Is Farro Healthy, Really?
There's zero doubt about it: Whole grains are crazy good for you. But if you're feeling as if you're in a brown rice rut, it might be time to switch up your grain game. Farro is a nutty, hearty wheat that's teeming with complex carbs, fiber, and antioxidants. Ahead, all the farro nutrition and benefits — plus, expert-approved ways to get the most of this grain.
What Is Farro?
Short answer: Farro is a type of wheat. It's known as an ancient grain, aka a grain that's been grown the same way for hundreds of years. And get this: The word "farro" — which is Italian — actually refers to three types of grains: einkorn, spelt, and emmer, according to an article in the Journal of Cereal Science. So, when you buy farro, you could be getting any one of these three grains, but in the U.S., the most commonly found type is emmer wheat, according to Gretchen Zimmermann, R.D., C.D.C.E.S., director of clinical dietetics at Vida Health. For the purpose of this article, "farro" will refer to emmer wheat.
Although farro has been cultivated for centuries, it's recently made a comeback thanks to its excellent nutrient profile, says Nora Saul, R.D., L.D.N., C.D.C.E.S., diabetes clinical lead at Silver Fern Healthcare. For starters, as a whole grain, farro offers complex carbohydrates, including starches — which slowly break down into glucose, providing your body with a steady supply of energy — and fiber — which is essential for healthy digestion, managing cholesterol, and increasing satiety. In fact, farro boasts more fiber than grains such as brown rice and oatmeal, says Saul. And it's loaded with other essential nutrients such as protein, zinc, B vitamins, and magnesium, adds Zimmerman. (Related: The Benefits of Magnesium and How to Get More of It In Your Diet)
Here are the nutrition facts for 100 grams or 1/2 cup of dry (uncooked) whole-grain emmer farro — such as that from Bluebird Grain Farms (Buy It, $27 for two, amazon.com) — according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):
- 362 calories
- 13 grams protein
- 2 grams fat
- 72 grams carbohydrate
- 11 grams fiber
It's worth noting that cooking the grain calls for water or broth. Depending on the type of broth you use (and the exact serving size, which is often less than 100 grams), the final farro nutrition content may differ.
Health Benefits of Farro
Thanks to its well-rounded nutritional resume, farro's certainly worthy of a place in a balanced diet. Need more proof? Then let's dive into the health benefits of farro, according to registered dietitians and research.
Make your next dish extra filling by adding farro, as it's rich in both protein and fiber — two key nutrients for increasing satiety, according to Saul. Protein works by triggering the release of hunger-reducing hormones, such as cholecystokinin and peptide YY, which slow down the movement of food in your gut, according to a 2017 scientific review. Meanwhile, fiber takes a long time to digest, so it keeps you fuller for longer, says Zimmermann. These effects could help support weight management — or simply prevent hunger on those insanely busy days. (Related: 10 Healthy Foods That Fill You Up and Put an End to Hanger)
Supports Healthy Digestion
"Most of the fiber in farro is insoluble," says Saul, which is great news if you tend to feel a little backed up. That's because insoluble fiber bulks up stool and helps stimulate movement in the gastrointestinal tract, which, in turn, can ease constipation and irregular bowel movements, according to the Mayo Clinic. The fiber in farro is also a prebiotic, meaning it feeds the friendly or "good" bacteria in the gut, explains Valerie Agyeman, R.D., founder of Flourish Heights. By fueling the friendly bugs in your belly, the fiber (and thus, farro) can help prevent symptoms of gut dysbiosis (aka an imbalanced gut), including abdominal pain, cramps, and diarrhea.
Staves Off Chronic Diseases
Antioxidants aren't limited to fruits and veggies. Whole grains, such as farro, are also packed with these beneficial molecules. Antioxidants work against oxidative stress by fighting free radicals, which are harmful molecules that can lead to chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers, explains Agyeman. Farro contains "antioxidants such as carotenoids, polyphenols, and selenium," she says, as well as tocotrienols or compounds in the vitamin E family with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, according to a review published in the Journal of Food Science.
Controls Blood Cholesterol
Need another reason to love farro? The ancient grain also contains soluble fiber, a nutrient that helps manage blood cholesterol and, in turn, your heart health. The soluble fiber in farro binds with LDL or "bad" cholesterol in your gut, explains Megan Byrd, R.D., founder of The Oregon Dietitian. From there, fiber and LDL are excreted in your poop, thereby preventing your body from absorbing the "bad" stuff, lowering your blood levels of LDL cholesterol, and helping reduce your risk of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (Related: 15 Incredibly Delicious Foods That Lower Cholesterol)
What's more, "soluble fiber is fermented by bacteria [in your gut]," says Saul. This produces compounds that reduce your body's natural production of cholesterol, thus further contributing to overall cholesterol management and, hopefully, preventing heart disease.
