Buckwheat: Gluten free Power Food

Parmesan cheese is known as King of cheeses

Buckwheat is a plant cultivated for its grain-like seeds, and also used as a cover crop. Despite the name, buckwheat is not related to wheat, as it is not a grass; instead, buckwheat is related to sorrel, knotweed, and rhubarb. The cultivation of buckwheat grain declined sharply in the 20th century with the adoption of nitrogen fertilizer that increased the productivity of other staples. A related species, Fagopyrum tataricum (Tartary buckwheat) is also cultivated as a grain in the Himalayas.

The name 'buckwheat' or 'beech wheat' comes from its triangular seeds, which resemble the much larger seeds of the beech nut from the beech tree, and the fact that it is used like wheat. The word may be a translation of Middle Dutch boecweite : boec (modern Dutch beuk), beech (see PIE bhago-) + weite (mod. Dut. weit), wheat; or may be a native formation on the same model as the Dutch word.

Buckwheat is raised for grain where a short season is available, either because it is used as a second crop in the season, or because the climate is limiting. Buckwheat can be a reliable cover crop in summer to fit a small slot of warm season for establishment. It establishes quickly, which suppresses summer weeds.

The fruit is an achene, similar to sunflower seed, with a single seed inside a hard outer hull. The starchy endosperm is white and makes up most or all of buckwheat flour. The seed coat is green or tan, which darkens buckwheat flour. The hull is dark brown or black, and some may be included in buckwheat flour as dark specks. The dark flour is known as bl� noir (black wheat) in French, along with the name sarrasin (saracen).

Buckwheat noodles have been eaten by people from Tibet and northern China for a long time, as wheat can not be grown in the mountain regions. A special press made of wood log was built to press the dough into hot boiling water when making buckwheat noodles. Old presses found in Tibet and Shansi share the same basic design features. The Japanese and Koreans might have learned the making of buckwheat noodles from them.

Buckwheat contains a glucoside called rutin, a phytochemical that strengthens capillary walls. One clinical study showed mixed results in the treatment of chronic venous insufficiency. Dried buckwheat leaves were manufactured in Europe under the brand name "Fagorutin" for use as a tisane. It also contains galloylated propelargonidins and procyanidins.

Buckwheat contains D-chiro-inositol, a component of the secondary messenger pathway for insulin signal transduction found to be deficient in Type II diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome. It is being studied for use in treating Type II diabetes. Research on D-chiro-inositol and PCOS has shown promising results. High protein buckwheat flour is being studied for possible use as a functional ingredient in foods to reduce plasma cholesterol, body fat, and cholesterol gallstones.

Buckwheat contains more protein than grains and is not deficient in the amino acid lysine as most grains are, so the protein is more nutritionally complete. That makes it a particularly good choice for vegetarians. It's an excellent source of magnesium, a boon to your blood pressure. A phytochemical in buckwheat may be beneficial in the management of diabetes; studies show it may have the ability to lower blood glucose levels. It's also a good source of fiber.

Health Benefits of Buckwheat

Parmesan cheese is known as King of cheeses1. Best source of high-quality, easily digestible proteins.
This makes it an excellent meat substitute. High protein buckwheat flour is being studied for possible use in foods to reduce plasma cholesterol, body fat, and cholesterol gallstones.

2. Fat alternative.
Buckwheat starch can also act as a fat alternative in processed foods.

3. The high level of rutin is extracted from the leaves for medicine to treat high blood pressure.
A study from the Jilin Agricultural University in China investigated the blood glucose lowering potential of buckwheat protein, pitting it against a toxic glucose analogue called alloxan. This insidious chemical selectively destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, causing characteristics similar to type 1 diabetes when found in rodents and many other animal species. Different doses of buckwheat protein were administered, and researchers discovered that the blood glucose levels of test subjects were indeed lowered when compared to the control group. Journal of Jilin Agricultural University, 2009; 31(1):102-4

4. Non allergenic.
Buckwheat hulls are used as pillow stuffing for those allergic to feathers, dust, and pollen.

5. May help diabetes.
New evidence has found that buckwheat may be helpful in the management of diabetes according to Canadian researchers in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

With a glycemic index of 54, it lowers blood sugars more slowly than rice or wheat products.

