How Is Buckwheat Different From Wheat? What Are Its Health Benefits?

Reviewed by Merlin Annie Raj, Registered Dietitian
How Is Buckwheat Different From Wheat? What Are Its Health Benefits? Hyderabd040-395603080 November 19, 2019

Has gluten intolerance left you with no food options? Don’t worry. Meet buckwheat – the global gluten-free superfood!

Buckwheat is a pseudocereal with an excellent nutritional profile. The fiber and flavonoids in it protect your heart, liver, brain, colon, and reproductive system. You can use it to make gluten-free cookies, crepes, pancakes, risotto, noodles, meals, and salads.

Read on to find out what is unique about buckwheat and how it helps or harms your body.

What Is Buckwheat? What Is Unique About It?

Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum Moench) is a crop belonging to the Polygonaceae family. And no, it is not related to wheat. It has high levels of proteins, fiber, polyphenols, and minerals (1). This is why buckwheat groats are established globally as a functional food.

Research around the world has recognized the health benefits of this pseudocereal. Therefore, it is used in Asia to make noodles and fermented dishes.

The phytochemicals in it, like rutin and quercetin, majorly contribute to its effects. They are potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, and anti-diabetic agents (1), (2).

One of the biggest USPs of this plant is that it is gluten-free.

There’s more of such exciting information on buckwheat waiting to be explored below. Scroll down and get started!

What Are The Benefits Of Buckwheat?

The phytonutrients in buckwheat combat diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Regular consumption of these groats may aid weight loss and relieve constipation.

1. May Improve Insulin Sensitivity And Manage Diabetes

Buckwheat contains rutin, quercetin, d-chiro-inositol, and other similar biochemicals that may have a positive impact on the glucose levels in your body. These polysaccharides and proteins can alleviate insulin resistance. They stimulate the insulin-resistant cells to take up glucose (2), (3).

Tartary buckwheat (Fagopyrum tataricum) has the highest quercetin and rutin content among all the buckwheat species. As per mice studies, its alcohol extract can increase the levels of antioxidant enzymes in the liver (2).

Including buckwheat in your diet could be a safe way of regulating diabetes and insulin sensitivity.

2. May Mitigate Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) Risk

The rutin in buckwheat is a well-studied cardioprotective flavonoid. Along with quercetin, protein, and fiber, this flavonoid lowers the risk of heart diseases. Despite having low digestibility, buckwheat proteins prevent cholesterol accumulation, which is one of the primary causes of heart diseases (4).

Buckwheat flavonoids can interfere in various pathways that promote cardiac discomfort. Moreover, gluten-free whole grains like buckwheat and oats have a notable impact on your blood pressure. Research is underway to prove this property (5). Rutin is a flavonoid that is commonly added to blood pressure medication as it functions as a vasodilator that increases blood flow and prevents heart problems and strokes.

3. May Possess Anticancer Properties

Buckwheat protein is rich in amino acids like lysine and arginine. During a study conducted in China, buckwheat proteins – in combination with polyphenols – induced cell death (apoptosis) in several mouse cell lines. They could counter the proliferation of cancer cells in the colon of rats (6).

A novel protein, TBWSP31, isolated from tartary buckwheat extracts might exhibit antiproliferative properties against human breast cancer cell lines. The cells showed physical changes that are the typical characteristics of dying cancer cells (6).

Buckwheat hull was also reported to have anticancer effects. Extracts of buckwheat hull showed relatively high cell growth-inhibition rates. Treatment done with hull extracts showed positive effects on gastric, hepatic (liver), and various other human cancer cells in clinical studies (7).

4. Regulates Cholesterol Levels And Body Weight

High cholesterol levels (hypercholesterolemia) invite metabolic disorders, including CVD, diabetes, obesity, and premature arthritis. Eating whole grains, like buckwheat, can maintain the balance between LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol) levels in your body (8).

In a controlled study, rats were fed with 20% added ground buckwheat products (buckwheat flour, meal, and bran) and rye-buckwheat bread. The subjects exhibited a tight control on their lipid profiles (8).

The active ingredients of buckwheat improve the excretion of bile acids from the liver. They upregulate the expression of the genes (in the liver and pancreas) that are involved in the absorption and accumulation of cholesterol (9).

5. May Relieve Constipation And IBD

Buckwheat proteins also exhibit laxative effects. The insoluble/unfermented fiber in this grain increases the stool weight. It prevents constipation by enhancing the water content in the bowel (10).

Buckwheat is a potent anti-inflammatory agent too. Having it fermented or unfermented can tone down intestinal inflammation. Replacing rice with buckwheat may also lead to free bowel movement in those battling irritable bowel disease (IBD) (11).

