Buckwheat – a nutrient-packed, gluten-free seed abundantly consumed in Asian countries for centuries – is now becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., Canada and Europe due to its many health benefits. While most people think of buckwheat as a whole grain, it’s actually a seed that is high in both protein and fiber. It supports heart and heart health and can help prevent diabetes and digestive disorders. In fact, buckwheat seeds, also called “groats,” are so packed with nutrients and antioxidants − like rutin, tannins and catechin −that they are often called “superfoods.”
Despite its recent rise to nutrition fame, buckwheat is actually an ancient grain with a long history. Today, buckwheat is a favorite amongst plant-based and gluten-free eaters alike since it provides a high source of amino acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – all with relatively few calories and practically no fat. A major benefit of buckwheat compared to other grains is that it has a unique amino acid composition that give it special biological activities. These include cholesterol-lowering effects, anti-hypertensition effects and improving digestion by reliving constipation.
Despite its name, buckwheat actually doesn’t contain any wheat or the protein gluten. Buckwheat is a member of the polygonaceae family of plants and completely unrelated to grains that do contain gluten, like wheat, barley or rye. For this reason, it’s used in many gluten-free baked items to add bulk and nutrients without causing allergens or digestive issues.
- Improves Heart Health By Lowering Cholesterol and Blood Pressure Levels
In clinical studies, findings suggest that buckwheat can help lower inflammation and unhealthy cholesterol levels while helping to prevent heart disease. Buckwheat nutrition intake is associated with lower serum total cholesterol levels, plus it decreases levels of LDL “bad cholesterol” while increasing HDL “good” cholesterol. Rutin, a phytonutrient found in buckwheat, is an important antioxidant for cardiovascular health. This phytonutrient supports the circulatory system and helps fight blood pressure and high cholesterol, as does the high fiber content of buckwheat.
- Contains Disease-Fighting Antioxidants
Buckwheat nutrition contains protective phenolic compounds and antioxidants that can help fight cancer or heart disease formation, in addition to supporting brain, liver and digestive health. Antioxidants including flavonoids like oligomeric proanthocyanidins are found within buckwheat’s hulls and seeds, plus they are present in ground buckwheat flour. Buckwheat’s polyphenolic antioxidants act as therapeutic agents against free-radical damage, also called reactive oxygen species or “oxidative stress.” Antioxidants support cellular function by protecting DNA from damage and preventing inflammation or cancerous cell formation.
- Provides Highly Digestible Protein
Buckwheat nutrition is a great source of plant-based protein and contains twelve amino acids — the “building blocks of protein” that support energy, growth and muscle synthesis. In fact, buckwheat has more protein than any form of rice, wheat, millet or corn. Buckwheat grains contains roughly 11-14 grams of protein for every 100 grams, which isn’t as high as quinoa or beans and legumes, but is higher than most whole grains.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, buckwheat is a great food to regularly include in your diet because it provides two types of essential amino acids — types you cannot make on your own and must get from the foods you eat. Buckwheat nutrition contains essential amino acids called lysine and arginine. What’s important about this? These specific amino acids aren’t found in many other common cereal or whole grains, so getting them from buckwheat ensures you cover the full range of essential proteins your body needs.
- High Fiber Content Helps Improve Digestion
Buckwheat nutrition supplies about six grams of dietary fiber in every one cup serving, which helps to fill you up and hastens the transit of food through the digestive tract (important for regulating bowel movements). Buckwheat can even protect the digestive organs from cancer, infection and other negative symptoms by preventing oxidation stress within the digestive tract. When researchers from the Department of Food and Nutrition at Bucheon University in Korea tested the effects of buckwheat in animal studies, they observed higher antioxidant activities in the liver, colon and rectum of animals consuming buckwheat. Protective glutathione peroxidase and glutathione S-transferase antioxidants were all found in the digestive systems of the animals receiving buckwheat.
When buckwheat is fermented to create alcoholic drinks or certain types of sourdough bread, it can also supply valuable probiotics that nourish the digestive tract by transporting healthy bacteria into the gut flora. Studies show that consuming fermented buckwheat products can improve the body’s pH level, or the balance between acidity and alkalinity that keeps harmful bacteria and disease from forming.
- Can Help Prevent Diabetes
Compared to many other carbohydrates and whole grains, buckwheat is low on the glycemic index. The complex carbohydrates found in buckwheat nutrition are absorbed into the bloodstream slowly, which help you to feel full for longer and support sustainable energy. This helps fight imbalances in blood sugar levels that can lead to inflammation, fatigue and even diabetes or metabolic syndrome. Studies found that when diabetic patients consumed buckwheat over a two-month period, they experienced improvements in blood sugar control and reduced insulin resistance without any form of medication.
- Doesn’t Contain Gluten and Is Non-Allergenic
Buckwheat is very similar in taste, appearance, size and texture to barley but buckwheat nutrition has the advantage of containing zero gluten. Buckwheat is safe for anyone with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity and can stand in place of gluten-containing grains like wheat, wheat berries, barley, rye and oats that are contaminated with gluten, spelt and kamut.
Remember, buckwheat isn’t even a grain, it’s actually a seed! Buckwheat and wheat are from completely different botanical families but can be used in many of the same ways. Avoiding gluten-containing grains and swapping in buckwheat instead can help prevent digestive disturbances like bloating, constipation, diarrhea and even leaky gut syndrome.
- Supplies Important Vitamins and Minerals
Buckwheat groats and flours are a great source of energy-boosting B vitamins, plus minerals including manganese, magnesium, zinc, iron and folate. Buckwheat’s supply of magnesium can further help improve digestion, aid in muscle growth and recovery, and defend against stress’s negative impacts on the body. B vitamins, manganese, phosphorus and zinc all help with healthy circulation and blood vessel function, plus they’re needed for neurotransmitter signaling in the brain that fights depression, anxiety and headaches.