Almost everyone knows that grains form one of the five essential food groups that we need to consume every day to stay healthy. Traditionally most of us have chosen grains from the cereal family such as wheat, rice, oats, barley and maize. Those of you with higher than average health intelligence are increasingly bringing back the nutritional powers of ancient times by switching to born-again “super grains”. We call them super grains because their nutritional profile and health benefits greatly exceed those of the more traditional cereals.
Think of quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah” as the “queen” of the super grains. This ancient grain which only recently found its way to our shores has been grown in South America for thousands of years. Because it contains up to sixty percent higher protein levels than most other grains, quinoa is a great alternative to meat sources of protein like meat and fish. The protein in quinoa is described as being complete protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids. It also contains high amounts of magnesium, calcium, potassium, vitamin B2 and the important phytonutrient named quercetin. Unlike most cereal grains quinoa is naturally gluten-free, making it the perfect grain for coeliac disease sufferers. Coeliac disease is believed to affect more than five percent of Australians and is caused by intolerance to the gluten protein found in most traditional grains.
Quinoa contains almost twice as much dietary fibre compared with most other grains. Quinoa’s high fiber content helps to relieve constipation, prevents heart disease by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, prevents diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels, and may help you to lose weight.
As with grapes, quinoa comes in different varieties. The most common is white, but there are also red and black. Did you know that the United Nations has declared 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa?
Amaranth, another high-protein super grain, contains fifty percent higher protein levels than most grains. It was a staple food of the ancient Aztecs. Just like quinoa, amaranth is gluten-free. Clinical studies have shown that amaranth lowers total cholesterol levels and increases “good” HDL cholesterol.
Amaranth grains are very small. In bulk they resemble fine Moroccan cous cous with a similar yellow colour.
Buckwheat is another gluten-free super grain. It is related to wheat in name only, being more closely related botanically to rhubarb. Like other super grains it is high in protein and fibre, and also contains two beneficial polyphenols named rutin and quercetin. Buckwheat contains an interesting vitamin named D-chiro-inositol which is a component of the secondary messenger system for insulin and which is deficient in diabetes mellitus type 2 patients.
A clinical study found that buckwheat lowers elevated blood sugar levels in diabetics. Another study demonstrated that the polyphenols content of buckwheat lessened the memory impairment and destruction of brain cells following the occurrence of ischemic stroke.
Although theoretically a seed, chia is seeds are often used in cooking in a similar way to grains. They are one of the highest plant sources of highly beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. A clinical study found that diabetes mellitus type 2 patients who consumed 37 grams of chia seeds per day for twleve weeks experienced an average 6.3 points reduction in their diastolic blood pressure. Studies on rats have shown that chia seeds increased good HDL cholesterol and lowered serum triglycerides.
Spelt is an ancient grain from the wheat family. Genetically it has remained unchanged for thousands of years. It is classed as a super grain because it contains significantly less gluten than regular wheat while retaining most of the physical properties of regular wheat.
General Health Benefits of Super Grains
Several studies have looked at the overall health benefits of super grains. Higher intake of whole grains is associated with a reduced risk of atherosclerosis (blocked arteries), hypertension (high blood pressure), congestive heart failure, coronary heart disease, diabetes type 2 and weight gain (obesity).