Ancient Whole Grains to the Rescue

Ancient Whole Grains to the Rescue

In This Article

Eating Grains: When and What Kind?

First things first: let’s consider when grains are in season. Whole grains are not harvested year-round. They are seasonal foods that have been industrialized to be available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner year-round. Overconsumption of any one food can lead to a lack of food diversity, nutritional deficiencies, and a host of health concerns. Traditionally, grains were harvested and eaten in late summer/early fall and they were simply not available in the spring. Studies show that both soil and gut bacteria change from season to season, ideally supporting a diet that would also change with the seasons. Within the gut microbiome, the high-carbohydrate harvest of late summer/fall supports more carb-digesting bacteroidetes while fat- and fiber-eating actinobacteria surge in the winter.

Secondly, let’s consider the type of grain. The grains that are sold in the West are either highly processed whole wheat or refined (when the bran and the sperm of the grain are removed). In fact, according to the FDA, for a product to be legally called “whole grain,” it only has to weigh 51% or more of the original weight of the wheat berry or whole grain. It is a processed food when 49% of the grain has been removed and fortifying nutrients are added in. How can anyone expect the processed grain to be health-promoting?

When the bran and germ are removed during milling (refining), minerals, vitamins, phytochemicals, dietary fiber, and beneficial bacteria are removed. These are all components that play an important role in the health benefits of whole grains. Studies show that with increased consumption of whole grain (including the bran, endosperm, and sperm), there was a proportional decrease in all-cause mortality from conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type 1 & 2 diabetes, respiratory diseases, cancer, and infections. 

Read over 600 scientific references on the benefits of whole grains in my latest book, Eat Wheat.

To make sure you are consuming whole grain, the Whole Grain Council puts out a whole grain stamp to look for on your food for confirmation that you are consuming whole grains.

Why Are Ancient Whole Grains Superior?

Ancient grains are less processed and are rarely refined like modern grains. They are loaded with more phytonutrients, fiber, vitamins, and nutrients than modern grains (which have been hybridized over the years to become sweeter and harder). The original wheat our ancestors ate some 16,000 years ago has significantly more gluten than the standard modern wheat sold today. When selecting the kernels to sow for the next season, farmers consistently chose the bigger kernels as they are easier to gather. The kernels from the ancient grains can be very small and needle-like. Ancient farmers would also choose the bigger seeds, which had less gluten and more sugar than the smaller, harder-to-work-with grain.

Ancient grains have been shown to offer more health benefits than modern grains such as lower heart disease, lipid levels, blood sugar, inflammation, and stress–mostly due to the higher antioxidant levels. The flour of ancient grains has to be stored in a dark glass container and refrigerated. These grains are alive, and light exposure can cause the oils to go rancid. This is why they are typically removed in most flours. Buying the whole kernel and grinding your flour allows the oils to be protected in the kernel until it is consumed–the way it happens in nature. Some examples of ancient grains are einkorn, spelt, kamut, emmer, and rye.

See also American Wheat vs European Wheat

Einkorn Wheat

Einkorn is one of the oldest of the ancient grains. It is loaded with protein, healthy fat, antioxidants, and minerals like zinc and iron. It is a hardy grain and acts as a great blood and bodybuilder. However, the gluten is different and the grain is wetter than other grains, which makes baking with einkorn more of a challenge to work with.


Spelt is in the Farro Wheat family. It is a larger grain that is similar to wheat but with a nuttier taste. It is loaded with B vitamins and it is more blood sugar stable than other wheat varieties due to its high fiber content.

Khorasan (Kamut)

Khorasan is a grain thought to have come from the Middle East. Bob Quinn converted his Montana farm to grow only organic Khorasan decades ago. It is better tolerated by those who are gluten-sensitive. It is loaded with antioxidants, with multiple studies supporting its many health benefits.

See also Dr. John’s Podcast Interview with Bob Quinn: The High Cost of Cheap Food 

Emmer Wheat

Emmer wheat is a medium-sized farro wheat. It was one of the most popular ancient grains. It has a different form of gluten that is easier to digest and will more easily break apart when making dough. Traditionally, it was used as a great pasta-making wheat variety.


Rye is an ancient grain related to both wheat and barley. It is a darker grain with a malty flavor unique to rye. Most rye breads have much of the bran and enzymes removed to make it easier to work with. Old-fashioned rye breads are dark, heavy, hearty, and dense–much different than store-bought rye bread.

Still Having Trouble Digesting Whole Grains?

Grains are indeed harder to digest than many other foods due to their antinutrient protective shells that help the seeds resist being fully digested by predators. Most plant foods contain antinutrients in the name of species survival. As processing, hybridization, genetic engineering, and the use of pesticides have altered our food supply, they have also weakened our ability to digest properly. Before you swear off all grains, take our Digestive Health Quiz and see if you may be suffering from a fixable digestive imbalance that may be the underlying cause of your negative reaction to grains and other foods.

For most folks, an inability to digest grains is a canary in the coal mine, shining light on a digestive imbalance that may be linked to various health concerns.

See also The Ancient Science of Digestion: Understanding the Causes of Imbalance

Ancient Whole Grain Resources

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Dr. John

1 thought on “Ancient Whole Grains to the Rescue”

  1. What about the “anti-nutrients” like lectins, phytic acid, trypsin inhibitors, etc that render the greater nutrient levels unabsorbable? And even leach minerals from the body?


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