2017-11-01 / Health & Fitness

Grain has changed in the past half century

Susan Summerton, OD


Raw paleo quinoa kale salad Raw paleo quinoa kale salad Grains are part of the choosemyplate.gov recommendations for healthy food choices. The U.S. Department of Agriculture categorizes a grain as any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain.

Grain, especially wheat, is a controversial food in modern society in part because grains aren’t the same as they were a few hundred years ago, or even a few decades ago. Modern wheat is dwarf wheat, a cultivar developed in the ’60s to increase yield per acre. A study from the Broadbalk Wheat Experiment, one of the oldest agronomic experiments in the world, found that concentrations of zinc, iron, copper and magnesium were stable until the mid-1960s, when they decreased significantly, which coincided with the introduction of dwarf, high-yielding cultivars.

Since then, celiac disease has also increased. Researchers have suggested this is due to the prevalence of certain gluten proteins that predominate in the new varieties of wheat.


Barley Barley Whole grain contains its three original parts: the endosperm, germ and bran. A wheat berry is an entire wheat kernel. The endosperm supplies the grain kernel with food, to give the young plant energy to grow. It contains starchy carbohydrates, some protein and small amounts of vitamins and minerals. The germ is the embryo, which could potentially sprout into a new grain plant. It contains some protein, many B vitamins, and healthy fats. The bran is the outer shell of the kernel of grain. It contains the fiber, many B vitamins, and important antioxidants. Examples of whole grains include whole-wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, whole cornmeal and brown rice.

Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This gives grains a finer texture and longer shelf-life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron and many B vitamins. Refined grain products include white flour, de-germed cornmeal, white bread and white rice. Refined grain has been shown to spike insulin levels.


Quinoa Quinoa The Whole Grains Council defines “ancient grains” loosely as those that have changed very little over the past several hundred years. Examples of ancient grains in the wheat family include kamut, farro and spelt. Einkorn, an ancient variety of wheat, has been shown to be less toxic to patients with celiac disease. Others that are newer to Americans and also considered ancient grains include quinoa, amaranth, sorghum, millet and teff.

Sprouted grains are whole grains, meaning all of the components of the grain kernel are present, and all are required for the sprout to grow. The sprouting process unlocks many of the grain’s nutrients, making them more available to our bodies.


Amaranth Amaranth Here are some popular alternative grains you may want to try:

Barley is a grain that dates to ancient times but is not gluten-free. Barley has a chewy and nutty flavor, making this a good choice for those new to whole grains. Barley is highest in .ber of all the whole grains. Pearled barley is not a whole grain because it has had its bran removed, but it is still high in fiber.

Quinoa is native to the Incas and grows in high altitudes in the Andes mountains. Botanically, quinoa is related to beet, chard and spinach and has a subtle nutty taste. It is a complete protein with all the essential amino acids and is naturally gluten-free. Quinoa is also highest of all the whole grains in potassium, which has been shown to help control blood pressure. Make sure you rinse it well before cooking: Quinoa grows with a bitter coating, called saponin, that fends off pests and makes it easy to grow without chemical pesticides.


Sorghum Sorghum Amaranth is native to the Aztecs and is used in traditional Central American cuisines. It is naturally gluten-free, is high in calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and contains vitamin C. It is referred to as “complete” protein because it contains lysine and also a lunasin-like peptide that may fight cancer and reduce inflammation. Researchers in Ontario found that amaranth can be a rich dietary source of phytosterols, which have cholesterol-lowering properties. Make sure you cook with ample water due to the starch released as it cooks.

Sorghum is an ancient cereal grain from Egypt and is important throughout Africa. It is gluten-free and high in antioxidants. The wax surrounding the sorghum grain contains compounds called policosanols, which may have cholesterol lowering potency comparable to statin medications.


Teff Teff Teff is a highly versatile small grain crop that thrives in Ethiopia. It is naturally gluten-free, is high in calcium and can benefit colon health, blood sugar stability and weight control. Many of Ethiopia’s famed long-distance runners attribute their energy and health to teff.

Millet is a group of small seeded grains originating in Asia and produced mostly in India today. It is gluten-free and high in magnesium and antioxidants. Researchers believe millet helps to control diabetes and inflammation.

The information in this column is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

Susan Summerton, OD, is a board-certified optometrist at Tyson Eye, a certified nutrition specialist and an adjunct professor of nutrition at Hodges University. She can be reached at susan.summerton@tysoneye.com.



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