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Ancient Grains for a Healthy Body

In this article, I’ll be taking you through three Gluten-Free Ancient Grains – some nutritional background, preparation, tips for speeding up meals and snacks and then preparing some offerings for you to taste!

When we look at the healthiest populations, most of them have diets that are very high in whole grains, along with lots of plants and minimal animal products.

We tend to be obsessed with protein, but I think we need to turn our attention to fiber. We are learning more about gut health every day, and it usually comes back to the balance of gut flora.

Fiber feeds the gut, and whole grains are a great source.

However, as delicious as it is, one can only eat so much quinoa. So if you’re craving something different in your ancient grain routine, but don’t know where to begin, try my top three recommendations

Are ancient grains healthier than modern grains?

Ancient grains are certainly more nutritious than refined grain products (like white flour or refined crackers). But healthy whole grains need not be exotic. Common foods like brown rice, whole grain pasta, oatmeal, popcorn, and whole wheat bread offer the same whole grain goodness, and often at lower price points.

Many ancient grains thrive with lower levels of pesticides, fertilizers, and irrigation, making them an attractive choice to consumers who choose to shop with their carbon footprint in mind. However, the best way to ensure that you’re getting the full spectrum of nutrients available in nature is to eat a variety of different grain foods. After all, each whole grain has something different to offer (from the calcium in teff to the soluble fiber in barley), making it impossible to play favorites.

Whole Grains 101

What are grains, anyway?

Like the legumes and nuts with which they’re often grouped, grains are seeds. In other words, hyper-concentrated packages of all the nutrients and energy it will need to turn into a self-sufficient plant.

More specifically, the grain can be broken down into three edible parts:

  • The bran, the seed’s outer skin, packed with fiber
  • The germ, or embryo (a.k.a. the best part). This is where you’ll find all the good stuff—the disease-preventing, metabolism-boosting, blood-sugar-stabilizing, cholesterol-lowering antioxidants, fibers, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and the like.
  • The endosperm. This is the germ’s food supply, which is mainly your starchy carbs.

Cooking with Whole Grains

So now that I’ve got them, what should I actually DO with them?

  • all dry grains can be simmered in water until tender enough to eat
  • Whole grains can be incorporated into your baking projects, popped or puffed into snack food, rolled into flakes for breakfast cereal, and oh-so-much more. But in their most basic state, all dry grains can be simmered in water until tender enough to eat (though just how tender that is will vary by dish and personal preference). If you’ve ever made rice, you get the basic idea.
  • Then again, if you’ve ever made rice, perhaps you’ve also had the charming experience of royally screwing it up. Yes, I, too have had the pleasure of scraping a gluey burnt mass from the base of a pot. So while package directions may be a good starting point for a liquid-to-grain ratio, they’re not exactly what I’d call foolproof.

Cooking Methods

There are three common ways to tackle grains; the method you choose will largely have to do with the grain you’re using and the texture or flavor you’re looking for.

  1. The Absorption Method: This is the most straightforward technique—just cover your grains with a measured amount of liquid (according to package instructions), bring it to a boil, and then cover the pot, reduce the heat, and simmer away until all the liquid has been absorbed and the grains are tender, adding additional liquid if necessary.
  2. The Pilaf Method: Briefly cooking grains over medium heat before adding liquid to the pot—traditionally in a small amount of oil or butter—will coax out its natural nuttiness, giving off a warm, toasty aroma. If you’re making a pilaf-style main or side, you can also start off by sautéing aromatics like onion, garlic, or spices. Add your grains and stir them regularly for two or three minutes before pouring in a measured amount of liquid. Once it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer the grains until the liquid’s absorbed and the grains are tender, adding additional water if necessary.
  3. The Rapid Boil (Pasta) Method: You can also make grains just like you would pasta, by pouring them into a pot of salted, boiling water and cooking them until tender. This works best for your firmer, chewier grains like barley, wheat berries, and sorghum—just strain them when they’ve reached your desired tenderness.

Before I get started, should I rinse or soak my grains?

