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Buckwheat

Energizing and nutritious, buckwheat is available throughout the year and can be served as an alternative to rice or made into porridge.

While many people think that buckwheat is a cereal grain, it is actually a fruit seed that is related to rhubarb and sorrel making it a suitable substitute for grains for people who are sensitive to wheat or other grains that contain protein glutens. Buckwheat flowers are very fragrant and are attractive to bees that use them to produce a special, strongly flavored, dark honey.


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 phytochemicals 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 grams of magnesium in a one cup serving. Magnesium relaxes blood vessels, impproving blood flow and nutrient delivery while lowering blood pressure--the perfect combination for a healthy cardiovascular system.

Better Blood Sugar Control and A Lowered Risk of Diabetes

The nutritents 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 an excellent 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 December 2003 issue of 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 rats with chemically-induced diabetes. No glucose reduction was seen in rats 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 rats 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 rats 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.(January 28, 2004)

Helps Prevent Gallstones

Eating foods high in insoluble fiber, such as buckwheat, can help women avoid gallstones, shows a study published in the July 2004 issue of the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Studying the overall fiber intake and types of fiber consumed over a 16 year period by 69,778 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.(October 11, 2004)

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 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 phytochemicals, 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 phytochemicals 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.” (January 14, 2005)

Lignans Protect against Cancers and Heart Disease

One type of phytochemical 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 October 2004 issue of 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. (January 14, 2005)

Description

While many people think that buckwheat is a cereal grain, it is actually a fruit seed that is related to rhubarb and sorrel. 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.

History

Buckwheat is native to Northern Europe as well as Asia. From the 10th through the 13th century, it was widely cultivated in China. From there, it spread to Europe and Russia in the 14th and 15th centuries, and was introduced in the United States by the Dutch during the 17th century.

Buckwheat is widely produced in Russia and Poland, where it plays an important role in their traditional cuisines. Other countries where buckwheat is cultivated commercially include the United States, Canada, and France, the country famous for its buckwheat crepes.

How to Select and Store

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

Place buckwheat in an airtight container and store in a cool dry place. Buckwheat flour should be always stored in the refrigerator, while other buckwheat products should be kept refrigerated if you live in a warm climate or during periods of warmer weather. Stored properly, whole buckwheat can last up to 1 year, while the flour will keep fresh for several months.

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Buckwheat:

Like all grains, buckwheat should be rinsed thoroughly under running water before cooking, and any dirt or debris removed. After rinsing, add one part buckwheat to two parts boiling water or broth. After the liquid has returned to a boil, turn down the heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Combine buckwheat flour with whole wheat flour to make delicious breads, muffins and pancakes.

Cook up a pot of buckwheat for a change of pace from hot oatmeal as a delicious hearty breakfast cereal.

Add cooked buckwheat to soups or stews to give them a hardier flavor and deeper texture.

Add chopped chicken, garden peas, pumpkin seeds and scallions to cooked and cooled buckwheat for a delightful lunch or dinner salad.

Safety

Buckwheat can be safely eaten by people who have celiac disease. This intestinal disease is caused by gluten sensitivity, that is by eating grains such as wheat, oats or rye, or other foods that contain the protein gluten. Buckwheat can be substituted for gluten-containing grains.

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 amount represents; the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Not all of our Daily Value standards are obtained from the FDA. In most instances, we used FDA Daily Values when available because they are widely recognized and apply to both men and women. However, when unavailable, we've used other science-based research to establish nutritional standards. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. Read more about our Food and Recipe Rating System.

Buckwheat Groats, Cooked
1.00 cup
154.56 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
manganese 0.68 mg 34.0 4.0 very good
tryptophan 0.08 g 25.0 2.9 good
magnesium 85.68 mg 21.4 2.5 good
dietary fiber 4.54 g 18.2 2.1 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

In Depth Nutritional Profile for Buckwheat

References

  • Craig W. Phytochemicals: guardians of our health. J Am Diet Assoc. 1997;97(Suppl 2) S199-S204.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Gabrovska D, Fiedlerova V, Holasova M et al. The nutritional evaluation of underutilized cereals and buckwheat. Food Nutr Bull 2002 Sep;23(3 Suppl):246-9.
  • He J, Klag MJ, Whelton PK, et al. Oats and buckwheat intakes and cardiovascular disease risk factors in an ethnic minority of China. Am J Clin Nutr 1995 Feb;61(2):366-72.
  • Jacobs DR, Pereira MA, Meyer KA, Kushi LH. Fiber from whole grains, but not refined grains, is inversely associated with all-cause mortality in older women: the Iowa women's health study. J Am Coll Nutr 2000 Jun;19(3 Suppl):326S-330S.
  • Johnsen NF, Hausner H, Olsen A, Tetens I, Christensen J, Knudsen KE, Overvad K, Tjonneland A. Intake of whole grains and vegetables determines the plasma enterolactone concentration of Danish women. J Nutr. 2004 Oct;134(10):2691-7.
  • Kawa JM, Taylor CG, Przybylski R. Buckwheat concentrate reduces serum glucose in streptozotocin-diabetic rats. J Agric Food Chem. 2003 Dec 3; 51(25): 7287-91.
  • Liu RH. New finding may be key to ending confusion over link between fiber, colon cancer. American Institute for Cancer Research Press Release, November 3, 2004.
  • Middleton E, Kandaswami C. Effects of flavonoids on immune and inflammatory cell functions. Biochem Pharmacol 1992;43(6):1167-1179.
  • Skrabanja V, Liljeberg Elmstahl HG, Kreft I, Bjorck IM. Nutritional properties of starch in buckwheat products: studies in vitro and in vivo. Agric Food Chem 2001 Jan;49(1):490-6.
  • Tsai CJ, Leitzmann MF, Willett WC, Giovannucci EL. Long-term intake of dietary fiber and decreased risk of cholecystectomy in women. Am J Gastroenterol. 2004 Jul;99(7):1364-70.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

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