Because not all grains were created equal.
Ancient grains are enjoying a moment in the spotlight.
From sorghum and teff to amaranth and freekeh, these superfoods are loaded with more fibre and protein than everyday grains, and come with a huge helping of vitamins, magnesium, potassium and antioxidants to boot (many are gluten-free too).
The only question you should be asking is why wouldn't you give them a go?
Most grains are members of the Poaceae family and basically include any type of food that is made from wheat, rice, oats, cereal grain, cornmeal or barley.
Some of the most common foods that are made from grains include bread, pasta, cereals, popcorn and rice.1
But what about super grains?
Otherwise known as ancient grains, super grains are a type of grain that have a great nutritional profile and promote some more health benefits over regular grains.
Some of the key super grains include amaranth, sorghum grains, buckwheat, chia, farro, freekeh and teff.
In 100g of amaranth grains, there is approximately:2
In 100g of sorghum grains, there is approximately:3
In 100g of buckwheat, there is approximately:4
In 100g of farro grains, there is approximately:6
In 100g of freekeh grains, there is approximately:7
In 100g of teff grains, there is approximately:8
In 100g of hulled barley, there is approximately:10
In 100g of bulgur, there is approximately:12
In 100g of white corn grains, there is approximately:14
In 100g of einkorn, there is approximately:16
In 100g of millet, there is approximately:18
In 100g of oats, there is approximately:19
In 100g of quinoa, there is approximately:21
In 100g of long grain brown rice, there is approximately:22
In 100g of rye grains, there is approximately:24
In 100g of spelt grains, there is approximately:25
While a lot of the grains we’ve discussed have a range of health benefits and a good nutritional profile, they’re not necessarily suitable for everyone.
For example, people who have Coeliac disease or a wheat allergy may not be able to eat some of the grains we’ve listed.
In addition to this, some grains have a high glycemic indexic, meaning that they’re not suitable for people with diabetes.
And lastly, people with Crohn’s disease may want to avoid certain grains that are high in fibre, as this could make their symptoms worse.26
Incorporating more whole grains into your diet doesn’t have to be hard.
You could start by making some swaps, like porridge for breakfast instead of sugary cereal or choosing rye bread over white bread.
Also, it can be fun to experiment with different kinds of grains in your day to day meals. For example, using quinoa instead of white rice.
Another way to incorporate healthy grains into your lifestyle is to snack on them too!
Homemade popcorn is a great way to do this, as you can control the added ingredients to ensure they’re still a healthy snack.
Amaranth: This favourite of the Aztecs springs from a different plant species than most grains, but has similar nutrients.
Gluten-free, it holds more than six times the calcium of average grains, is high in iron and magnesium, and is one of the rare grains containing vitamin C (it’s also one of the few that’s a complete protein).
Used as a cereal or ground into flour, it cooks much more quickly than many grains.
Sorghum: The fifth most-produced grain in the world, sorghum’s free from gluten, and bursting with vitamins and minerals.
It boasts more antioxidants than superfoods such as pomegranates and blueberries (yes, really!) and contains high levels of magnesium, which helps with calcium absorption – which is vital for keeping bones and teeth in tip-top condition.
Buckwheat: Forget the name – buckwheat’s related to rhubarb (not wheat, those cheeky monkies…) and it’s 100 per cent gluten-free.
It’s from the seeds of a flowering plant, which are pounded down to make buckwheat flour.
High in copper, manganese and protein, this is a great wholegrain if you’re managing sugar levels, thanks to its high soluble fibre, slowing down the rate at which you take in glucose.
Like amaranth, this is another one of those complete proteins, as it’s packed with all the amino acids too.
Chia: Chia seeds were another one of the Aztecs’ BFs – they even considered it more valuable than gold!
Its Mayan name means “strength”, and it’s loved by athletes, as the Tarahumara (a Mexican tribe of the world’s greatest long-distance runners) swear by it for their success.
Chia’s a fantastic source of nutrition for vegan, gluten-free and fully raw diets, as it’s one of the best-known non-animal sources of protein and omega-3.
Farro: Like many of the other ancient grains, farro is an excellent source of fibre, and plant-based protein – twice the amount as quinoa, to be precise.
It’s not gluten-free but is high in antioxidants and it’s suggested it may help boost immunity, lower inflammation, and regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Farro was even discovered in the tombs of Egyptian royalty (well, if it’s good enough for them…).27
Freekeh: This Biblical grain is similar to brown rice, but has up to three times the level of protein and fibre – a super grain indeed!
It’s also high in calcium, potassium, iron and zinc. Wholegrain freekeh has a low GI-level which is great for anyone trying to keep their blood sugar steady.
To top it off, it’s thought to boost the growth of good bacteria in your gut. Time to get your freekeh on, we say.28
Teff: This Ethiopian favourite is super-rich in calcium, boasting the highest level of any grain. Teff is also a good source of iron, manganese, thiamine and vitamin B6.
Gluten-free, it’s packed with niacin and thiamin.
It’s also full of essential amino acids and high in resistant starch, which can help blood-sugar management, weight control, and colon health.
Time to think cereal-ously about switching to ancient grains.
There are a wide variety of grains for you to choose from, so we hope we’ve highlighted some of the best ones to fit into your diet.
If you’re not sure about including a certain grain in your diet if you have a pre-existing condition that could be affected, it’s best to speak to a medical professional before making any radical changes.
Handpicked content: How to cook grains
Last updated: 1 September 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Jan 2018
Bsc in Nutrition, Registered Associate Nutritionist and Certification in Pre and Post Natal Nutrition
Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018.
Donia has over 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one to one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.