Interesting Facts About Rye: A Nutritious and Useful Grain
An Interesting Grain
Wheat is the most common grain in many North American families while rice is the runner-up. Many other tasty and healthy grains are available in stores, however, including rye. Rye is a grain that definitely deserves people's attention. It's very popular in some parts of the world, where it replaces wheat as the primary grain in people's diet. Rye is more flavorful than wheat and may have some interesting health benefits.
Rye is sold as kernels (or berries), flakes, and a flour. The products most commonly made from the grain, at least in my part of the world, are bread and crispbread. Rye bread comes in a dark version and a light one. The dark bread is made from the whole grain. It has a dense texture and an assertive taste, which some people love. The light bread is made from kernels that have had their outer layer (or bran) removed. It sometimes contains refined wheat as well. It has a lighter color and texture and a gentler taste than the dark product.
Interestingly, some researchers have found that even light rye may have health benefits. The whole grain product appears to be healthier, but it's worth investigating both types.
Rye and Its Uses
Rye is grown extensively in eastern and northern Europe and is a popular grain in these areas. It's also grown in Canada and the United States. It tolerates poorer soils than wheat and is also more resistant to drought and frost. The kernels or berries range in color from yellow-brown to green-grey, depending on the variety of the plant.
In North America, rye bread and crispbread are found in many food stores. Crispbread is a thin, dry product that resembles a cracker. Like the bread, the crispbread comes in light and dark varieties.
A special type of dark rye bread is pumpernickel bread. Traditional pumpernickel bread is made from a coarse, whole grain rye flour or meal as well as kernels of the grain. It's a sourdough product that is slowly fermented with a natural yeast culture that is maintained at the bakery. The bread is thought to have originated in Germany.
Pumpernickel bread bought in many stores may not be traditional. It sometimes contains molasses to make it look dark and may contain wheat flour as well as rye. It may also be made with a commercial yeast. Some people prefer the lighter taste of this modified bread. It can still be nutritious, depending on how much rye it contains.
Rye kernels can be boiled in water to make a nourishing breakfast. Flakes are quicker to cook when someone is in a rush in the morning, though. The cooked kernels can also be added to the main course of a meal. They are good in soups, stews, casseroles, and stuffing. Kernels can be ground at home to make fresh flour.
Rye is also used to make alcoholic beverages, including beer, whisky, and vodka. Both the grain and the green plant are used as food for farm animals.
Possible Health Benefits of Rye
White or refined grains are lighter in color than whole grains because the dark, outer layer of bran has been removed. Researchers know that white wheat is less healthy for us than whole grain wheat. "The whiter the bread, the sooner you're dead" is a popular saying amongst people concerned about nutrition. The situation may not be so simple with respect to rye, however. White rye may have benefits that white wheat lacks.
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have made some interesting discoveries with respect to rye and health.
- The researchers fed people either white rye or a combination of white wheat and rye bran. The people who ate white rye experienced a better blood insulin and blood sugar level than the people fed wheat and bran.
- The researchers also found that white rye bread or whole grain rye porridge gave people a better feeling of satiety (fullness) than white wheat bread. Rye porridge produced the best effect.
- Another discovery was that people who ate boiled rye kernels for breakfast not only felt fuller than people who ate white wheat bread but also ate 16% less for lunch in terms of energy intake.
- Another researcher fed mice either whole grain wheat or whole grain rye for six months. The mice that were fed wheat gained "significantly" more weight than the mice fed rye. The research may or may not apply to humans.
While the research described above is interesting, it would be nice to see it confirmed by other scientists. Whole grain rye certainly seems to be a healthy grain. The points that need to be confirmed are whether it has benefits that other whole grains lack and whether white rye has benefits that white wheat lacks.
A Rye Poll
Do you eat rye (either dark or light)?
Whole grain rye contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, which each have their own benefits. It's also a good source of vitamins and minerals.
Insoluble fiber is located mainly in the bran of a grain. This type of fiber bulks up the stool and speeds its passage through the intestine, preventing constipation. It may also reduce the incidence of colon cancer, although this hasn't been proved. Many surveys show that people who follow a diet high in insoluble fiber have a lower risk of colon cancer, but some show no link between the two factors. Rye's insoluble fiber is partially degraded by bacteria living in the large intestine, providing compounds which are thought to be beneficial for our health.
