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The grain rye is a member of the wheat family. It has a richer taste than oats or must other cereal grains.

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What it is

Rye is a drought-resistant, winter cereal grass grown as a cereal crop. The rye grain resembles wheat but is longer and finer, actually being closely related to wheat and barley. The rye grains range in color from gray-green to yellow-brown, they are generally used whole or cracked, as flour or as flakes. In the flaked form they resemble oats.

Rye is extremely important, particularly to European and Asian cultures. In western cultures rye is use more as a health food, as animal feed and for the production of spirits. Rye bread is now known throughout the world for its strong health properties. Due to the difficulty in separating the germ and bran from the grain, rye flour usually will retain many of its nutrients in the processing, unlike wheat flour that has been refined.

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What is in it

Rye is an excellent source or manganese and good source of fiber, selenium, phosphorus, protein and magnesium. Rye also contains lignan phytonutrients. 

Rye has a lower gluten content then wheat and contains a higher proportion of soluble fiber.

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What it is good for

• Strengthens the liver, gall bladder and spleen-pancreas
• Helps prevent gall stones
• Clears liver stagnation
• Reduces damp and watery conditions
• Increases strength and endurance
• Strengthens the heart 
• Protects against heart disease
• Helps muscle formation
• Cleans and renews arteries
• Aids hair, bone and nail growth
• Helps reduce the risk of diabetes
• Promotes weight loss

Eating the raw, sprouted grain or soaked flakes release it fluorine, this will strengthen tooth enamel

Rye broth or congee can be used to treat migraine headache.

Rye is good in a cold harsh climate.

Rye is a very hard grain. It is ideally suited to the making of sourdough bread. The process adds a sour taste to its already bitter flavor, which makes it even more effective for the liver.

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When you get it

Rye is a winter crop but like most grains it is available in markets all year.

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Which to select

Use only whole grain rye products as they still have the bran and germ intact. Use the most fresh products possible. Once the grains have been processed they will begin to degrade.

Rye grains can usually be bought packages or in bulk containers. For the freshest product buy grains that are stored well in sealed airtight containers in markets or shops with good turnover. Be sure that there is no evidence of moisture or mold. 

Buy only organic grains as poisons and toxins seem to concentrate in the grains of cereal grasses.

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Where to store

Store rye in a well-sealed container away from light and heat. If stored correctly they can keep well for up to 1 year. Once they have been cooked, store them in a sealed container in the refrigerator where they will keep for a few days keep for a few days.

Flour and other ground products should be produces as close as possible to the time it is needed. Once milled it should be stored in the refrigerator.

If stored well, the whole grains should keep for up to one year and the flour or rolled grains for several months.

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How to use

Rinse the rye berries (grains) well in running water as you do for all grains, to remove any dirt. Add one part whole rye to two and a half parts of boiling water, return to the boil with a pinch and salt then reduce to a simmer and cook for a further 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

To produce a softer cooked grain texture you can soak the berries overnight as you do for legumes. 

As rye contains less gluten than wheat it is less elastic and does not hold as much air in the rising process. This leads to a bread that is heavier and denser than wheat breads. Rye flour is most often made as a sourdough bread that is a tradition of Eastern Europe.

To cook rye flakes, add 1 part flakes to 3 parts water, bring to the boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes, until the flakes are soft and tender to bite, having absorbed all the water.

• A good alternative to oats and other breakfast cereals
• Use cooked whole berries as an alternative to rice
• Use rye bread instead of wheat 
• Add up to half rye flour as a substitute for wheat to make a healthy variation to your favorite bread, muffin or pancake recipe.

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How much you need

To reach your health goals and become healthy the most important step is to eat a well balanced diet of food from across all the food groups. 

This list is of recommended daily amount of each food group for an average person 19 to 50 years old with a low level of exercise (30minutes of less a day). If you are older you may need a little less, if you are younger, a little more and if you are very active even more food should be eaten. For more information on serving sizes see our special feature on Sizing Up A Serve.
Servings per food group:
• Whole Grains (Carbohydrates):  6 – 8 
• Meat and beans (Protein):  1 – 2 
• High quality fats: 1
• Dairy:     2 – 3
• Fruit: 2
• Vegetables: 5
• Water: 6


A serving of carbohydrates should contain about 15 grams of carbohydrates.

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Things to watch out for

 Rye is a gluten grain as are wheat, barley and oats. In the case of a wheat allergy, it may be best to eliminate all these gluten grains from the diet initially. Some practitioners recommend this particularly for people with gluten allergies. You may want to experiment with the reintroduction of rye as it affects the body differently and may in fact be tolerated, offering the body many nutritional benefits.

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The Journal of Nutrition – The American Society for Nutrition,, retrieved 05/2009.

Wikipedia,,  retrieved 02/2009.

Hallmans G, Zhang JX, Lundin E, Stattin P, Johansson A, Johansson I, Hultén K, Winkvist A, Aman P, Lenner P, Adlercreutz H., Rye, lignans and human health,, retrieved 02/2009.

Prepared by the editors at Harvard Health Publications in consultation with Meir J. Stampfer, M.D., Dr.P.H., Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition, Vitamins and Minerals: What you need to know,  Harvard School of Public Health, 2008.

Bratman, Steven, and David Kroll. Natural Health Bible. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1999.

Paul Pitchford. Healing with whole food, North Atlantic Books, 2002.

Goldman L, Ausiello D. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders, 2004.

Norton Greenberger M.D. and Roanne Weisman, 4 Weeks to Healthy Digestion, Harvard School of Public Health. (2008)

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