Zoe Blarowski October 19, 2015
Sorghum is the fifth most commonly grown grain crop in the world after wheat, rice, corn and barley. But this tasty, gluten free grain often gets overlooked in many Western countries. Sorghum has many health benefits that make it worth including in your diet.
There are over 30 different species of sorghum native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world. The majority are used to feed animals or get processed into secondary products like alcohol and sorghum syrup. Very few varieties are harvested for human consumption.
1. High Nutritional Value
Sorghum has a whopping 22 grams of protein in a 1 cup (192 gram) serving of the cooked, whole grain. A woman’s daily recommended protein intake is 46 grams and a man’s is 56 grams. On average, that means sorghum contains 43 percent of your daily protein intake.
One serving also contains 47 percent of your daily recommended iron and 55 percent of your phosphorus intake. It’s also a good source of magnesium, copper, calcium, zinc and potassium.
A serving of sorghum also contains around 30 percent of your recommended intake of both niacin and thiamin. These two B-vitamins help us to metabolize and properly absorb carbohydrates and nutrients.
2. Rich in Antioxidants
Sorghum contains a wide variety of beneficial phytochemicals that act as antioxidants in the body, such as tannins, phenolic acids, anthocyanins, phytosterols and policosanols.
In fact, the bran layer of sorghum has significantly higher amounts of antioxidants than fruits such as blueberries, strawberries and plums.
Antioxidants help to slow down aging, and antioxidant-rich foods have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, type II diabetes and some neurological diseases.
Many studies indicate that whole grain consumption significantly lowers mortality from cardiovascular disease, and antioxidant phytochemicals are believed to be the main reason. They have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol and prevent arterial clotting.
3. Improves Digestive Health
Sorghum is one of the best sources available for dietary fiber. One serving contains 48 percent of your daily recommended intake of fiber.
Fiber is vital for overall digestive function. It keeps your digestive tract moving and of course prevents constipation. But it also helps to regulate blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and prevent diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, gallstones and kidney stones.
4. Inhibits Cancer
Certain phytochemicals in sorghum have also been shown to have cancer-inhibiting properties, particularly in gastrointestinal and skin cancers.
Studies have shown that sorghum consumption is linked to lower incidences of esophageal cancer globally, including parts of Africa, Russia, India, China and Iran. Wheat and corn consumption have been linked to elevated rates of esophageal cancer.
Whole grains in general are correlated with reduced risks of other forms of digestive tract cancer, especially colon cancer. It is unknown if this is due to the phytochemicals or dietary fiber in grains, but as sorghum is high in both, it would certainly provide the same benefits as other grains.
Sorghum is safe to eat for those with Celiac disease. The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry published a study that analyzed the genome of sorghum to determine if it contained any gluten proteins. They confirmed that gluten is absent in all varieties of sorghum.
6. Currently Non-Genetically Modified
Another benefit of sorghum is that it’s a non-genetically modified crop.
Although, the company DuPont Pioneer is working to develop a genetically modified (GM) variety.
Most plant genetic engineering to date has been to improve a crop’s herbicide tolerance and resistance to pests. DuPont is working on a new type of genetic engineering to enhance the micronutrient content of sorghum. Their goal is to develop a “biofortified” strain of sorghum with higher vitamin A, more easily absorbed iron and zinc, and an improved balance of amino acids. They have already grown trial GM sorghum crops in Africa.
GM sorghum is not grown in North America yet, but always buy certified organic sorghum products when you can find them. This will ensure there is no GM material present, as well as avoiding harmful pesticide residues.
7. Many Uses
Sorghum is a very versatile grain. It is best eaten in its whole grain form to get the most nutrition. It can be prepared similar to rice.
Try soaking whole sorghum for 8 hours or overnight to first break down the enzymes and make it more digestible. Then boil it in three times as much water for about an hour or until tender. It can also be cooked in a rice steamer or slow cooker.
Sorghum flour is becoming a popular gluten-free substitute for wheat flour in baked goods. Make sure you buy the whole grain form of sorghum flour, which is simply the whole grains ground into flour. Refined sorghum flour is also available, but like most refined products, the nutrient content is reduced.
In some countries, sorghum is eaten as porridge or boiled directly into various dishes. The Ethiopian bread injera can be made from sorghum, as well as many gluten-free beers and even biofuels.
As its popularity rises, sorghum is becoming much more common in grocery stores and markets. It’s definitely a grain that deserves a place at our tables.