Benefits Of Buckwheat

Buckwheat:

Description

While many people think that buckwheat is a cereal grain, it is actually a fruit seed that is related to rhubarb and sorrel. (We classify it as a grain on our website because it categorized as such from a culinary perspective.) Common and tartary buckwheat are the varieties that are popular in the United States. Its name is supposedly derived from the Dutch word bockweit, which means "beech wheat," reflecting buckwheat's beechnut-like shape and its wheat-like characteristics. Buckwheat flowers are very fragrant and are attractive to bees that use them to produce a special, strongly flavored, dark honey.

While buckwheat is of similar size to wheat kernels, it features a unique triangular shape. In order to be edible, the outer hull must be removed, a process that requires special milling equipment due to its unusual shape. Buckwheat is sold either unroasted or roasted, the latter oftentimes called "kasha," from which a traditional European dish is made. Unroasted buckwheat has a soft, subtle flavor, while roasted buckwheat has more of an earthy, nutty taste. Its color ranges from tannish-pink to brown. Buckwheat is often served as a rice alternative or porridge.

Buckwheat is also ground into flour, available in either light or dark forms, with the darker variety being more nutritious. Since buckwheat does not contain gluten, it is often mixed with some type of gluten-containing flour (such as wheat) for baking. In the United States, buckwheat flour is often used to make buckwheat pancakes, a real delight, especially for those allergic to wheat.

Nutritional Benefits

Buckwheat is a rich source of the amino acid lysine. It contains high levels of protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, B vitamins, and iron.

Because of its name, many people assume that buckwheat is a type of wheat; therefore, it must contain gluten, but this isn't true. Buckwheat, in fact, isn't even remotely related to wheat. It is actually an herb plant related to rhubarb and sorrel, bearing seeds that are used as a grain. It is gluten free; therefore, buckwheat is an excellent wheat substitute for people who are allergic to gluten.

Nutritional Profile:
(based on ¼ cup dry grain)

  • Calories = 146
  • Total Fat = 1.5 g
  • Saturated Fat = 0.25 g
  • Cholesterol = 0 mg
  • Sodium = 0.5 mg
  • Carbohydrate = 30.5 g
  • Dietary Fiber = 4.25 g
  • Protein = 5.75 g
  • Gluten Free

Health Benefits

A Grain That's Good for Your Cardiovascular System

Diets that contain buckwheat have been linked to lowered risk of developing high cholesterol and high blood pressure. The Yi people of China consume a diet high in buckwheat (100 grams per day, about 3.5 ounces). When researchers tested blood lipids of 805 Yi Chinese, they found that buckwheat intake was associated with lower total serum cholesterol, lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL, the form linked to cardiovascular disease), and a high ratio of HDL (health-promoting cholesterol) to total cholesterol.

Buckwheat's beneficial effects are due in part to its rich supply of flavonoids, particularly rutin. Flavonoids are phytonutrients that protect against disease by extending the action of vitamin C and acting as antioxidants. Buckwheat's lipid-lowering activity is largely due to rutin and other flavonoid compounds. These compounds help maintain blood flow, keep platelets from clotting excessively (platelets are compounds in blood that, when triggered, clump together, thus preventing excessive blood loss, and protect LDL from free radical oxidation into potentially harmful cholesterol oxides. All these actions help to protect against heart disease.

Buckwheat also contains almost 86 milligrams of magnesium in a one-cup serving. Magnesium relaxes blood vessels, improving blood flow and nutrient delivery while lowering blood pressure&mash;the perfect combination for a healthy cardiovascular system.

Better Blood Sugar Control and A Lowered Risk of Diabetes

The nutrients in buckwheat may contribute to blood sugar control. In a test that compared the effect on blood sugar of whole buckwheat groats to bread made from refined wheat flour, buckwheat groats significantly lowered blood glucose and insulin responses. Whole buckwheats also scored highest on their ability to satisfy hunger.

