Each grain has a distinct character, flavor, and nutrient profile, but they all share certain qualities. Out in the fields, grains are “whole” and are the seeds of a plant. The grain kernels consist of three parts: bran, germ, and endosperm. The bran is a hard, multi-layered outer skin of the kernel. It contains important antioxidants, B vitamins and fiber. The germ is a seed embryo, which, if fertilized, will sprout into a new plant. It contains B vitamins, protein, minerals, and healthy fats. The endosperm, the largest portion of the kernel, contains carbohydrates, proteins and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.
Throughout the world, indigenous cultures have practiced various forms of macrobiotic diets. The common thread is high consumption of grain, and other plant food, with beans and proteins in much smaller quantities.
Hundreds of years ago the Aztec Indians of Mexico developed an intricate numerical system of interpreting life. Their diet was also managed by this system: 52% of their food was grain, roots and seeds; 26% vegetables; 13% fruits; and 9% animal food (which included bee products). Within each main food category were subcategories by percentages: fruits divided by watery, meaty, fibrous and floury; vegetables by their colors, with green veggies being the most important; and on it goes. This bears a remarkable similarity to the macrobiotic system developed centuries later.
It’s important to understand that the macrobiotic system can and should be flexible. If you live in Latin or South America, where corn, quinoa, and amaranth are plentiful, those grains should be staple foods. Someone living in South Asia will be consuming rice as a dominant grain, and so on.
So let’s have a look at some of these grains.
Barley is a very good source of fiber and selenium, as well as phosphorus, copper and manganese. It is strengthening to the spleen-pancreas as well as the gallbladder, and is very easy to digest.
Buckwheat is a very good source of manganese, magnesium and dietary fiber. Buckwheat also contains two flavonoids: rutin and quercitin. The protein in buckwheat is very high quality, containing all eight essential amino acids, including lysine. Buckwheat is also gluten free. Toasted buckwheat (kasha) is alkalizing to the body.
Corn is strengthening for the heart and kidneys, as well as digestion. It has a very low niacin profile, so is traditionally cooked with lime when it is a staple food. Blue corn has a much richer nutrient profile than white or yellow corn, including more iron, protein, potassium and manganese.
Millet is strengthening for the stomach, spleen, and kidneys. It is rich in B-vitamins, manganese, phosphorus, and magnesium. Millet is alkalizing, and gluten-free.
Oats are an excellent source of manganese, silicon, and selenium. In addition, oats are a good source of vitamin B1, dietary fiber, magnesium and phosphorus. They are strengthening to connective tissue, and the nervous and reproductive systems.
Quinoa is an ancient, protein and vitamin rich staple food. While strictly speaking it is a seed, quinoa is eaten as a gluten-free grain. It has an exceptional amino acid profile and the highest protein content of all grains, along with its cousin amaranth.
Job’s Tears are sometimes mislabeled pearl barley, and are eaten alone or in combination with other grains. Job’s Tears are considered an anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory food, and are good at removing old fats from the body. They are strengthening to the spleen and indicated for stiff and swollen joints.
Forbidden Black Rice: Black rice is iron and fiber rich heirloom rice. It has a rich, nutty flavor and is strengthening for the kidneys.
Rice in general is strengthening for the spleen-pancreas, soothing for the stomach, rich in B vitamins and gluten-free.
Rye is nourishing to the liver, gall bladder and stomach. It has a lower gluten content than wheat.
Teff is a fine, gluten free grain, about the size of a poppy seed that comes in a variety of colors, from white and red to dark brown. It is high in protein, iron, and calcium, and has a complete amino acid profile. Teff grows predominantly in Ethiopia and Eritrea (although it is now also grown in the U.S.), and is a staple grain of their cuisines. Ground into flour, teff is used to make the traditional bread, injera - a flat, pancake-like, slightly sour bread that complements the exotic spices of Ethiopian cuisine.
Wheat is a high gluten grain, which strengthens the kidneys and calms the nervous system. It encourages weight gain, and fat formation, which is why many people become sensitive to it as they age.