Soluble fiber forms a gel when it joins with water in the small intestine. This gel has been shown to reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood. It also improves the blood glucose (or blood sugar) level.
Vitamins and Minerals
Whole grain rye is an excellent source of manganese. It's also a very good source of selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and copper. The grain contains a significant quantity of iron as well. It's a good source of B vitamins (except for vitamin B12, which isn't present in plants), and contains vitamins K and E.
Rye contains gluten and must never be eaten by someone with celiac disease, even if the grain has been sprouted.
Rye contains gluten and isn't safe for people who have celiac disease. When people with this disease eat or drink a product containing gluten, the villi on the lining of their small intestine are damaged or destroyed. Villi are tiny folds that increase the surface area for nutrient absorption. Without villi, the body can't obtain enough nutrients.
Gluten is a protein composite found in modern wheat and its relatives, including spelt, kamut, emmer, and einkorn. It's also present in barley, rye, and triticale. Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye. The gluten in wheat makes bread dough elastic and gives the baked bread a light, springy texture. The gluten in rye has a different composition from wheat gluten, but it's still dangerous for people who have celiac disease.
Dark Rye or Light Rye?
If you eat rye, do you prefer dark rye or light rye?
Adding the Grain to Your Diet
Rye flakes cook quickly. You may not find them in a supermarket or a regular grocery store. I get mine from a health food market. You could mix the flakes with rolled oats in the proportion that suits your taste buds. Adding milk (dairy or non-dairy), fruit, and a sweetener—preferably a healthier one than refined sugar—can make a delicious and nutritious porridge for breakfast.
Light rye bread can be bought in many stores. Dark rye bread and pumpernickel bread are often available in delicatessens, health food markets, and artisan bakeries. Rye crispbread is widely available and is useful for making healthy snacks.
Rye bread is commonly used to make sandwiches with deli meats like ham and corned beef. This might not be a good idea, however. Processed meats are thought to be harmful if they are eaten too often because of the chemicals added to them. Many other sandwich fillings go well with rye bread.
Rye kernels are a great addition to savory meals and are very easy to prepare. They need to cook for forty-five minutes or longer, however. I cook my intact grains in a big batch and then store the unused portions in the refrigerator. I add the cooked grain to my meals over the next few days. Cooked and refrigerated rye stays in good condition for at least four days. I haven't tried keeping it in the refrigerator for any longer than this.
Rye flour is a useful ingredient in a kitchen. It's a great addition to baked goods, either on its own or when it's mixed with another flour. All flour should be stored in a cool place. The best type is made by grinding intact grains at home with a grain mill. Nutrients are lost once intact grains are ground and stored. Hand crank grain mills are cheaper than electric mills and are useful when making small to medium amounts of flour. If a large amount of flour needs to be made, an electric grain mill will be easier to use.
There may be grain growers in your area that grind their own grain. They can be a good source of recently ground flour if you don't grind your own. You may also find a reasonably fresh product at farmers markets and in health food markets. Rye flour in regular stores is still worth buying even if it hasn't been freshly ground.
A Worthy Grain
Rye is a regular part of my diet. I do sometimes eat white rye bread and crispbread and appreciate the health benefits that they may provide. I try to make most of my foods whole grain in the hope of getting even more health benefits, however. I also enjoy the hearty taste of whole grain rye, especially when it's used to make bread. Rye sourdough bread sandwiches with a nutritious and tasty filling can be both healthy and delicious.
- Rye information from Berkeley Wellness (University of California, Berkeley)
- Nutrients in rye from SELF Nutrition Data
- Rye and barley products facilitate blood glucose and appetite regulation from the Medical Xpress news service
- Possible health benefits of rye (with links to scientific abstracts) from the Whole Grains Council
- Facts about whole grains from the Harvard School of Public Health
- Some safe and unsafe whole grains for people with celiac disease from the Mayo Clinic
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2013 Linda Crampton