Quick Tip - Substitute Oatmeal for Buckwheat for a healthier Breakfast

Oats vs Buckwheat

Millions of people around the world start their morning with an oatmeal breakfast, either from steel cut, rolled, or instant oats. It’s easy to see why too. Oatmeal is delicious, fiber dense, and convenient. There’s an even better option out there though, and it’s buckwheat! But what is buckwheat?

Buckwheat, unlike what the name would suggest, is not a type of wheat (in fact it’s not even a type of cereal grain), but instead is a type of flowering plant whose seeds resemble grains, and as such is often referred to as a psuedocereal (like chia seeds and quinoa).

The beauty of buckwheat is the fact that it isn’t a grass. Flowering plants evolved to reproduce and spread with the help of other organisms such as birds, bees, mice, apes, and even humans! As a result, it is rare for flowering plants to have strong defense mechanisms, instead working with animals and insects symbiotically.

Grasses on the other hand have evolved serious defense mechanisms throughout time. The leaf blades of many grasses are hardened with silica (glass) phytoliths (crystals), which discourage grazing animals. You’ve probably have even cut your finger on some sword grass before! Moving closer to the parts we actually eat, the cereal grains, the flowers of grasses are pleasantly referred to as spikelets, and then you have the fibrous chaff surrounding the grain, the hard protective bran shell, and then finally the coveted germ and endosperm, which are the parts of the grain containing starches and nutrients.

Wait, We Eat…Grass?

All those defense mechanisms make digestion of grasses, as well as cereal grains, difficult. In fact, grasses are so hard to digest that a well known grass chomping animal, the cow, has four stomachs. The first three stomachs of a cow help break down the fibrous plant material, and the last stomach more closely resembles ours. Even then, cows are known for their prodigious flatulence. Last I remembered humans don’t have four stomachs, and we certainly can’t digest grains as easily as a cow, which still struggles to digest grains itself.

I explain all this to lay out a rough argument as to why the consumption of cereal grains for humans is not ideal just from an evolutionary standpoint. Other factors apply of course. Like wheat, oats are also a cereal grain, and while a good food option for those that can digest oatmeal, those with weaker digestive systems can experience bloating, indigestion, and loose stool from oatmeal consumption. Here is where Buckwheat comes in.

The Beauty of Buckwheat

 
Cooked Buckwheat vs Cooked Oats

Unlike oats, Buckwheat is much gentler on the digestive system, being easier to digest. Like oats though, it cooks similarly, is equally tasty, and has a nearly identical macronutrient profile. Buckwheat also has the advantage of often being gluten free. Oats, even organic oats, unless specifically stated, contain residual gluten from having been processed on the same machinery as wheat. To anyone with a gluten intolerance or Celiac disease, this “hidden” source of gluten can prove dangerous, wreaking havoc on a digestive system incapable of adequately processing it.

 
 

Buckwheat Macronutrients (100g)

Calories: 343 calories

Fat: 3.4 grams

Carbohydrates: 71.5 grams

Fiber: 10 grams

Protein: 13.3 grams

Oats Macronutrients (100g)

Calories: 379 calories

Fat: 6.5 grams

Carbohydrates: 67.7 grams

Fiber: 10.1 grams

Protein: 13.2 grams

 

For all their differences evolutionary and processing wise, buckwheat and oats have similar macronutrient ratios as seen above. Both buckwheat and oats are a good option when a high carbphydrate meal is needed.

When it comes to micronutrients, Buckwheat has oats beat. For 100 grams of oats vs 100 grams of buckwheat see the nutritional differences below:

 

Vitamins

Buckwheat Oats Greater Than By

Thiamin (mg)

0.1 0.46 360%

Riboflavin (mg)

0.43 0.16 168%

Niacin (mg)

7.02 1.13 521%

Vitamin B6 (mg)

0.21 0.1 110%

Folate (mcg)

30 32 6.6%

Vitamin B12 (mcg)

0 0 --

Pantothenic Acid (mg)

1.23 -- --

Vitamin A (IU)

0 0 --

Vitamin C (mg)

0 0 --

Vitamin D (IU)

0 0 --

Vitamin E (mg)

-- 0.42 --

Vitamin K (mcg)

-- 2.0 --

Minerals

Calcium (mg)

18 52 189%

Iron (mg)

2.2 4.25 93%
Magnesium (mg) 231 138 67%

Phosphorus (mg)

347 410 18%

Potassium (mg)

460 362 27%

Sodium (mg)

1.0 6.0 500%

Zinc (mg)

2.4 3.64 51%

Copper (mg)

1.1 -- --

Manganese (mg)

1.3 -- --

Selenium (mcg)

8.3 -- --
 

Note - Macronutrient and Micronutrient data pulled from the USDA database. Buckwheat Nutritional Facts, Oats Nutritional Facts.

Even though oats have more micronutrients that have greater values than buckwheat (7 vs 5), buckwheat wins on the micronutrients more commonly deficient, and also typically contains way more of that micronutrient. Buckwheat contains 67% more magnesium, magnesium being second most common micronutrient deficiency, and buckwheat also has 27% more potassium, which helps to balance out the sodium/potassium ratio, an important metric of cardiovascular health. Oats do have significantly more calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc than buckwheat, and oats also have more sodium, but in negligible amounts. Buckwheat contains significantly more of the B vitamins riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B6, only containing significantly less thiamin than oats.

Give Buckwheat a Try!

Next time you reach to buy a bag of oats at the grocery story, reach for a bag of buckwheat instead! Try it out and see if you like it flavor wise, and pay attention to your energy levels and digestions after eating it. Worst case you don’t notice any positives eating buckwheat over oats, and best case you improve your digestion and get more of the critical micronutrients that are missing from most modern diets.