Buckwheat, one of the world’s first domesticated crops, is a highly nutritious staple that is considered to be a superfood.
A superfood because it is plant-based, nutritionally dense and has a significant impact on the body’s functionality when incorporated into a healthy diet.
Although many people think of buckwheat as a whole grain that is related to wheat, it is not. Instead, it is a seed that belongs to the same family as sorrel, knotweed, and rhubarb.
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Additionally, it does not contain any wheat or gluten. For this reason, nutritionists consider it a safe alternative for people with gluten intolerance.
This article discusses science-backed benefits that can be reaped from consuming buckwheat.
Buckwheat nutritional profile
Buckwheat seeds or groats are a powerhouse of nutrients. The nutritional value of these seeds is considerably higher than that of many other grains and seeds.
They contain high-quality proteins with all the eight essential amino acids, including lysine, which lacks in most cereals. (1) Buckwheat is also rich in complex carbohydrates, B vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.
Another prominent nutritional feature of buckwheat is that it is low in sodium, cholesterol and saturated fats.
According to an analysis (2) by the United States Department of Agricultural Research Service, a 100-gram serving of buckwheat contains:
- Calories – 343
- Total fat– 3.4, 5% of Daily Value (DV)
- Saturated fats – 0.741g
- Polyunsaturated fats – 1.039g
- Monounsaturated fats – 1.04g
- Total carbonhydrates – 71.5g (24% DV)
- Dietary fiber – 10g (24% DV)
- Proteins – 13.25g (26% DV)
- Sodium – 1mg (0% DV)
- Potassium – 460mg (10% DV)
- Calcium – 18mg (2% DV)
- Iron – 2.2mg (12% DV)
- Zinc – 2.4mg (16 DV)
- Phosphorous – 347mg (35% DV)
- Niacin – 7.020mg (35% DV)
- Pantothenic acid – 1.233 (12% DV)
- Riboflavin – 0.425mg (25% DV)
- Thiamin – 0.101 (7% DV)
- Vitamin B6 – 0.210 (10% DV)
Health benefits of taking buckwheat
1.Improves gut health
A single serving of buckwheat supplies one-third of the daily fiber requirement. The high-fiber content adds bulk to stool, making it soft and heavier, and thus stimulating smooth movement through the entire digestive system.
This action not only relieves constipation but also reduces the chances of more serious gastrointestinal problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, colorectal cancer, and diarrhea. (3)
The high level of soluble and insoluble fiber is also a satisfying weapon against hunger cravings. It takes plenty of room in the stomach and takes a while to digest. That means it keeps you feeling full for longer, acting as an appetite suppressant that can aid in sustainable weight loss.
The insoluble fiber also protects against gallstones by reducing the secretion of excessive bile salts.
Also, if the liver produces more cholesterol than the bile can dissolve, the excess amounts form crystals and eventually stones. Buckwheat proteins (BWP) significantly decrease liver cholesterol. (4)
When fermented, buckwheat provides valuable probiotics that balance bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. These gut-friendly microorganisms offer the right balance between alkalinity and acidity, to prevent harmful bacteria from thriving.
2.Supports cardiovascular health
The unique and probably the most remarkable nutritional component of buckwheat is a bioflavonoid known as rutin. (5) Rutin gives body tissues strength and structure.
It benefits the cardiovascular system particularly by contributing to the building of resilient blood vessels, breaking up of clots and preventing hardening of arteries. This explains why buckwheat is used as a remedy for varicose veins in traditional Chinese medicine. (6)
The abundant supply of dietary fiber also contributes to cardiovascular health by lowering Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL) or “bad cholesterol” while increasing High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL) or “good cholesterol”.
LDL contributes to fat buildup in the arteries, increasing the risk for heart attack, stroke and arterial diseases. HDL, on the other hand, is protective as it acts as a scavenger that carries cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver.
3.A source of potent antioxidants
Buckwheat yields polyphenolic antioxidants that defend the body against free radicals and many chronic illnesses. Free radicals, also known as reactive oxygen species, are unstable molecules that damage body cells, including the DNA structure. They consequently play a role in the development of diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, age-related vision decline and premature aging.
Antioxidants in buckwheat combat this damage by safely interacting with the free radicals and terminating their chain of reaction before vital cellular components are reached. Sprouted groats and seeds with their hulls have the highest levels of antioxidants. (7)
4.Improves blood sugar control
Buckwheat ranks low on the glycemic index, meaning that it causes a slow and gradual sugar rise after its consumption. Buckwheat also contains quercetin and isoquercetin, powerful glucosidase inhibitors. (8)
Both of these compounds slow down the absorption of certain carbohydrates in the upper part of the intestines. They thus prevent the sharp rise of blood sugar after taking a meal, a problem that is commonly experienced in type 2 diabetes.
Chiro-inositol, a compound released after taking buckwheat, stimulates insulin secretion in the beta cells of the pancreas and increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin.
This is quite beneficial in type 1 and 2 diabetes as it affects both the mechanisms of release and action of insulin. Moreover, in pregnant women, buckwheat lowers the risk of onset of gestational diabetes.
This is not to mean that buckwheat is a cure for all the types of diabetes- it should be taken along with the prescribed medication.
5.Skin and hair health
Being a warehouse of antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins, buckwheat plays a critical role in maintaining skin and hair health. The rich blend of antioxidants protects the skin from the damaging effects of the sun and prevents signs of premature skin aging.
The mineral content of buckwheat has a relaxation effect on the blood vessels, which improves blood flow to the skin. It helps in supplying skin-friendly nutrients and elimination of waste products, resulting in a glowing and youthful looking skin.
