Diet and Nutrition

What Is Farro: Health and Nutrition Benefits

What Is Farro: Health and Nutrition Benefits

What is farro?

Farro an ancient wheat grain, which is also called as emmer. It has been eaten for thousands of years around the world. Its scientific name is Triticum turgidum dicoccum. It is found in a number of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Ethiopian restaurants.

Farro was a popular grain among the poor people in the Fertile Crescent and Ancient Rome. Even royals consumed this grain. Before spreading to Italy, it became popular in Egypt and acquired the name "pharaoh’s wheat". Farro provides proteins, fiber, and nutrients such as iron, zinc, and magnesium.

Like other wheat grains, farro also contains gluten, but there is a huge difference between eating unprocessed wheat grains and refined wheat, which is mostly eaten in the US. Farro is similar to brown rice and has a nutty flavor. It can be substituted for pasta or rice.

Farro is not similar to modern wheat. Actually, they are “hulled wheat”. The hull or husk is retained in the kernel during harvest. Farro contains three-grain varieties: einkorn, spelt, and emmer wheat.

  • Einkorn - It was cultivated 9,000 years ago. Even though it is hardly cropped today, it was the first ever cultivated wheat. It is scientifically known as Triticum monococcum or locally known as farro piccolo.
  • Emmer - It is a minor crop today but 7,000-9,000 years ago, it was cultivated in the Mediterranean basin. This species is known as farro medio and is scientifically known as Triticum dicoccum.
  • Spelt - It started no more than 8,000 years ago. This species is known as farro grande. Its scientific name is Triticum spelta.

In Italy, the most commonly cultivated species is emmer and the primary species of farro in Germany and Switzerland is spelt.

According to studies, it has been found that farro provides the following health benefits:

  • Helps in maintaining a normal body weight and prevents obesity
  • Reduces the chances of stroke by 30 percent and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 20-30 percent.
  • Lowers the risk of heart diseases, high blood pressure, and high blood cholesterol
  • Reduces the risk of inflammatory diseases
  • Helps in reducing the risk of asthma

Nutritional Value of Farro

One-fourth cup of farro (whole grain emmer) contains:

  • 170 calories
  • 34 grams of carbohydrates
  • 6 grams of protein
  • 1 gram fat
  • 5 grams fiber
  • 15 percent magnesium of the RDI
  • 15 percent zinc of the RDI 
  • 4 percent iron of the RDI
  • 20 percent of vitamin B3 (niacin) of the RDI

Compared to the modern strains of wheat, farro can provide twice the amount of fiber and proteins. Fiber helps lower high blood cholesterol levels, boosts immunity, and maintains normal blood sugar levels. Farro is also a great source of vitamins A, B, C, and E, as well as minerals such as zinc, iron, and magnesium.

1. Rich in Antioxidants

Farro contains a rich amount of antioxidants. It contains the antioxidant called lignan, which helps reduce inflammation, increases longevity, and improves heart health. Farro can help boost the immune system and protects the body from free radical damage.

Lignans are non-nutrient, non-caloric phenolic plant and bioactive compounds. Lignans have a protective effect when consumed and metabolized by the intestine. Lignans also help lower:

  • High blood pressure
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol
  • Plasma total cholesterol levels
  • Risk of cardiovascular diseases

The antioxidant effect of farro is also attributed by phytochemicals such as polyphenols, selenium, carotenoids, and tocopherols. Cyanogenic glucosides are present in farro, which stimulate the immune system and lower postprandial blood glucose.

2. Fiber Source

Farro helps avoid hunger pangs by keeping you full for longer. Hence, it is helpful for those who want to lose excess fat. Approximately 10 grams of fiber is present in one cup of farro. It enhances metabolism by boosting the process of digestion. When farro is consumed, complex carbohydrates slowly break down, making the body's energy level stable.

Farro keeps the heart healthy, improves digestion, and prevents blood sugar spike and dips. The high-fiber content of farro helps prevent constipation, curbs hunger pangs, provides a healthy environment in the gut, and clears the buildup of plaque from the arteries.

However, some people are sensitive to gluten that is present in farro. In such cases, gluten-free grains, which are of similar type is a better choice. However, on the positive side, farro contains less gluten compared to modern grains, so it is beneficial for people with any type of intolerance. Since it gets easily digested, and its gluten content is also low, it has been reported that people with gluten intolerance symptoms are able to eat farro. However, it is not recommended to try out since some people are very sensitive even to just small amounts of gluten.

3. Source of Protein

Farro is an excellent source of protein. Farro, when combined with other plant-based foods such as vegetables, can provide a complete source of proteins. The protein obtained from farro is the same as obtained from most legumes, beans, or whole grains.

4. Low in Fat and Calories

Half a cup of cooked farro can provide 100 calories. It can provide you a meal with whole grains and at the same time, keep the calories low. Farro can give people a break from the monotony of oats and regular Cheerios.

One cup of farro contains 2 grams of fat, making it ideal for people who are overweight.