6. Great for the digestion.

�The properties of buckwheat are: Neutral thermal nature; sweet flavor; cleans and strengthens the intestines and improves appetite. Is effective for treating dysentery and chronic diarrhea.� According to Paul Pitchford in Healing with Whole Foods (1993)

It was buckwheat versus itself in a study to determine the characteristics of buckwheat starch and its potential for a reduced metabolic response after meals. In a joint effort, researchers from Slovenia and Sweden scored human test subject�s responses to an assortment of buckwheat products, including boiled buckwheat groats, breads baked with 30-70% buckwheat flour, and bread baked from buckwheat groats. The highest level of resistant starch was found in the boiled buckwheat groats, while the resistant starch levels in the buckwheat breads were significantly lower and depending on whether flour or grouts had been used. The conclusion? All buckwheat products scored significantly lower on the after-meal blood glucose tests, while also scoring higher in satiety, than the control group�s white wheat bread.

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, January 2001; 49(1):490�96. DOI: 10.1021/jf000779w

7. Chemical free.

Parmesan cheese is known as King of cheesesBuckwheat grows so quickly that it does not usually require a lot of pesticides or other chemicals to grow well.

8. Buckwheat is good at drawing out retained water and excess fluid from swollen areas of the body.

9. Buckwheat is a warming food.

It is classified by macrobiotics as a yang food. It is great for eating in the cold winter months.
In 2003, a study out of Madrid, Spain examined the high nutrient levels in buckwheat to determine whether it could behave as a prebiotic and be considered a healthy food. Prebiotics, of course, are indigestible food ingredients that stimulate the helpful bacteria in our digestive systems. Not only did the buckwheat-fed group emerge with a lower bodyweight when compared to the control, some of the best types of helpful bacteria were found, along with a decrease in some types of pathogenic bacteria.

Nutrition Research, June 2003; 23(6):803-14

10. Buckwheat contains no gluten and is not a grain.
It is therefore great for celiacs and those on grain free and gluten sensitive diets.

Researches from the Polish Academy of Sciences recently published a study suggesting substituting some or all of the corn starch in many traditional gluten-free bread recipes with buckwheat flour. In addition to providing higher levels of antioxidants, B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium, the study indicated that swapping 40% of the corn starch for buckwheat flour also increased its �overall sensory quality� when compared to the gluten-free bread used in the control. Although recipes were tested with anywhere from 10-40% buckwheat flour, the conclusion clearly points to the 40% buckwheat flour results as having the most nutritional benefits for Celiac sufferers.

International Journal of Food Science and Technology, October 2010; 45(10):1993�2000. Epub August 25, 2010.

11. Good energy source

In a study found via the China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), researchers at the Graduate University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences explored the digestibility of starch derived from oats, wheat, buckwheat, and sweet potatoes. The goal of this study was to determine which of the four starch sources might prove useful in high-energy diets. Pigs were fed diets containing vitamins, minerals, and starch from one of the four sources, and after 15 days, it was determined that buckwheat, along with oats and wheat, provided a better source of dietary energy than sweet potatoes.

China�s Research of Agricultural Modernization Journal, April 2009

12. Helps to reduce blood pressure

A team of Korean researchers extracted the bioflavonoid rutin, thought to have blood-pressure lowering properties, from both raw buckwheat (RBE) and germinated buckwheat (GBE). The team then studied the effects of both extracts on body weight and systolic blood pressure in rats. They also searched for any indication of the formation of peroxynitrite, an oxidant and nitrating agent that can damage a wide array of molecules in cells, including DNA and proteins. After five weeks, the systolic blood pressure of the rats treated with GBE was lower than the group treated with RBE, but both groups showed significantly reduced oxidative damage in aortic cells when compared to the control group.

