Recent media hype has seen a group of little grains touted as a considerably more nutritious option than traditional grains such as wheat, oats and rye. These ancient grains, such as quinoa, buckwheat, teff and amaranth, are now a selling point for many products on supermarket shelves and are commonplace on restaurant and café menus.

But with so much conflicting information out there, do you really get more bang for your buck when investing in trendy over traditional? We’ve compared the nutrient profiles of some of the most well-loved grains to find out which group packs a superior nutritional punch!

What do we mean by trendy or ancient grains?

Trendy grains have actually been around for many years, but have only recently enjoyed a surge in popularity, in part due to increasing numbers of people looking for alternatives to wheat. Many of these grains, including quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat aren’t even “true” grains, but rather belong to the seed family and are known as pseudo-cereals. Perhaps due to their exotic sounding names, many people think pseudo-cereals are nutritionally superior to the traditional grain. This is not the case – pseudo-cereals have benefits similar to true grains and are used in much the same way.

So do trendy grains really contain more protein?

One of the most common misconceptions is that trendy grains have much higher levels of protein than traditional grains, but they’re actually very similar. While quinoa and amaranth do indeed top the list for protein content in our grain comparison, traditional wheat comes in a close third with a hefty 13.4g of protein per 100g, closely followed by rye. Another misconception is that quinoa is the only grain to contain the complete spectrum of amino acids – in fact, all grains contain complete amino acids with quinoa having only slightly higher levels!

What about fat?

Traditional grains steal the show on this one with brown rice, rye, barley and wheat all being lower in fat than trendy grains. And there’s more good news for wheat, with recent Australian research showing that adults with the highest intakes of core grain foods, including breads and breakfast cereals made from wheat, had a similar waist circumference and no difference in Body Mass Index (BMI) compared to those with the lowest core grain food intake. While oats top the list with the highest total fat levels, much of this is healthy fat which we need as part of a balanced diet.

Surely trendy grains have more fibre than wheat or rye?

Again, traditional grains top the list with rye containing a whopping 14.6g of fibre per 100g, followed by wheat and barley, while trendy grains sorghum, quinoa and amaranth lag with around half the fibre content of rye. Many breads and breakfast cereals are wheat-based and these foods have become the leading source of fibre in the Australian diet. What’s more, whole grain wheat, oats and rye can help to promote good gut health due to their prebiotic fibres,  which encourage growth and activity of health-promoting bacteria in the gut.

What about wheat?

Contrary to common perception, wheat is a particularly nutritious grain, even when compared to grains like quinoa. Although wheat has taken a hammering in recent years, with many people avoiding gluten or cutting out carbs, this nutritious grain is easily accessible and readily found in many breads and breakfast cereals. And several recent studies have shown that individuals who regularly consume whole grains (mostly wheat-based) are at a reduced risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, compared to those who eat less.

So what’s the verdict?

The message is that while many trendy grains do offer certain nutritional benefits, traditional grains offer comparable nutrients and in some cases have a more substantial nutrient profile. The best advice is to mix it up every once in a while and enjoy a variety of grains as part of a balanced diet. For industry, a new influx of different grains means a whole new host of possibilities to market products to consumers – but traditional grains clearly shouldn’t be forgotten!

For more information on all varieties of grains, visit our website: www.glnc.org.au/