We often hear of the benefits of whole grains as part of a healthy, well-balanced diet.
Unlike refined grains, which have been processed to remove the hull and bran portion of the grain and are often ground or milled down, stripping away many of the nutrients, whole grains are eaten in their natural state with all parts of the grain.
Popular whole grains include whole wheat, whole oats, brown rice, quinoa, and bulgur. Although not as well-known as many whole grains, another nutritious ancient whole grain is freekeh. But, what is freekeh?
Freekeh has a deliciously nutty taste and is packed with nutrients such as protein, fiber, and several essential vitamins.
In this article, we will introduce the mighty cereal grain called freekeh, and discuss freekeh nutrition and benefits and workable freekeh substitutes.
We will cover:
- What Is Freekeh?
- Freekeh Nutrition Facts
- Health Benefits of Freekeh
- 5 Workable Freekeh Substitutes for Different Diets and Needs
Let’s jump in!
What Is Freekeh?
Freekeh is an ancient grain made from green durum wheat used in dishes from a variety of cuisines, though it is particularly common in Middle Eastern dishes.
It is a versatile cereal grain like quinoa, has more of a nutty flavor than many cereal grains, and is packed with nutrients such as protein, fiber, and manganese.
Freekeh Nutrition Facts
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the following are some of the main nutrition facts for a 1/4 -cup (40-gram) serving of freekeh:
- Calories: 141
- Fat: 1.8 grams
- Carbohydrates: 24 grams
- Fiber: 4.5 grams (18% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Protein: 5 grams
- Manganese: 60% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 20% of the DV
- Niacin: 14% of the DV
- Magnesium: 13% of the DV
- Copper: 11% of the DV
- Zinc: 11% of the DV
- Vitamin B6: 9% of the DV
Health Benefits of Freekeh
Eating any whole grain can provide numerous benefits due to the complex carbohydrates and vitamins and minerals. Some of the top benefits of freekeh include the following:
#1: Freekeh Is a Good Source of Fiber
One of these top assets of the freekeh nutritional profile is the high fiber content.
Freekeh provides 4.5 grams of fiber in just a 1/4 cup (40-gram) serving, which is nearly 20% of the daily value.
Fiber is a component of complex carbohydrates that provides numerous health benefits including feeding the beneficial bacteria in the gut, improving digestion, increasing feelings of satiety and reducing appetite, and bulking up stool to promote bowel regularity.
Studies also suggest that high-fiber diets help reduce the risk of various diseases, including heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and inflammatory bowel diseases.
Fiber has also been shown to reduce cholesterol levels.
#2: Freekeh May Improve Heart Health and Reduce the Risk of Diabetes
The nutrient profile of freekeh makes it a great food for supporting heart health.
For example, freekeh is a fantastic source of manganese, providing 60% of the daily value in just a quarter cup.
Manganese is a mineral that has antioxidant properties in the body. It has been shown to reduce inflammation and combat the deleterious effects of free radicals.
Because chronic, low-grade inflammation and oxidative damage often underpin heart disease, consuming more manganese can potentially help reduce your disease risk.
Manganese has also been shown to decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Freekeh also is a good source of magnesium, another mineral shown to confer protective effects against heart disease. There is about 13% of the daily value of magnesium in a 1/4 cup (40-gram) serving of freekeh.
Moreover, as mentioned, freekeh is a good source of fiber. Fiber has been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol levels and help prevent the buildup of atherosclerotic plaques in the arteries.
Overall, studies have shown that diets high in whole grains, such as freekeh, are associated with reducing the risk of certain risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure and chronic inflammation, and reducing the risk of certain cancers.
#3: Freekeh Can Help Support a Healthy Weight
Although your weight loss results will depend on your overall diet and the relationship between the number of calories you consume versus the number of calories you burn, certain foods can be better for supporting weight loss or healthy weight management by promoting satiety.
For example, studies have found that people who consume more whole grains seem to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference relative to those who eat fewer whole grains.
Of course, this is only indicative of a correlation and not a causation, but it may indicate that eating whole grains can help support a healthier body weight.
The freekeh nutrition profile may help promote a healthy weight because this whole grain is high in fiber and protein, two nutrients that have been shown to increase feelings of fullness and help manage appetite levels.
There’s also some evidence to suggest that a high-protein intake may help provide a slight metabolic boost to help you burn more calories.
Because fiber slows the passage of your digestive tract, it can increase feelings of fullness and can delay the reappearance of hunger after eating between meals.
Furthermore, studies have found that fiber may promote weight loss, even in the absence of other dietary changes. Therefore, adding high-fiber foods, such as freekeh, may help support your weight goals.
Workable Freekeh Substitutes for Different Diets and Needs
Although freekeh is a nutritious and versatile whole grain, it is not gluten-free.
Like wheat, rye, and barley, freekeh contains gluten, making it unsuitable for people who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
In these cases, if you’re following a recipe that calls for freekeh, you will need a good gluten-free freekeh substitute.
There are other instances where freekeh substitutes are also helpful.
For example, although it’s becoming increasingly easy to find freekeh at regular supermarkets and grocery stores, it’s still not as widely available as some other whole grains.
You may be unable to buy freekeh or do not have it at hand while preparing a dish that calls for it. Lastly, as a whole grain, freekeh is high in carbohydrates.
If you are following a low-carbohydrate diet, such as the keto diet, or a grain-free diet, like the paleo diet or Whole30, you might need a grain-free freekeh substitute.
Here are a few ideas for substitutes for freekeh and workable freekeh alternatives.
One of the best substitutes for freekeh is quinoa, another ancient grain. Although quinoa is technically a seed, it cooks like a grain and has the range and versatility of freekeh.
Ultimately, one of the reasons freekeh is so high in protein is that it contains gluten, the protein found in wheat. However, many people are sensitive to gluten or choose to avoid it because of the potential implications of being an inflammatory food.
If you’re looking for another cereal grain that resembles the taste of freekeh, a good gluten-free freekeh substitute is quinoa.
#2: Cauliflower Rice
Cauliflower rice is a good option if you need a low-carb substitute for freekeh.
You can buy frozen riced cauliflower or make your own using a food processor to buzz the florets into rice-sized pieces.
Cauliflower rice is lower in calories and carbohydrates but also contains less protein than freekeh. You will still get some fiber and vitamin C.
If you don’t have a gluten sensitivity but need another freekeh alternative that’s easier to find, barley is probably the best freekeh substitute in terms of flavor, texture, and nutritional profile.
It has a similar nutty texture and bite to it and has a protein and fiber content on par with the freekeh nutritional profile.
#4: Brown Rice
Another gluten-free freekeh substitute is brown rice. It will have a somewhat less smokey and nutty flavor and a bit less protein and fiber. However, brown rice is inexpensive, readily available, and naturally gluten-free.
#5: Whole Wheat Couscous
If you’re on a time crunch and looking for a freekeh alternative that cooks faster, whole wheat couscous is a great substitute for freekeh.
You can cook couscous in a matter of minutes once your water is boiling.
Regular white couscous is a refined grain, so you won’t get many of the nutritional benefits of freekeh, but whole wheat couscous will provide some fiber and protein. Keep in mind that, like freekeh, couscous is not gluten-free.
Overall, freekeh is a nutritious and versatile whole grain. However, it’s not suitable for all diets. Fortunately, there are a variety of gluten-free substitutes for freekeh.
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