Before getting to the many health benefits of rye, let’s first learn a little more about this all-important grain. Rye is a grain adapted well to Northern Europe’s cold lands. It is more impervious to weeds and cold than wheat, so its cultivation does not require much attention. Nevertheless, it has a downside: it is easily attacked by ergot, a toxic fungus that produces the alkaloid ergotamine. Fortuitously, there are accessible means in innovative agriculture to inhibit ergot.
World rye production is nearly 37 million metric tons, some sixteen times less than that of wheat. However, every year there is less. Unfortunately, Northern Europeans are eating white bread, which is softer but less healthful and reduces rye use.
Rye Nutritional Facts
Rye is similar to wheat in comparison but with more proteins and fiber. Its energy content is also identical to wheat. Although it lacks provitamin A, vitamin C, and B12, as do all grains, it has a good proportion of other nutrients, except fats and calcium, which are not as abundant as others:
Carbohydrate – These form most of the grain (55.2 percent) with starch granules in the rye, more than other grains, encapsulated in cellulose. This makes rye digestion slower, thus releasing the glucose molecules little by little. Because of this, rye does not provoke sudden increases in blood glucose levels; it is satiating and well tolerated by people with diabetes.
Proteins – Rye is quite protein-rich (14.8 percent); for example, higher than wheat (10.4 percent), although it contains less glutelin and gliadin, proteins that form gluten. Because of this, rye bread is heavier than bread made from wheat flour. As in other grains, rye proteins are deficient in the essential amino acid lysine, which is a quality-limiting factor. Because of this, rye should be combined with legumes or dairy products, which are lysine-rich. Thanks to this supplementation, the quality of the proteins in rye and other grains is increased.
Vitamins – Rye is a good source of vitamins B1, B2, B6, E, niacin, and folates. Since it lacks provitamin A and vitamin C, rye should be combined with fresh fruits and vegetables that are rich in these vitamins.
Minerals – Rye is rich in phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium, and other trace elements. However, it is deficient in calcium, another good reason to eat it with milk or dairy products. Every 100 grams of rye satisfies more than a fourth of the daily need for iron and more than a third of that of magnesium, with virtually no sodium.
Health Benefits of Rye
Rye is as much or more nutritious than wheat, although not as easy to digest. Its use is particularly indicated in these cases:
Arteriosclerosis and coronary heart disease – Rye makes the arterial walls more elastic, the blood more fluid, and it improves circulation. In reality, this prevention of arterial degeneration is a common feature of whole grains, although it seems that rye’s effect is more pronounced.
Rye’s content of antioxidants such as vitamin E and selenium and its high cellulose fiber content partly explains this property. Possibly, rye contains other substances or phytochemicals still not well understood, which may also contribute to preventing arteriosclerosis. Those suffering from arteriosclerosis in any part of the body, particularly in the coronary arteries, which manifests as angina pectoris or heart attack, will benefit from eating rye regularly.
High Blood Pressure – Because of its favorable effect on the arteries and its shallow sodium content, rye also benefits those suffering from hypertension. If rye is eaten as bread, it should be unsalted.
Constipation – Rye’s rich cellulose fiber content, which is primarily insoluble, makes it of value in the diet of those suffering from constipation.
Colon cancer prevention – Besides helping avoid constipation, a colon cancer risk factor, it has been shown that rye bread, more than any other, reduces the concentration of the bile acids, lithocholic acid, and deoxycholic acid in the intestine. These acids, eliminated with the bile, act as carcinogens on the intestinal mucosa, in addition to potentiating other cancer precursors that may be found in the intestine, particularly meat.
In this manner, regular use of rye is highly recommended for those at high colon cancer risk and those who have been operated on to avoid recurrence.
Rye Scientific Facts
- Scientific name: Secale cereale L.
- French: Seigle.
- Spanish: Centeno.
- German: Roggen.
- Description: Fruit of the rye plant, an herb of the botanical family Gramineae. It is believed that rye is derived from the bearded darnel, a grass considered a weed in wheat and barley fields.
- Environment: Rye comes from cold regions of Northern and Eastern Europe. Russia, Poland, and Germany are the primary producing countries. There is historical evidence that rye was already being cultivated in Germany in the fourth century before the birth of Christ.
How to use and Prepare Rye
- Whole grain – Although the outer layer (bran) is very hard, rye may be eaten as flakes by soaking the raw grains to make muesli.
- Cooked – After soaking for several hours, rye may be cooked like rice. It should be cooked in a pressure cooker to keep it from becoming hard.
- Flour – Rye flour is not as gluten-rich as wheat. However, it is still used for bread. Rye bread is denser than wheat since it contains less gluten, and the dough does not rise. Commonly rye flour is mixed with wheat.
- Rye crackers – These are light, crunchy, and very tasty. They are typical of Germany and Scandinavian countries.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Foods and Their Healing Power.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Foods and Their Healing Power. Trans. Annette Melgosa. Vol. 2. Chai Wan: Editorial Safeliz, 2005. 116, 117. Print.