Manages Blood Sugar
When it comes to blood sugar control, refined grains (i.e. pasta, white bread) often get a bad rap because they have minimal fiber and contain simple carbohydrates, which break down quickly and increase blood sugar rapidly. But remember, it's all about the type of grain. Whole grains such as farro are a "great food for those with diabetes or blood glucose issues," shares Byrd. That's because whole grains are full of fiber, which slows down the passage of carbs in the GI tract, notes Saul. In turn, carbs are slowly broken down into glucose, which gradually enters the bloodstream, triggering a steady rise in blood sugar post-meal and preventing those dreaded blood sugar spikes and crashes, says Byrd.
How to Prep and Cook Farro
If you want to start fixing up some farro, you can easily find the grain (which is usually sold raw and dry) at your local supermarket or health food store. It's also available in various forms including whole, semi-pearled, and pearled. Each one contains a different amount of bran or outer part of the grain. (This is the part that contains fiber and B vitamins, according to Colorado State University.) Whole farro, as the name suggests, contains the whole bran, making it the most nutritious. Semi-pearled farro has had the bran partially removed, while pearled farro has had the bran fully removed, says Saul. Despite these differences, all farro tends to taste similarly, though whole farro often has a more firm, chewy texture, according to Byrd.
So, which is the best choice? Well, that depends on your priorities. "If you're looking [for] the most nutrient-dense option, go for the whole farro, which [has] all the nutrients and fiber," suggests Agyeman. But if you're looking to save precious time in the kitchen, choose pearled or semi-pearled farro such as Food to Live Organic Italian Pearled Farro (Buy It, $12, amazon.com).
Regardless of what type of farro you choose, give it a rinse before cooking, says Zimmerman. "A quick rinse under cool, running water prior to cooking [will] remove any hidden debris," and dirt left from the harvesting or manufacturing processes, she notes. As for cooking time? That depends on how much bran the farro contains. Since whole farro has totally-intact bran, it takes longer to cook. But shortening cooking time is easy; simply soak it overnight in water (in a covered container in the fridge) to help kickstart the process of water absorption and breakdown of the bran (to allow for easier digestion), explains Byrd. Pearled and semi-pearled farro have shorter cooking times and don't require pre-soaking.
To cook farro, combine 1 cup dried farro and 2 1/2 cups water or broth in a pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 25 to 40 minutes. The total cooking time will vary by type of farro, so check the package's instructions.
You can also find farro in packaged frozen, pantry meals, and canned soups. These are super convenient when you just can't with cooking, but "make sure to look at the nutrition facts label and avoid high-sodium prepacked meals," advises Byrd. She suggests looking for products that have no more than 500 milligrams of sodium for serving. Try: Alessi Farro with Butternut Squash & Kale (Buy It, $14 for 6, amazon.com).
How to Eat Farro
If you're looking to enjoy farro via homemade dishes, you're in luck. The grain is an "incredibly versatile substitute for more common grains such as oats, rice, quinoa, and couscous," notes Zimmermann. Here are a couple of tasty ways to eat it.
In salads and soups. "Add cooked farro to salads and soups to create a hearty meal," suggests Zimmermann. Try a strawberry basil farro salad for the perfect combo of nutty and sweet flavors. You can also use cooked farro to bulk up canned or homemade soup. (Related: Grain-Based Salads That Seriously Satisfy)
In grain bowls. To make a nutritious grain bowl, "gather your favorite dark leafy greens, vegetables, nuts, and protein and top it off with farro," recommends Agyeman. This option is especially useful for meal prepping; simply cook your farro and protein in advance, then cut up some veggies. When hunger calls, throw together the ingredients in a bowl and dig in.
As breakfast. Sick of oatmeal? Zimmermann recommends turning leftover cooked farro into a satiating breakfast. Try this banana nut breakfast farro recipe by Budget Bytes, which you can customize by adding your fave fruits. (ICYMI earlier, farro offers more fiber than oats. Fiber-rich breakfasts, FTW.)
In veggie burgers. The hearty, chewy texture of farro makes it amazing in plant-based burgers. Make a batch of farro and white bean veggie burgers and eat them throughout the week.