What Grain Is Better For Your Belly? (Hint: It’s Not Quinoa)

What Grain Is Better For Your Belly? (Hint: It’s Not Quinoa)

6 minute read

Can grain cause bloating? It's a common complaint that usually stems from the post-digestive discomfort of consuming thick, doughy breads, deep-dish pizzas, croissants and other delectable pastries, crackers, cookies, cakes, and even those nom-nom croutons atop your side salad.

Bloating is a sign that something not so copacetic is going on internally, in your digestive tract, that is. When your gastrointestinal tract can't accommodate a particular type of food, it may become filled with gas, which causes the tubing to expand, giving your belly the appearance of carrying a small sports ball within. A distended abdomen may be hard to the touch, uncomfortable, and unpleasant all around.

Common culprits of bloating are irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic acid reflux, food allergies, stress, PMS symptoms, lactose (milk sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), wheat, gluten, eggs, and more. With such a list, it's surprising that we ever aren't bloated!

Many grains contain gluten, a classification of seed storage proteins with an elastic-type composition. The most commonly known ones are glutenins and gliadins found in wheat. Other types of protein are secalins, found in rye, and hordeins found in barley. While a serious intolerance to gluten known as celiac disease affects very few people, many people report symptoms in the digestive tract that suggest a sensitivity or a mild intolerance to gluten. Gluten shows up in many foods, and breads and pastas seem to cause the most significant issues for people affected by gluten, perhaps for the amount consumed.

But for those of us who love grains and want to maintain a balanced diet and reap all the benefits of good-for-you-grains, what shall we do? We don't want to kick grains out of the kitchen for good.

You might have caught a previous Priority Chef article, in which we highlighted the five most nutritious grains (see the link above). Our top choice was bulgur––even up against quinoa! Why bulgur? First of all, let's look at what bulgur is and why we selected it as our #1 belly-grain.

What is Bulgur Wheat?

grain bulgur wheat

Bulgur is easily confused with wheat berries and cracked wheat. Sometimes those terms are used synonymously to describe bulgur, but actually, they're slightly different. Bulgur is indeed a cracked wheatberry, but the difference is that it's partially cooked before packaging, a process known as parboiling. Parboiling helps retain key nutrients and cuts back on cooking time, making bulgur more nutritious and quicker to prepare than other wholegrains.

That's right––bulgur is a wholegrain, which means it contains all the original and vital parts of the kernel––the endosperm, germ, and bran. Wholegrains are better for us because they have more fiber and other essential nutrients, such as B vitamins, iron, folate, selenium, potassium and magnesium. In contrast, refined grains contain only the endosperm, and consequently, far fewer nutrients.

How Bulgur Benefits Your Belly

Your gut is home to a LOT of stuff. The belly is the body's energy and metabolic center for feelings, food, hormones, and more that is well beyond the scope of this article. It's the residence for most of our internal organs, which correspond to the body's energy meridians or pathways and emotions. In this central processing place, we produce and hold stress, fear, anger, guilt, joy, and almost the entire spectrum of emotions. It's also the place that guides us throughout life. Indeed, many of us “listen to the gut” when making decisions. It's no wonder we occasionally get crampy, gassy, bloated, loose, or plugged up in this particular area of the body!

But what we eat has a major impact on our gut's manufacturing and processing abilities. Certain nutrients can either help or hinder them. As you might have already experienced, substances like caffeine affect the bladder, stimulating greater output, and the adrenal glands, encouraging the release of stress hormones.

As we learned, grains contain gluten, which is known to create digestive issues for many people. But wait a minute––bulgur is a wholewheat grain, so it too contains gluten. How then is bulgur good for the belly?

Bulgur Contains Less Gluten Than Other Grains

First of all, let's interrupt the idea that gluten is inherent in wheat––it's not. Otherwise, wheatgrass would contain gluten, and it doesn't. Gluten is formed when glutenins and gliadins––the two main proteins comprising gluten––are bonded together through the kneading action of wheat flour with water. Because bulgur is produced from parboiled, cracked, and dehydrated wheat berries, there is no opportunity for gluten to form––until you begin to chew it, that is. Even then, the number of protein chains produced wouldn't be sufficient to make something substantial, like bread. We can conclude then that bulgur contains far less gluten than other grain products that have been manipulated with water. Sprouting rather than boiling bulgur can also reduce the amount of gluten.

Bulgur Contains Resistant Starch

Resistant starch is a prebiotic that serves as a food source to your gut's beneficial bacteria, also known as probiotics, which contribute to a healthy microbiome. The more good gut flora residing in your belly, the better your entire system will be, from brain to bowels (find out how grain affects your brain). That's because they are our body's primary defense against pathogenic bacteria, which can create a whole host of digestive issues. When such digestive issues become problems, other conditions may arise, seemingly unrelated to poor digestion, including weight gain, heart conditions, even psychological issues. As we learned, nearly everything gets processed through the body's main energy center, so whatever you expose it to, expect a similar return.

The beneficial bacteria found in resistant starch alleviate digestive discomfort and keep your gut teeming with "anti-bloat buddies" because of their ability to wipe out the bad guys and reproduce like a couple of healthy rabbits. So a generous spoonful of bulgur beside a salad or mixed into a casserole can keep your digestive system peaceful but primed to fight. 

Bulgur Has A Low GI

The GI or glycemic index of a food is a measure of its impact on blood sugar levels. The higher your blood sugar, the greater your risk for weight gain, especially around the belly, diabetes, and many other adverse health conditions. Examples of high glycemic foods (anything close to 100) are white potatoes, white bread, white rice, very-ripe bananas, and substances that contain refined sugars like candy, cakes, soft drinks, etc. Bulgur has a GI of 48, which is considered low on the GI scale. It contains a good amount of fiber, so it digests more slowly than other grains and doesn't cause a rapid rise in blood sugar.

Say Goodbye To Sport-Ball Belly

To reduce bloating, minimize gas, and feel better in your belly overall, choose grains that are low in gluten, high in resistant starch, and don't cause rapid blood sugar spikes. Bulgur meets all three of those better-belly demands. Plus, it's high in essential micronutrients, flavor, and it's quick to prepare for those busy weekday dinners.

From our kitchen to yours, happy autumn days cooking up a storm of stews, casseroles, salads, soups, and more with bulgur wheat and other good-for-you-grains!

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