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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 which 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.


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. A cup of cream of rye cereal provides 17.3% of the daily value for fiber.

And Helps Prevent Gallstones

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

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 November 2003 issue of 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 incretin 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.(December 31, 2003)

Fiber Fights Colon Cancer, Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease

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. And adding fiber to the diet has been shown to reduce the uncomfortable diarrhea or constipation experienced by people with irritable bowel syndrome.

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 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 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 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)

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, 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.

Description

Rye is a cereal grain, known scientifically as Secale cereale, that 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-dense 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

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Rye:

Like all grains, before cooking rye, rinse it thoroughly under running water and then remove any dirt or debris that you may find. After rinsing, add one part whole rye to four parts boiling water along with a pinch of salt. After the liquid has returned to a boil, turn down the heat, cover and simmer for about one hour. If you want the texture to be softer, you can soak the rye grains overnight and then cook them for two to three hours.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

For a hot breakfast alternative to oatmeal, make a porridge using rolled rye flakes.

Cooked rye berries can be served as a side dish alternative to rice with a variety of different meals.

For a change of pace, make your favorite sandwiches on rye bread instead of wheat bread.

Substitute some rye flour for wheat flour in your favorite pancake, muffin and bread 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 closer 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.

Other Safety Issues

Rye is not included in the list of 20 foods that most frequently contain pesticide residues, and is also not known to contain goitrogens, oxalates, or purines.

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.

Rye Cereal, Cream of, Cooked
1.00 cup
108.63 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
dietary fiber 4.32 g 17.3 2.9 good
tryptophan 0.03 g 9.4 1.6 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 Rye

References

  • Bach Knudsen KE, Serena A, Kjaer AK et al. Rye bread in the diet of pigs enhances the formation of enterolactone and increases its levels in plasma, urine and feces. J Nutr 2003 May; 133(5):1368-75.
  • Ensminger AH, Ensminger, ME, Kondale JE, Robson JRK. Foods & Nutriton Encyclopedia. Pegus Press, Clovis, California.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Fortin, Francois, Editorial Director. The Visual Foods Encyclopedia. Macmillan, New York.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Perfetti R, Brown TA, Velikina R, Busselen S. Control of glucose homeostasis by incretin hormones. Diabetes Technol Ther. 1999 Fall;1(3):297-305. .
  • 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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