Though many recipes will direct you to rinse grains, the vast majority of commercially available whole grains won’t actually need it. But if you want to do it anyway, just make sure to rinse immediately before cooking—otherwise, you run the risk of moldy or sprouted groats. Soaking a grain overnight, on the other hand, can help reduce the stovetop time for slow-cooking grains like spelt or barley and, according to some, produce more evenly cooked results. If you’re planning ahead, it’s never a bad idea.

Wait, but how will I know for sure when they’re done?!?

Beware of recipes claiming to be foolproof. Even different batches of the same grain can vary in the amount of liquid and time they’ll need to finish.

Your best friend is your mouth—when you’re familiarizing yourself with a new grain, taste it regularly. Some like their grains al dente; others like ’em on the mushy side. But if you’re really unsure, you can cut a grain in half: If there’s still a white, opaque center, it’s not fully cooked (though it’s certainly still edible if that’s how you prefer it); if it’s the same color throughout, you’re definitely good to go.

Now I’ve got a ton of leftovers in my fridge. What’s the best way to reheat whole grains?

Before you go about reheating, hit the pause button! Chilled grains make a great base for tossed salads—some chopped vegetables, a sprinkle of cheese, and a drizzle of vinaigrette and you’ve got a surprisingly well-balanced meal. Otherwise, if you have a microwave, you can reheat grains in a bowl, covered with a paper towel. Or go the stovetop route—add the grains and a splash of water to a pot and steam them, covered, over medium-low heat until they’re soft and warm.

Glutenous Grain – Bulgur

  • Bulgur wheat, sometimes also called cracked wheat, is a lesser-known type of whole wheat durum grain.
  • Compared to refined carbohydrate foods made with enriched or refined wheat, bulgur wheat is a much better source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.
  • Bulgur is high in minerals like manganese, magnesium, and iron. Bulgur is low in fat, high in minerals like manganese, magnesium, and iron, plus it’s a good source of plant-based protein.
  • Bulgur wheat provides a very good dose of the dietary fiber you need for digestive and heart health — over 25 percent of your daily needs in every one-cup serving!
  • Bulgur is a staple of Indian, Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisines for centuries
  • Bulgur wheat tends to be most well-known in the West as the main ingredient used in tabbouleh.
  • The difference between bulgur and most types of wheat flours used in many packaged products is that bulgur hasn’t been stripped (or “refined) of its bran and germ, which are where many of the nutrients are actually stored within a whole grain.
  • Bulgur is usually sold “parboiled,” which means a very small amount of the grain’s bran is partially removed, but it’s still considered whole grain by the USDA and the Whole Grains Council.
  • One important thing to clarify about bulgur wheat is that it does contain gluten, as all wheat-containing foods do.
  • Gluten — the protein found naturally in all wheat, rye and barley products — can cause digestive issues for many people, especially if they have a compromised digestive system to begin with or poor gut health.

While bulgur wheat is definitely a step up from refined carbohydrates or sugary foods, it’s still best to have in moderation. And if you have a known allergy or gluten sensitivity, you should avoid bulgur wheat altogether and have gluten-free ancient whole grains like quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat or brown rice instead.

Gluten-containing grains should also be avoided if you have leaky gut syndrome or candida since gluten can aggravate these conditions.

Benefits:

  • Good for your heart health
  • Improves Digestion
  • Improves Immunity
  • Aid in sleep
  • Slows Down Absorption of Sugar and Fights Diabetes. Optimizes the release of insulin and can help prevent spikes and plunges of blood sugar.
  • Aids in weight loss. The high fiber content of bulgur wheat will make you feel more full, thus preventing overeating

With a consistency that goes great in grain-salad dishes, make tabouli by mixing bulgur with lots of chopped parsley, tomatoes, cucumbers, lemon juice, and olive oil.

Gluten-Free – Sorghum

This is one of my favorite ancient grains. It’s wholesome and got a great nutty flavor. Most of the crop in this country goes into animal feed or is used for biodegradable packaging, but it’s gaining popularity as a food.” Gluten-free sorghum contains a phytochemical called policosanol, which may help manage cholesterol levels. Although sorghum is most often used as flour to make gluten-free breads, Caspero suggests trying it as “popped sorghum,” an alternative to popcorn.

