Though it is usually thought of as a grain, buckwheat is actually the seed of a broadleaf plant related to rhubarb. While it is not a true grain, it is used like one in cooking, and it surpasses rice, wheat and corn on almost every measure of healthfulness (including the fact that rice, wheat, and corn are high on the glycemic scale, thus provoking a quick spike in blood sugar levels, a proven promoter of systemic inflammation). Buckwheat, on the other hand, ranks low on the glycemic scale.
Hulled buckwheat kernels (called groats) are pale tan-to-green, while the roasted buckwheat groats known as kasha—a staple food in Eastern Europe—are dark brown with a nutty flavor. Kasha is often steamed in a stock with onions, olive oil and fresh parsley, and you can combine equal parts plain buckwheat groats and oats, and cook the mix to enjoy as a hot breakfast cereal topped with berries. Buckwheat has been cultivated for at least 1,000 years in China, Korea and Japan, where it is often enjoyed in the form of buckwheat "soba" noodles—a form that's become increasingly popular in the West as a healthy substitute for wheat pasta.
Buckwheat has more protein than rice, wheat, millet or corn and is high in the essential amino acids lysine and arginine, in which major cereal crops are deficient. Its unique amino acid profile gives buckwheat the power to boost the protein value of beans and cereal grains eaten the same day. Yet, buckwheat contains no gluten—the source of protein in true grains—and is therefore safe for people with gluten allergy or celiac disease.
Buckwheat Protein's Unique Health-Promoting Properties:
- The specific characteristics of buckwheat proteins, and the relative proportions of its amino acids, make buckwheat the unsurpassed cholesterol-lowering food studied to date.
- Its protein characteristics also enhance buckwheat's ability to reduce and stabilize blood sugar levels following meals—a key factor in preventing diabetes and obesity.
- Like the widely prescribed "ACE" hypertension drugs, buckwheat proteins reduce the activity of angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE), thereby reducing hypertension.