Buckwheat belongs to a group of foods commonly called pseudocereals.
Pseudocereals are seeds that are consumed in the same way as cereal grains, but do not grow on grasses. Other common pseudocereals include quinoa and amaranth.
Despite its name, buckwheat is not related to wheat, and is therefore gluten-free.
Buckwheat is processed into groats, flour and noodles, or used in buckwheat tea.
The groats can be used in much the same way as rice. They are the main ingredient in many traditional European and Asian dishes.
Buckwheat has become popular as a health food in many countries, due to its high amounts of minerals and various antioxidants. It has also been shown to provide health benefits, including improved blood sugar control.
The grains are typically brown and irregular in shape.
There are two types of buckwheat that are most widely grown for food: common buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) and tartary buckwheat (Fagopyrum tartaricum).
Buckwheat is mainly grown in the northern hemisphere, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, Kazakhstan and China.
Carbohydrates are the main dietary component of buckwheat, but it also contains protein and various minerals and antioxidants.
The nutritional value of buckwheat is considerably higher than that of many other grains.
The table below provides information on the main nutrients found in buckwheat (1):
The carbs are in the form of starch, which is the primary storage form of carbs in plants.
Buckwheat scores low to medium on the glycemic index (3). In other words, it should not cause unhealthy spikes in blood sugar levels.
Buckwheat also contains a decent amount of fiber, food components (mainly carbs) that the body cannot digest. This, however, is good for colon health.
By weight, fiber makes up 2.7% of boiled groats, and is mainly composed of cellulose and lignin (2).
Resistant starch passes down to the colon, where it is then fermented by the local bacteria. These beneficial bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate.
Bottom Line: Buckwheat is mainly composed of carbs. It also contains a good amount of fiber and resistant starch, which may improve colon health.
Buckwheat contains small amounts of protein.
By weight, protein makes up 3.4% of boiled buckwheat groats (2).
Because of a well-balanced amino acid profile, the nutritional value of the protein in buckwheat is very high. It is particularly rich in the amino acids lysine and arginine (12).
Like other pseudocereals, buckwheat is gluten-free and is therefore suitable for people with gluten intolerance.
Bottom Line: Buckwheat contains small amounts of proteins with a very good nutritional quality. However, the digestibility of these proteins is relatively poor.
Vitamins and Minerals
Buckwheat is richer in minerals than many common cereals, such as rice, wheat and corn (5).
However, buckwheat is not particularly rich in vitamins.
Of the two main types of buckwheat, tartary buckwheat generally contains more nutrients than common buckwheat (18).
Here are the most abundant minerals found in common buckwheat:
- Manganese: Found in high amounts in whole grains, manganese is essential for healthy metabolism, growth, development and the body's antioxidant defenses.
- Copper: Often lacking in the Western diet, copper is an essential trace element that may have beneficial effects on heart health when eaten in small amounts (19).
- Magnesium: When present in sufficient amounts in the diet, this essential mineral may lower the risk of various chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease (20).
- Iron: Deficiency in this important mineral leads to anemia, a condition characterized by reduced oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.
- Phosphorus: This mineral plays an essential role in the growth and maintenance of body tissues.
Compared to other grains, the minerals in cooked buckwheat groats are particularly well absorbed.
Bottom Line: Buckwheat is richer in minerals than many other pseudocereals and cereals. It is high in manganese, copper and magnesium, but low in most vitamins.
Other Plant Compounds
Buckwheat is rich in various antioxidant plant compounds, which are responsible for many of its health benefits. In fact, it provides more antioxidants that many other cereal grains, such as barley, oats, wheat and rye (21, 22, 23).
Here are some of the main plant compounds found in buckwheat:
- Rutin: This is the main antioxidant polyphenol found in buckwheat. Studies indicate that it may reduce inflammation and blood pressure, improve the blood lipid profile and lower the risk of cancer (26, 27, 28).
- Quercetin: Found in many plant foods, quercetin is an antioxidant that may have a variety of beneficial health effects, including lowering the risk of cancer and heart disease (29, 30).
- Vitexin: Animal studies indicate that vitexin may have a number of health benefits. However, excessive consumption may contribute to an enlarged thyroid (31, 32).
- D-chiro inositol: This is a unique type of soluble carbohydrate that reduces blood sugar and may be beneficial in the management of diabetes (4, 33). Buckwheat is the richest food source of this plant compound.
Bottom Line: Buckwheat provides various plant compounds and is richer in antioxidants than many common cereal grains. The plant compounds found in buckwheat include rutin, quercetin, vitexin and D-chiro-inositol.
Health Benefits of Buckwheat
Like other whole-grain pseudocereals, buckwheat consumption has been linked with a number of beneficial health effects.
Improved Blood Sugar Control
Over time, high levels of sugar in the blood may lead to various chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes.
For this reason, moderating the rise in blood sugar after meals is important for the maintenance of good health.
As a good source of fiber, buckwheat ranks low to medium on the glycemic index (3), which means that the rise in blood sugar is slow and more gradual after eating it.
This is supported by a study of diabetic rats, where buckwheat concentrate was shown to lower blood sugar by 12–19% (33).
This effect is thought to be due to a unique soluble carbohydrate known as D-chiro-inositol.
In addition, some components of buckwheat appear to prevent or delay the digestion of table sugar (4).
Overall, these properties make buckwheat a healthy choice for diabetics or those who want to improve their blood sugar balance.
Bottom Line: Consumption of buckwheat may moderate blood sugar levels, making it a healthy food choice for diabetics.
Buckwheat may also promote heart health.
It contains many heart-healthy compounds, such as rutin, magnesium, copper, fiber and certain proteins.
Among cereals and pseudocereals, buckwheat is the richest source of rutin (39), an antioxidant that may have a number of beneficial health effects.
Buckwheat has also been found to have beneficial effects on the composition of blood fats (the blood lipid profile). A poor blood lipid profile is a well-known risk factor for heart disease.
A study in 850 Chinese men and women linked buckwheat consumption with lower blood pressure and an improved blood lipid profile, including lower levels of LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) and higher levels of HDL (the "good" cholesterol) (35).
For this reason, regular consumption of buckwheat may promote better heart health.
Bottom Line: Regular consumption of buckwheat may improve heart health by decreasing blood pressure and improving the blood lipid profile.
Adverse Effects and Individual Concerns
Apart from causing allergic reactions in some people, buckwheat does not have any known adverse effects when eaten in moderation.
A buckwheat allergy is more likely to develop in those who consume buckwheat often and in large amounts.
Symptoms may include skin rashes, swelling, digestive distress and in worst case scenarios, a severe allergic shock (44).
Bottom Line: Consumption of buckwheat has not been linked with many adverse health effects. However, some people may be allergic to buckwheat.
Buckwheat is a pseudocereal, which is a type of grain that doesn't grow on grasses like other cereals, yet is used in a similar way.
It is gluten-free, a good source of fiber, and rich in minerals and various plant compounds, especially rutin.
As a result, buckwheat consumption is linked with several health benefits, including improved blood sugar control and heart health.