Within the paleo community, grains are often deemed unhealthy processed foods that no human touched before the advent of industry. I believe we should stay away from rice, pasta, and bread as much as the next (paleo) person, but hear me out: not all grains are all that bad. In fact, according to archeological record and early ethnographic data collection, the cultivation of grain occurred far earlier than the industrial revolution as well as the agricultural revolution. Surprised? So was I. But here they are, in convenient list form for your reading pleasure, in no specific order:
Sorghum is a gluten free grain, often used today in gluten free baking as a replacement for pastry flour. It is not considered paleo in orthodox terms but has become a topic of discussion on message boards, forums, and blogs about the paleo diet; evidently, some paleo dieters use it in moderation or consider it “paleo friendly”.
In Please Pass The Sorghum: Big News For Paleo-Dieters by Barbara Miller, professor of cultural anthropology and international affairs at the George Washington University, an article featured on her blog anthropologyworks.com, Barbara explains how a recent archaeological finding in sub-Saharan Africa could have a profound effect on what it means to be “paleo” today: evidence that stone age hunter-gatherers at one site in Mozambique were harvesting, processing and eating wild sorghum by 100,000 years ago”.
Quinoa (/ˈkiːnwɑː/ or /kɨˈnoʊ.ə/, Spanish: quinua, from Quechua: kinwa) is gluten free and the highest in protein of all the grains. According to historians and anthropologists, quinoa was first domesticated by Andean peoples in the areas now known as Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. It is noted that the Incas considered it sacred, calling it chisaya mama or “mother of all grains”. During the Spanish conquest of South America, the conquistadors banned the cultivation of quinoa due to its association with the “Indio” (term used to describe an indigenous person during and after the conquest). So the Incas began to cultivate wheat.
Perhaps because of the stigma implemented by the conquistadors, grains like quinoa do not have much of a presence in modern culture.
So, why should you eat quinoa? Because it’s the mother of all grains, that’s why. It is also an anti fungal and according to recent scientific research it can help balance the body to an alkaline (vs acidic) state . Yet quinoa might not even be a grain . It is actually a species of goosefoot (Chenopodium) and according to Wikipedia it is:
grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is a pseudocereal rather than a true cereal, as it is not a member of the true grass family. As a chenopod, quinoa is closely related to species such as beetroots, spinach and tumbleweeds.
Eragrostis tef, teff, Williams lovegrass, annual bunch grass, taf (Amharic: ጤፍ? ṭēff; Tigrinya: ጣፍ? ṭaff), or xaafii (Oromo). Teff is a type of lovegrass indigenous to the highlands of northern Ethiopia and Eritrea. Teff is known to cook faster than other grains, making it ideal for those with limited access to wood or fuel. According to folk etymology, the name teff derives from the Ethio-Semitic root “ṭff” which means “lost” (to describe the grain’s small size).
Teff is protein-rich and is gluten free. Its nutritional profile also boasts high levels of calcium, iron, and fiber.
The exact origin of millet is debated; however, it is thought to have been domesticated in Asia and Africa during the Neolithic Period aka New Stone Age. Until recently, I had no idea how many varieties of millet exist. Like many things in the USA and other industrialized societies, the market shows us just one or two varieties of a particular crop. For example, if we want to cook potatoes we can purchase white, red, fingerling, yukon, or russet. Occasionally now in some stores (or farmers markets, or direct from a farm) purple potatoes are also sold. But the joke is on us, and our penchant for crop subsidizing. Fact: There are 3,800 varieties of potato in Peru alone, many of which are significantly higher in vital nutrients .
Ok, back to millet. There are several types: pearl millet (originated in Africa, now grown in the southern United States), foxtail millet and proso millet (originated in east Asia, it is now grown in Colorado, Nebraska, and the Dakotas), finger millet (we call it that because its structure reminds us of a human hand, but it was originally called rasi in India, where it is widely grown).
All varieties of millet are gluten-free and high in iron, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and zinc. Millet is also rich in B Vitamins– especially B3 (Niacin), B6 (Pyridoxine), and B9 (Folic Acid).
