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Ancient grains tend to be les processed than modern grains, like corn and wheat. Because of this, ancient grains have more vitamin, mineral, and fiber content. Including ancient grains in your diet may come with health benefits.

Ancient grains are a group of grains and pseudocereals (seeds that are consumed like grains) that have remained mostly unchanged for thousands of years.

They’re dietary staples in many parts of the world, such as China, India, Africa, and the Middle East. Today, ancient grains are becoming more popular in Western countries.

That’s because they tend to be less processed and pack more vitamins, minerals, and fiber than more widespread grains like corn, rice, and modern wheat.

In addition, studies have linked ancient grain consumption to health benefits, such as lower heart disease risk, better blood sugar control, and improved digestion (1, 2).

Here are 12 healthy ancient grains.

1. Amaranth

Amaranth is a nutritious, gluten-free grain that has been cultivated for more than 8,000 years (3).

One cup (246 grams) of cooked amaranth contains (4):

  • Calories: 251
  • Carbs: 46 grams
  • Protein: 9 grams
  • Fat: 4 grams
  • Fiber: 5 grams — 20%
    of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Manganese: 91% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 38% of the DV
  • Iron: 29% of the DV

Thanks to its impressive nutrient composition, amaranth has been linked to numerous benefits, including decreased heart disease risk and inflammation (5, 6).

For example, an animal study found that a diet high in amaranth significantly reduced total cholesterol while raising HDL (good) cholesterol levels, compared to diets high in other grains (6).

Amaranth can be easily used in place of rice, couscous, and quinoa. Alternatively, you can add amaranth to soups or stews to add bulk and thickness.

2. Millet

While best known as an ingredient in birdseed, millet is a nutritious, ancient pseudocereal considered a staple throughout China, India, Africa, Ethiopia, and Nigeria.

One cup (174 grams) of cooked millet boasts (7):

  • Calories: 174
  • Carbs: 41 grams
  • Protein: 6 grams
  • Fat: 2 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams — 8% of
    the DV
  • Manganese: 21% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 19% of the DV
  • Thiamine
    (vitamin B1):

    15% of the DV

Millet contains a variety of nutrients linked to lower inflammation, reduced heart disease risk, and improved blood sugar control (8, 9).

For example, a study in 105 people with type 2 diabetes found that replacing rice with millet in a meal reduced post-meal blood sugar levels by 27% (10).

Millet is versatile and gluten-free. It can be enjoyed as a hot breakfast cereal or in place of other grains like rice, couscous, and quinoa.

If you can’t find millet in your local grocery store, you can easily purchase it online.

3. Khorasan wheat (kamut)

Khorasan wheat, also known as kamut, is a high-fiber, nutrient-dense grain that is linked to health benefits.

One cup (172 grams) of cooked kamut offers (11):

  • Calories: 227
  • Carbs: 48 grams
  • Protein: 10 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Fiber: 7 grams — 30% of
    the DV
  • Selenium: 100% of the DV
  • Zinc: 29% of the DV
  • Niacin (vitamin

    25% of the DV

Kamut may be especially beneficial for reducing blood sugar levels and heart disease risk factors like LDL (bad) cholesterol (12).

A 4-week study in 22 people found that a kamut-based diet suppressed hormones that promote inflammation and reduced total cholesterol by 4%, LDL (bad) cholesterol by 8%, and blood sugar levels by 4%, compared to a semi-whole-grain diet (13).

This grain contains gluten, which makes it unsuitable for people with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or wheat allergies.

Kamut has a chewy, nutty texture with grains two to three times the size of wheat grains. It’s an excellent addition to soups, stews, casseroles, and summer salads.

You can find it in specialty stores, as well as online.

4. Sorghum

Sorghum is the fifth most consumed grain worldwide and a great source of nutrients (14).

Per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), uncooked sorghum provides (15):

  • Calories: 329
  • Carbs: 72 grams
  • Protein: 11 grams
  • Fat: 3 grams
  • Fiber: 7 grams — 27%
    of the DV
  • Manganese: 70% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 39% of the DV
  • Copper: 32% of the DV
  • Selenium: 22% of the DV

Sorghum is not only high in nutrients but also but also a good source of powerful polyphenol plant compounds, including anthocyanins and phenolic acids, which function as antioxidants inside your body (16).