The fatty acids in buckwheat are building blocks of healthy cell membranes. They help produce a natural skin oil barrier, a critical function in keeping the skin hydrated. The fatty acids also reinforce the skin’s smooth surface by enhancing its elasticity.
The complex carbohydrates in the seeds are highly conducive to hair growth. A diet that is deficient of carbs contributes to hair problems like thinning, dandruff, alopecia and split ends.
Buckwheat supplies not only complex carbs but also zinc, vitamin B, and minerals that are needed to strengthen hair follicles.
6.Promotes a healthy bone structure
Minerals present in buckwheat are actively involved in building bones and keeping them healthy. Of these minerals, calcium, magnesium, and manganese are the key players. Their combination keeps the bones resilient to physical and physiological crashing forces.
Calcium works together with vitamin D to bond the organic surface of bone cells and harden them. (9) Manganese has a role in the formation of bone cartilage, collagen, and mineralization. (10)
It does so by working as a cofactor for bone-building enzymes. Magnesium though not a traditional ingredient of the bone structure, it promotes calcium absorption along with vitamin D.
Ultimately, all these minerals help in the prevention of osteoporosis, a condition of fragile bones that are susceptible to fractures.
7.A reliable source of proteins
Buckwheat is one of the most valuable plant-based protein sources. It has a well-balanced amino acid profile that supports energy, growth and muscle synthesis. Moreover, buckwheat is said to have more protein content than brown rice, millet, and several other grains. (11)
What makes buckwheat stand out even more, is the quality of proteins that it has. It is a complete source of protein with all the essential amino acids in substantial amounts.
It replaces the need to eat red meat, and for vegans and vegetarians, it is a priceless food that helps cover the full range of amino acids that the body cannot synthesize. To obtain other complimentary proteins, combining buckwheat with other sources such as quinoa and beans, is helpful.
Besides supporting muscle growth, the proteins offer other health benefits including increasing satiety, slowing down the loss of bone tissue and relief of constipation.
8.Fights inflammation and is anti-tumoral
Buckwheat is known to fight inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. (12) The bioflavonoids present in buckwheat are credited for the anti-inflammatory properties.
They inhibit the release of inflammation mediators from the cells, making them useful for suppressing chronic inflammatory responses and allergies.
In people who have arthritis, (13) buckwheat slows down the inflammation process in the joints, contributing to the reduction of pain.
Rutin the main bioflavonoid in buckwheat has been shown to reduce multiplication of tumor cells. Most of the studies have shown that this anti-carcinogenic effect is on breast, liver, and stomach cancer cells. (14)
How to cook buckwheat
Buckwheat is a versatile seed that can be prepared in several ways. Most of the popular methods include making a filling addition of the groats to stews, soups, salads or as a replacement for processed breakfast cereals.
The seeds can also be grounded to flour for making muffins, pancakes, bread as well as porridge.
To cook dried buckwheat groats, begin by washing in a bowl several times. It allows broken pieces and dust to come afloat, something that cannot be achieved when using a sieve.
This is a critical step in ensuring that they come out nice and fluffy. After discarding all the extras, combine one cup of the groats with two cups of water in a pot (ratio of buckwheat to water 1:2). Simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes, checking to see that they are getting plump and the texture is not mushy.
Adding butter or oil when cooking can prevent the seeds from clumping.
When ready, drain the water. Buckwheat can be eaten on its own, served with vegetables, added to fruits, made into burgers or even granola. If making a cold salad, rinse it off with cold water first.
Growing buckwheat sprouts
Sprouting buckwheat seeds activates them for even more nutrition. The process multiplies nutrients, improves their digestibility and absorbability, neutralizes enzyme inhibitors, and brings out their crunchy flavor.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to sprout the seeds
- The first and most important step is to get buckwheat seeds that are sproutable. Remember that anything cooked in any way can never be sprouted, be it grains, seeds, or beans- they must be raw. Therefore, avoid roasted, toasted, cracked or milled buckwheat.
- Begin by rinsing the seeds thoroughly, then pour them into a large bowl. Add room temperature water to cover the seeds by a couple of inches, then allow to sit for 30 to 60 minutes. Some people also soak them for 4-6 hours or overnight.
- Next, drain all the water then repeat rinsing and draining until the water runs clear. Buckwheat is quite starchy and requires more rinsing that other sprouting seeds.
- Lay the seeds on a sprouting tray or a sprouting container of your choice with a sprouting screen or mesh lid. Spread them well to allow air circulation.
- Leave the tray over a plate, counter, sink or any cool spot with no direct sunlight. Keep on rinsing and draining three times a day, so they do not dry out. It can be in the morning after waking up, midday or after work and right before bed. They should be ready in at least two days, depending on humidity. For colder days and places, the sprouting process may take up to three days.
- When the sprouts have reached the desired length, drain the water and expose to sunlight for a few hours before storing in the fridge. Well sprouted buckwheat seeds are a ½-1 inch in length and have an almost sweet taste with no bitter aftertaste.
Does buckwheat have any side effects?
Buckwheat is generally safe when consumed in normal amounts. Nevertheless, some people may develop a buckwheat allergy. Also, a diet that is extensively high in buckwheat may cause fagopyrism, a condition that causes photosensitivity of the skin. The condition is characterized by intense redness, swelling, and itching of exposed areas of the skin (similar to sunburn). (15)
Due to its high content of fiber, buckwheat may also cause gastrointestinal distress symptoms such as gas. Soaking in water for about 6 hours before cooking reduces the likelihood of bloating.
The bottom line
Although unwanted effects of buckwheat have been reported, they are not very common. So long as it is taken in reasonable amounts and one does not have an allergic reaction, it is an excellent food source. It is a reliable source of easily digestible proteins, soluble and insoluble fiber, minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins. These nutritional components are a source of a wealth of health benefits.