Seed, Grain and Health Powerhouse 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.
More vitamins and minerals. Compared with true grains, buckwheat is high in minerals: especially zinc, copper and manganese.
Healthier fat profile. Unlike true grains, buckwheat's low-fat content is skewed toward monounsaturated fatty acids—the type that makes olive oil so heart-healthful.
Healthier starch and fiber profile. The fiber in true grains other than barley is largely insoluble, while a considerable portion of buckwheat dietary fiber is the soluble type that makes oats so heart-healthful and yields digestion byproducts that reduce blood cholesterol levels and the risk of colon cancer. Buckwheat is also high in "resistant starch," which also enhances colon health, and serves to reduce blood sugar levels.
Reduces high blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol and discourages obesity. Most recently, a buckwheat extract substantially reduced blood glucose levels in diabetic rats: a promising finding that should lead to similar research in human diabetics. This blood sugar benefit is attributed in part to rare carbohydrate compounds called fagopyritols (especially D-chiro-inositol), of which buckwheat is by far the richest food source yet discovered.
Contains flavonoids for heart and circulatory health. In addition to its marked nutritional benefits, buckwheat has been traditionally prized as a "blood-building" food. Modern science attributes this ancient reputation to buckwheat's high levels of antioxidant polyphenols—especially rutin (a bioflavonoid), which supports the circulatory system and helps preventing recurrent bleeding caused by weakened blood vessels, as in hemorrhoids and varicose veins. Finally, rutin acts as an ACE inhibitor and contributes to buckwheat's ability to reduce high blood pressure.