What is rye?

Rye is grain from the wheat family that is grown as grass. It is a cereal grain used as human food like oats. The origin of Rye is said to be Turkey. Subsequently, it was cultivated in many other countries. Rye should not be misunderstood as ryegrass which is a livestock feed.

Cultivators of Rye

Presently Germany is the top producer of rye followed by Poland and Russia. Though Turkey is the origin of the grain, it now produces only a tenth of what Germany produces. However, most of it is consumed by producing countries and world trade in this grain is not much. Poland is the highest consumer of rye in the world.

In contrast to other cereal grains, rye grows in relatively very low-grade soil. It does not need fertile soil and the maintenance is also not very complicated. It is boiled like rice and consumed as whole grain. The flour that is made out of rye is used for making bread, bun or cookies.

Similar to wheat and barley, rye also contains gluten. Persons who are allergic to wheat can use rye as an alternative food. Even though it is closely similar to wheat and barley it is a superior grain in comparison.

Nutrition facts

100gm Rye provides 338 calories of energy, 15gm dietary fiber, 76 gm. of carbohydrate, 510 mg of potassium, 10 gm. protein and 1.6 gm. fat. It contains significant quantities of iron, vitamin B 6 and Magnesium and a small quantity of calcium.  It also contains good quantities of Niacin, phosphorous, riboflavin, vitamin E, vitamin K, and zinc. Though it is a tiny seed, it is heavily loaded with energy, vitamins, and minerals that are highly beneficial to health.

How is rye used?

The whole grain flour is mainly used in the preparation of bread and other bakery foods.  The flour is used to make soft as well as crisp bread. Gluten in rye is split into gliadin and glutenin. Gliadin is water soluble and it makes the bread soft while baking.

Rye bread is prepared by using sourdough starter instead of yeast. Due to this, rye breads have low glycemic index when compared to other white bread on account of which it is more beneficial to diabetic patients.


Health benefits of rye

Apart from being a staple food item, rye provides a number of health benefits. In a nutshell, it enhances the quality of the digestive system, boosts metabolism, induces loss of weight, lowers the blood sugar level and blood pressure, protects the heart and prevents obesity.

Each of the benefit derived from consumption of rye can be elaborately discussed to understand its potential in improving the overall health of the body.

Regulates blood sugar

In comparison with wheat or rice, rye breaks down into sugar very slowly. This character makes it a desirable food for lowering the blood sugar level, particularly in diabetic patients. In addition to this, it prevents spiking of sugar levels as it is composed of larger molecules which do not split up quickly.

Reduces food cravings

Dietary fiber in rye not only regulates the blood sugar levels, it also controls the appetite. When appetite is controlled, craving for frequent eating which is common in diabetics is reduced. Consequently, it provides a solution for obesity largely affecting diabetic patients. Whole grain rye bread is best suited to reduce appetite and to control blood sugar level. Consumption of rye bread keeps hunger away for a relatively longer time when compared to other grains. Sourdough rye bread could improve insulin sensitivity and also the glycemic profiles.

Natural anti-inflammatory food

The anti-inflammatory property of rye is very helpful to people who have metabolic syndrome. Since people who suffer due to inflammation are more at risk of becoming diabetics, combating inflammation is very important.

Aids weight loss

Since it has lesser glycemic index when compared to wheat, it takes time for your body to digest the food completely. Hence rye diet is better suited for diabetics and also for others who are overweight. People who are trying to lose weight and are undergoing a weight loss program, can consume this grain instead of other grains.

It also contains a special type of fiber which binds more effectively with water molecules and gives the stomach the much needed fuller feeling in order to reduce the overall food intake. The thick outer layer of the grain known as bran helps in providing a higher level of satiety which is very important for a person attempting to lose weight. Any weight loss program presupposes reduction of belly fat. With its cholesterol-lowering capacity make the belly fat burn and shed weight significantly.

Improves digestion

Even as it helps weight loss, it improves the digestive system and facilitate easier bowel movement and prevent constipation. It reduces the formation of excess gas and consequent pain in the stomach. When rye is consumed as regular food, gastrointestinal disorders will get reduced and the chances of recurrence is very less.

Regulates bile acids

Both soluble and insoluble fiber present in rye, in the process of improving the digestive system, reduces the flow of bile acids. Such reduction in bile acids prevents formation of gallstones. Particularly the high level of insoluble fiber in rye prevents gallstones. More than in men, it prevents the development of gallstones in women.

