Bulgur is a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine, traditionally used to make pilaf and tabbouleh. This chewy grain is made by parboiling, drying, cracking and milling wheat berries, or whole wheat kernels. Its mild flavor, nutty taste and short cooking time makes this nutrient-rich grain a popular and versatile addition to the diet. Whole grains such as bulgur also have numerous health benefits, and play a role in preventing and managing several health conditions.
The benefits of bulgur start with the known nutrient profile of this grain. Bulgur is a product of wheat, and 1 cup of cooked bulgur contains about 150 calories, 6 grams of protein, 34 grams of total carbohydrates and an impressive 8 grams of dietary fiber. This whole grain is also naturally low in fat and sodium, cholesterol free, and a good source of the minerals iron, magnesium and manganese.
In addition, bulgur is rich source of antioxidants and phenols, a group of protective plant compounds. Bulgur is convenient to make since its preparation simply requires soaking in warm water. Available in fine, medium and coarse grain, bulgur is a tasty and nutritious addition to soups and salads, and works well in pilaf recipes and whole grain salads.
Whole grains, including bulgur, are rich sources of dietary fiber, oligosaccharides and resistant starch -- all important substances for gut health. Most of the fiber found in bulgur is insoluble, which increases stool bulk and helps to speed transit of stool through the intestines. Whole grains, with the help of adequate fluids, work to soften stools and prevent constipation.
The oligosaccharides and resistant starch found in bulgur are carbohydrates that resist digestion and act as prebiotics, enhancing the growth and activity of the health-promoting bacteria in the gut. Research also demonstrates that a healthy gut microbiome has a profound impact on health and can improve immunity, decrease inflammation and improve metabolic processes in the body.
Diabetes and Weight Benefits
Whole grains, including whole wheat and bulgur, are linked to improved blood sugar control, a benefit in part associated with their slower digestion, which leads to a slower rise in blood sugar after meals. Whole grains and other high fiber foods also improve blood sugar control by enhancing the action of insulin and favorably impacting gut health. Whole grains also improve fullness after meals, helping to control appetite.
A meta-analysis published in the July 2016 issue of Circulation reported that 2 to 3 daily servings of whole grains reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 21 to 32 percent, and another research review linked 3 to 5 daily servings of whole grains to improved blood sugar and cholesterol -- and to less weight gain over 8 to 13 years. One serving of whole grains may be 1/2 cup cooked bulgur, 1 slice of whole wheat bread, or 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal.
Impact on Chronic Disease
Consumption of whole grains such as bulgur is also associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and a reduction in all cause mortality, or the overall risk of death. A meta-analysis of several studies demonstrated that 2.5 daily servings of whole grains reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease, compared those eating less than 1/2 serving daily.
Whole grains, including bulgur, are also linked to improved blood pressure readings and a reduced risk of cancer. In addition to benefits to gut health, blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and weight, bulgur and other whole wheat foods contain antioxidants, nutrients and other protective plant chemicals that promote health by protecting the body from damage.
While bulgur is considered a nutritious and healthful food, not everyone should consume this whole grain. For instance, anyone with a wheat allergy should avoid bulgur. In addition, bulgur is a source of gluten, so anyone with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity will need to choose gluten-free options instead. If you have been told to restrict dietary fiber, also discuss the use of bulgur with your doctor or dietitian.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Bulgar, Cooked
- International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition: Bioactive Healthy Components of Bulgur
- Journal of Translational Medicine: Influence of Diet on the Gut Microbiome and Implications for Human Health
- Nutrition Research Reviews: Whole Grains and Human Health
- Food and Energy Security: The Contribution of Wheat to Human Diet and Health
- Circulation: Whole Grain Intake and Mortality from All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies
- The Journal of Nutrition: Greater Whole-Grain Intake Is Associated with Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Weight Gain