Bulgur Wheat: The Better Wheat for Your Belly & More

June 21, 2017
Bulgar wheat - Dr. Axe

Bulgur wheat, sometimes also called cracked wheat, is a lesser-known type of whole wheat durum grain. Compared to refined carbohydrate foods made with enriched or refined wheat, bulgur wheat is a much better source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients.

Bulgur is low in fat, high in minerals like manganese, magnesium and iron, plus it’s a good source of plant-based protein. On top of this, bulgur wheat provides a very good dose of the dietary fiber you need for digestive and heart health — over 25 percent of your daily needs in every one-cup serving!

Epidemiological studies find that whole-grain intake can be protective against health conditions like cancer, heart disease, digestive disorders, diabetes and obesity, which suggests that bulgur wheat can be a part of a healing diet. (1) In addition to vitamins and minerals, whole grains supply important plant-based phytonutrients that lower inflammation and prevent free radical damage. These include compounds such as phytoestrogens like lignans, plant stanols and plant sterols. (2)

As a staple of Indian, Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisines for centuries, bulgur wheat tends to be most well-known in the West as the main ingredient used in tabbouleh. But there are load of ways to use this fast-cooking, versatile grain: in soups, over salads and in whole grain bread, for example.


Bulgur Wheat Benefits — and How Is It Different from Other Wheat Products?

The difference between bulgur and most types of wheat flours used in many packaged products is that bulgur hasn’t been stripped (or “refined) of its bran and germ, which are where many of the nutrients are actually stored within a whole grain. Bulgur is usually sold “parboiled,” which means a very small amount of the grain’s bran is partially removed, but it’s still considered a whole grain by the USDA and the Whole Grains Council.

In the U.S., most carbohydrate foods that are processed and packaged contain “refined” wheat flour, which has a high glycemic load. This type of flour is stripped of its nutrients and is the main ingredient found in most store-bought breads, noodles and pastas, cereals, baked goods, cookies, and cake that can contribute to weight gain. Usually, about 60 percent of the original wheat grain remains intact after processing, while about 40 percent — including the valuable bran and germ — is removed.

This results in a wheat product that’s high in carbohydrates but low in fiber and nutrients. In fact, usually over half of the vitamins — such as thiamine, niacin, vitamin E, phosphorus, iron and folate — are lost during processing. Although some are added back into wheat products (a process known as “enriching”), they’re synthetic nutrients and not equivalent in quantity or quality to the kinds naturally present in unprocessed whole grains.

Even though most people use bulgur wheat and cracked wheat interchangeably, they’re slightly different. Cracked wheat is crushed wheat grain that hasn’t been parboiled. Both types are whole grains and are very similar in terms of the nutrients and fiber they provide, however.


Bulgur Wheat Nutrition Facts

A one-cup serving of cooked bulgur wheat has about: (3)

  • 151 calories
  • 8 grams of fiber
  • 6 grams protein
  • 0.5 grams fat
  • 1 milligram manganese (55 percent)
  • 58 milligrams magnesium (15 percent)
  • 7 milligrams iron (10 percent)
  • 8 milligrams niacin (9 percent)
  • 0.2 milligrams vitamin B6 (8 percent)

One important thing to clarify about bulgur wheat is that it does contain gluten, as all wheat-containing foods do. Gluten — the protein found naturally in all wheat, rye and barley products — can cause digestive issues for many people, especially if they have a compromised digestive system to begin with or poor gut health.

While bulgur wheat is definitely a step up from refined carbohydrates or sugary foods, it’s still best to have in moderation. And if you have a known allergy or gluten sensitivity, you should avoid bulgur wheat altogether and have gluten-free ancient whole grains like quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat or brown rice instead.

Gluten-containing grains should also be avoided if you have leaky gut syndrome or candida since gluten can aggravate these conditions.

 

Bulgur wheat nutrition - Dr. Axe

 


Health Benefits of Bulgur Wheat

1. Protects Heart Health

Studies show that people who consume whole grains like bulgur wheat and eat plenty of fiber are more likely to maintain a healthier weight, cardiovascular health and even live longer. Whole grains are rich in antioxidants, including trace minerals and phenolic compounds that are linked to disease prevention. Fiber-rich bulgur wheat is beneficial for heart health because it helps lower inflammation and can correct high cholesterol levels.