Eliminates harmful bacteria

By binding effectively with water, dietary fiber in rye boosts the level of bacteria that are gut-friendly. Rye with its ability to improve the function of digestive tract cleans up the intestines and flushes out harmful bacteria. The twin performance of eliminating harmful bacteria and increasing good bacteria improves the long-term health of the digestive system.

Regulates metabolism

Rye, being prebiotic, enhances the quality of metabolism by down-regulating harmful genes. Harmful genes or bad genes causes many diseases and down-regulating them is a highly significant. Gene development at the earlier stages of life is very much essential for a healthy life and rye is a helpful diet in that direction. Ongoing studies on wheat and rye, indicates that rye provides a relatively better metabolic performance. However, it has not been conclusively established yet. It is opined, that even inherited genes can be down-regulated by the regular consumption of rye. In such a scenario heart diseases attributed to hereditary can be countered.

Prevents cancer

Anti-oxidants and fiber present in rye help in preventing colorectal cancer and prostate cancer. Some studies have expressed the view that it can prevent breast cancer also. Cancer preventing the quality of rye is attributed to the presence of phenolic compounds in it. In addition to this, a lignin in rye balances the estrogen level or counter the excess estrogen and protects the breast from cancer. Pre-menopausal women are vulnerable to breast cancer. Fiber present in the whole grain prevents breast cancer on regular consumption.

Reduces blood pressure and cholesterol

Rich magnesium content in it helps lower the blood pressure. Combined with the fiber present formation of cholesterol is prevented. Since cholesterol and blood pressure is lowered, risks of heart disorders are also reduced. It may be observed that rye is as good as other cereals but the scoring point is the presence of vitamins and other nutrients with little fat. It also prevents blockages in the arteries and prevents strokes and heart attacks.

Presence of phyto-nutrients

Polyphenols, saponins, phytic acids and soluble and insoluble fiber present in rye are the phytonutrients which prevent spreading of cancer cells. This benefit is due to enhancing the metabolic performance and in the process eliminating the harmful free radicals accumulated in the body. Since accumulation of free radicals is the reason for breaking into cancer cells, their elimination through excretion by improving the digestive system is highly beneficial.

Helps alleviate menopausal symptoms

Phytonutrients in it also provide relief from the menopausal disorder. The benefits of this grain for menopausal women are under study and concrete recommendations are yet to emerge. A particular type of lignin present in rye possesses phyto-estrogenic property, which normalizes the estrogenic activity in women. Discomforts like hot flashes occurring due to plummeting of estrogen level are reduced by consumption of rye.

Flushes out toxins

Toxins from the body are speedily eliminated by rye due to its rich fiber content. Excretion of waste from the body is as important as the supply of nutrients.  Rye does both.

Improves bone strength

Presence of calcium, magnesium, manganese and phosphorous strengthens the bones and teeth and keep them healthy.

Cures asthma

Regular consumption whole grain rye helps curing childhood asthma. Anti-oxidants and vitamin C and E in it are responsible for such remedy.

Improves skin health

Rye flour is used as a diet. At the same time, the flour also provides extraordinary benefit to the skin when used as bath powder. It prevents skin wrinkles and scars or blemishes on the skin. It reduces the symptoms of ageing. Zinc, iron, magnesium and calcium in rye are responsible for providing this benefit. Anti-oxidants in it prevents premature ageing.

Improves hair strength

Rye flour can be used as hair shampoo to grow healthy strong and long hair. Just by mixing the flour with water and applying the resultant paste on the head and massaging for a few minutes provides the benefit. Magnesium present in rye is particularly helpful in growing long and strong hair. For skin and hair care, rye and its products must be regularly used.

This can be consumed as whole grain, flour and its preparations and bread.  The sprouted form of the grain is also commonly used. Of all forms, it is the whole grain which is more beneficial to the health of a person. It is because the outer shell of the grain or bran has enormous nutrient value than the polished or processed grain.


It is a gluten grain but with permissible or low glycemic index. Hence people suffering from celiac disease are advised against consumption of rye or its products. People who are intolerant to gluten and who are on a gluten-free diet should not consume rye or its products.

Kripa Sivasubramanian, MBA, earned her Master’s degree in Business. After a long stint in the Technology sector, she took up courses in natural medicine and yoga. Ms. Kripa is certified in Ayurvedic yoga for Dosha. She is also certified by Stanford University School of Medicine in Introduction to Food and Health.