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Orzo – Health Benefits and Adverse Effects

Orzo, also known as Risoni in Italian, stands for “big rice”. The scientific name for orzo is (Hordeum vulgare). People in Greece widely accept it. In Italy, people generally use it in soups. However, orzo is a lesser-known pasta consumed in many Western countries. 

The pasta requires either semolina or whole grains as the main ingredient. Orzo is often mistaken for natural grains since it looks like rice. However, it is simply a cut pasta shaped like small rice grains. Orzo is currently emerging as an excellent choice for pasta lovers. It is prevalent because it gets readily absorbed by the liquid. The whole grain version of orzo can be extremely healthy and provide several health benefits for the body. Since pasta is super easy to make, orzo goes with any veggie or protein. Therefore, you can make countless healthy recipes using orzo as the primary ingredient.

Nutritional Properties of Orzo

As per the USDA, 100 grams of orzo contains the following nutrients:

Energy: 357 kcalCarbohydrates: 78.57 gFat: 1.79 gProtein: 5.36 gFibre: 1.8 gIron: 0.64 g

The HealthifyMe Note: 

Orzo has a high carbohydrate content. It has about 78-85g of carbohydrates per 100g. The second highest nutritional content of orzo is protein. Orzo is a versatile product that you can eat with other protein sources. Orzo has a trace amount of dietary fibre, which can be highly beneficial for the body. 

Health Benefits of Orzo

Orzo is not regular pasta. While refined flour pasta can be unhealthy for the body, whole grains orzo benefits the body in numerous ways. Here are some excellent health benefits associated with orzo. 

Relieves Constipation

Dietary fibre is essential for people who suffer from constipation. Several studies have proved that dietary fibre can help improve bowel movement and relieve discomfort from irritable bowel syndrome. 

Relieves Fatigue and Exhaustion

Carbohydrates form an essential source of energy for our bodies. The carbohydrate we consume gets converted into glucose in our bodies. Glucose then helps produce ATP, which helps in metabolism functions. Orzo contains approximately 78g of carbohydrates per 100g. Therefore, orzo can be an excellent solution for fatigue and exhaustion. 

Dietary fibre is extremely useful in promoting body metabolism. It facilitates easy absorption of nutrients by the body, promotes the formation of gut hormones, and helps in the easy passage of stool. All these functions of dietary fibre help to boost body metabolism. Carbohydrates, too, can be highly beneficial for improving body metabolism. Carbs act as an energy source for the body and provide resistant starch, significantly facilitating body metabolism. Orzo is rich in both fibre and carbs. Therefore, orzo can help boost body metabolism.

Aids Tissue and Muscle Growth

Proteins play an essential role in promoting healthy muscle growth. Since most of the human body has protein, it also helps repair tissues and promotes overall growth. Orzo is a pasta which has a high protein content. Therefore, it can help people develop healthy muscle growth and increase their overall strength if consumed with other protein-rich nutritional foods. Underweight people will find this muscle weight extremely beneficial. 

Prevents Overeating and Helps Lose Weight

Orzo made with brown rice may assist in weight loss. The benefits of brown rice are no secret. Its dietary carbohydrate-rich properties can give people a sense of fullness. Protein also makes people lose their appetite and make them feel full. In addition, protein is responsible for decreasing the hunger hormone ghrelin, which regulates appetite. 

Orzo has a rich carbs and protein content in it. Therefore, Orzo can help control overeating by reducing your hunger and desire for food. It, in turn, prevents you from gaining extra weight from excess food.

The HealthifyMe Note

Since orzo is a whole grain pasta, it offers a few health benefits. However, these health benefits make it better than other regular pasta. However, to make an orzo meal nutritious, combine it with healthy and nutritious foods like vegetables, chicken, etc. 

Some Healthy Recipes Using Orzo

Chicken and Orzo Soup

This orzo recipe is the perfect meal for winter. The warmth of the soup with carrots and leeks will help you stay cosy from within. You can substitute the chicken with some green veggies for a vegetarian or vegan recipe.

Serving Size: 4 – 6 

Total Time: 55 mins

Ingredients

Orzo: 2 cups Olive oil: 1 tbspCarrots: 4 pieces (thinly sliced)Celery stalks: 3 stalks (cut into small pieces)Leeks: 2 pieces (chopped)Kosher salt: As per taste Fresh thyme: 2-3 twigs (leaves chopped)Lemon zest: 4 strips Lemon juice: 1 tspBay leaves: 2Chicken breasts: 4 (bone-in, skin-on)Low-sodium chicken broth: 2 qt.