When researchers followed almost 36,000 women in Iowa during a six-year long study of the effects of whole grains and the incidence of diabetes, they found that women who consumed an average of 3 servings of whole grains daily had a 21 percent lower risk of diabetes compared to those who ate one serving per week. Because buckwheat is a good source of magnesium, it is also important to note that women who ate the most foods high in magnesium had a 24 percent lower risk of diabetes compared to women who ate the least.

Canadian researchers, publishing their findings in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry have found new evidence that buckwheat may be helpful in the management of diabetes. In a placebo-controlled study, a single dose of buckwheat seed extract lowered blood glucose levels by 12-19% at 90 and 120 minutes after administration when fed to laboratory animals with chemically-induced diabetes. No glucose reduction was seen in animals given placebo.

The component in buckwheat responsible for its blood glucose-lowering effects appears to be chiro-inositol, a compound that has been shown in other animal and human studies to play a significant role in glucose metabolism and cell signaling. While researchers do not yet know precisely how it works, preliminary evidence suggests chiro-inositol makes cells more sensitive to insulin and may even act as an insulin mimic. Results of the Canadian study were so promising that one of the lead investigators, Roman Przbylski, is currently collaborating with Canadian-based Kade Research to develop new buckwheat varieties with much higher amounts of chiro-inositol.

Although the animals used in this study had the equivalent of Type 1 diabetes in humans, the researchers are confident that buckwheat will exert similar glucose-lowering effects when given to animals with Type 2 diabetes, which is the next study on their agenda. Type 2 or non-insulin dependent diabetes, which is by far the most common form in humans (90% of diabetes in humans is Type 2), is characterized by an inability of cells to respond properly to insulin.

Buckwheat and other whole grains are also a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that acts as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes, including enzymes involved in the body's use of glucose and insulin secretion.

The FDA permits foods that contain at least 51% whole grains by weight (and are also low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol) to display a health claim stating consumption is linked to lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Now, research suggests regular consumption of whole grains also reduces risk of type 2 diabetes. (van Dam RM, Hu FB, Diabetes Care).

Helps Prevent Gallstones

Eating foods high in insoluble fiber, such as buckwheat, can help women avoid gallstones, shows a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Studying the overall fiber intake and types of fiber consumed over a 16 year period by over 69,000 women in the Nurses Health Study, researchers found that those consuming the most fiber overall (both soluble and insoluble) had a 13% lower risk of developing gallstones compared to women consuming the fewest fiber-rich foods.

Those eating the most foods rich in insoluble fiber gained even more protection against gallstones: a 17% lower risk compared to women eating the least. And the protection was dose-related; a 5-gram increase in insoluble fiber intake dropped risk dropped 10%.

How do foods rich in insoluble fiber help prevent gallstones? Researchers think insoluble fiber not only speeds intestinal transit time (how quickly food moves through the intestines), but reduces the secretion of bile acids (excessive amounts contribute to gallstone formation), increases insulin sensitivity and lowers triglycerides (blood fats). Abundant in all whole grains, insoluble fiber is also found in nuts and the edible skin of fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers, many squash, apples, berries, and pears. In addition, beans provide insoluble as well as soluble fiber.

Health-Promoting Potential Equal to or Even Higher than that of Vegetables and Fruits

Research reported at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) International Conference on Food, Nutrition and Cancer, by Rui Hai Liu, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues at Cornell University shows that whole grains, such as buckwheat, contain many powerful phytonutrients whose activity has gone unrecognized because research methods have overlooked them.

Despite the fact that for years researchers have been measuring the antioxidant power of a wide array of phytonutrients, they have typically measured only the "free" forms of these substances, which dissolve quickly and are immediately absorbed into the bloodstream. They have not looked at the "bound" forms, which are attached to the walls of plant cells and must be released by intestinal bacteria during digestion before they can be absorbed.

Phenolics, powerful antioxidants that work in multiple ways to prevent disease, are one major class of phytonutrients that have been widely studied. Included in this broad category are such compounds as quercetin, curcumin, ellagic acid, catechins, and many others that appear frequently in the health news.

