Dr. Sunil - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Sunil

Is Farro Bad For You?

Also Known As: Emmer wheat, hulled wheat



Short answer

Farro, a nutritious ancient grain, is beneficial for most due to its high fiber, protein, and an array of vitamins and minerals that support digestive health, blood sugar management, and may combat oxidative stress. However, it contains gluten, making it unsuitable for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Phytic acid content may reduce mineral absorption, but traditional preparation methods like soaking can reduce this effect. While farro is calorie-dense and may contain heavy metals, diverse and moderate consumption can be part of a balanced diet.



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Long answer

Nutrient Profile of Farro and Its Health Benefits

The ancient grain farro is often lauded for its rich nutrient profile and has been a staple in the Mediterranean diet for centuries. To understand whether it's good or bad for you, it is essential to examine the specific nutrients it contains and the health benefits they may confer. Here, we delve into the specifics of farro's nutritional makeup and explore how these components can positively impact your health.

Firstly, farro is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, which are crucial for sustained energy throughout the day. Unlike simple carbs, complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly, providing a steady release of glucose into your bloodstream, thus helping to maintain stable blood sugar levels.

High in fiber, farro helps promote digestive health. Every 100-gram serving contains about 3.5 grams of fiber, which can improve bowel movements, prevent constipation, and may help in managing weight by increasing the feeling of fullness after meals. Fiber also plays a role in lowering cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Looking into its protein content, farro provides a respectable amount, with roughly 7 grams per 100-gram serving. This makes farro a good addition to vegetarian and vegan diets, where finding adequate sources of protein can sometimes be challenging.

Farro is also rich in vitamins and minerals, packing a punch with nutrients like magnesium, zinc, and some B vitamins. For instance, magnesium is essential for muscle and nerve function, zinc plays a critical role in immune system health, and B vitamins are paramount for energy metabolism and brain health. The presence of these nutrients underscores farro's potential benefits for overall well-being.

  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Supports energy metabolism and nerve function.
  • Iron: Crucial for the formation of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen in the blood.
  • Magnesium: Necessary for muscle and nerve function and bone health.
  • Zinc: Vital for immune function, DNA synthesis, and cellular metabolism.
  • Selenium: A powerful antioxidant that helps protect against oxidative stress and supports immune health.

In addition to its vitamins and minerals, farro contains antioxidants like polyphenols, which are compounds known for their role in reducing inflammation and combating oxidative stress. These antioxidants can contribute to preventing chronic diseases and reducing the effects of aging.

It is also important to mention that farro is a whole grain; thus, it retains all the rich nutrients of its bran, germ, and endosperm layers. Studies suggest that whole grain consumption is associated with a lower risk of several diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and obesity.

One such study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Aune et al., 2016), found that higher intakes of whole grains are correlated with a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease, further underlining farro's potential cardiovascular benefits due to its whole grain status.

While farro’s nutrient profile presents many health benefits, individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid farro since it contains gluten. For those who can include gluten in their diet, farro's inclusion can contribute to a well-rounded, nutrient-dense eating plan.

In conclusion, farro's nutrient profile is a powerhouse of carbohydrates, fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These nutritional elements collectively offer a variety of health benefits that could be advantageous when incorporated as part of a balanced diet. Each nutrient plays a unique role in supporting bodily functions and promoting overall health.

Gluten Content in Farro: Concerns for Celiac and Gluten Sensitivity

Understanding the gluten content in farro is critical for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Farro is a term that refers to a group of three wheat species: spelt (Triticum spelta), emmer (Triticum dicoccum), and einkorn (Triticum monococcum), all of which contain gluten. Consequently, this ancient grain poses a risk for individuals with gluten-related disorders.

For people with celiac disease, an autoimmune condition, the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. Similarly, those with gluten sensitivity may experience symptoms such as bloating, headaches, and fatigue when consuming gluten-containing grains. With farro─being a wheat product─it naturally contains a set of proteins that form gluten, making it unsuitable for those on a strict gluten-free diet.

However, not all gluten-containing foods have the same impact on individuals with sensitivity to gluten. The gluten in farro might be slightly different from that found in common wheat, as ancient grains often have a different protein composition. The relevance of this difference is still a matter of research, and opinions vary among experts.

Listed below are crucial points for those considering the effects of farro's gluten content:

  • Gluten Amount: While the exact gluten content in farro can vary, due to its classification as wheat, it is substantially high in gluten and, therefore, not safe for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
  • Cross-Reactivity: Some individuals with celiac disease may experience cross-reactivity, where the immune system reacts to farro's gluten just as it would to common wheat.
  • Digestibility: It’s often suggested that ancient grains, like farro, may be more easily digested. Nevertheless, this does not diminish the potential harm their gluten content can cause to sensitive individuals.
  • Label Reading: As farro is not a gluten-free grain, individuals with gluten-related disorders must be vigilant in reading food labels to avoid accidental ingestion.

