Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) looks and tastes like a grain but isn’t one. True grains are members of the grass family; buckwheat is related to rhubarb and sorrel. Because buckwheat is gluten free, it is an ideal food for those allergic or sensitive to the gluten in wheat and other true grains.
Its de-hulled, roasted seeds (groats) are boiled to make kasha, popular with Russians and eastern Europeans. Buckwheat flour is also often added to pancakes and pasta (like Japanese soba noodles).
Buckwheat is rich in the flavonoids rutin and quercetin. Rutin strengthens blood vessels while quercetin helps to reduce inflammation. Buckwheat also provides vitamins B1 and B2, the minerals potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron (more iron than cereal grains) and has nearly twice the amount of the amino acid lysine found in rice. A compound in buckwheat called fagopyritol seems to have potential to help manage type 2 diabetes.
In addition, a 1995 study from the Johns Hopkins Medical Institute showed that eating 30 grams of buckwheat daily can help lower blood pressure. And because it is digested more slowly than other carbohydrates, it can leave you feeling full longer and improve glucose tolerance in those who are carbohydrate sensitive.
Unlike buckwheat, spelt (Triticum spelta) is a true grain with an appealing nutty taste. It is an ancestor of modern wheat and does contain gluten. It is high in fiber and B-complex vitamins and has 10 to 25 percent more protein than most varieties of commercial wheat. Spelt is used to make cereals, pasta, crackers, baked goods, and beer.
Both spelt and buckwheat are nutritional bargains. Try them both – I think you will like them.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Jiang He et al, “Oats and buckwheat intakes and cardiovascular disease risk factors in an ethnic minority of China.” Bloomberg School of Public Health, February 1995