A review of over 66 studies on whole grain consumption and published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that higher whole-grain and high-fiber foods intake was correlated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, weight gain and high cholesterol. Consuming about 48–80 grams of 100 percent whole grains day (or about three to five servings) provided the increased health benefits compared to people who rarely or never ate whole grains. (4)

Some research reveals that people who regularly consume 100 percent whole-grain wheat products obtain higher levels of important heart-healthy nutrients like niacin, vitamin B6 and betaine, which can help lower concentrations of homocysteine in the blood — an indication of lower inflammation levels. High homocysteine is dangerously linked to cardiovascular disease, as well as other chronic conditions brought on by inflammation, including diabetes, arthritis and cognitive decline.

2. Improves Digestion

Bulgur provides a good dose of the fiber you need daily in order to maintain regular bowel movements and detox the body of toxins. Fiber swells up in the digestive track, absorbing water and taking with it waste and excess cholesterol particles.

Many studies show that diets higher in fiber can lead to improved gut and colon health, fewer instances of constipation or other IBS-related symptoms, and a healthier body weight since fiber makes us feel full.

3. Slows Down Absorption of Sugar and Fights Diabetes 

Bulgur wheat has a low score on the glycemic index, especially compared to enriched or refined carbohydrates. Because bulgur contains high levels of fiber, it slows the rate that carbohydrates are digested and blood sugar is released into the bloodstream.

When researchers tested the effects of four grain products on blood sugar levels in diabetic patients, they found that bulgur wheat resulted in the slowest rise in glucose compared to white bread, whole wheat bread and rye bread. (5)

Frequently eating foods made with refined flour, including most breads and pastas found in stores, is linked not only to a higher rate of obesity but also to insulin resistance and a higher risk for diabetes. Switching refined grains for whole grains is one way to start reversing diabetes naturally.

4. Helps You Feel Full and Can Help with Weight Loss

Compared to processed and refined carbohydrates, whole grains like bulgur wheat contain more filling fiber, in addition to more vitamins and minerals that support weight loss. Fiber is actually not absorbable within the body and contributes no carbohydrates or calories to your diet, even though it’s found in carb-containing foods.

Because we can’t digest fiber, it sweeps through our digestive tract and takes up a large amount of space while absorbing water. This gives you the feeling of being satisfied and can help curb cravings and the tendency to overeat. At the same time, the fiber found in bulgur helps balance blood sugar levels, which promotes a more stable appetite and healthier body weight. In fact, a side dish made with bulgur can make a great pre-workout snack or post-workout snack because it provides slow-releasing carbohydrates to support energy.

5. Balances the Body’s pH Level

Whole grains are concentrated sources of fiber in the form of resistant starch and oligosaccharides, which are carbohydrates that escape digestion in the small intestine and are fermented in the gut, producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). These SCFAs help balance the body’s pH level, preventing it from becoming too acidic due to foods like sugar, low-quality animal products and refined grains. (6) They also promote ongoing gut health, which improves immunity and nutrient absorption.

One thing to mention is that some people who react badly to SCFAs or FODMAP grains are likely to experience digestive issues when having bulgur or other wheat grains, so they’ll want to avoid most (if not all) grains to reduce symptoms.

6. Improves Immunity Against Chronic Diseases

Because whole grains provide important nutrients, antioxidants, and mediate insulin and glucose responses, they’re linked with lowering stress levels put on the body that can result in low immunity. The lower glycemic impact of bulgur wheat makes it beneficial over processed grains and sugar-laden products linked to conditions like diabetes, obesity, and the risk of developing cancer.

According to research published in the Journal of Nutrition, a diet rich in whole foods helps act as a natural cancer cure — and whole grains are especially tied to a reduced risk for colon and breast cancer. (7) Bulgur can also improve the health of vital organs including the gut, colon, heart and liver.

7. Supplies Important Vitamins and Minerals

Bulgur is a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron and B vitamins. These essential nutrients are sometimes lacking in a poor diet that’s high in refined carbs but low in whole grains. Iron-rich foods, for example, can act as natural anemia cures, which prevents low energy and weakness due to a lack of oxygen reaching cells.

Magnesium is important for heart health, blood pressure, digestion, muscle repair and preventing high stress levels, aches or pains, and trouble sleeping. B vitamins found in bulgur — like niacin and thiamine — also support a healthy metabolism, sustained energy levels and cognitive function.


History of Bulgur Wheat

Bulgur has been a longtime common ingredient in the Middle East for centuries, such as in Armenian, Syrian, Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese and Turkish cuisines. Additionally, it’s used in many Mediterranean dishes in place of couscous or rice, since they share a similar size and texture.

