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10 Ancient Grains to Switch Up Your Healthy Carbs

Quinoa

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Generally regarded as trendy food royalty, quinoa is technically a seed but commonly referred to as a grain—and as such, is prepared like one. It's gluten-free and packed with protein too (8.1 grams per cup). All of this makes it appealing to use in place of pasta, couscous, or even oats for a hot cereal breakfast. (Learn 10 New Ways to Eat Quinoa.)

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Amaranth

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Just like quinoa, amaranth is actually a gluten-free, protein- and fiber-packed seed (bonus: It's a fab source of iron and calcium). Rumor has it that amaranth was a major food crop of the Aztecs (so it's seriously an ancient grain). With a mild, nutty taste, amaranth also readily absorbs the flavors of other ingredients—so it's a perfect addition to soups and stews.

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Millet

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It may be used as bird seed, but don't write millet off just yet: This amazingly healthy grain provides a much-needed dose of magnesium, zinc, copper, and manganese. Originally from India, today, millet's mild flavor and slightly nutty taste makes it super versatile in kitchens all over the world. Mix with veggies, chicken, and your favorite herbs and spices for a savory dinner (like this Chicken, Millet, and Mushroom recipe), or toss it in a batter for some gluten-free cookies.

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Spelt

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Spelt was originally grown in Iran around 5,000 to 6,000 B.C. And we're lucky to have it around: With 5.5 grams of protein and 3.8 grams of fiber per half-cup serving, the slightly nutty but sweet grain can be enjoyed as a side dish or cereal (score!). One of the best uses, though? Sub spelt flour for regular or whole wheat flour. (Did you know spelt is one of 7 Types of Pasta More Nutritious Than Plain Noodles?)

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Farro

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You can thank Italians for pasta, pizza, and farro—they've been enjoying the grain for more than 2,000 years! This healthful, high-fiber whole grain has a woody, hearty flavor that's a welcome addition in everything from soups to salad. It provides 8 grams of protein per one cup serving, but here's a pro tip: Because it can take so long to cook, look for a pearled or semi-pearled variety to speed preparation.

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Kamut

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The story of kamut (pronounced ka-moot), also called Khorasan wheat or Pharaoh grain, is up for debate, but these two verisions are pretty interesting: Some say the grain was discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs; others believe it was brought over by Noah in his ark. In the modern world, though, kamut's chewy texture and earthy flavor makes it perfect to sprinkle on salads or into casseroles. (Get real crazy and try these Puffed Kamut Energy Bars.) Know this: Soaking kamut overnight makes for better consistency and slashed cooking time.

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Teff

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Teff is a tiny, gluten-free grain—the smallest grain in the world, actually!—and has been grown almost exclusively in Ethiopia for thousands of years. It has a grainy texture and makes a great wheat flour alternative. Plus, it's sky-high in calcium. Used to thicken soups and stews, it can also be eaten like polenta or as an oatmeal alternative.

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Sorghum

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Sorghum was first collected 8,000 years ago in Southern Egypt. It has a neutral, slightly sweet flavor, and can be used in basically any recipe that call for grains. Want to get creative? You can grind sorghum up as flour for a gluten-free baking alternative. (Try our Kale, White Bean, and Tomato Sorghum Soup.) This ancient grain is a nutrition powerhouse too: It's packed with vitamins like niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin; and it's high in magnesium, iron, copper, calcium, phosphorous, and potassium. Not too shabby.

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Freekeh

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Freekeh (pronounced freak-uh) is wheat that was harvested when it was young and green. Originating thousands of years ago in the Middle East, the kernels are parched, roasted, dried, and rubbed. The end result: a slightly chewy, yummy grain with a bit of a smoky taste. You can buy it whole, but the "cracked" version requires half the cooking time. Try it as hot cereal for breakfast or in soups, salads, or casseroles. (Cue: Almond and Parsley Pesto with Asparagus and Freekeh.)

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Bulgur

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Bulgur, an age-old staple in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean regions, is whole wheat that's been pre-cooked, dried, and crushed. It comes in two varieties: white wheat and red wheat. White wheat has a chewy texture and a mild woody taste; the red is heartier in consistency and can be slightly bitter. Try either in a Bulgur-Vegetable Burgers with Tahini Slaw for dinner tonight.

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