Antioxidants neutralize potentially harmful molecules called free radicals, which can cause cellular damage and increase disease risk when they accumulate in your body (17).

Unlike many other grains, sorghum is naturally gluten-free and can be easily ground into flour for gluten-free baking. Its mild flavor makes it very versatile.

5. Teff

Teff is the world’s smallest grain, at approximately 0.7–1% the size of a wheat kernel (18).

Per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), uncooked teff contains (19, 20):

  • Calories: 367
  • Carbs: 73 grams
  • Protein: 13.3 grams
  • Fat: 2 grams
  • Fiber: 8 grams — 32%
    of the DV
  • Manganese: 402% of the DV
  • Copper: 90% of the DV
  • Vitamin C: 98% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 44% of the DV
  • Iron: 42% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 34% of the DV
  • Zinc: 33% of the DV

Although teff grains are tiny, they’re packed with important nutrients, such as iron and magnesium. They are also one of the few grains that boast vitamin C, a nutrient vital for immune and bone health (20).

In Ethiopia, conditions like iron deficiency anemia are quite rare, possibly due to this nation’s high consumption of teff grains (21).

For example, a study in 592 pregnant Ethiopian women found that eating teff daily was linked to a significantly lower risk of anemia than eating teff less frequently (22).

Teff is also gluten-free and can be used in porridge, soups, stews, and gluten-free baked goods. It’s available online and in some stores.

6. Freekeh

Freekeh is a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine. Made from green durum wheat, it packs a variety of nutrients and powerful carotenoid compounds (23).

Per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), uncooked freekeh offers (24):

  • Calories: 325
  • Carbs: 65 grams
  • Protein: 20 grams
  • Fat: 2.5 grams
  • Fiber: 10 grams — 40%
    of the DV
  • Iron: 20% of the DV

In particular, freekeh is a good source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. A higher intake of these compounds has been linked to a lower risk of degenerative eye disorders, such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) (25, 26).

As freekeh contains gluten, people with celiac disease and other gluten-related conditions should avoid it.

Freekeh has an earthy, nutty taste, with a chewy texture like that of brown rice. As a versatile grain, it makes an excellent addition to soups, stews, casseroles, and summer salads.

If it’s hard to find at your usual grocery store, shop for it online.

7. Farro

Farro is an ancient wheat-based grain that has become increasingly popular.

Per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), uncooked emmer farro packs (27):

  • Calories: 362
  • Carbs: 72 grams
  • Protein: 13 grams
  • Fat: 2 grams
  • Fiber: 11 grams — 42%
    of the DV
  • Niacin (vitamin B3): 53% of the DV
  • Zinc: 44% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 31% of the DV

Aside from the nutrients listed above, farro is high in antioxidants like polyphenols, carotenoids, and phytosterols, which may lower your risk of several chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and certain cancers (28, 29, 30).

Additionally, farro is particularly high in protein and fiber, which may help maintain a healthy body weight by curbing your appetite and keeping you full after meals (31, 32).

This gluten-containing grain is easy to include in your diet and can be eaten much like other grains. You can add it to dishes like salads and soups.

You can find farro at specialty food stores, as well as online.

8. Barley

Barley is highly nutritious and among the most widely consumed ancient grains in the American diet.

One cup (157 grams) of cooked barley provides (33):

  • Calories: 193
  • Carbs: 44 grams
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Fiber: 6 grams — 24%
    of the DV
  • Selenium: 25% of the DV
  • Iron: 12% of the DV
  • Thiamine
    (vitamin B1):

    11% of the DV

Barley is high in beta glucans, a type of soluble fiber that dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance in your gut. Beta glucans are also linked to heart health (34, 35, 36).

For example, a review of 14 studies including 615 people reported that diets higher in beta glucans from barley significantly reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol and raised HDL (good) cholesterol levels, compared to control diets (37).

Barley is affordable, widely available, and easy to eat. However, it is not gluten-free.

