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Can I eat ancient grains if I'm gluten-free or on an irritable bowel diet?

Ancient grains are a nutritional step above modern wheat, as I noted in my previous post. In this second part of my series on ancient grains, I'll list the grains you can eat if you're gluten free. And for those on a FODMAP diet that may relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, not all varieties of ancient grains will cause painful episodes.

Ancient grains, or grains that have never been modified, contain a high amount of vitamins B, E, antioxidants, and minerals such as potassium, and iron. These grains are also rich in magnesium, which most Americans are deficient in, according to the most recent U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Brown rice is an ancient grain

Modern wheat was modified to make it easier to process, doing away with some nutrients, and requiring more fertilizer, pesticides, and irrigation to grow. Ancient grains have a stronger hull, which make them harder to separate and requires more labor than modern wheat. However, the strong hull of the ancient grain lends the grain its unique nutritional profile.

But don't eat ancient grains for the nutrients: eat them because they're delicious and satisfying. Farro is nutty and chewy; barley soup is hearty and satiating; and chia seeds transform liquids into dazzling puddings. You can download a free Baker's Guide with information on cooking with a variety of whole grains from the California Grain Campaign, which supports small-scale farmers in the environmentally sustainable production of whole grains.

Ancient grain varieties

Ancient grains encompass simple grains like brown rice, and some unfamiliar, yet extremely flavorful grains, such as quinoa, spelt and farro. Adding to the confusion, some grains are known by different names. For example, emmer wheat is known as farro in Italy, and are often used interchangeably in the U.S. Here are the grains known as ancient grains, which can be grown conventionally or on organic soil:

  • Millet

  • Brown rice

  • Quinoa

  • Sorghum

  • Chia

  • Spelt

  • Farro (or emmer)

  • Kamut

  • Freekeh

  • Barley

  • Teff

  • Amaranth

  • Buckwheat

  • Some heirloom varieties of grains, such as black rice.

ancient grains can be found at the farmers markets

Where to find ancient grains

Many varieties of ancient grains have become more popular, and can even be found in precooked form in supermarkets or popular markets such as Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, and farmers markets. It's worth discovering these grains, because many of them, such as quinoa, can be rinsed and cooked in 15 minutes. They are wonderful in soups, side dishes, salads, and even for breakfast, instead of oatmeal. They add lots of fiber to dishes, and keep you fuller for longer.

There's a popular myth that if the grain is ancient, those with celiac disease can eat them. This is false, and other than the following varieties, all the other ancient grains are not suitable for those who must avoid gluten. Make sure to always buy those with the gluten-free label, to avoid cross-contamination.

The following is a list of the gluten-free varieties of ancient grains.

gluten free ancient grains

Low-FODMAP grains for irritable bowel

For individuals suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, it's difficult to find foods that contain high fiber on the FODMAP diet, often advised for irritable bowel. Many fruits and vegetables may cause gas, pain, and gastrointestinal distress. The ancient wheat varieties (including other grains which are not ancient, such as oats) are fiber-filled and provide more variety to the FODMAP diet. As always, check with your registered dietitian or doctor for the amounts you are able to tolerate. Usually, you can start with a half-cup and go up to a cup, depending on individual tolerances, and the type of grain. See the Monash University low FODMAP app for more details.

According to Monash University, these are the varieties and the forms of ancient grains that are considered low FODMAP:

  • Puffed Amaranth

  • Buckwheat kernels and flour

  • Millet grain and flour

  • Quinoa, all forms

  • Brown rice

  • Sorghum flour

Ancient grains are a wonderful and nutritious addition to a plant-based diet, and provide variety and new textures. Start with easy-to-cook varieties, including brown rice, quinoa, and chia seeds, and enjoy your ancient food adventures.

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