When Dr. Liu and his colleagues measured the relative amounts of phenolics, and whether they were present in bound or free form, in common fruits and vegetables like apples, red grapes, broccoli and spinach, they found that phenolics in the "free" form averaged 76% of the total number of phenolics in these foods. In whole grains, however, "free" phenolics accounted for less than 1% of the total, while the remaining 99% were in "bound" form.

In his presentation, Dr. Liu explained that because researchers have examined whole grains with the same process used to measure antioxidants in vegetables and fruits&mash;looking for their content of "free" phenolics"&mash;the amount and activity of antioxidants in whole grains has been vastly underestimated.

Despite the differences in fruits', vegetables' and whole grains' content of "free" and "bound" phenolics, the total antioxidant activity in all three types of whole foods is similar, according to Dr. Liu's research. His team measured the antioxidant activity of various foods, assigning each a rating based on a formula (micromoles of vitamin C equivalent per gram). Broccoli and spinach measured 80 and 81, respectively; apple and banana measured 98 and 65; and of the whole grains tested, corn measured 181, whole wheat 77, oats 75, and brown rice 56.

Dr. Liu's findings may help explain why studies have shown that populations eating diets high in fiber-rich whole grains consistently have lower risk for colon cancer, yet short-term clinical trials that have focused on fiber alone in lowering colon cancer risk, often to the point of giving subjects isolated fiber supplements, yield inconsistent results. The explanation is most likely that these studies have not taken into account the interactive effects of all the nutrients in whole grains&mash;not just their fiber, but also their many phytonutrients. As far as whole grains are concerned, Dr. Liu believes that the key to their powerful cancer-fighting potential is precisely their wholeness.

A grain of whole wheat consists of three parts&mash;its endosperm (starch), bran and germ. When wheat&mash;or any whole grain&mash;is refined, its bran and germ are removed. Although these two parts make up only 15-17% of the grain's weight, they contain 83% of its phenolics. Dr. Liu says his recent findings on the antioxidant content of whole grains reinforce the message that a variety of foods should be eaten good health. "Different plant foods have different phytochemicals," he said. "These substances go to different organs, tissues and cells, where they perform different functions. What your body needs to ward off disease is this synergistic effect&mash; this teamwork&mash; that is produced by eating a wide variety of plant foods, including whole grains.

Lignans Protect against Heart Disease

One type of phytonutrient especially abundant in whole grains such as buckwheat are plant lignans, which are converted by friendly flora in our intestines into mammalian lignans, including one called enterolactone that is thought to protect against breast and other hormone-dependent cancers as well as heart disease. In addition to whole grains, nuts, seeds and berries are rich sources of plant lignans, and vegetables, fruits, and beverages such as coffee, tea and wine also contain some. When blood levels of enterolactone were measured in 857 postmenopausal women in a Danish study published in the Journal of Nutrition, women eating the most whole grains were found to have significantly higher blood levels of this protective lignan. Women who ate more cabbage and leafy vegetables also had higher enterolactone levels.

Consumption Tips

  • Buckwheat should be rinsed thoroughly, to remove any dirt or debris, by washing it under running water, before cooking.
  • Add one part buckwheat to two parts boiling water or broth and boil it. Turn down the heat and cook it for 30 minutes.
  • Cook up a pot of buckwheat for a change of pace from hot oatmeal, as a delicious hearty breakfast cereal.
  • Add chopped chicken, garden peas, pumpkin seeds and scallions to cooked and cooled buckwheat, for a delightful lunch or dinner salad.
  • Combine buckwheat flour with whole wheat flour, to make delicious breads, muffins and pancakes.
  • Add cooked buckwheat to soups or stews, to give them a hardier flavor and deeper texture.

Caution

Pregnancy and Breast-Feeding: Not enough is known about the use of buckwheat during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

Buckwheat Allergy: Some people who are exposed to buckwheat on the job develop buckwheat allergy. Other people can also become allergic to buckwheat. Re-exposure to buckwheat can lead to serious allergic reactions including skin rash; runny nose; asthma; and a potentially fatal drop in blood pressure, itching, swelling, and difficulty in breathing (anaphylactic shock).






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