Bulgur is a special type of whole wheat that is usually made from the hard variety durum, but any wheat can be used to produce it. The grains are cleaned then processed by parboiling or steaming. After drying, they are grounded to the desired size. Alternative names for the product are bulgar, bulghur, or burghul.
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Before the grains are milled, their husk has to be removed. However, since no other processing is involved, eating bulgur is a very healthy way to consume wheat. While not being technically whole wheat, it provides the same amount of nutrients and vitamins. Another advantage is that, unlike whole wheat, bulgur can be cooked easily. It needs around 30 minutes of soaking, since the hard shell is not present. By contrast, whole grains must be kept in water for half a day. You only need between 20 and 30 minutes to cook a bulgur dish.
The Mediterranean basin is believed to be the area where the technique to prepare bulgur from wheat was developed. Bulgur has been a staple food of the Middle East for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Bible's Old Testament as an important food not only for the Hebrews, but for Hittites and Babylonians as well. Starting from at least the year 1000 B.C, bulgur was consumed by other ancient cultures such as the Egyptians or the Romans.
Bulgur is very rich in fibers, like all quality grains, but also a great source for the essential mineral manganese. The complex carbohydrates in its composition are suitable for people who suffer from diabetes, since they are slowly released into the blood stream. Unlike simple carbohydrates such as sugars, it doesn't cause any dangerous spikes in blood glucose or insulin levels. The slow release also prevents obesity because it satisfies hunger for a longer period of time.
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Quality sources of plant proteins are not easy to find and bulgur provides some proteins as amino acids. However, the amount is quite low, so other protein sources are needed for a balanced diet. This is especially important for vegetarians and vegans, who should consume foods such as soy cheese (tofu), beans or lentils.
Bulgur is a great source of B-complex vitamins, especially niacin and thiamine. The body needs thiamine in particular for the nerve and digestive function. The digestion and assimilation of proteins is achieved with the help of niacin. This cereal also supplies riboflavin, iron, zinc and some trace minerals such as selenium or magnesium.
Bulgur is a precooked product, which makes it distinct from other varieties of cracked wheat grains with a similar size. As a result, it is a versatile ingredient that can be prepared very fast, unlike most cereals. Only 10 minutes of boiling are needed for bulgur, comparable to most types of pastas, a lot less than the time required to cook cracked wheat.
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As part of the process of preparation, bulgur can be produced in various sizes: small, medium, coarse and rarely as entire grains. The reason for the various sizes is the different use in recipes. Dessert plates and breakfast dishes are prepared from the fine bulgur. Salads like the traditional Arab tabbouleh, breads, baked products, veggie burgers or stews are made from the medium bulgur. Coarse grains are prepared similar to rice, or in stuffed recipes or casseroles. Whole bulgur is mainly a bakery ingredient but can also be added in cooked dishes or soups.
Bulgur has a special taste, with a delicious nutty flavour. It also has excellent nutritional qualities, supplying B complex vitamins, proteins, iron and magnesium. It is a great choice for diets because a cup of bulgur includes a very low amount of fats but supplies 8 grams of pure fibers. It can be a great replacement for rice in recipes such as casseroles, boosting the amount of nutrients.
It is very easy to include bulgur in your daily diet, which is a great idea for a healthy lifestyle. For example, a cold salad that serves as a side dish can consist of bulgur with tomatoes, scallions, cucumbers, green peppers, fresh herbs and other sliced vegetables, as well as some olive oil, fresh lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. There are many types of such salads, the most famous being tabbouleh, a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine.
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Instead of rice, you can add bulgur to pilaf, stuffed peppers, casseroles, soups or any other hot meal recipes. It can also serve as a binding element in meatloaf and meatballs, replacing bread crumbs or oats.
Dietary fibers are important for human health because they regulate the digestive function and can prevent many of the diseases associated with it, for example constipation, cramping, indigestion or bloating. Fibers optimize digestion in general, which brings multiple benefits such as eliminating high amounts of cholesterol from blood vessels or increasing the quantity of nutrients absorbed from food. Bulgur is a richer fiber source than most types of cereals.
While wheat and sugar consist of carbohydrates with a simple structure, bulgur is made of complex ones that actually contribute to the balance of glucose inside the body. They can prevent the violent swings of blood sugar levels that are the main danger for diabetes patients and control the levels of insulin.
