Rye

Although wheat products reign supreme on the shelves of supermarkets in the United States, foods made from whole rye are worth looking for, not only for their rich, hearty taste, but for their numerous health benefits. Like most grains, rye is available throughout the year.

Rye is a cereal grain that looks like wheat but is longer and more slender and varies in color from yellowish brown to grayish green. It is generally available in its whole or cracked grain form or as flour or flakes that look similar to old-fashioned oats. Because it is difficult to separate the germ and bran from the endosperm of rye, rye flour usually retains a large quantity of nutrients, in contrast to refined wheat flour.

Rye, whole grain, dry
0.33 cup
(55.77 grams)
Calories: 189
GI: low

NutrientDRI/DV

 manganese72%

 fiber34%

 phosphorus26%

 copper22%

 pantothenic acid16%

 magnesium15%

Health Benefits

In the U.S., where wheat products are the norm, goods made from rye are rarely given premier shelf space on grocery store shelves and, out of sight, remain out of mind. But foods made from whole rye are worth looking for, not only for their rich, hearty taste, but for the numerous health benefits they supply.

Rye's Fiber Promotes Weight Loss

Rye is a good source of fiber, which is especially important in the United States, since most Americans do not get enough fiber in their diets. Rye fiber is richly endowed with noncellulose polysaccharides, which have exceptionally high water-binding capacity and quickly give a feeling a fullness and satiety, making rye bread a real help for anyone trying to lose weight.

And Helps Prevent Gallstones

Eating foods high in insoluble fiber, such as rye, 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.

Rye and Other Whole Grains Substantially Lower Type 2 Diabetes Risk

Rye and other whole grains are 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).

In this 8-year trial, involving 41,186 particpants of the Black Women's Health Study, research data confirmed inverse associations between magnesium, calcium and major food sources in relation to type 2 diabetes that had already been reported in predominantly white populations.

Risk of type 2 diabetes was 31% lower in black women who frequently ate whole grains compared to those eating the least of these magnesium-rich foods. When the women's dietary intake of magnesium intake was considered by itself, a beneficial, but lesser—19%—reduction in risk of type 2 diabetes was found, indicating that whole grains offer special benefits in promoting healthy blood sugar control. Daily consumption of low-fat dairy foods was also helpful, lowering risk of type 2 diabetes by 13%. Get the benefits of both rye and dairy by enjoying a hot breakfast porridge made using rolled rye—instead of oat—flakes topped with low-fat milk.

A Better Grain Choice for Persons with Diabetes

Rye bread may be a better choice than wheat bread for persons with diabetes. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that bread made from wheat triggers a greater insulin response than rye bread does. Finnish researchers at the University of Kupio compared the effects of eating refined wheat bread with endosperm rye bread, traditional rye bread and high fiber rye bread on several markers of blood sugar control including plasma glucose, insulin, glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP), glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP1), and serum C-peptide in 19 healthy post-menopausal women. (GIP and GLP1 are hormones secreted within the gastrointestinal tract during meals that boost the effects of insulin; c-peptide is a marker of insulin secretion.) All of these markers were evaluated in blood samples taken both before and after the women ate each of the breads. Results showed that after the women had eaten any of the rye breads, their insulin, GIP and C-peptide responses were significantly lower than after they ate wheat bread. Among the different rye breads, however, no significant differences were seen in insulin and C-peptide response despite their varying levels of fiber. Researchers felt this lower after-meal insulin response could, therefore, not be attributed only to the fiber content of the rye breads, but was also due to the fact that the starch granules in rye bread form a less porous and mechanically firmer matrix than in wheat bread. This would translate into a much greater particle size being swallowed when rye bread is eaten compared to wheat, which would slow the rate at which the starch could be digested into sugar.

Fiber Fights Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease and Promotes Gastrointestinal Health

In addition to its usefulness in weight reduction, fiber, like that found in rye, has been shown to be useful for a number of different conditions. One of the most important properties of fiber is its ability to bind to toxins in the colon and then remove them from the body. When it binds to cancer-causing chemicals, fiber helps protect the cells of the colon from damage. This is one reason why a high-fiber diet has been shown to prevent colon cancer. When fiber binds to bile salts in the intestines and removes them from the body, the body is forced to make more bile salts. This is good, because the body must break down cholesterol to make bile. This explains why a good intake of fiber can help to lower high cholesterol levels.

Due to their high-fiber content, whole rye foods can help to prevent high blood sugar levels in diabetic patients, thereby helping with blood sugar control.

