These organically grown grains could yield more nutritionally dense products in cereal and other plant crops.
“We discovered that the organic approach was the only one that could produce old grain varieties,” said Dr Francesco Sofi, associate professor of Nutritional Sciences at University Hospital of Careggi in Florence. “With a conventional approach these varieties won't be available. Therefore, while it's true for grains, it is also true for other foods such as fruit and vegetables.”
Dr Sofi commented that a combination of economic and cultural factors as well as production costs had led to the demise of these old grains. Current agricultural strategies are focused mainly on producing the largest yield of wheat, but at the detriment of the grain’s nutritional profile. Ancient grains unsuitable for such large-scale cultivation have thus been left at the wayside while the newest grains have been more commercially successful.
However, the potential health benefits of these ancient grains may soon be a major selling point with food manufacturers.
“These foods are already becoming familiar to the consumers in some parts of Italy,” he continued. “In Tuscany, for example, many bakeries have already started to produce old grains, and bread obtained by old grain variety is becoming quite popular.
The study recruited 45 healthy adults with an average age of 50 into a multi-stage trial. The subjects were then divided in half, with one group consuming organic bread while the other group consumed conventionally cultivated bread that used the ancient grain Verna.
All subjects were then asked to consume bread from the modern grain Blasco two months later.
Finally, subjects were asked to eat bread made with two ancient grain varieties called Gentil Rosso and Autonomia B. These were both conventionally cultivated.
Results showed that total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and blood glucose levels were reduced after consuming bread made from organically or traditionally grown ancient grains.
There were no differences observed with biomarkers of cardiovascular disease when subjects ate bread made with modern grains. Additional results also indicated an increase in regenerative cell numbers after bread made from the ancient grain Verna was eaten.
Different varieties of grains contain different levels of B-group vitamins and antioxidants. This study showed that ancient grain varieties presented a better nutraceutical profile when compared to modern varieties, particularly in terms of antioxidant substances, vitamins and minerals.