5. Rich in Vitamins and Minerals

  • Iron - prevents anemia, improves the energy of the body, and promotes the regeneration of red blood cells (RBCs).
  • Zinc - is a vital mineral required for proper brain functions, proper functioning of the immune system, growth and development of DNA, and other cellular functions.
  • Magnesium - helps improve sleep, fights against headaches, and helps in the process of digestion. It is also required for the proper functioning of muscles and for keeping the bones strong.

A mineral boost needed by the body can be fulfilled by one cup of farro a day. It also helps treat the symptoms of tension. It eases menstrual cramps because it is rich in magnesium. The body daily needs 20 percent of iron, which can be obtained in a cup of farro. It also contains vitamin B3 (niacin), and zinc. This helps in better immunity and improved cardiovascular health.

  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin) - also helps in breaking down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Vitamin B9 is essential for proper brain health, maintaining the normal function of neurotransmitters, supporting the central nervous system, and to maintain higher energy levels. Farro also provides vitamin B9 and vitamin B2, which is essential for carbohydrate conversion and the development of reproductive capabilities.

One-half cup of uncooked farro wheat contains:

  • 4 mg of niacin
  • 0.2 gram of thiamine
  • 60 mg of magnesium
  • 2 mg of zinc 

Health Benefits

1. Reduces the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Farro is an ideal choice for staple food, especially in people who are diabetic because of its high complex carbohydrate content and low glycemic index load. Fiber helps in controlling carbohydrate digestion and absorption. The rate of stomach emptying, digestion of starch, and glucose absorption are reduced by the fiber content in farro. Type 2 diabetes is prevented by increasing insulin sensitivity in postprandial glucose.

2. Lowers Blood Cholesterol

Farro contains both insoluble and soluble fibers. Soluble fiber reduces LDL, thereby reducing high blood cholesterol. It also interferes with the cholesterol absorption process, and thus, inhibiting its uptake. Half a cup of farro serving contains 7-8 grams of soluble fiber, which is much higher than the amount of fiber obtained from white bread or white rice.

3. Lowers Blood Pressure Levels

As suggested by the general health guideline, a healthy blood pressure is maintained by less sodium intake and more intake of potassium. Farro wheat can fulfill this since it is low in sodium and high in potassium. Potassium lowers the tension in our blood vessels, and thus, lowers blood pressure levels.

4. Lowers the Risk of Heart Disease

Farro contains vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and photochemical, which protect the heart from diseases. By eliminating LDL cholesterol, farro reduces the risk of atherosclerosis. Farro also reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke, and myocardial infarction by preventing oxidation.

5. Improves Blood Circulation

Good circulation of blood in the body enables proper distribution of oxygen, which keeps our body energized. Farro has high iron and copper content, which helps prevent anemia through red blood cell regeneration and improving blood circulation.

6. Relieves Premenstrual Symptoms

In perimenopause, the production of estrogen gradually decreases. In the gut, intestinal bacteria can covert the lignan present in farro into mammal estrogen. Farro alleviates premenopausal symptoms and helps treat the symptoms of menopause.

7. Promotes Healthy Digestion

Whole grains have high fiber content. Hence, they are beneficial to our digestive tract and colon.

Farro also proves to be an excellent laxative, and thus, prevents constipation. Dietary fiber promotes regular bowel movements, increases the capacity of the gut to hold water and contributes to the bulk. All these effects make the stool soft and easy to pass. Bloating stomach, excessive gas, and diarrhea can be relieved by dietary fiber.

Who should avoid farro?

Compared to modern wheat, farro contains less amount of gluten. Many people think that farro is safer for people with gluten issues. For people sensitive to gluten, farro is soaked overnight and sprouted, so that it becomes more tolerable and digestible. However, farro is wheat and it contains gluten. Thus, people with celiac disease should avoid eating it. Studies have not yet seen the effect of farro on gluten-sensitive people, but it is recommended not to try eating it. Hence, farro should be avoided by people with gluten-sensitivity or celiac disease.

Selecting the Best Farro

You can find farro in health stores. Three varieties are available in the stores: whole grain, pearled, and semi-pearled. These varieties are cooked in water until they turn soft and chewy. Choose whole grain farro since it contains fiber and most of the nutrients are retained. In semi-pearled farro, a part of the bran is removed. In the pearled one, the whole bran is removed.

Pearled farro cooks the fastest. Long grain farro takes the most time to cook. They can be cracked and blended, but they provide maximum nutritional benefits. Semi-pearled farro takes around 25 minutes to cook. Pearled farro only takes about 15-20 minutes of cooking.

Adding Farro in the Diet

Including farro in the diet is super easy. It can be eaten the way rice, oat, barley, or quinoa is eaten or it can be added to salads, risotto recipes, casseroles, soups, or stews. It can be eaten as a meal or breakfast. It can also be eaten by combining it with milk, cream, yogurt, honey, or fresh fruit. It can be served in the following ways:

  • Farro salads
  • Butternut squash or farro and kale soup
  • Apple-farro along with cranberries and hazelnut bowl for breakfast
  • A porridge of simple farro and almond 
  • Added to puddings, sweet bread, and mousse