Sorghum is a super grain. It is gluten-free and has a low GI index (meaning its great for keeping you satiated (full) for a few hours, as well as keeping your blood sugars stable. It is a very unique grain which is rich in anti-oxidants, Sorghum is very high in fiber and a great source of protein.

As is true for many grains, this plant-based food, Sorghum spread through the world via the Silk Trade from Africa more than 8000 years ago and was eventually cultivated in China and India. An Indian flatbread called roti is made with sorghum flour or otherwise known as Jowar flour. We have always had sorghum as part of our daily diet in our home and I am so blessed that my mom taught me so many recipes using Sorghum/Jowar.

Sorghum has a very cool texture and a nutty flavor — it definitely has a toothsomeness to it.  It’s a nice departure from eating rice. It really a wholesome and hearty grain. And from a culinary point of view, Sorghum is a very versatile grain and can be used in dishes like salads, smoothies, in pilafs, stews, and you can even use this grain in baked goods. One of my favorite uses is popping sorghum. You can eat it on its own or use it as a healthy topping on salads or even shrimp to give that extra crunch!

Sorghum cooked properly with some healthy fresh olive oils is a nutritional powerhouse.  Just this past week I had prepared a Sorghum salad and Sorghum Pilaf using some flavored olive oils at the Chefs convention. It was amazing!

Sorghum is a high-energy whole grain you should add to your child’s diet. With nearly 75 percent complex carbohydrates and rich in B-complex vitamins, sorghum is an excellent choice to keep your kids focused all day long.

Sorghum is also high in protein, the building blocks for bone and muscle development. Sorghum’s nutritious goodness will help your kids stay full longer to tackle the school day with ease. Remember, good nutrition can improve your child’s brain function, energy levels and moods at school.

If you are a lover of grain and looking for that excitement and creativity, I would definitely introduce Sorghum in your diet.

Benefits:

  • Help to manage cholesterol
  • Improves digestive health
  • Safe for Celiac Disease
  • Improves Bone Health
  • Boosts energy levels
  • May inhibit Cancer Tumor Growth
  • Slows Down Absorption of Sugar and Fights Diabetes. Optimizes the release of insulin and can help prevent spikes and plunges of blood sugar.

The healthiest gluten-free grain you aren’t yet eating – Job’s Tears

Job’s Tears and Pearl Barley
If you come across something that looks very similar to pearl barley – spherical in shape, pearl in color, having a brownish groove on one side, but is about twice the size of it, then it is probably coix seeds. Yet it is better to clarify before you pay because I have seen Job’s tears being labeled as pearl barley (wrong in English but correct in Chinese!).

Though relatively unknown in the West, coix seed/Job’s Tears is a common ingredient in China, Korea, and Thailand. It’s used to make tea and alcohol, and used with other herbs in traditional Chinese medicine. It can be cooked just like rice until plump and tender; it has a starchy texture and sweet, corn-like flavor that lends itself well to soups or stews.

Though Job’s Tears sometimes has been nicknamed as Chinese pearl barley, it is not a type of barley as you shall see in a picture below.

There are sayings that coix seed is called ‘Job’s Tears’ because of the biblical Job of the Old Testament, who frequently tears from the sufferings he endured.

Among Chinese, coix seed has been valued for its ‘cooling’ property, a concept related to Chinese food therapy, for acting on an ‘inflamed’ human body, mostly occurred after taking considerable spicy, grilled or barbecued foods. Chinese Medicine classifies the nature of Job’s tears as slightly cold and sweet and they are attributive to spleen, stomach, lungs, liver, and large intestine. Chinese herbalists have regarded the seeds as being capable of:

  • enhancing immunity
  • inducing diuresis,
  • excreting dampness,
  • strengthening spleen

However, they suggest that it is not suitable for pregnant women. But there are claims mention that coix is good for nourishing the skin making it look soft and smooth.