Despite its growing popularity as a nutritious alternative to modern wheat, farro should be approached with caution by those with gluten-related concerns. For gluten-intolerant individuals considering farro as part of their diet, consultation with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian is strongly recommended.

Recent studies like those published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology (2015) reiterate the necessity of maintaining a gluten-free diet for celiac patients, underscoring the importance of avoiding grains like farro. Meanwhile, ongoing research into the varying gluten proteins in ancient grains versus modern wheat may eventually lead to a clearer understanding of their effects on individuals with gluten sensitivity.

For now, the safest course of action is to treat farro as a gluten-containing wheat variety and exclude it from a gluten-free diet. Alternative grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, and millet, which are naturally gluten-free, can be considered as safer options for those affected by gluten's adverse effects.

Anti-nutrient Factors in Farro: Phytic Acid and Digestibility

Farro, an ancient grain treasured for its nutty flavor and high nutrient content, isn't without its caveats. Like many whole grains, farro contains a substance known as phytic acid. Phytic acid is often referred to as an anti-nutrient because it binds essential minerals in the digestive system and can reduce their absorption. Some of the minerals affected include iron, zinc, and calcium.

Studies indicate that the presence of phytic acid in grains and legumes can impact micronutrient intake, particularly in areas where these foods constitute a major part of the diet and dietary mineral deficiencies are more common. However, the mineral-binding effect might not be as concerning in well-balanced diets that include a variety of food groups.

  • Nutrient Binding: Phytic acid can reduce the absorption of minerals, which is significant for individuals relying heavily on grains for nutrition.
  • Impact on Digestion: High-fiber content in farro can be beneficial for digestive health, but it may also lead to bloating and discomfort for some individuals, particularly those not accustomed to fiber-rich diets or with certain gastrointestinal conditions.

It’s essential to understand, however, that the phytic acid in farro doesn't render it a "bad" food. Traditional preparation methods, such as soaking, sprouting, and fermenting, can significantly reduce phytic acid levels. A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that these methods can enhance the bioavailability of minerals by breaking down phytic acid, thereby improving farro's nutritional profile.

Preparation Method Effect on Phytic Acid
Soaking Reduces phytic acid, aids digestion
Sprouting Increases enzymatic activity which breaks down phytic acid
Fermenting Microbial activity further degrades phytic acid

For those concerned with digestive issues, the dietary fiber in farro supports a healthy gut microbiome and promotes regular bowel movements. Nonetheless, the introduction of this wholesome grain into the diet should be gradual to prevent any gastrointestinal upset.

In conclusion, while farro does contain phytic acid, this should not be an immediate cause for alarm. By incorporating a variety of other nutrient-dense foods and employing traditional grain preparation methods, one can mitigate the impact of phytic acid and enjoy the numerous health benefits associated with farro.

Glycemic Index of Farro and Its Impact on Blood Sugar Control

Understanding the glycemic index (GI) of food is crucial in managing blood sugar levels, especially for individuals with diabetes or those watching their carbohydrate intake. The GI is a ranking system that measures how much certain foods raise blood glucose levels within the two hours after consumption. Foods are scored on a scale of 0 to 100, with pure glucose typically used as the reference point at a score of 100. Understanding the GI of farro can help inform dietary choices for better blood sugar control.

Farro is a type of ancient whole grain wheat, typically sold dry and cooked in water until soft, but chewy. It is known to have several health benefits, including lower average glycemic index values when compared to more refined grains:

  • GI of Farro: The exact glycemic index of farro can vary depending on the specific type and how it's prepared, but it generally falls within the range of 40 to 50. This categorizes it as a low-GI food.
  • Whole vs. Refined Grains: Whole grains, like farro, have a lower GI compared to refined grains because they contain more fiber. The fiber in farro slows down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, leading to a gradual rise in blood sugar levels rather than a spike.
  • Impact on Blood Sugar: Due to its low GI, farro is a good carbohydrate choice for maintaining steady blood sugar levels. It may be particularly beneficial for those managing diabetes, insulin resistance, or hypoglycemia.

Several factors can affect the GI of farro, including:

  • Cooking Time: Al dente (firm to the bite) farro has a lower GI than overcooked farro, which can become too soft and thus digest more rapidly, potentially raising blood sugar more quickly.
  • Variety of Farro: Farro comes in three different types – einkorn, emmer, and spelt. Each type has a different fiber content and thus can have a slightly different effect on blood sugar regulation.
  • Processing: Pearled or semi-pearled farro, where part of the bran has been removed, has a higher GI than whole farro.

Scientific research supports the benefits of low-GI foods like farro for blood sugar control. One study suggests that consuming whole grains with a low glycemic index can help maintain healthier blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes (Am J Clin Nutr, 2013). Another research study correlates diets rich in low-GI foods with improved insulin sensitivity (Diabetes Care, 2006).

