This grain can be used to Dinkel Soup (Spelt is called Dinkel in Germany), as a hot cereal or in place of rice in other dishes.
- Sorghum – is a traditional grain of India and is gluten free. This whole grain traveled along the trade routes from ancient Africa to the Middle East, India and China. It thrives where other crops die. A quarter cup of sorghum popped in the microwave oven provides you with a filling whole grain snack.
Whole grains are nutritional powerhouses and since they are rich in fiber, they can provide health benefits in weight control, improved blood glucose and cholesterol levels as well as reducing risk for certain types of cancer.
If your interest in whole grains has been peaked, visit the Whole Grains Council website at www.wholegrainscouncil.org for a wealth of information about cooking whole grains (i.e. the time, amount of liquids to use and the amount you can expect once the grain is cooked), short cuts to cooking whole grains and recipes to try!
Resources: Food and Nutrition The Grain Issue September/October 2015 and Whole Grains Council Website: www.wholegrainscouncil.org.
The Women’s Health Task Force is a small group volunteering their time to educate women and families on important health issues. If you have an interest in health, work in a caring profession, or just want to volunteer with other sincere individuals, consider attending our planning meetings.
These meetings are held the first Thursday of the month beginning at noon. Our next meeting will be held on Thursday, Nov. 3 at the Clearfield County Career & Technology Center, 1620 River Road, Clearfield, PA 16830.
Additional information is available by calling Robin Kuleck, Penn State Extension, at 814-765-7878 Ext.2. Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/whtfclearfieldcounty.