Are Alternative Grains The Healthier Choice? Experts Weigh In

In a world where culinary exploration knows no bounds, our palates are increasingly craving the excitement of new flavours and textures. Amidst this culinary overhaul, alternative grains have emerged as the unsung heroes of the culinary realm, offering a treasure trove of diverse tastes, nutritional benefits, and environmental sustainability. The concept itself isn't new in India, where these grains have always been a part of the recommended Ayurvedic diet, it's seeing a new lease on life with a number of new government initiatives championing millets on a global platform.

With the overall narrative shifting to how dietary choices play a crucial role in shaping our health, the spotlight has been turned on alternative grains – an array of ancient and non-traditional grains that are rewriting the rules of healthy eating. These grains, including quinoa, amaranth, oats, rajgira, buckwheat, sorghum, and millet, are making waves for their distinct nutritional profiles, taste, and potential health benefits.

What Makes Alternative Grains Different?

What truly sets alternative grains apart from regular grains, like wheat and rice, is their exceptional nutritional content and unique health advantages. “These grains often have unique nutrient content, much rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants compared to traditional grains. Grains, such as quinoa, amaranth, and oats , rajgira, buckwheat , Sorghum , millet often boast of higher levels of protein, fiber, and various vitamins and minerals.” says Sargam Gupta, Sargam Gupta, Msc. in DFSM , PGD in Nutrition & Dietetics, Nutritionist, Health & Wellness. 

Moreover, certain alternative grains are naturally gluten-free, catering to individuals with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease.

An aspect that further sets alternative grains apart is their lower glycemic index, resulting in steadier blood sugar levels compared to traditional grains. This characteristic can be attributed to the grains' slower and more controlled digestion process, making them an ideal choice for individuals striving to manage their blood sugar levels effectively.

How Are Alternative Grains Beneficial?

Embracing alternative grains in lieu of processed white rice or flour offers remarkable nutritional advantages. The distinction lies in the fact that whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, and whole wheat flour retain the entirety of the grain kernel, encompassing a wealth of nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. “Eating whole instead of refined grains substantially lowers total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or bad) cholesterol, triglycerides, and insulin levels. Replacing refined grains with whole grains and eating at least 2 servings of whole grains daily may help to reduce type 2 diabetes risk,” says Gupta.

Pros And Cons Of Alternative Grains

It's important to note that transitioning to alternative grains doesn't necessitate forsaking traditional grains entirely. Rather, it's about achieving balance and variety in your diet. Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat can coexist harmoniously within a balanced eating plan. The key is moderation and a holistic approach to nutrition. “Some of these grains may also contain antinutrients like phytic acid, which can interfere with mineral absorption,” says Gupta, “But then again the way they are cooked matters here. Additionally, allergies or sensitivities to these grains can arise, causing digestive issues for some individuals.”

How To Include Alternative Grains In Your Diet

One of the other concerns for many people is the unique taste and texture of alternative grains that might not resonate with everyone's palate. To achieve this, consider replacing conventional grains with options like quinoa, millet, buckwheat, and amaranth. “ Incorporate them into meals like salads, stir-fries, or grain bowls. Gradually introduce these grains alongside your regular meals to ensure a smooth transition and a diverse nutrient intake. Remember to also include a variety of vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats for a well-rounded diet,” recommends Gupta. 

The era of alternative grains has ushered in a new chapter in the realm of nutrition and wellness. These grains offer a plethora of benefits, ranging from enhanced nutrient profiles and blood sugar management to the promotion of overall health. While they might have some minor downsides, the advantages far outweigh the drawbacks. As Gupta Says “Removing processed grains and substituting with whole grains like alternative grains is definitely moving towards a better and more nutritious way of living."