6. May Treat Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

Buckwheat contains a compound called D-chiro-inositol, which is an insulin mediator. D-chiro-inositol is found to be deficient in people with type II diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) (12).

Researchers are trying to develop natural and synthetic variants of D-chiro-inositol to help manage PCOS. However, supplying this carbohydrate through diet showed positive effects as well. Buckwheat seed bran becomes the ideal choice in such cases (12).

The fragments of the outer cotyledon adhere to the bran during milling. Therefore, the bran fraction from buckwheat seed can be used to isolate free D-chiro-inositol. It can be used for the large-scale production of nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals to cater to the people with such a deficit (12).

Apart from D-chiro-inositol, rutin, and quercetin, buckwheat has many other nutritionally significant components. To find out what they are, take a look at the next section!

Nutritive Profile Of Buckwheat

NutrientUnit1 CUP OR 170.0g
Total lipid (fat)g5.78
Carbohydrate, by differenceg121.55
Fiber, total dietaryg17
Calcium, Camg31
Iron, Femg3.74
Magnesium, Mgmg393
Phosphorus, Pmg590
Potassium, Kmg782
Sodium, Namg2
Zinc, Znmg4.08
Copper, Cumg1.87
Manganese, Mnmg2.21
Selenium, Seµg14.1
Pantothenic acidmg2.096
Vitamin B-6mg0.357
Folate, totalµg51
Folate, foodµg51
Folate, DFEµg51
Amino Acids
Aspartic acidg1.926
Glutamic acidg3.478
Proanthocyanidin dimersmg9.8
Proanthocyanidin trimersmg2.7

(Source: USDA)

This pseudocereal is loaded with phytochemicals.

Studies reveal that whole buckwheat contains 2-5 times more phenolic compounds than oats or barley (12).

Moreover, buckwheat bran and hulls have 2-7 times higher antioxidant activity than barley, oats, and triticale (12).

Buckwheat contains more rutin when compared to other grain crops. Quercetin, orientin, kaempferol-3-rutinoside, vitexin, isovitexin, and isoorientin have been identified in buckwheat hulls as well (12).

Buckwheat seeds also contain fagopyrins and fagopyritols. Fagopyrins are photo-sensitive substances present in very low quantities in buckwheat. Fagopyritols are carbohydrate compounds accumulated in the embryos of these seeds (12).

Now coming to the best part…

Most cereals and pseudocereals have a considerable amount of anti-nutrients. Anti-nutrients interact with nutrients to prevent their proper absorption and trigger undesirable effects in your body.

But buckwheat has no trace of phytic acid, a common anti-nutrient!

So, you can have these seeds without worrying about a cross-reaction or loss of nutrients. However, their protein content has low-digestibility.

Cooking buckwheat may improve its digestibility. Here is a fun recipe you can try out. Scroll down!

Trivia Time!

  • The word buckwheat is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words ‘boc’ (beech) and ‘whoet’ (wheat) because its groats resemble beechnuts.
  • Buckwheat is referred to as a pseudocereal because it has a similar chemical composition and usage as conventional cereals.
  • Buckwheat has powerful ecological adaptability. It can grow in almost all kinds of extreme environments.
  • Tartary buckwheat is frostresistant and grown in higher altitudes. Common buckwheat is heat– and droughtresistant to a large extent and is grown in lower altitudes.
  • Buckwheat is called ogal in India, tian qiao mai in Mandarin (China), soba in Japan, grecicha kul’furnaja in Russia, faggina and sarasin in Italy, and buchweizen in Germany,
  • The protein content of buckwheat is significantly higher than that of rice, wheat, sorghum, millet, and maize.

How And What To Cook With Buckwheat

You can substitute rice with this basic buckwheat groat preparation. Here’s how you can do it.

Simple Buckwheat Meal

What You Need
  • Buckwheat groats: 1 cup, toasted (If you don’t find pre-toasted groats, you can toast them in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 4-5 minutes or until they turn golden-brown.)
  • Drinking water: 1¾ cups
  • Unsalted butter: 1-2 tablespoons (or to taste)
  • Sea salt: ½ teaspoon (or to taste)
  • Saucepan: medium-small size
Let’s Make It!
  1. Rinse the buckwheat and drain out the water thoroughly.
  2. Add buckwheat groats, water, butter, and salt to a medium-sized saucepan.
  3. Bring the contents to a simmer.
  4. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and reduce the heat.
  5. Cook on low heat for 18-20 minutes.
  6. Stir in an additional tablespoon of butter if needed.
  7. Eat it with stew, stir-fried veggies, or your favorite curry!

