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Bulgur Wheat: The Better Wheat for Your Belly & More

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Bulgur wheat - Dr. Axe

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

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 manganesemagnesium and iron; and 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.


What Is Bulgur Wheat?

Bulgur wheat, sometimes also called cracked wheat, is a lesser-known type of whole wheat product that is usually made from durum wheat grain (Triticum durum).

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. Bulgur is cracked and pre-cooked wheat, as opposed to wheat berries, which are the whole, un-cracked and uncooked wheat.

What are the benefits of bulgur wheat?

In addition to vitamins and minerals, whole grains supply important plant-based antioxidants and phytonutrients, including phenols, hydrophilic compounds and lipophilic compounds that lower inflammation and prevent free radical damage. These include compounds such as phytoestrogens, like lignans, plant stanols and plant sterols. Studies find that whole-grain intake can be protective against health conditions like cancer, heart disease, digestive disorders, diabetes and obesity.

Is bulgur wheat a carb?

Yes it is since it’s a grain (wheat). 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.” This 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 Whole Grains Council.

Varieties

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 bulgur wheat 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 bulgur usually works well overall in recipes. Some people like to use medium-grind bulgur for things like breakfast porridge (in place of oats or cereal) or to make dense whole-grain breads and other baked goods. Instant bulgur wheat is also called fine-grain bulgur and cooks the fastest, usually within about five minutes.

Bulgur Wheat vs. Quinoa

Is bulgur wheat or quinoa healthier?

Quinoa is technically a seed, as opposed to a grain, and is higher in calories, while bulgur is higher in volume and fiber. According to the Whole Grain Council, “Bulgur has more fiber than quinoa, oats, millet, buckwheat or corn. Its quick cooking time and mild flavor make it ideal for those new to whole grain cooking.”

Quinoa is known for being a good source of protein compared to many whole grains, but calorie for calorie these two grains are similar in terms of protein content. Quinoa is gluten-free, while bulgur is not, and it’s a very good source of manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, folate, copper and iron.

Is bulgar wheat high in carbs compared to quinoa?

The two are comparable. They both contain carbs, but when fiber is taken into account, they are only moderately high-carb foods.

What about bulgur wheat vs. rice? Is bulgur better than rice in terms of calories or nutrient content?

Bulgur contains more fiber and protein compared to white rice and brown rice, making it somewhat of a better option. It’s also a bit lower in calories, but brown rice supplies more manganese and selenium.


Bulgur Wheat Nutrition Facts

According to the USDA, below is bulgur wheat nutrition data for a one-cup serving (about 182 grams) of cooked bulgur:

  • 151 calories
  • 33.8 grams carbohydrates
  • 5.6 grams protein
  • 0.4 grams fat
  • 8.2 grams fiber
  • 1.1 milligrams manganese (55 percent DV)
  • 58.2 milligrams magnesium (15 percent DV)
  • 1.7 milligrams iron (10 percent DV)
  • 1.8 milligrams niacin (9 percent DV)
  • 0.2 milligrams vitamin B6 (8 percent DV)
  • 32.8 micrograms folate (8 percent DV)
  • 72.8 milligrams phosphorus (7 percent DV)
  • 0.1 milligrams thiamine (7 percent DV)
  • 1 milligram zinc (7 percent DV)
  • 0.1 milligrams copper (7 percent DV)
  • 0.6 milligrams pantothenic acid (6 percent DV)

In addition, bulgur wheat nutrition includes some vitamin K, riboflavin, choline, betaine, calcium, potassium and selenium.

Is bulgur wheat gluten-free? Does bulgur wheat have gluten, and can people with celiacs eat bulgur?

Bulgur wheat does contain gluten, as all wheat-containing foods do. Gluten — the protein found naturally in all wheat, rye and barley grain products — can cause serious allergic reactions among people with celiac disease and digestive issues for some others, especially those who have a compromised digestive system 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. If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you should avoid bulgur wheat altogether and have gluten-free ancient whole grains like quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat or brown rice instead.


7 Bulgur Wheat Benefits

1. Protects Heart Health

Studies show that people who consume fiber, including from 100 percent whole grains like bulgur wheat, are more likely to maintain a healthier weight, cardiovascular health and even live longer. Whole grains provide certain antioxidants, 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 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.

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. These 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 movement. Fiber swells up in the gastrointestinal tract, 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 you 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.

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

Is bulgur wheat good for 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 may support weight loss.

Can you eat bulgur wheat on a low-carb diet?

It depends how low-carb you intend to be. For example, if you plan to follow a very low-carb keto diet, bulgur probably doesn’t fit. However, small portions of bulgur may sill fit into a moderately low-carb diet.

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 the digestive tract and takes up a large amount of space while absorbing water. This gives us 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 meal because it provides slow-releasing carbohydrates to support energy.

5. Supports Gut Heath

Whole grains are concentrated sources of fiber in the form of resistant starch and oligosaccharides. These are carbohydrates that escape digestion in the small intestine and are fermented in the gut, producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). Research shows 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. 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, such as stomach bloating, 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 may help naturally fight cancer — and whole grains are especially tied to a reduced risk for colon cancer and breast cancer. 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 treatments, 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.


Side Effects and Interactions

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 looked at the oxalate levels of different whole grain products in a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, they found that whole wheat durum grains (including bulgur), 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.

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.


How to Cook and Store It

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.

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.

How to Make Bulgur Wheat

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 finely ground 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.

Do you have to wash bulgur before cooking? No, in fact it’s recommended that you do not wash or rinse bulgur before cooking, and when cooking, avoid lifting the lid.

Storing Bulgar

  • How long is bulgur good for? You can store dry/uncooked bulgur in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about sixe months. Bulgur contains some natural oils that tend to go bad if placed in warm areas of the kitchen, so keep it dry and cool.
  • How long is cooked bulgur good for? In the refrigerator, cooked bulgur will usually keep about five days or so. You can also freeze cooked bulgur, which will keep it fresh for about six to 12 months.
  • Can bulgur go bad? Yes, it will start to go bad after about five to seven days in the refrigerator or if it’s stored in a warm place for too long.

Bulgur Wheat Substitutes

Keep in mind that bulgur is 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. Some of the best bulgur wheat substitutes include cracked wheat, whole wheat couscous or quinoa. You can also try millet or teff, which have a different taste but similar size and texture.


Bulgur Wheat Recipes

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.

In Turkey, bulgur has been a staple ingredient for over a thousand years. It’s commonly used to make bulgur wheat pilaf, 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. Bulgur has provided nutrients to Indians for many years too, since it’s a base ingredient in many sweet and savory Indian recipes.

You can also use bulgur in place of other familiar, whole grains. Here are some healthy bulgur wheat recipes to try:


Final Thoughts

  • Bulgur wheat, sometimes also called cracked wheat, is a lesser-known type of whole wheat durum grain.
  • Why is bulgur wheat healthy? It’s a great source of fiber, plant-based protein, manganese, magnesium, iron and B vitamins. Studies find that whole-grain intake can be protective against health conditions like cancer, heart disease, digestive disorders, diabetes and obesity.
  • Here’s the bottom line on bulgur wheat vs. quinoa: The two are similar in terms of protein and carb content, while bulgur is a bit lower calorie and higher in fiber. They can be used mostly interchangeably since they have a similar size, taste and texture.
  • One of the biggest perks of bulgur wheat is that it has a very fast cooking time. Here’s how to cook bulgur wheat: 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.

Read Next: Wheat Bran Nutrition: Add It or Avoid It?

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