Benefits:

  • Heart Healthy
  • Job’s Tears are also traditionally used to treat cough, asthma, edema, urinary problems, and arthritis
  • Job’s Tears contains chemicals that can protect against cancer by inhibiting cancer cell growth.
  • These benefits extend to the gastrointestinal system and seem to be protective against stomach ulcers and gastric cancer cells.
  • Job’s Tears are also reported as being able to reverse osteoporosis, aid in weight loss, and reduce harmful LDL cholesterol that can increase risk for future heart disease.
  • research has found that the fiber contained in Job’s tears might decrease how much fat and cholesterol the body absorbs.
  • beautiful skin

Nutrition, Characteristics, Uses and Benefits

Type   Calories Protein Carbs Fiber Iron
Bulgur ¼ cup 140 6 grams 33.8 grams 6 grams 1.75 milligrams
Job’s Tears ¼ cup 160 7 grams 33 grams 1 gram
Sorghum ¼  cup 360 10 grams 72 grams 10 grams 3.6 milligrams

 

Type Characteristics Uses Benefits
Bulgur
  • Bulgur, a Middle Eastern staple made from durum wheat
  • The bulgur types include coarse, medium, fine, double fine and ultra-fine grinds.
  • it has a light, nutty flavor
  • Bulgur is low in fat, high in minerals like manganese, magnesium and iron, plus it’s a good source of plant-based protein.
  • One important thing to clarify about bulgur wheat is that it does contain gluten, as all wheat-containing foods do.
  • Pilaf
  • Tabbouleh
  • Pudding
  • Baked like kibbeh
  • soups
  • Good for your heart health
  • Improves Digestion
  • Improves Immunity
  • Aid in sleep
  • Slows Down Absorption of Sugar and Fights Diabetes. Optimizes the release of insulin and can help prevent spikes and plunges of blood sugar.
  • Aids in weight loss. The high fiber content of bulgur wheat will make you feel more full, thus preventing overeating
Sorghum
  • Sorghum spread through the world via the Silk Trade from Africa more than 8000 years ago, and was eventually cultivated in China and India.
  • Sorghum is a high-energy whole grain you should add to your child’s diet. With nearly 75 percent complex carbohydrates and rich in B-complex vitamins, sorghum is an excellent choice to keep your kids focused all day long.
  • Sorghum has a very cool texture and a nutty flavor; it definitely has a toothsomeness to it.
  • It is a very unique grain which is rich in anti-oxidants, Sorghum is very high in fiber and a great source of protein
  • Salads
  • Pilaf Rice
  • Soups
  • Stews
  • Curries
  • Flatbreads
  • Pizza dough
  • Smoothies
  • Help to manage cholesterol
  • Improves digestive health
  • Safe for Celiac Disease
  • Improves Bone Health
  • Boosts energy levels
  • May inhibit Cancer Tumor Growth
  • Slows Down Absorption of Sugar and Fights Diabetes. Optimizes the release of insulin and can help prevent spikes and plunges of blood sugar
Job’s Tears
  • Job’s tears is a broad-leaved, branched grass. It is native to China, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. It is considered a nutritious health food in Asian countries. The seeds of Job’s tears are tear-shaped and come in several colors including yellow, brown, white, and purple. The seeds are sometimes used as ornamental beads.
  • Job’s tears contains chemicals that might interfere with cancer cell growth. It also has antioxidant effects and might also decrease growth of bacteria and parasites.
  • some research suggests that fiber contained in Job’s tears might decrease how much fat and cholesterol the body absorbs
  • People take Job’s tears for hay fever, high cholesterol, cancer, warts, arthritis, obesity, and respiratory tract infections.
  • valued for its ‘cooling’ property, a concept related to Chinese food therapy, for acting on an ‘inflamed’ human body, mostly occurred after taking considerable spicy, grilled or barbecued foods
  • It can be cooked just like rice until plump and tender; it has a starchy texture and sweet, corn-like flavor that lends itself well to soups or stews

 

  • Salads
  • Pilaf Rice
  • Soups
  • Stews

 

 

  • Heart Healthy. Aids in reducing harmful LDL cholesterol that can increase risk for future heart disease
  • traditionally used to treat cough, asthma, edema, urinary problems and arthritis
  • contains chemicals that can protect against cancer by inhibiting cancer cell growth.
  • benefits extend to the gastrointestinal system and protects against stomach ulcers and gastric cancer cells.
  • reported as being able to reverse osteoporosis, aid in weight loss,
  • fiber contained in Job’s tears might decrease how much fat and cholesterol the body absorbs.
  • beautiful skin

 

 

 

 

 

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