Maize, also known as corn in the English-speaking world, has many different names. These names sometimes pertain to the way it is prepared, and can also refer to the stories or origin myths for which it is a central component. Scientists call it Zea mays. The Danish call it majs and the Dutch call it maïs. In Finland it’s maissi, in French it’s Maïs commun, in German it’s Echter Mais. In the States we call it corn, and during the colonization of the United States it was often called turkey wheat.
Corn is perhaps the most controversial among “acceptable” grains to eat when attempting to follow a paleo diet. My perspective on the issue is that a) corn is technically a large grain plant domesticated in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times, b) many varieties of corn exist apart from the varieties commercially produced today, and c) it was and continues to be a staple food that indigenous people in Latin America rely upon to survive. While it is not as protein-rich as other grains mentioned in this article, I want to dispel the myth that eating corn/maize isn’t healthy or shouldn’t be a part of a paleo diet in moderation.
The stigma surrounding corn most likely stems from the way it is grown in the United States, or the fact that corn we buy in stores is often grown from genetically modified seeds. The thing is, indigenous people and peasants in the Andean regions of South America and in the highlands of Guatemala have cultivated heirloom varieties of maize since pre-Columbian times . The corn we have access to in supermarkets is a totally different animal. Enter: purple corn. I discovered not so long ago that purple corn aka maíz morado is available in many food co-ops and natural grocery stores in the states. Purple corn, a current trend within the raw foods community, is thought to be indigenous to the Andean regions of South America, and is most commonly used for chicha morada (a drink prepared with with pineapple, cinnamon, sugar, and cloves– a typical drink in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia) or mazamorra, a pudding made with panela (unprocessed dried sugarcane).
*Note: Many Mexican markets in the US also carry purple corn though it’s not typically labeled as organic. In my experience it’s only available as corn on the cob (dried) similar to “Indian corn” that is more readily available in other markets. Ask for maíz morado.
Purple corn is rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants including the anthocyaninin (type of flavonoid) which has anti-inflammatory properties and promotes cellular health in the human body. Studies in the past decade have determined its efficacy in preventing obesity , and its antioxidant profile puts blueberries to shame.
So there you have it! The short list of grains that cavemen did eat, and not because they were unhealthy couch potatoes. There was a lot of work involved in growing/obtaining these. The machines came much later. So even if I get flack for sounding un-paleo, I’m already un-paleo by the standards of the majority– hence the term, vegan-paleo. But because I’m so inspired and eager to promote the moderate consumption of certain grains, I compiled a list of recipes I recently discovered within the vegan blogosphere that I hope you try and find just as enticing as I do.
1.) Pomegranate, Winter Squash and Sorghum Salad by Colleen’s Kitchen
*Note: I don’t normally share anything on this site from blogs that aren’t 100% vegan or at least vegetarian, but I think Colleen’s story is very inspiring and many of her recipes are vegan– like this one here, which looks fantastic:
2.) Southwestern Quinoa Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing by Angela of Vegangela
3.) Ethiopian Inerja made with teff, by Richa of Vegan Richa
4.) Creamy Millet Corn Chowder With Greens by Laura of The First Mess
So long story short– Have your grains and eat them too, sans regret or skepticism, with the knowledge that you’re not un-paleo in doing so.
 Macarena Stuardo and Ricardo San Martín. Antifungal properties of quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd) alkali treated saponins against Botrytis cinerea. Industrial Crops and Products. 2008 vol. 27 no. 3, Pp 296–302
 Yao Y, Yang X, Shi Z, Ren G. Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Saponins from Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) Seeds in Lipopolysaccharide-Stimulated RAW 264.7 Macrophages Cells. J Food Sci. 2014 May;79(5):H1018-23. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.12425. Epub 2014 Apr 8.
 Stephen B. Brush, Heath J. Carney, Zósimo Humán. Dynamics of Andean potato agriculture. Economic Botany. January–March 1981, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 70-88
 Warman, Arturo. Corn & Capitalism: How a Botanical Bastard Grew to Global Dominance. Univ of North Carolina Press, 2003.
 T Tsuda, F Horio, K Uchida, H Aoki, and Toshihiko Osawa. Dietary cyanidin 3-O-β-D-glucoside-rich purple corn color prevents obesity and ameliorates hyperglycemia in mice. J. Nutr. July 1, 2003 vol. 133 no. 7, Pp 2125-2130