There are few times when you sink your teeth into a slice of bread and think: I'm doing this for my health. Then again, if that bread is made from ancient grains (spelt, barley, quinoa, amaranth are just a few), you really are eating for your health; more specifically, good heart health, according to research from Taylor & Francis.
In the study, published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, researchers randomly assigned 45 healthy men and women, around the age of 50, to swap their current loaf of bread—be it white, whole wheat, whole grain, etc—for one made from ancient or modern grains.
Typically, modern grains (those that have been manipulated via bleaching and processing) are heavily refined, so they're lower in fiber and some nutrients, whereas ancient grains (those that are planted and cultivated the same way they were thousands of years ago) offer more antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, vitamins (B and E), and minerals (like magnesium, iron, and potassium), which protect against chronic diseases.
Participants underwent three separate bread interventions, each lasting eight weeks. During the study's entirety, all participants were instructed to maintain their usual diet and lifestyle habits, and only eat the prescribed type of bread.
In phase one, 22 participants were randomly chosen to eat "organically" (a process that typically encourages ecological balance, conserves biodiversity, and restricts certain pesticides, fertilizers, and food additives) and 23 were selected to eat "conventionally cultivated" bread made from the ancient grain Verna. In phase two, all participants were assigned to eat bread made with the modern grain Blasco. And in phase three, the two groups consumed bread made with two different "conventionally grown" (a process that usually includes pesticides) ancient grain varieties: Gentil Rosso and Autonomia B. Researchers took blood samples at the beginning, end of each intervention period, and end of the study to test lipid, cholesterol, and glucose levels, as well as blood pressure and other cardiovascular measures.
Risk factors for heart attack and stroke, including total cholesterol, bad LDL cholesterol, and blood glucose levels were significantly reduced after 2 months of consuming various breads made from ancient grains. It didn't matter if the grains were organically or traditionally grown, either. There was also a marked increase in "circulating endothelial progenitor cells," which repair damaged blood vessels, after men and women ate bread made from the ancient grain Verna.
The researchers note this study doesn't prove ancient grains prevent cardiovascular disease entirely, but they can help lower your risk.
To get more healthy grains into your diet, pick from our roundup of the healthiest breads (we've even got varieties for muscleheads and gluten-free fanatics).