If there is one superfood that does not get enough attention, it is probably buckwheat. Though the name might suggest otherwise, buckwheat is not wheat at all. It is the seed of a plant called Fagopyrum esculentum, which belongs to a group of plants called pseudocereals, the same group as quinoa. All pseudocereals are gluten-free, and for that reason, it’s very popular among those who are sensitive to gluten or are simply trying to avoid it.
Buckwheat is mainly harvested in Russia, Kazakhstan, China, and Eastern Europe. The grain-like seeds can be processed into groats, noodles, and flour. The groats are used in much the same way one would use rice and provide the basis for many traditional European and Asian dishes, and the flour can be used in a variety of delicious gluten-free baked goods. The reason we are telling you all of this is that buckwheat is incredibly nutritious and definitely worth adding to your diet. These are the important health benefits of buckwheat you need to be aware of:
1. Improves Blood Sugar Control
Buckwheat contains rutin, quercetin, and other similar biochemicals that may have a positive impact on the glucose levels in our body. But the component that was found to have the most beneficial impact on blood glucose levels in both human and animal studies of buckwheat is called chiro-inositol. While researchers do not yet know precisely how it works, early evidence suggests that chiro-inositol makes cells more sensitive to insulin and may even act as an insulin mimic.
2. Improves Cardiovascular Health
Like other whole grains, buckwheat promotes heart health, as it is rich in protein, fiber, and antioxidants. It has been found to improve blood lipid profile, including lower the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, as well as the capacity to lower blood pressure. A study conducted by the US Agricultural Research Service tested whole wheat, brown rice, and buckwheat, and found that all three aid in lowering blood pressure. Seven men and nine premenopausal women consumed the same diet for 2 weeks. When the time was up, the researchers exchanged 20% of the participants’ energy (carbs) with the three types of whole grains mentioned above. The subjects had to persist with this new diet for 5 weeks. During this time, systolic and diastolic blood pressure were reduced thanks to the whole-grain intake, irrespective of the type.
3. Rich In Fiber and Promotes Healthy Digestion
This property is thanks to how rich buckwheat is in fiber. For every one-cup serving of cooked groats, this food provides 6 grams of dietary fiber. The fiber is concentrated in the husk, which coats the groat. Additionally, the husk contains resistant starch, which is categorized as a type of fiber. Resistant starch is fermented by gut bacteria in the colon. These beneficial bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids which, in turn, improve gut health, normalize bowel movements, and help in maintaining a healthy weight.
4. May Protect Against Breast Cancer
Speaking of fiber, it has also been found to be one of the components that help buckwheat prevent breast cancer. Recent studies have shown dietary fiber possesses a powerful anti-carcinogenic effect, primarily on the development of breast cancer cells in postmenopausal women. In fact, a study showed that the frequency of breast cancer is 50% lower in women who consumed the recommended amount of daily dietary fiber. This anti-cancer property of buckwheat is also thanks to the lignans it contains, which are converted into animal lignans in our stomachs. Animal lignans are integral in the defense against breast cancer and other hormone-based cancers.
5. May Prevent Gallstones
Another disease the insoluble fiber in buckwheat helps prevent is gallstones. How does that happen? Researchers believe that insoluble fiber not only aids the food to move quicker through the intestines but also reduces the secretion of bile acids – excessive amounts of which contribute to gallstones formation. Other foods that are abundant in fiber and have this effect include tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, berries, and beans.
6. Source of Vegetarian Protein
Buckwheat is an excellent source of digestible plant protein. For every 100 gram serving, this food contains as much as 14 grams of protein, and 12 different amino acids to support growth and muscle synthesis. Admittedly, the protein content is not as high as it is in some beans and legumes, but it is higher than most whole grains.
How to Cook Buckwheat Groats
To cook raw buckwheat groats, you will need two cups of water for every cup of groats, and ½ tablespoon of salt.
Bring water to boil in a small pot, then add the buckwheat and salt. Return to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender. It should take about 10–15 minutes. Drain off any remaining water. It is not recommended to rinse the groats after cooking, as you might do with pasta. If you plan to add the groats to a soup, you should do so during the last 20 minutes of the soup’s cooking time, and refrain from adding too much! The groats will inflate 3-4 times their original size.
There are of course many more elaborate and delicious buckwheat recipes that can found online!