Buckwheat is what’s known as a pseudocereal, which means it can be eaten like a cereal grain but it doesn’t grow on grass like wheat or rice does. Other well known pseudocereals are amaranth and quinoa, and each of them is also a gluten-free source of protein just like buckwheat. To learn more about buckwheat protein and its other health benefits, read on.
What Is Buckwheat?
Though it has “wheat” in its name, buckwheat is unrelated to wheat and is gluten free. There are two main types of edible buckwheat—Tartary buckwheat (Fagopyrum tartaricum) and common buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum)—that are made into tea, flour, noodles, and groats, which serve as excellent healthy stand-ins for white or brown rice in many Asian and European dishes. Grown in China, Russia, Central and Eastern Europe, and Kazakhstan, buckwheat is is high in antioxidants and can help with blood sugar control, making it a popular modern food.
Buckwheat Nutrition Facts
One cup of cooked buckwheat groats can provide the following nutritional value.
- 155 calories
- 33.5 grams of carbohydrates
- 5.7 grams of protein
- 1 gram of fat
- 4.5 grams of fiber
- 0.7 milligram of manganese (34% Daily Value)
- 85.7 milligrams of magnesium (21% DV)
- 118 milligrams of phosphorus (12% DV)
- 0.2 milligram of copper (12% DV)
- 1.6 milligrams of niacin (8% DV)
- 1 milligram of zinc (7% DV)
- 1.3 milligrams of iron (7% DV)
- 0.1 milligram of vitamin B6 (6% DV)
- 23.5 micrograms of folate (6% DV)
- 0.6 milligram of pantothenic acid (6% DV)
- 3.7 micrograms of selenium (5% DV)
Buckwheat is a significant source of carbs thanks to its starch content. Low on the glycemic index (which measures the impact various foods make on our blood sugar levels), buckwheat does not cause dangerous blood sugar spikes. Buckwheat also contains soluble carbs like fagopyritol and D-chiro-inositol, which have been found to help ease post-meal blood sugar rises.
The fiber content of buckwheat is another significant aspect of this pseudocereal, making it a great digestion aid that can improve colon health. Most of buckwheat’s fiber is contained in its husk, which is what gives dark buckwheat flour its unique color and flavor. Moreover, the resistant starch in buckwheat is particularly valuable as a prebiotic for feeding your good gut bacteria. When well-fed, your good gut bacteria create short-chain fatty acids that contribute to the health of your colon.
Buckwheat groats have a terrific amino acid profile, making them a complete protein food. Complete proteins are foods that contain all nine of the essential amino acids, which are the amino acids you need to eat because your body can’t create them on its own. These amino acids are responsible for building muscle and more, making buckwheat a high-quality protein food especially valuable for the protein needs of vegetarians and vegans. When it comes to buckwheat vs. rice protein content for example, buckwheat is the winner: buckwheat contains more protein than rice, corn, wheat, and millet.
Vitamins and Minerals
Far richer in minerals than cereals like wheat, rice, and corn, buckwheat contains:
- Copper: Copper is important for heart health and is often lacking in our diets.
- Iron: A lack of sufficient iron can lead to anemia when there isn’t enough iron in your blood to aid in oxygen transport.
- Manganese: A common mineral found in most whole grains, manganese is important for metabolic health.
- Phosphorus: This mineral is vital for the maintenance and growth of our body tissue.
- Magnesium: An important mineral that helps to lower your risk of chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
Not only do you get a high mineral content with buckwheat groats, but they’re also more absorbable thanks to the low phytic acid content in buckwheat. Phytic acid is a compound found in many other grains and seeds that unfortunately inhibits mineral absorption.
Valuable Plant Compounds
Full of plant compounds that act as antioxidants in humans, buckwheat is a good source of:
- D-chiro-inositol: A soluble carb that can aid in diabetes management.
- Rutin: A polyphenol with anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory abilities that can help lower blood pressure.
- Quercetin: An anti-cancer antioxidant found in many plant foods.
The Health Benefits of Buckwheat Protein and Fiber
As is true with the other whole-grain pseudocereals, buckwheat is credited with several amazing health benefits.
Blood Sugar Control
Continuously high or frequently spiked blood sugar levels can lead to several chronic conditions, one of the most serious of which is type 2 diabetes. Buckwheat is valuable not only for moderating post-meal blood sugar levels in order to help prevent diabetes, but it can also help bring down high levels of blood sugar in people who already have and are managing diabetes. Animal studies have found that buckwheat concentrate lowers blood sugar levels up to 12-19% in diabetic rats, and the D-chiro-inositol in buckwheat has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity.
Enhanced Heart Health
Due to buckwheat’s content of minerals, fiber, and other important plant compounds like rutin, buckwheat can contribute to heart health. Rutin has been shown to help prevent heart disease by reducing the risk of blood clots and by lowering blood pressure along with unhealthy inflammation.
Buckwheat can also improve a person’s blood lipid profile, which is one of the top risk factors that contributes to heart disease. This 1995 study of Chinese adult participants found that buckwheat intake led to lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and higher levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. The cause of this is attributed by researchers to a type of protein in buckwheat that binds with LDL cholesterol in your digestive tract, preventing it from entering your bloodstream in the first place.
Gluten Free and Antioxidant
Good news for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity: pseudocereals like buckwheat are gluten free. Keeping a gluten-free diet is easier with foods like buckwheat that can work as flour and wheat replacements and still provide important antioxidants like rutin and quercetin, which may be helpful in reducing the terrible symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and preventing oxidative stress caused by free radicals. A dish of soba noodles (made from buckwheat and a gluten-free alternative to pasta) can help lower your cholesterol, your blood sugar, and your risk of developing high blood pressure.
Are There Any Downsides to Buckwheat?
Some people experience an allergic reaction to buckwheat that is usually caused by eating buckwheat in frequent, large amounts. Due to what’s known as allergic cross-reactivity, those with an allergy to rice or latex are more likely to develop a buckwheat allergy than are other individuals.
If you experience anything like swelling, rashes, or digestive distress, you may be experiencing an allergic reaction to buckwheat and should seek professional medical advice from a trusted health care provider.
Buckwheat Can’t Be Beat
This pseudocereal is a gluten-free source of fiber and a complete protein that contains all nine essential amino acids. With compounds that can help improve your cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and heart health, buckwheat products are fantastic non-wheat alternatives that you can include in your diet right away.