Optimize your health with this tasty ancient grain
It would certainly be hard to improve upon farro - one of the first crops ever cultivated and one of the most nourishing and beneficial grains on the planet. Yet, farro is only beginning to achieve popularity in the United States. (As Americans discover its mild, nutty taste and pleasing consistency, this is sure to change.) Read on to see how this ancient grain can benefit your health and taste buds - and why this rising nutritional superstar deserves a place of honor on your table.
Identity crisis? "Farro" refers to more than one grain
The name "farro" refers to three different varieties of wheat grain, which can make things a little confusing. The primary types are einkorn (also known as farro piccolo), emmer (or farro medio - the type commonly sold in American supermarkets), and spelt (farro grande). The second word of each phrase indicates the size of the grain (small, medium, and large) in Italian - in fact, the literal meaning of "farro" in Italian is "ancient wheat grain." If you really want to show that your "farro game" is strong, you could also toss about the scientific names: Triticum monococcum, Triticum dicoccum, and Triticum spelta.
However, things are made less complicated because emmer farro makes up the vast majority of farro you'll find for sale in American supermarkets. For maximum benefit, nutritionists advise unprocessed, whole grain emmer farro, which has not had the bran removed and features the highest amounts of nutrients.
Farro piles on the protein, fiber, and micronutrients
With more protein than rice and more bone-building calcium than quinoa, farro has a superb nutritional profile. It is rich in plant-based protein, with a mere quarter cup of emmer farro containing a hefty 7 grams. When combined with legumes, farro provides all eight essential amino acids, forming a complete source of protein. Farro is also a good source of vitamin B3, or niacin, with a quarter cup containing 20 percent of the RDA for adults. Vitamin B3 helps convert food to energy and provides health bonuses for hair, skin, and eyes.
The same serving of farro contains 15 percent of the RDA for magnesium - needed for a stable heartbeat, normal nerve function, and bone health - and 15 percent for zinc, necessary for immune health. Farro also shines when it comes to fiber content, contributing 7 grams per quarter cup. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 -2025, over 90 percent of females and 97 percent of males don't get enough of this important nutrient.
This is unfortunate, as fiber is the original "overachiever" in promoting overall health and protecting against serious diseases. A diet high in fiber has been linked with a reduced risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer. Fiber-rich farro can also help protect against type 2 diabetes. In fact, a recent study showed that North Dakota emmer farro grains helped to lower blood sugar. In other words, farro serves up a "grand slam" of protection against chronic diseases!
Farro may help you maintain healthy weight
At 200 calories per quarter-cup serving, farro is not a low-calorie food. However, its ample nutrients, pleasing flavor, and ability to satisfy appetite make it a worthy ally on a weight loss journey. Farro can support healthy metabolism by providing fuel for beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. Due to its fiber content, it can help prevent constipation, while its ability to counteract salt means that it can reduce bloat.
And farro's generous amounts of protein can also encourage healthy weight. High protein foods provide long-lasting satisfaction by raising levels of "fullness" hormones, such as leptin, and lowering levels of "hunger" hormones, such as ghrelin. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that overweight women who followed a higher-protein diet for twelve weeks consumed 440 fewer calories daily and lost up to ten pounds. Yet another "plus" for farro is that it is low-fat, low glycemic, and sodium- and sugar-free.
Farro can easily "sub" for rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and refined wheat
Farro is ridiculously simple to cook and easy to incorporate into recipes. After being soaked overnight, it needs only to be simmered in a covered pot for about half an hour, along with your favorite seasonings, spices, and veggies. You can also prepare farro in a rice cooker, following the same technique you would use for rice.
Combine cooked farro with arugula, sliced tomatoes, feta cheese, and walnuts for a "can't-miss" cold summer salad. Or use it to enhance casseroles, soups, and stews. You can even make a tempting breakfast bowl of farro by topping it with fruit, honey, and yogurt.
By the way, farro does contain some gluten, so it's not advised for those who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Remember: opt for organic, whole-grain farro rather than the pearled and semi-pearled varieties, which don't contain all the bran.
Farro has been a treasured staple of the super-healthy Mediterranean diet for thousands of years. It's time to start enjoying some of that farro goodness here in the States!
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