Ancient Grains – Food Pharmacy

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Ancient Grains

A while ago, we got an email from Kerstin Fredlund, a Swedish physician and Doctor of Medical Science. Long passionate about ancient grains, she is a true expert in the field. We keep hearing about ancient grains, but what are they really? We asked Kerstin to share some of her knowledge, and boy, did she deliver. Our guess is you’ll be seeing a lot more of these grains in the near future. Keep your eyes peeled.

– What are ancient grains?

Grains have been around for thousands of years, and they’re all members of the grass family. The most primitive grass species are 6 million years old. Around 12.000 years ago, an agricultural revolution took place in the Middle East and it allowed humans to embrace farming. Einkorn, emmer, and spelt wheat types are the earliest cultivated grains. The wild ancestors of rye, oat and barley were also domesticated into grains.

Ancient grains, for example einkorn, emmer, spelt, oat, rye and barley, are a grouping of grains that have been little changed by selective breeding. They are said to be largely unchanged from their initial domesticated varieties. Corn, rice and modern varieties of wheat on the other hand, have been developed over time and are the product of thousands of years of selective breeding.

Einkorn, one of the first plants to be domesticated and cultivated, has an entirely different genetic makeup than modern wheat. It’s a diploid species, with only 14 chromosomes. Modern wheat has 42 chromosomes, which also changes the gluten structure. Few studies have been conducted on einkorn and gluten, but since it’s a diploid species with only 14 chromosomes, it’s likely to contain less gluten than modern wheat, or at least a different kind. Emmer wheat and other species with 28 chromosomes (like durum wheat and kamut) contain less celiac disease-related gluten epitopes. Spelt wheat (dinkel) and modern wheat species contain ten times the amount of gluten epitopes than tetraploid wheat species like durum wheat and kamut. Even if they’re not gluten free, some people with gluten sensitivities can tolerate them.

– Is there a connection between modern wheat and celiac disease?

It’s possible that wheat hybridization may have led to the rapidly growing prevalence of gluten intolerance today. Some studies suggest a connection between gluten in baby food and celiac disease.

– And what about nutrition?

50% of world daily caloric intake is derived from grain consumption. Most of the grain used for human food, like rice, corn and wheat, is milled and processed. The milling process strips the grains of 75% of the important nutrients beneficial to health, including dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel and are a good source of nutrients. Modern grains have been developed for rapid growth and are much less nutritious than ancient grains. Modern wheat in particular has a bad reputation, and it should have. However, not all grains are bad for you. Some ancient grains have a stellar nutritional profile.

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