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Ancient grains have been getting a lot of headlines lately and most people will have noticed that there’s been a rapid migration from health food shop shelves and into supermarkets. It would be fair to say that some people don’t really understand what ancient grains are and have been left asking “Why have ancient grains suddenly become so popular?”
What may also be confusing is why some grains are classed as ancient and others aren’t –haven’t all grains been around for thousands of years? While this is true, the difference comes from humans; when we stopped being hunter-gatherers and began farming, we chose crops that gave us as much grain as they could. Ever since then, we’ve concentrated on grains that have been selectively cropped, selectively bred and in recent times, even genetically modified to change them, making them hardier or bigger.
While we’ve increased the amount of crop such as barley and wheat we can produce, the knock-on effect is that these have become cheap and plentiful, in turn meaning that these have become the ‘first choice’ and more and more nutritionists are starting to believe that concentrating on this limited number of modified grains is causing health problems.
We’ve known for many years that a varied and balanced diet gives us the greatest health benefits, so could it be that limiting ourselves to these altered and modified grains has something to do with it?
Ancient grains are an alternative for those who are concerned, as they haven’t been through this intense farming and breeding program, meaning they’re a lot closer to the types of wild grains our ancestors would’ve eaten. Grains and cereals such as millet, buckwheat, sorghum and quinoa not only contain greater amounts of the nutrients we need, but provide a valuable alternative to the over-farmed grains that have become prolific in our diet.
The main problem with such grains as wheat and barley is that they naturally contain gluten, a protein that is getting a lot of attention in itself. Increasing numbers of nutritionists believe that we’re simply eating too much gluten; not only is gluten present in products such as bread, pasta and even beer, but because the intensively farmed grains are so cheap, it’s used as a food additive and thickener. This means that even products like pasta, soy or even cheese sauces are having gluten-containing ingredients added for texture. The numbers of people being diagnosed with coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity are on the rise and it could be that there’s just too much gluten in our food.
Even for those who don’t suffer from coeliac disease, there’s a possibility that over-exposure to gluten could trigger a response, which tends to stay as a life-long problem. Lots of people have taken the choice to limit or cut out gluten entirely from their diet, noting that it reduces lethargy, bloating and any number of digestive complaints and leaves them feeling happier and healthier.
When you think of choosing products made from ancient grains as taking a step towards a more varied diet that doesn’t rely on modified or over-farmed ingredients, the question that becomes more pertinent to many is “Why haven’t I chosen ancient grains until now?”