You can make something more flavorful with this pseudocereal too. In fact, there are many gluten-free dishes that can be made with buckwheat. Here’s a quick and simple recipe. Try it out!

Gluten-free Quick Crepes With Buckwheat

What You Need
  • Buckwheat groats: ⅔ cups, raw
  • Water: to cover
  • Eggs: 1
  • Brown sugar: 2 tablespoons
  • Cinnamon: 1/4 teaspoon, ground
  • Salt: 1/4 teaspoon
  • Colander: small-medium sized
  • Skillet
  • Cooking oil
Let’s Make It!
  1. Add the buckwheat groats and about 1½ cups of water to a medium-sized colander.
  2. Soak for about 4 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse the groats 1-2 times during this period.
  3. After soaking, rinse and drain the groats one final time.
  4. Transfer the drained groats to a blender.
  5. Add the egg, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and half a cup of water to the blender.
  6. Blend into a smooth batter. Add water to get the desired consistency. Blend until you get a smooth, runny, and spreadable batter.
  7. Lightly grease a skillet and place over medium heat.
  8. Pour about ⅓ cup of batter into the skillet. Lift and tilt the skillet to coat the batter evenly. Return to heat.
  9. Cook for about 2 minutes.
  10. Flip the crepe gently and cook the other side until the crepe is firm in the middle. (Cook longer for a crispy crepe).
  11. Serve hot/warm with dips and berries of your choice.

Buckwheat oats taste very similar to the classic flour-based crepes you make.

People with celiac disease and gluten intolerance don’t need to miss out on some delicious crepes, thanks to buckwheat!

However, researchers have reported cases of food allergy related to buckwheat. Let’s find out more in the next section.

Can Buckwheat Cause Adverse Effects? Is It Toxic?

Though it is gluten- and phytic acid-free, buckwheat seeds may have other anti-nutrients that trigger hypersensitivity.

One of the most reported and studied side effects is buckwheat allergy. Its symptoms include (13):

  • Asthma
  • Allergic rhinitis (sneezing, wheezing, runny nose)
  • Gastrointestinal disturbance (nausea, cramps, etc.)
  • Hives or skin rashes
  • Swelling (face and skin)

If left untreated, it can become fatal.

This happens because buckwheat contains several allergens. These digestion-resistant proteins elicit an allergic reaction in your body. These allergens can cross-react with other plant allergens that are most commonly found in rice, poppy seeds, latex, cashew, and sesame (12), (13). Hence, beware of what you eat buckwheat with. Eating these foods together might trigger the adverse effects listed above.

Research is still underway in this aspect. The exact allergen(s) structure and function of buckwheat have not been established yet.

Additionally, buckwheat proteins have low digestibility. This could be because the polyphenols in buckwheat interact with these proteins and make it harder for your colon to digest them (14).

Having probiotics may solve this problem.

Considering all these issues, the questions arises – is it not safe to have buckwheat? What is its recommended dose?

Read on for answers.

How Much Buckwheat Is Safe To Eat?

In a 2,000 calorie-diet, the daily intake of fiber should be about 25 g. Thus, having about 25-30 g/day of buckwheat is recommended (15).

Your goal should be to get 100% of the daily value for dietary fiber on most days.

If you are showing symptoms of buckwheat allergy, or you don’t like how these seeds taste, you can choose other gluten-free grains to meet the fiber requirement.

Brown/black/red rice, oatmeal, quinoa, rolled oats, rye, and barley are some options that you can consider.

In Summary

Buckwheat is a highly nutritious, gluten-free crop. Its seeds are rich in carbohydrates, proteins, fiber, and phytochemicals. Its phytonutritional profile makes buckwheat one of the global superfoods.

Replacing rice and wheat with buckwheat can not only help you lose weight but also boost your overall health and immunity. You can make a gluten-free variant of almost every dish with its groats and flour.

But, since it has recognized allergens, you should use buckwheat only after seeking medical advice. Discuss its safety and dosage with your healthcare provider. Our experts can also be of great help. Leave your queries and suggestions in the comments box below, and we will get back to you.

Until next time, enjoy going gluten-free with buckwheat!

15 sources

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Swathi Handoo

Swathi holds a Master’s degree in Biotechnology and has worked in places where actual science and research happen. Blending her love for writing with science, Swathi writes for Health and Wellness and simplifies complex topics for readers from all walks of life.And on the days she doesn’t write, she learns and performs Kathak, sings Carnatic music compositions, makes plans to travel, and obsesses over cleanliness.