It can be eaten as a side dish in place of other grains or added to soups, stuffings, and salads.

9. Quinoa

Quinoa is a popular, gluten-free ancient grain that offers impressive health benefits.

One cup (185 grams) of cooked quinoa boasts (38):

  • Calories: 222
  • Carbs: 39 grams
  • Protein: 8 grams
  • Fat: 4 grams
  • Fiber: 5 grams — 21%
    of the DV
  • Manganese: 51% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 28% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 23% of the DV
  • Folate: 19% of the DV
  • Zinc: 18% of the DV

Quinoa contains potent antioxidants, such as quercetin and kaempferol, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties in animal studies (39, 40, 41).

What’s more, this grain is an excellent source of plant-based protein, boasting 8 grams per 1-cup (185-gram) serving. Protein is the most filling macronutrient, and adding more protein-rich foods to your diet may help regulate hunger and promote weight loss (42).

Due to its popularity, quinoa is widely available in supermarkets and health food stores. It has a mild taste and is easy to incorporate into breakfast bowls, lunches, and dinners.

10. Bulgur (cracked wheat)

Bulgur, also called cracked wheat, is a staple food in Middle Eastern cuisine.

One cup (182 grams) of cooked bulgur offers (43):

  • Calories: 151
  • Carbs: 34 grams
  • Protein: 6 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Fiber: 8 grams — 33% of
    the DV
  • Manganese: 48% of the DV
  • Copper: 15% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 14% of the DV

Bulgur is frequently made from cracked durum wheat and often added to salads like tabbouleh or used in place of rice in dishes like pilaf.

Its high fiber content may promote heart health, good digestion, blood sugar control, and weight loss (32, 44).

Although bulgur is healthy for most people, it is a wheat product, so people who cannot tolerate gluten or wheat should avoid it.

Bulgur is usually sold parboiled (partially cooked), which means it can be prepared quickly.

11. Rye

Rye is a popular ancient grain that is a member of the wheat family. However, compared to wheat, rye contains fewer carbs and more vitamins and minerals.

Per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), uncooked rye grains pack (45):

  • Calories: 338
  • Carbs: 76 grams
  • Protein: 10 grams
  • Fat: 2 grams
  • Fiber: 15 grams — 60%
    of the DV
  • Manganese: 112% of the DV
  • Copper: 41% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 27% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 26% of the DV

Due to its high fiber content, rye and rye-based products may be more effective at alleviating constipation than wheat-based products and laxatives (46).

In addition, a higher intake of fiber-rich whole grains, such as rye, is linked to a reduced risk of certain cancers, including breast and colorectal cancers (47, 48, 49).

Although rye is very healthy, it’s worth noting that it’s not a gluten-free grain.

12. Fonio

Fonio is a type of millet that’s widely consumed in West African countries. The two most common varieties are white fonio (Digitaria exilis) and black fonio (Digitaria iburu).

Per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), uncooked fonio provides (50, 51):

  • Calories: 378
  • Carbs: 87 grams
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Fiber: 2 grams — 9% of
    the DV
  • Iron: 9% of the DV

Fonio also boasts good amounts of magnesium, copper, and zinc.

It may contain resistant starch, which passes through your digestive tract without being broken down and feeds your healthy gut bacteria (52).

These bacteria break down resistant starch into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which may help lower blood sugar and inflammation, among other benefits (53, 54).

Fonio is not widely available in the United States but can be purchased online. It can be ground to make a delicious gluten-free flour for baking or cooked for a fluffy, couscous-like texture.

Summary Fonio is popular in West
African countries and believed to contain resistant starch, which is linked to
many health benefits.

The bottom line

Ancient grains have gained popularity in recent years because they tend to be less processed and boast more vitamins, minerals, and fiber than more common grains.

Diets higher in ancient grains have been linked to health benefits, such as improved blood sugar and reduced inflammation, as well as heart disease and cancer risk.

Plenty of ancient grains are also gluten-free, such as quinoa, millet, fonio, sorghum, amaranth, and teff. These are suitable for people who cannot tolerate gluten or wheat.

Try incorporating a few of these ancient grains into your diet to reap their health benefits.