Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Buckwheat- the nutritional benefits


You may have noticed that I use buckwheat flour a lot in my recipes; this is because not only is it useful on ekdasi days, but also it is a very nutritious food. It is also gluten-free, so good for anyone who is coeliac or allergic/ sensitive to wheat or gluten. Buckwheat is technically a fruit rather than a grain, and belongs to the ploygonaceae  family of plants which also includes knotweed and rhubarb. Here are some of the facts I found out about the health benefits of buckwheat:

  • Canadian scientists have found that buckwheat may help balance blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes, and could be a  “safe, easy and inexpensive way to lower glucose levels and reduce the risk of complications.” This is because buckwheat contains a substance called inusitol.
  • The inusitol in buckwheat has recently been shown to have a positive effect on PCOs (polycystic ovary syndrome) and research into this is ongoing.
  • The carbohydrates in buckwheat act as a "prebiotic", encouraging the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut. 
  • .Buckwheat contains no gluten: grains with gluten are known to "glue up the works", thus inhibiting vitamin absorption and maybe even wearing out your digestive system prematurely.
  • While it is 18% protein, buckwheat nevertheless is equivalent to 90% protein because of its high-quality  protein consisting of all the essential aminoacids, especially lysine, threonine, tryptophan and sulphur-containing aminoacids.
  • Buckwheat is rich in iron (60-100ppm), zinc (20-30 ppm) and selenium (20-50 ppb)
  • It is also a source of the antioxidants rutin (10-200ppm) and tannin (0.1-2%). Rutin strengthens capillary walls and helps prevent damage in cases of high blood pressure and chronic venous insufficiency. (Buckwheat leaf tea is better than the seed for this.)
  • One of the proteins in buckwheat has been found to bind tightly to chloresterol, and studies are now being conducted to observe the effects of buckwheat protein on people with high blood lipids.
Buckwheat is a versatile food; the dark, speckly flour has traditionally been made into pancakes in Northern and Eastern Europe, and soba noodles in Japan. These days it is often found as an ingredient in gluten-free products such as breads, pastas and biscuits, though it is often combined with other flours such as corn or rice flour, maybe because of its unique flavour and dark colouration. I have used buckwheat flour to make cakes, pakoras amd dumplings, and will soon be trying out making my own soba noodles and dehydrating them. The buckwheat groats ("kasha") are traditionally roasted and made into a kind of porridge and they can also be cooked pretty much like rice and used for pilaffs, stuffings etc. in the same way. They have a delicate but earthy flavour all of their own. There is even a brand of healthy breakfast cereal made from puffed buckwheat seeds, which I have used in baking as a change from puffed rice or wheat. It is also apparently very easy to grow buckwheat sprouts and use them in a raw diet, but I have seen warnings to be sure that the coating on the seeds is washed off first. With a little imagination you can incorporate buckwheat into your regular diet quite easily, and by the looks of the above facts, it will be well worth it for the health benefits. Happy cooking!

PS: I have read that buckwheat can cause severe allergic reactions and sensitivities in some people, so if you've never tried it before and you know you have food allergies perhaps it would be wise to go easy on it at first.











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