Phytotherapy Research, July 2009; 23(7):993�998. Epub January 12, 2009.

13. Helps in weight loss

Parmesan cheese is known as King of cheesesWhole grain buckwheat can be very helpful in weight loss. Buckwheat has fewer calories in comparison to wheat or barley. It is free of saturated fat and cholesterol and rich in dietary fiber and protein. This combination plays an important role in suppressing appetite, controlling blood sugar, facilitating proper digestion and building lean muscle mass.

14. Good for Cardiovascular Health

Being rich in B vitamins, particularly niacin, folate and vitamin B6, buckwheat is highly beneficial for the cardiovascular health. These vitamins reduce the concentration of cholesterol in the blood. Niacin causes an increase in high density lipoproteins (HDL) which further enhance the blood vessel strength and cholesterol removal. The minerals like iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and manganese help in reducing blood pressure and improving blood oxygenation. Buckwheat contains high quality proteins which remove the plaque forming triglycerides and low density lipoproteins (LDL). Thus buckwheat is highly beneficial for people with weak heart functions and other cardiovascular problems.

15. Helps in protection against Breast cancer

Research has proved that eating a diet rich in fiber from whole grains such as buckwheat reduces the risk of breast cancer. In fact, pre-menopausal women eating wholegrain fiber are at a lower risk of developing breast cancer. The antioxidant properties of buckwheat are often used as an antidote for x-ray irradiators. The antioxidants, lignans play an important role in estrogen reception and hence are beneficial for women during or after their menopause. The plant lignans are converted into mammalian lignans in the intestines. One of these called enterolactone is believed to protect against breast cancer and other forms of cancer related to hormones.

16. Helps in protection against Childhood Asthma

As per research, consumption of whole grains such as buckwheat can reduce the risk of childhood asthma by around 50 percent. Due to its high content of magnesium and vitamin E, buckwheat can help in reducing the incidence of childhood asthma.

17. Helps in prevention from gallstones
Being high in insoluble fiber, buckwheat can help in preventing gallstones. Insoluble fiber speeds up the movement of food through the intestines, increases insulin sensitivity but lowers the secretion of bile acids and blood sugar.

18. Helps in healthy bone structure

Manganese present in buckwheat ensures healthy bone structure by forming essential enzymes for building bones and acting as a co-enzyme for assisting metabolic progression in the human body. It is also actively involved in the formation of connective tissues, absorption of calcium and metabolism of fat and sugar. Magnesium is also beneficial for bone and dental health. It trans- misses nerve impulses and helps in the production of energy. It facilitates the absorption of calcium by the body and prevents the development of osteoporosis. Thus, buckwheat has a lot to contribute to a healthy bone structure.

19. Helps in preventing depression

Parmesan cheese is known as King of cheesesBuckwheat also contributes to mental health. It contains tryptophan which influences the mood in a positive manner, thus making happy and preventing depression.

20. Helps in curing low hemoglobin

Being rich in minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc and manganese and having high flavonoids content, buckwheat is very effective in curing low hemoglobin and frequent colds and flu.

Buckwheat is a powerhouse of nutrients. It contains a range of nutrients comprising of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium and amino acids. It contains minerals like manganese, magnesium and copper. Moreover, it has two health-promoting flavonoids-rutin and quercitin and all the eight essential amino-acids. Buckwheat is also a great source of an essential fatty acid called Alpha-Linolenic acid which is important for overall health.

Buckwheat protein is superior to other cereal grain as it has all essential amino acids and is the best source of the important flavonoid rutin. According to FDA, "Diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers." Also, low fat diets rich in fiber-containing grain products, fruits, and vegetables may reduce the risk of some types of cancer, a disease associated with many factors."

Dated 30 November 2013

Listen to the Podcast (what's this)