Significant Cardiovascular Benefits for Postmenopausal Women

Eating a serving of whole grains, such as rye, at least 6 times each week is an especially good idea for postmenopausal women with high cholesterol, high blood pressure or other signs of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

A 3-year prospective study of over 200 postmenopausal women with CVD, published in the American Heart Journal, shows that those eating at least 6 servings of whole grains each week experienced both:

The women's intake of fiber from fruits, vegetables and refined grains was not associated with a lessening in CVD progression.

Prevent Heart Failure with a Whole Grains Breakfast

Heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization among the elderly in the United States. Success of drug treatment is only partial (ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers are typically used; no evidence has found statins safe or effective for heart failure), and its prognosis remains poor. Follow up of 2445 discharged hospital patients with heart failure revealed that 37.3% died during the first year, and 78.5% died within 5 years.

Since consumption of whole grain products and dietary fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart attack, Harvard researchers decided to look at the effects of cereal consumption on heart failure risk and followed 21,376 participants in the Physicians Health Study over a period of 19.6 years.

After adjusting for confounding factors (age, smoking, alcohol consumption, vegetable consumption, use of vitamins, exercise, and history of heart disease), they found that men who simply enjoyed a daily morning bowl of whole grain (but not refined) cereal had a 29% lower risk of heart failure. Isn't your heart worth protecting, especially when the prescription—a morning bowl of hearty whole grains—is so delicious? For quick, easy, heart-healthy, whole grain recipes, click The World's Healthiest Foods, and look at the "How to Enjoy" section in any of our grain profiles.

Anti-Cancer Activity 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 rye, 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—looking for their content of "free" phenolics"—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—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—its endosperm (starch), bran and germ. When wheat—or any whole grain—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—this teamwork—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 rye 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 over 800 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.

Rye Can Ease Your Ride Through Menopause While Helping Prevent Breast Cancer

Another situation in which rye may be helpful is menopause. Rye contains a type of lignan that has phytoestrogenic activity. In the body, phytoestrogens act a little like natural estrogens, and although their effect is much much weaker, they can help normalize estrogenic activity. For some women, the phytoestrogens in rye are just strong enough to help prevent or reduce uncomfortable symptoms that may accompany menopause, like hot flashes, which are thought to be due to plummeting estrogen levels. On the other hand, when too much estrogen is around, rye's lignans, by occupying estrogen receptors, block out the much more powerful human estrogens, causing a lowering in estrogenic activity, and providing potential protection against breast cancer.

Fiber from Whole Grains and Fruit Protective against Breast Cancer

When researchers looked at how much fiber 35,972 participants in the UK Women's Cohort Study ate, they found a diet rich in fiber from whole grains, such as rye, and fruit offered significant protection against breast cancer for pre-menopausal women. (Cade JE, Burley VJ, et al., International Journal of Epidemiology).

Pre-menopausal women eating the most fiber (>30 grams daily) more than halved their risk of developing breast cancer, enjoying a 52% lower risk of breast cancer compared to women whose diets supplied the least fiber (<20 grams/day).

Fiber supplied by whole grains offered the most protection. Pre-menopausal women eating the most whole grain fiber (at least 13 g/day) had a 41% reduced risk of breast cancer, compared to those with the lowest whole grain fiber intake (4 g or less per day).

Fiber from fruit was also protective. Pre-menopausal women whose diets supplied the most fiber from fruit (at least 6 g/day) had a 29% reduced risk of breast cancer, compared to those with the lowest fruit fiber intake (2 g or less per day).

Practical Tip: As the following table shows, it's surprisingly easy to enjoy a healthy way of eating that delivers at least 13 grams of whole grain fiber and 6 grams of fiber from fruit each day.

FoodFiber Content in Grams
Oatmeal, 1 cup3.98
Whole wheat bread, 1 slice2
Whole wheat spaghetti, 1 cup6.3
Brown rice, 1 cup3.5
Barley, 1 cup13.6
Buckwheat, 1 cup4.54
Rye, 1/3 cup8.22
Corn, 1 cup4.6
Apple, 1 medium with skin5.0
Banana, 1 medium4.0
Blueberries, 1 cup3.92
Orange, 1 large4.42
Pear, 1 large5.02
Prunes, 1/4 cup3.02
Strawberries, 1 cup3.82
Raspberries, 1 cup8.36

*Fiber content can vary between brands. Source: esha Research, Food Processor for Windows, Version 7.8

Cereal and Fruit Fiber Protective against Postmenopausal Breast Cancer

Results of a prospective study involving 51,823 postmenopausal women for an average of 8.3 years showed a 34% reduction in breast cancer risk for those consuming the most fruit fiber compared to those consuming the least. In addition, in the subgroup of women who had ever used hormone replacement, those consuming the most fiber, especially cereal fiber, had a 50% reduction in their risk of breast cancer compared to those consuming the least. Int J Cancer. 2008 Jan 15;122(2):403-12.