Bulgur wheat was a popular food in all regions of the Ottoman Empire and areas spanning across ancient Greece and the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, where bulgur is known as Nejd and Al-Hasa, it’s been used to create an ancient recipe called jarish that’s still eaten today.

Similarly, in Turkey bulgur has been a staple ingredient for over a thousand years. It’s commonly used to make pilafs, soups and stocks to create side dishes using available fruits and vegetables, and for serving alongside animal foods in place of bread, rice or other grains. And bulgur has provided nutrients to Indians for many years too, since it’s a base ingredient in many sweet and savory Indian recipes.


How to Buy and Cook Bulgur Wheat

Bulgur can be found in natural food stores, especially Middle Eastern specialty grocers. In some cases, it’s also available in large grocery stores, but check to make sure it hasn’t been stripped of its beneficial bran and germ and that the word “enriched” isn’t included in the ingredient label anywhere.

In the U.S., bulgur is usually produced from white wheat and can be found in four common sizes or “grinds”: fine, medium, coarse and extra coarse. The larger the grains are, the more cooking time required. The kind you want to buy depends on what you will use it for. For example, most hearty pilafs are made with medium, coarse and very coarse bulgur grains, but lighter side dishes like Tabbouleh and kibbe are made with fine bulgur.

As a versatile ingredient that you can use in lots of ways, medium grind usually works well overall. Some people like to use medium-grind bulgur for things like breakfast porridge (in place of oats or cereal) or to add to dense whole-grain breads and other baked goods.

One of the biggest perks of bulgur wheat is that it has a very fast cooking time. In fact, it sometimes doesn’t need much cooking at all, if any, since fine grind bulgur can cook and become fluffy if you just pour boiling water over it (called “reconstituting”). Add boiling water to bulgur, give it a stir and then cover it. Let it sit for about 15 minutes; then drain excess water and fluff with a fork.

If you do want to cook a coarser grind, follow these steps: Combine one part medium or course grind bulgur wheat to three parts water. Bring it to a boil and then let it boil for about seven minutes, stirring occasionally. After seven minutes, remove it from the heat and let it stand for five minutes; then drain the excess water and serve.


Bulgur Wheat Recipes

Never had bulgur wheat before and wondering what it tastes like? Bulgur wheat has a mild, somewhat nutty taste that blends well with many other flavors. It’s a very small grain compared to some others, like rolled oats or buckwheat, but it has a chewy texture and can add bulk to soups, stir fries or pilafs (similar to quinoa or rice).

Try using bulgur in place of other familiar, whole grains in these healthy recipes:

Salad with Bulgur, Dark Cherries and Kale Recipe

Total Time: 50 minutes

Serves: 4

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups pitted and halved dark red cherries
  • 2 cups cooked bulgur wheat
  • 1/2 cup wild rice
  • 1 cup chopped raw kale
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped raw or sprouted nuts — almonds, cashews or pecans
  • Sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Cook bulgur and wild rice separately in two bowls. Rice should be made with 3 cups of water over high heat for 15 minutes.
  2. Bulgur should be combined with 3 cups water and simmered for 7 minutes, then left to sit before fluffing for another 5–7 minutes.
  3. Combine the bulgur and wild rice mixture, vegetables, cherries and nuts in a large bowl.
  4. Whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper, and pour over the salad.

Here are some other ways to use bulgur wheat that you might also want to try:


Are There Any Concerns with Eating Bulgur Wheat?

Bulgur wheat does naturally contain some oxalate compounds, which compared to other grain products are actually present at high levels. Oxalates aren’t harmful to the average healthy person, but they’re capable of increasing the amount of calcium that the body releases in urine, so they can complicate certain kidney diseases like kidney stones.

When researchers for the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry looked at the oxalate levels of different whole grain products, they found that whole wheat durum grains (including bulgur) and wheat flakes and flour contributed high levels of oxalates to the average person’s diet. The higher oxalate content in whole grain than in refined grain cereals suggests that oxalates are mostly located in the outer layers of cereal grains, especially if they’re whole grains that haven’t been processed. (8)

While you shouldn’t avoid all healthy whole foods that contain oxalates (even superfoods like berries or leafy greens contain some), you want to limit the amount of bulgur wheat you eat if you have any condition worsened by oxalates, such as gout or kidney problems. The same goes for gluten found in bulgur; like previously mentioned, avoid bulgur if you have celiac disease, a gluten sensitivity, FODMAP intolerance or leaky gut syndrome.

Read Next: The Next Great ‘Grain’: 24 Millet Recipes


From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.

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