Benefits of freekeh: From weight loss to eye health

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    Benefits of freekeh go from weight loss to eye health

    The benefits of freekeh are many! Freekeh is a whole grain and can be used as a substitute for less nutritious foods like rice. (Shutterstock)

    Freekeh is the name given to a form of grain processing, and is not necessarily a name which describes any one particular plant.

    Typically made from wheat, Freekeh is the end result of picking young green grains, then parching, roasting and rubbing off the grain so its nutritional value is preserved. Because of the abundance of nutrients in this product, there are a number of benefits of freekeh in a diet plan.

    “It is higher in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and lower in glycemic index,” Vandana R. Sheth, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said in a statement comparing freekeh to other grains. “Freekeh cooks in 20 minutes and can easily be substituted for rice or couscous in a meal. [It] can be enjoyed as a cereal, in the form of puddings, in soups, casseroles or even enjoyed as a pilaf/side dish.”

    Where did freekeh come from?

    People have been enjoying the benefits of freekeh for centuries, with accounts linking the grain to ancient Egypt and in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

    Legend has it, according to the Whole Grains Council, in 2300 B.C., a nation in the Eastern Mediterranean was forced to fortify themselves against possible enemies.  With starvation a major concern should there be a siege, the citizens picked the early green heads of wheat and stored them.  The city did fall under attack, and the enemy set fire to the grain stores. In the aftermath, the people had no other option but to try and utilize the remnants of the grain, and in trying to rub away the burnt portions of the wheat they realized what was left inside was still edible.

    Whether or not this story is true, freekeh has remained true to its earliest descriptions–roasted and then rubbed until the center is revealed. It has a smoky, nutty flavor and a firm, chewy texture.

    What are the benefits of freekeh?

    Because freekeh is the end result of working with immature grain, it keeps the high nutritional content wheat plants have in their early stages. Freekeh contains more protein, fiber and minerals than mature wheat, and ranks low on the glycemic index.

    What’s more, freekeh contains both fiber and resistant starch–two key ingredients in any weight loss diet.

    When compared to other grains, freekeh’s fiber content is unquestionably superior; compared to brown rice, freekeh contains 3 times the fiber, and two times the fiber compared to quinoa.

    While it is not yet on the USDA Nutrient Database, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics indicates the benefits of freekeh in a diet include:

    • Weight loss promoted by a high fiber content. Freekeh leaves you feeling fuller, longer.
    • Improved eye health from a high concentration of lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants associated with prevention of age-related macular degeneration.
    • Improved digestive health from a high fiber content, which prevents constipation and lowers risk of developing diverticular disease. Freekeh may also act as a prebiotic to encourage the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestinal tract.

    Weight loss tends to be the main reason people decide to try freekeh, and experts indicate it is an ideal choice because of its high fiber content.

    “The fact that freekeh is high in protein and fiber does provide more of a satiety feeling,” Sheth explained. “This might therefore lead to less overall calories being consumed and help with weight loss.”

    But freekeh is not gluten-free, so it is not considered an appropriate addition for someone who has an intolerance or those with celiac disease.

    How to experience the benefits of freekeh

    Interested in trying freekeh but not sure what dishes to put it in?

    Try these recipes from the Whole Grains Council:

    Freekeh with cranberries and roasted butternut squash

    Ingredients:

    • 2 cups cracked freekeh.
    • 1 onion, chopped.
    • 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries.
    • 5 cups broth, or water.
    • 3 cups butternut squash, diced.
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil.
    • salt and pepper to taste.
    • Optional: 1/2 cup hazelnuts or cashews, chopped.

      Benefits of freekeh go from weight loss to eye health

      Like rice pudding? Try making it with freekeh instead! (Shutterstock)

    Combine freekeh and broth or water in a pot, and brring to a boil. Cook 1 minute.

    Reduce heat to low and add diced onion; salt and pepper to taste.  Cover pot and simmer for 25-30 minutes or until desired tenderness is reached.

    While the freekeh cooks, prepare the butternut squash in a bowl with olive oil.  Spread squash on a foil-lined cookie sheet.  Bake at 400 for 20 minutes or until tender, but not soft.

    Finally, stir cooked butternut squash and cranberries into freekeh.  If desired, top with chopped nuts.

    Mediterranean freekeh

    Ingredients:

    • 2 cups cracked freekeh.
    • 5 cups water or broth.
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil.
    • 1 red onion, diced.
    • 2 sweet red peppers, diced.
    • 4 garlic cloves, crushed.
    • 10 – 12 mushrooms, chopped.
    • 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped.
    • 1 bag baby spinach, about 4 cups.
    • 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled.
    • pinch cayenne pepper.
    • salt & pepper to taste.

    Combine freekeh and 5 cups of water or broth and bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute.  Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 25 – 30 minutes.

    While freekeh is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet, saute onion, garlic, mushrooms and peppers for 6 – 8 minutes, or until just tender.  Add in sun-dried tomatoes and spinach; saute briefly, just until spinach is slightly wilted but still bright green.

    When the freekeh has finished cooking, add in your vegetable mixture and feta cheese, stirring to combine.  Season to taste and serve warm or at room temperature.

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