Fruits richest in fiber include apples, dates, figs, pears and prunes. When choosing a high fiber cereal, look for whole grain cereals as they supply the most bran (a mere 1/3rd cup of bran contains about 14 grams of fiber). Rye is exceptionally high in fiber. One-third cup of rye provides more than one-third of your RDI for fiber. Try cooked rye flakes or cooked rye berries as an alternative to hot oatmeal for breakfast or enjoy the rich, hearty taste of rye bread with your soup or as the bread for your sandwich.

Whole Grains and Fish Highly Protective against Childhood Asthma

According to the American Lung Association, almost 20 million Americans suffer from asthma, which is reported to be responsible for over 14 million lost school days in children, and an annual economic cost of more than $16.1 billion.

Increasing consumption of whole grains and fish could reduce the risk of childhood asthma by about 50%, suggests the International Study on Allergy and Asthma in Childhood (Tabak C, Wijga AH, Thorax).

The researchers, from the Dutch National Institute of Public Health and the Environment, Utrecht University, University Medical Center Groningen, used food frequency questionnaires completed by the parents of 598 Dutch children aged 8-13 years. They assessed the children's consumption of a range of foods including fish, fruits, vegetables, dairy and whole grain products. Data on asthma and wheezing were also assessed using medical tests as well as questionnaires.

While no association between asthma and intake of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products was found (a result at odds with other studies that have supported a link between antioxidant intake, particularly vitamins C and E, and asthma), the children's intake of both whole grains and fish was significantly linked to incidence of wheezing and current asthma.

In children with a low intake of fish and whole grains, the prevalence of wheezing was almost 20%, but was only 4.2% in children with a high intake of both foods. Low intake of fish and whole grains also correlated with a much higher incidence of current asthma (16.7%). compared to only a 2.8% incidence of current asthma among children with a high intake of both foods.

After adjusting results for possible confounding factors, such as the educational level of the mother, and total energy intake, high intakes of whole grains and fish were found to be associated with a 54 and 66% reduction in the probability of being asthmatic, respectively.

The probability of having asthma with bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR), defined as having an increased sensitivity to factors that cause narrowing of the airways, was reduced by 72 and 88% when children had a high-intake of whole grains and fish, respectively. Lead researcher, CoraTabak commented, "The rise in the prevalence of asthma in western societies may be related to changed dietary habits." We agree. The Standard American Diet is sorely deficient in the numerous anti-inflammatory compounds found in fish and whole grains, notably, the omega-3 fats supplied by cold water fish and the magnesium and vitamin E provided by whole grains. One caution: wheat may need to be avoided as it is a common food allergen associated with asthma.

Meta-analysis Explains Whole Grains' Health Benefits

In many studies, eating whole grains, such as rye, has been linked to protection against atherosclerosis, ischemic stroke, diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, and premature death. A new study and accompanying editorial, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explains the likely reasons behind these findings and recommends at least 3 servings of whole grains should be eaten daily.

Whole grains are concentrated sources of fiber. In this meta-analysis of 7 studies including more than 150,000 persons, those whose diets provided the highest dietary fiber intake had a 29% lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those with the lowest fiber intake.

But it's not just fiber's ability to serve as a bulking agent that is responsible for its beneficial effects as a component of whole grains. Wheat bran, for example, which constitutes 15% of most whole-grain wheat kernels but is virtually non-existent in refined wheat flour, is rich in minerals, antioxidants, lignans, and other phytonutrients'as well as in fiber.

In addition to the matrix of nutrients in their dietary fibers, the whole-grain arsenal includes a wide variety of additional nutrients and phytonutrients that reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Compounds in whole grains that have cholesterol-lowering effects include polyunsaturated fatty acids, oligosaccharides, plant sterols and stanols, and saponins.

Whole grains are also important dietary sources of water-soluble, fat-soluble, and insoluble antioxidants. The long list of cereal antioxidants includes vitamin E, tocotrieonols, selenium, phenolic acids, and phytic acid. These multifunctional antioxidants come in immediate-release to slow-release forms and thus are available throughout the gastrointestinal tract over a long period after being consumed.

The high antioxidant capacity of wheat bran is 20-fold that of refined wheat flour (endosperm). Although the role of antioxidant supplements in protecting against cardiovascular disease has been questioned, prospective population studies consistently suggest that when consumed in whole foods, antioxidants are associated with significant protection against cardiovascular disease. Because free radical damage to cholesterol appears to contribute significantly to the development of atherosclerosis, the broad range of antioxidant activities from the phytonutrients abundant in whole-grains is thought to play a strong role in their cardio-protective effects.

