Could Rye Be Better Than Whole Grain?

Conventional wisdom tells us whole grains are healthier than refined grains, because an intact kernel of wheat, barley, rye or oat still harbors the fibrous bran and vitamin-rich germ in its outer layers. When grains are milled to make refined white flours, the outer layers come off and these valuable nutrients are lost. But when Swedish researchers picked apart a grain of rye, they found that what's on the inside is just as good for you as what's on the outside.

Nutritionists at Lund University found that study participants who ate bread made with refined white rye flour had better blood sugar and insulin control immediately after a meal than those who ate bread made with a combination of refined wheat (all-purpose white) flour and rye bran. This came as a surprise because bran is one of the components of whole grains that helps prevent spikes in blood sugar after a meal that includes bread or other grain products.

This small study was part of a larger effort on the part of the European Union known as the HealthGrain Integrated Project. The purpose of the HealthGrain project is to discover which components of whole grains grown in Europe are most healthful and useful for preventing chronic disease, and then incorporate more of these components into grain foods produced and sold throughout the continent.

Rye is a high-protein grain that is rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. In fact, dark, or "whole" rye flour has twice as much of the same nutrients as whole-wheat flour and retains many of those nutrients even after milling. What rye flour lacks, however, is gluten, a specific type of structural protein that helps lightens the texture of baked goods. In Germany and Eastern European countries, where coarsely textured breads are more acceptable, rye is one of the most popular bread grains and is used to make dark, dense loaves of both rye and pumpernickel bread.

In the United States, however, most of the rye bread we eat is made with a combination of refined rye flour and refined wheat flour. It's a ratio that results in a loaf that has more flavor and texture than regular white bread but is still more mild in flavor and lighter in texture than a typical European loaf of rye. The findings of the Lund study, which confirm the results of earlier European and American studies linking rye grain to better blood sugar control, suggests that both types of rye bread confer important health benefits. Because there are many different varieties of rye grain, however, more research is needed before anyone can say for sure if one loaf of rye is as healthful as the next.



Science Daily: White Rye Bread Healthier Than Whole Wheat?


Health Grain Project


The World's Healthiest Foods: Rye