Buckwheat is a very nutrient-rich, gluten-free plant source for a wealth of health benefits, including a boost in heart health, reduction in blood pressure, aid in weight loss, prevention of certain cancers, management of diabetes, improved digestion and cholesterol levels, and stronger immune system. Its impressive range of proteins, minerals, and antioxidants help in skin and hair health, elimination of gallstones, protection from asthma attacks, and relief from constipation and other intestinal conditions.
What is Buckwheat?
Despite its name, buckwheat is actually not related to wheat, nor is it a grass. It is related to rhubarb, and the part that people eat is actually a fruit seed that comes from the buckwheat plant, also commonly called the beech wheat plant. It is called buckwheat because it is often used in the same way as wheat. However, buckwheat is gluten-free which is why it has risen to such importance in recent years, due to the increased awareness of gluten allergies and people with celiac disease.
Buckwheat belongs to the Polygonaceae family of plants and was originally thought to have been cultivated in the Balkan region of Europe, slowly spreading to Southeast Asia, and then gradually throughout the Asian continent over the past 8,000 years. There is another species variation of the plant that is found in the Himalayas.
Hulled kernels are called groats, while the roasted variety is known as kasha and is a staple food in Eastern Europe.The kernels are pale tan to dark brown in color and have a subtle flavor that becomes earthy and nutty when roasted.
Buckwheat has a high-quality protein that delivers all of the eight essential amino acids, including lysine, which is usually lacking in grains. While buckwheat is a seed, it is mostly used as a grain because it is low in calories and abundant in complex carbohydrates and fiber. The gluten-free grain also contains two powerful flavonoids which act as antioxidants, rutin, and quercetin. It is very rich in vitamins and minerals such as riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), copper, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and manganese.
Health Benefits of Buckwheat
Some of the most well known and celebrated health benefits of buckwheat are explained below.
Prevents Heart Diseases
One of the most important qualities of buckwheat is its high levels of phytonutrients, particularly flavonoids. These important compounds act as antioxidants within the body, which seek out and eliminate dangerous free radicals, the chemical byproduct of cell metabolism that is known to cause diseases like cancer and heart disease. Rutin, one of the most important flavonoids found in buckwheat, lowers the amount of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood, and keep platelets from clotting, which can lead to atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke. Rutin also increases the level of HDL (good) cholesterol, which further reduces chances of cardiovascular disease.
Aids in Weight Loss
Buckwheat has lesser calories compared to wheat or barley, is free of saturated fat and cholesterol, and high in fiber and protein. This is a powerful combination that helps in suppressing appetite, regulating blood sugar, improving digestive health, and building lean muscle.
Reduces Risk of Cancer
Recent studies about dietary fiber showed that it has powerful anti-carcinogenic effects, primarily on the development and metastasis of breast cancer cells in postmenopausal women. A study showed that there was a 50% reduction in breast cancer frequency in women who regularly consumed the recommended amount of daily dietary fiber. There are also plant lignans in buckwheat which are converted in our stomachs into animal lignans. Animal lignans are integral in the defense against breast cancer and other hormone-based cancers.
The other major cancer benefit that buckwheat provides is for colon cancer. Fiber is known as one of the best ways to reduce your chances of getting colon cancer because fiber helps to keep your intestinal tract clean, free of free radicals, and generally operating at a healthy level. A single cup of buckwheat has more than 20% of your daily fiber recommendation and has almost no calories.
Rich Source of Protein
Buckwheat is one of those valuable plant-based foods that contain high-quality proteins, meaning that it has all eight essential amino acids, including lysine. High-quality proteins are vital to many functions in the body, so food containing complete proteins not only replaces the need to eat red meat (priceless for vegetarians and vegans) but also gets the benefits from those proteins faster. Some of the benefits that complete proteins have are their ability to help you lose weight by helping you feel full faster. They provide extra energy boosts and studies have shown that they increase cognitive ability. Finally, they help slow down the natural decrease in muscle strength and mass, called sarcopenia. Studies have shown complete proteins help people dramatically slow down the loss of bone and muscle mass, lending greater strength, durability, and endurance during physical activity.
In terms of digestive aids, buckwheat is one of the best plants out there! Buckwheat has a high level of fiber, which adds bulk to your bowel movements, helping to move them through the digestive tract, and stimulating peristaltic motion, the muscle contraction of your intestines. Fiber can reduce your chances of more serious gastrointestinal issues, even colon, and gastric cancer. It can also help to reduce irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and diarrhea. Buckwheat’s large bulk versus actual caloric impact makes it a food where you don’t need to limit yourself in terms of amount. Not that you will need to worry, since buckwheat also acts as an appetite suppressant, and reduces your chances of overeating.
