Buckwheat is a little-known and underappreciated plant traditionally consumed in Asian and Eastern European cultures. With recent increasing interest in gluten-free and organically grown foods, buckwheat promises a range of impressive health benefits.
Grain or seed?
Buckwheat, also known as Fagopyrum esculentum, is a nutritionally dense food dating back millennia. Although it is commonly thought of as a grain, buckwheat is actually classified as a seed. As such, it contains a high nutrient content and is a naturally occurring gluten-free grain alternative. Studies demonstrate a range of health benefits, which mimic those of nuts, in lowering blood glucose and cholesterol. Incorporating a little buckwheat into our diets can be a good way to help us “health up,” and start off our New Year’s resolutions on the right foot.
Buckwheat’s nutrient profile consists of higher protein content than most grains, including essential amino acids and 6 g of protein per 1/4 cup (60 mL) dry seeds. It also contains soluble and insoluble fibre, flavonoid antioxidants such as rutin and quercetin, and a component related to B vitamins called D-chiro-inositol, which is known to help improve the action of insulin. Because of these characteristics, buckwheat is being researched as a potential functional food, which is a food used to improve or target specific health conditions.
Human studies have demonstrated the benefits of buckwheat in reducing blood glucose and cholesterol. According to a Chinese study, buckwheat consumption reduced fasting glucose and glycosylated hemoglobin in patients with diabetes. Another study found that, although consuming buckwheat crackers did not improve blood glucose, it improved hormones associated with satiety (feelings of fullness), suggesting it may be helpful for assisting with weight loss.
With respect to cholesterol, one study found that consuming buckwheat as cookies (admittedly a flawed method!) reduced levels of myeloperoxidase (MPO), a marker of inflammation, and also reduced cholesterol. Studies in animals have also found blood pressure-lowering, antioxidant, and antidiabetic effects.
Try it for yourself
In addition to being a nutrient-dense, gluten-free option, buckwheat has the additional benefit of minimal pesticide exposure. Buckwheat is a rapidly growing plant with a 30-day maturity cycle, which allows it to outcompete weeds and render pesticide use unnecessary.
Buckwheat is commonly found at natural health retailers and can be eaten as a hot cereal, as a savoury dish, as pancakes, in bread, or as Japanese soba noodles. Why not try some today?