In a randomized crossover trial, 45 healthy adults, average age 50, were asked to swap their usual loaf for bread made from ancient and modern grains during three separate interventions each lasting 8 weeks. In the first phase, participants were randomly assigned to include organically (22 participants) or conventionally cultivated (23) bread made from the ancient grain Verna in their diet.

Eight weeks later, all participants were assigned to eat bread made with the modern grain Blasco. Finally, participants were assigned to consume bread made with two different ancient grain varieties (Gentil Rosso and Autonomia B), both conventionally grown. The researchers took blood samples at the start of the study and the end of each intervention to test lipid, cholesterol, and glucose levels as well as other cardiovascular measures.

Why a crossover trial, which typically involves two treatments which are consecutively administered in each patient recruited in the study? It's usually to provide a basis for separating treatment effects from period effects and here the researchers could control most of the potential confounders, such as population characteristics or past medical history.

However, the small sample and changes in dietary or lifestyle habits could still have affected the results.

Both total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the ‘harmful’ cholesterol), and levels of blood glucose significantly reduced after 2 months of consuming bread made from ancient grains, regardless of whether they are organically or traditionally grown. In contrast, no significant differences were seen in cardiovascular disease (CVD) measures after eating bread made with modern grains. Moreover, a substantial increase in circulating endothelial progenitor cells, which repair damaged blood vessels, was noted after consuming bread made from the ancient grain Verna.

The authors contend it is import than, compared with modern grain varieties which are often heavily refined, ancient grains offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory profiles. They also contain beneficial vitamins (B and E), minerals (eg, magnesium, iron, potassium), which protect against chronic diseases. Over recent years there has been a surge in their popularity, but whether consuming ancient grains, or how they are cultivated (ie, organic or conventional methods), has an impact on risk factors for CVD is unknown.

Citation: Cardiovascular benefits from ancient grain bread consumption: findings from a double-blinded randomized crossover intervention trial, Alice Sereni, Francesca Cesari, Anna Maria Gori, Niccolò Maggini, Rossella Marcucci, Alessandro Casini&Francesco Sofi, International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 2016, DOI: 10.1080/09637486.2016.1216528