Diabetics who are unfamiliar with buckwheat now have another tool in the complex and constant management of the disease. The high level of dietary fiber is certainly one of the reasons why it helps diabetic patients, because it significantly lowers the amount of blood sugar, and does so very quickly as well, sometimes in as little as 1-2 hours. Flour made from buckwheat was shown to have a stronger effect than regular wheat flour.
This blood glucose-lowering effect stems from the presence of a compound called chiro-inositol, found in buckwheat. Chiro-inositol mimics the appearance and chemical functionality of insulin and makes you more sensitive to insulin presence. This has proven very beneficial for that with type 1 diabetes, and further research is being done on other types of diabetes. Furthermore, buckwheat, along with other types of whole grains are great sources of magnesium, which is an essential part of nearly 300 enzymes in the human body, including those that affect the body’s use of glucose and insulin formation and release. High levels of magnesium have been associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, so buckwheat has both major types covered!
Boosts Immune System
Buckwheat has a long list of attributes, and its impact on the immune system is one of the most important! We have mentioned the importance of scavenging free radicals in an effort to protect the body from a variety of diseases, and buckwheat has antioxidant components such as tocopherols, phenolic acid, selenium, and flavonoids, which are excellent at finding and eliminating free radicals. All these compounds are found in high levels in the extract of buckwheat seed, far higher than in other grains or comparable seeds. They boost the activity of other antioxidants like vitamin C and protect the organ systems from free radicals, such as eliminating the presence of LDL cholesterol or binding with neural receptor sites so free radicals are unable to.
Reduces Risk of Gallstones
Buckwheat is rich in insoluble fiber, which also means that it greatly decreases the chances of developing gallstones. Insoluble fiber not only increases transit time of food through the digestive tract but also reduces the need for excess secretion of bile acids. When too much bile acid is created, the chances of developing gallstones is much higher, so a steady intake of insoluble fiber can protect your gallbladder.
Prevents Asthma Attacks
The magnesium and vitamin E levels in buckwheat are both strong enough to say that buckwheat protects children from developing asthma. Studies show that children who don’t receive high levels of grains or grain-like foods are much more likely to develop asthma because they are deficient in certain anti-inflammatory nutrients, like vitamin E and magnesium.
Improves Bone Health
Buckwheat is rich in selenium and zinc, both of which are essential trace minerals that the body needs for strong bones, teeth, and nails.
Buckwheat is very high in iron content, and this is one of the key components in the formation of red blood cells. A deficiency in iron can lead to anemia, which is a complicated condition characterized by fatigue, cognitive slowness, headaches, and even other, more serious side effects.
Buckwheat has all of the essential amino acids, including tryptophan, which acts as a precursor to the feel-good hormone serotonin. So, including tryptophan in your diet is very important to boost mood and mental clarity.
The high rutin content in buckwheat acts as a natural sunscreen and protects the skin from the damaging effects of the sun. The rich blend of antioxidants and flavonoids also help in preventing signs of aging, like fine lines and wrinkles. Magnesium found in buckwheat boosts blood circulation and gives the skin a radiant glow.
The whole-grain complex carbohydrate content in buckwheat is very helpful for hair growth. Rich in vitamin A, B-complex vitamins, zinc, it is an amazing food for hair.
Uses of Buckwheat
- Pillow stuffing: The hulls of buckwheat are commonly used for stuffing pillows in certain Eastern countries. This is very helpful in preventing allergies from other pillow stuffing like feathers (down). The pillows are also used to promote muscle relaxation, reduce snoring, and encourage air circulation.
- Making medicines: Rutin is commonly extracted from the leaves of buckwheat and added to blood pressure medicines because it acts as a vasodilator that increases blood flow and, again, reduces the chances of various types of heart disease or stroke because blood does not clot as easily in freely flowing blood vessels and arteries.
How to Buy, Store, and Eat Buckwheat?
Like all grains, buckwheat can be purchased at your local grocery store.
Keep buckwheat in airtight contains, away from moisture and heat. The flour is best kept refrigerated. If stored correctly, buckwheat groats will stay good for up to a year, and the flour will have a shelf life of several months.
Here are a few tips for serving this gluten-free grain:
- Mix buckwheat flour into whole wheat flour for baking bread, muffins, and pancakes.
- Buckwheat is a delicious alternative to oatmeal as a hearty and healthy way to start your day.
- It can add a rich flavor and texture to soups and stews.
- Cooked and cooled buckwheat can add a delightful dimension to a salad with chopped chicken, crunchy seeds, fresh peas, and scallions.
- Buckwheat tea is a tonic that is earthy and nutritious.
Word of Caution:
Since buckwheat is not a wildly common crop in some parts of the world, it is possible that you have never encountered it before, and have an unknown allergy to it. Some people can also develop an allergy to buckwheat after prolonged exposure. Speak to your doctor before adding any new foods to your diet. The allergic reactions can be serious, ranging from a runny nose and some intestinal discomfort to anaphylactic shock and death. Just be careful, and stay healthy!