It's essential for individuals with blood sugar concerns to consult with health care providers or registered dietitians when incorporating new foods into their diet. Farro, with its low GI, can be an excellent addition to a well-rounded diet aimed at blood sugar control. However, it's vital to consider the overall meal composition as protein, fats, and other fibers consumed together with farro can further affect its glycemic impact.

In summary, the low glycemic index of farro makes it an attractive grain choice for those concerned about blood sugar levels. By understanding how GI can impact health, individuals can make informed decisions about integrating farro into their diet for better blood sugar control.

Incorporating Farro into a Balanced Diet: Risks and Rewards

Often lauded for its nutty flavor and satisfying chew, farro is an ancient grain that has re-emerged as a modern-day superfood. However, integrating farro into a balanced diet requires an understanding of both its nutritional benefits and the potential risks associated with its consumption.

Rewards of Adding Farro:

  • High in Nutrients: Farro is rich in fiber, protein, and various vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, zinc, and some B vitamins, which are essential for maintaining overall health.
  • May Improve Digestive Health: Its high fiber content can aid digestion and may help prevent constipation. Fiber also has a prebiotic effect, feeding the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
  • Blood Sugar Management: The grain has a low glycemic index compared to other refined grains, aiding in the control of blood sugar levels and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Antioxidant Properties: Farro contains antioxidants like polyphenols which combat oxidative stress and may reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
  • Weight Management: The fiber and protein content can promote satiety, potentially aiding in weight loss or maintenance.

Risks of Adding Farro:

  • Gluten Content: Farro contains gluten, making it unsuitable for individuals with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
  • Caloric Density: It is relatively high in calories, so portion control is crucial when incorporating it into a diet with weight management goals.
  • Potential Heavy Metals: As with many grains, there is a concern for contamination with heavy metals like cadmium. Choosing organic and well-sourced farro may minimize this risk.
  • Phytic Acid: Contains phytic acid, which can bind to minerals and reduce their absorption. However, soaking or sprouting farro can help reduce phytic acid levels.
  • Allergenic Potential: Some individuals might have allergies to certain grains, including farro. Always monitor for adverse reactions when trying new grains.

It is important to recognize that moderation is key when incorporating any food item into your diet. The rewards of farro are significant and can contribute to a varied and nutrient-dense diet, potentially offering preventative benefits against chronic diseases. If considering farro as a dietary addition, start with small portions and observe how your body reacts, especially if you have sensitivities to gluten or are managing your caloric intake.

Nutritional experts often recommend diversifying grain intake and not relying solely on wheat-based products. Including farro amongst other grains like quinoa, brown rice, and barley can ensure a wider range of nutrients and reduce the dietary monotony that can lull the best of us into repetitive eating patterns.

When preparing farro, pair it with vegetables, lean proteins, or healthy fats to create a balanced meal. Cooking methods such as boiling or steaming are preferred, and adding spices and herbs can enhance the flavor without adding excessive calories or sodium.

In summary, farro offers numerous health benefits but should be consumed thoughtfully, especially by those with certain health conditions. As with any dietary change, consulting with a healthcare professional or a dietitian can provide personalized advice to safely incorporate farro into your diet.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, farro contains iron and can contribute to the iron intake in a plant-based diet. However, because it also contains phytic acid, which can inhibit iron absorption, pairing farro with vitamin C-rich foods or using preparation methods like soaking can help enhance iron bioavailability.

Although ancient grains like farro are sometimes perceived as less allergenic, they still contain gluten, which can cause reactions in people with wheat allergies, celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity. It's essential to be aware of any personal grain allergies and proceed with caution when trying new foods like farro.

Farro can be a nutritious component of a weight management diet due to its high fiber and protein content, which can promote feelings of fullness and may help in reducing overall calorie intake. Portion control is important, as farro is calorie-dense, and it's best to incorporate it as part of a balanced diet.

Farro is a source of complex carbohydrates and may not be suitable for strict low-carb diets. However, due to its fiber content and lower glycemic index, it could fit into a more moderate low-carb diet focused on whole foods. Individuals should consider the portion size and their overall daily carbohydrate goals when including farro.

Ask a question about Farro and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • bloating
  • discomfort
  • gastrointestinal upset

Possible long-term side effects

  • reduced mineral absorption
  • potential nutrient deficiencies

Ingredients to be aware of

  • gluten
  • phytic acid
  • potential heavy metals
  • allergens


  • sustained energy
  • digestive health
  • weight management
  • blood sugar control
  • nutrient-rich

Healthier alternatives

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Bob's Red Mill Farro

  • Organic grain
  • Rich in fiber
  • Non-GMO
  • Pack of 4
  • Heart-healthy
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 12-22-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 12-22-2023

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