Bulgur provides a mix of essential minerals that have a beneficial effect overall. However, the greatest impact is on the health of bones. In order to maintain a strong structure and prevent diseases like osteoporosis, large quantities of minerals like iron, phosphorus or manganese are needed. A good supply of these nutrients can reduce the bone density loss that comes with aging. Bulgur is one of the best foods for the bones, due to the richness in minerals.
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Bulgur is also a great choice for cardiovascular health, not only due to the fiber content that reduces the build-up of cholesterol with its devastating effects on the heart. It is a rich source of potassium, one of the most effective natural compounds that dilate blood vessels. This mineral decreases blood pressure and reduces the overall strain on the arteries. As a result, bulgur is recommended for the diet of people who suffer from hypertension or other cardiovascular diseases.
This traditional cereal can make the immune system more effective against threats because it is rich in a powerful mix of vitamins and minerals. One of the minerals known to trigger a strong immune response is zinc, which is found in significant amounts in bulgur. One serving supplies around 20% of the daily recommended dose of zinc.
Iron is one of the key elements of the human cardiovascular system, which makes it a very important dietary mineral. Anemia is the scientific name for the condition triggered by a lack of iron, which leads to symptoms like excessive fatigue, weakness, disorientation and digestive issues. Iron is needed for the production of red blood cells, so a lack of it drains our energy by reducing circulation. Bulgur is very rich in iron, with 15% of the recommended daily amount found in a single serving.
Bulgur is a perfect cereal for a balanced diet because it is very low in both fats and calories. It also makes you feel full for a long time, because of the high content of fibers in its composition. This reduces the need for snacks between meals, which are one of the most important root causes for obesity.
Cereals are not a particularly rich source of antioxidants and grains in general tend to have a poor content of such compounds. However, bulgur provides an impressive amount of phytonutrient antioxidants that can neutralize free radicals before these can start an inflammation or the cell mutations that cause cancer. The oxidative stress caused by free radicals is considered to be the trigger for numerous diseases.
This cereal is a good protein source and provides all of the key amino acids required for development and growth. All new cells inside the body, from tissues to blood vessels or bones, are built on a structure of proteins. These building blocks are especially important for a fast recovery after illness or severe injuries and wounds.
Bulgur is also recommended for people who have trouble sleeping, because it provides large amounts of magnesium. This mineral increases the production of some neurotransmitters with a relaxing effect. These can have an overall calming effect on the body, relieving the stress on the nervous system. As a result, sleep lasts a lot longer and provides more rest than normal. Bulgur should be included in the diet of people who suffer from sleep problems like insomnia. The effects can be already noticed after just a few weeks on such a diet.
Another benefit of bulgur is its ability to manage the level of pH in the human body. A diet that includes bulgur will balance acidity and prevent high levels that can be caused by various foods. Processed animal foods or cereals as well as sugar can raise pH to unhealthy levels. A balanced acidity has many advantages, including a superior nutrient absorption and better immunity.
Since bulgur is basically wheat bran, it acts as a great laxative. It normalizes bowel movements and greatly reduces the risk of diseases like piles or constipation. Since the digestive tract becomes more effective, toxins and various waste products are quickly eliminated from the body. Bulgur is a great source of natural fibers, which prevent conditions such as abdominal pain, bloating, excessive gases, nausea and various other diverticular diseases.
Children all over the world commonly suffer from a breathing condition named asthma, which can have very serious symptoms. Scientists have discovered that the risk of asthma in kids can be reduced by 50% by a diet rich in whole cereal grains like bulgur. It provides antioxidants like the vitamins C and E that prevent the airways from becoming too narrow and protect respiratory channels, allowing normal breathing. These effects can also reduce the risk of other respiratory problems, for example bronchial hyper responsiveness (BHR).
Iron is essential for the production of hemoglobin, the protein that ferries oxygen from our lungs to every cell in the body. Bulgur is rich in this key mineral that plays many other roles. It contributes to the health of the immune system and helps regulating body temperature. Foods with a large content of iron, such as bulgur, are recommended for people who have a deficiency of this mineral, which can result in vulnerability to infections and a constant lack of energy.