A few years ago I had great success from the Paleo diet, and quickly noted that cutting all grains had a tremendous impact. I stopped feeling bloated and was no longer trumpeting a daily butt tune – like seriously I was barely gassy at all! I knew there had to be something to it, and ever since then I have been curious about grains – trying to understand what it was about them that didn’t agree with me.
More recently while working through reintroductions during the elimination protocol, I have discovered a number of new grains. These are both delicious and don’t affect me like the ones I would regularly indulge, in a previous life of spaghetti carbonara induced pain comas.
The ‘ancient super grains’ as they are referred to, provide some excellent health benefits and for many, don’t cause the same post meal symptoms of lethargy, bloating and discomfort. When I discovered these varieties existed I felt cheated. I finally and naively realised, just how much our diets are driven by the buyers in our supermarkets. Sure they jumped on the quinoa / gluten free food trend circa 2010 – but what about all the other grains we don’t see on the shelves? Amaranth – who? Millet – that’s a budgie snack isn’t it? Bulgar what? These different, mostly unknown grains are considered ‘ancient’ because Amaranth sustained the Aztecs and Incas in the Americas pretty well, Buckwheat grew in the Himalayas and Millet thrived in the arid climate of Africa. These hardy crops can all be traced back for thousands of years but it’s high time that they were resurrected to our palates.
So what makes the aforementioned grains different, and often more gut friendly? Some interesting facts:
Millet, not just for budgies – it isn’t just a birdseed, no sir. Delicious and nutty millet packs a lot of protein in each bite, so great for veggies and vegans. It’s also rich in magnesium, zinc, copper, and manganese. An all round impressive filler-upper.
Amaranth is really clever – it’s a pseudo cereal which not only sounds hilarious but means it’s a sneaky seed bringing some impressive benefits, while masquerading as a cereal and acting like a vegetable. It contains lysine which is a toning amino acid, negligible in most other grains. It has bundles of calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium and even vitamin C. This seed knows what’s up.
Buckwheat groats than don’t make you groan – makes a great filling porridge, behaving like an oat but once again, a case of mistaken identity. It contains no wheat and is actually a fruit seed related to sorrel and rhubarb. It’s easy to digest and is helpful for treating diarrhea.
They are all gluten free – which is great for celiacs, those with intolerances, IBD, leaky gut auto-immune and frankly everyone who prefers anti-inflammatory foods.
They contain less cytokines – cell signalling molecules that stimulate immune response and the movement of white cells towards sites of trauma, infection and inflammation. These aren’t great to ingest too much of, if like me – you have a condition like Crohns where your body is monumentally confused about what it’s cells are supposed to be fighting.
They thrive with less pesticides – these crops grow in some of the harshest conditions and require lower levels of pesticides, fertilisers and irrigation. In short they are staunch characters less reliant on un-natural nasties. They also haven’t been recklessly hybridized or chemically modified like the commonly consumed grain: wheat.
They are more nutritious – unlike wheat and white rice, these grains arrive to the kitchen in their whole form, with germ and bran intact. Each grain is unique in it’s benefits but they each are high in fibre and protein and have a really distinctive flavour.
They are cheap – well certainly cheaper compared with the fashionable quinoa. 1kg of quinoa retails at around £5 whereas millet costs £3 and amaranth £4 ( based on an online whole food retailer, April 2016)
They are sustainable crops – “botanists estimate that although there are 80,000 edible plant species in the world, modern agriculture focuses on only about 150. Just 20 crops provide 90 percent of our consumption. So resurrecting ancient grains brings much needed diversity to our modern day diet and could go a long way to reducing the over consumption of common wheat.” (source)
They are easy to pronounce – because at some stage we all embarrassed ourselves or witnessed the mispronouncing of ‘quinoa’, here is a handy guide to pronouncing your new nutritional comrades
Amaranth – am·a·ranth
Millet – mil·let
Buckwheat – buc-weet
Paleo thinking suggests that modern human digestion isn’t designed to cope with refined sugars, starchy carbs, grains, legumes, and dairy products that have crept into our diets over the past 10,000 years. And that in part is likely true. But what hasn’t helped in the grain department is the tampered with evolution of the wheat crop, which has dramatically increased levels of intolerance in recent decades.
“As part of the agricultural revolution, modern grains underwent substantive hybridisation with the good intentions of increasing production, increasing profitability and ultimately reducing the cost to the consumer. Unfortunately this was not all that was modified in the hybridization of modern grains. In selecting for yields, disease tolerance and improved storage life it is now postulated that inadvertently the protein structures were changed and toxins may have been built up in the make-up of conventional grains. This in turn is suspected to be one of the reasons that so many people are becoming intolerant to wheat and why the modern grains store so long. Insects and pests are naturally repelled by these same toxins.
If you held up a conventional wheat plant from 50 years ago against a modern, high-yield dwarf wheat plant, you would see that today’s plant is about 2½ feet shorter. It’s stockier, so it can support a much heavier seedbed, and it grows much faster. The great irony here is that the term “genetic modification” refers to the actual insertion or deletion of a gene, and that’s not what’s happened with wheat. Instead, the plant has been hybridized and crossbred to make it resistant to drought and fungi, and to vastly increase yield per acre. Agricultural geneticists have shown that wheat proteins undergo structural change with hybridization, and that the hybrid contains proteins that are found in neither parent plant.” explains David Perlmutter author of Grain Brain
When I tell people I have Crohns disease, people often ask ‘Oh so do you need to be careful with your diet?’ but the reality is, we all need to be mindful about the foods we consume, how they were bred and farmed and their affects on our digestion. And this definitely needn’t be restrictive – in fact the ancient grains are super tasty and if you like cooking, getting inventive with them opens up a world of possibilities. Here are some great looking recipes for millet, amaranth & buckwheat.