Like soybeans, whole grains are good sources of phytoestrogens, plant compounds that may affect blood cholesterol levels, blood vessel elasticity, bone metabolism, and many other cellular metabolic processes.

Whole grains are rich sources of lignans that are converted by the human gut to enterolactone and enterodiole. In studies of Finnish men, blood levels of enterolactone have been found to have an inverse relation not just to cardiovascular-related death, but to all causes of death, which suggests that the plant lignans in whole grains may play an important role in their protective effects.

Lower insulin levels may also contribute to the protective effects of whole grains. In many persons, the risks of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity are linked to insulin resistance. Higher intakes of whole grains are associated with increased sensitivity to insulin in population studies and clinical trials. Why? Because whole grains improve insulin sensitivity by lowering the glycemic index of the diet while increasing its content of fiber, magnesium, and vitamin E.

The whole kernel of truth: as part of your healthy way of eating, whole grains can significantly lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Enjoy at least 3 servings a day. No idea how to cook whole grains? Just look at the "How to Enjoy" section in our profiles of the whole grains, or for quick, easy, delicious recipes, click on this link to our Recipe Assistant and select whichever whole grain you would like to prepare.

Description

Rye is a cereal grain, known scientifically as Secale cereale, which looks like wheat but is longer and more slender. Rye's color varies from yellowish brown to grayish green. It is generally available in its whole or cracked grain form or as flour or flakes, the latter of which looks similar to old-fashioned oats. Rye has a very hardy, deep, nourishing taste.

Rye is the key ingredient in traditional rye and pumpernickel breads. Since its gluten is less elastic than wheat's, and it holds less gas during the leavening process, breads made with rye flour are more compact and dense. Since it is difficult to separate the germ and bran from the endosperm of rye, rye flour usually retains a large quantity of nutrients, unlike refined wheat flour.

History

Rye is one of the most recently domesticated cereal crops. Unlike some other cereal grains that can be traced back to prehistoric times, rye was not cultivated until around 400 B.C. It was first grown in this manner in Germany. Rye is thought to have originated from a wild species that grew as weeds among wheat and barley fields.

Unfortunately, ever since the times of the ancient Greeks and Romans, this nutrient-rich grain has not been widely enjoyed. In many countries, rye seems to have been relegated to a food for the poor, and as standards of living rose in varied civilizations, the consumption of rye declined. Yet, in some food cultures, such as those of Scandinavian and Eastern European countries, rye retains a very important position. Hopefully, as more and more people discover rye's nutritional benefits and its unique taste profile, it will assume a more important role in our diets.

Today, the majority of the world's rye comes from the Russian Federation. Poland, China, Canada, and Denmark are among the other countries that also grow rye commercially.

How to Select and Store

Rye is generally available prepackaged as well as in bulk containers. Just as with any other food that you may purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing the rye are covered and that the store has a good product turnover so as to ensure its maximal freshness. Whether purchasing rye in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure that there is no evidence of moisture.

When shopping for rye bread, make sure to read the labels since sometimes what is labeled "rye bread" is often wheat bread colored with caramel coloring.

Store rye in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place where it will keep for several months.

How to Enjoy

A Few Quick Serving Ideas

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Safety

Rye and the Gluten Grains

Rye is a member of a non-scientifically established grain group traditionally called the "gluten grains." The idea of grouping certain grains together under the label "gluten grains" has come into question in recent years as technology has given food scientists a way to look more closely at the composition of grains. Some healthcare practitioners continue to group wheat, oats, barley and rye together under the heading of "gluten grains" and to ask for elimination of the entire group on a wheat-free diet. Other practitioners now treat wheat separately from these other grains, including rye, based on recent research. Wheat is unquestionably a more common source of food reactions than any of the other "gluten grains," including rye. Although you may initially want to eliminate rye from your meal planning if you are implementing a wheat-free diet, you will want to experiment at some point with re-introduction of this food. You may be able to take advantage of its diverse nutritional benefits without experiencing an adverse reaction. Individuals with wheat-related conditions like celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathies should consult with their healthcare practitioner before experimenting with any of the "gluten grains," including rye.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. Read detailed information on our
Food and Recipe Rating System.

Rye, whole grain, dry
0.33 cup
55.77 grams
Calories: 189
GI: low
NutrientAmountDRI/DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
manganese1.44 mg726.9very good
fiber8.42 g343.2good
phosphorus185.16 mg262.5good
copper0.20 mg222.1good
pantothenic acid0.81 mg161.5good
magnesium61.35 mg151.5good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DRI/DV>=75% OR
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
very good DRI/DV>=50% OR
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
good DRI/DV>=25% OR
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%

References

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