Method

Pour olive oil into a vessel and heat it on medium heat. Add carrots, celery and leeks and salt to the same vessel. Cook and stir for 5 minutes till the leeks soften.Add the thyme, lemon zest, bay leaves and chicken to the pot. Pour in the broth and 475ml of water. Bring all the ingredients to a simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes until the chicken is tender.Take out the chicken and remove all bones. Then, cut it into bite-sized pieces. Simmer the soup and add the orzo. Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes till the orzo is tender. Remove the soup from the oven and discard the lemon zest and bay leaves. Add the chicken and sprinkle some salt on top.

Vegan Orzo with Spinach and Roasted Red Peppers

This vegan Orzo recipe is super easy to make, and you can prepare it quickly. 

Serving Size: 4 

Total Time: 15 minutes 

Ingredients 

Whole wheat orzo: 1 ½ cupExtra virgin olive oil: 1 tsp Roasted red peppers: ½ cup (diced)Garlic: 1 clove (minced)Baby spinach: ¼ cup (chopped)Fresh basil: 4 leaves (chopped)Kosher salt: As per taste Freshly ground black pepper: As per tasteBalsamic vinegar: 1 tbsp 

Method 

In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.Now put the roasted red peppers and garlic in the pan.Stir fry the veggies for 2 minutes.Add the orzo, spinach, basil, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar into the saucepan and heat through.Remove the pan from the stove and set it aside to cool slightly. Serve in small bowls or plates. 

This Orzo Salad recipe will be ideal for morning breakfast and brunch. It contains fresh fruit, which adds to the meal’s overall nutrient value.

Serving Size: 3-4

Total Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients

Whole wheat orzo pasta: 2 ½ cups Raw almonds: 1 tspParsley: 2 tbsp (chopped)Olives: 2 tsp (halved)Green onion: 2 pieces (chopped)Raisins: 2 tspOrange zest: 1 tspFresh-squeezed orange juice: 1 tspExtra-virgin olive oil: 1 tspWhite wine vinegar: 1 tbspGarlic: 1 clove (minced)Salt: As per taste Pepper: As per taste (ground or powdered)

Method 

Boil a pot of salt water. Add the orzo and cook till it has softened. Drain the pasta but save around 10ml of the pasta water.  Run the orzo through normal water to cool it down.Toast the almonds in a pan over medium heat. Stir till they brown slightly. Transfer the almonds to a cutting board and chop them.Add the cooked orzo, chopped almonds, parsley, olives, green onion, and raisins to a large mixing bowl.In a small bowl, pour the orange zest, orange juice, olive oil, vinegar, garlic and salt. Add the reserved pasta cooking water, and whisk until blended.Combine the dry and wet ingredients and mix. Serve in a salad bowl.

The uncooked orzo should be kept in an airtight container in a dry, cool place. The cooked orzo should be refrigerated and consumed within a week. However, it is best to consume cooked orzo within 3-4 days. 

Possible Adverse Effects

Orzo can be harmful to some people, and you must consume it wisely to avoid any side effects. Here is a list of adverse effects which can negatively affect one’s health. 

Gluten Allergy

Orzo is a guilt-free pasta, but it’s not always free from gluten. Orzo, from semolina flour or whole grains, contains a considerable amount of gluten. Therefore, people who have celiac disease and gluten allergy or simply do not consume any gluten should avoid consuming orzo made from such flour.

Not Keto Friendly

Orzo is full of carbohydrates. However, people who take keto-friendly diets tend to avoid consuming too many carbs since they want to burn their body fat. Therefore, people on keto diets should avoid having orzo for meals.

Flour Versions can be Unhealthy.

While orzo is made from whole grains and refined flour, all flour versions are not very healthy. All-purpose flour, as we all know, contributes to cholesterol, fatty liver, and related diseases. Therefore, you must avoid orzo made from all-purpose flour.

Summary 

If made with whole grain, orzo is the new way to enjoy your favourite pasta dishes without worrying about calories, fats, and sugars. The rich protein and carb content will help people maintain a healthy diet. Orzo also has impressive health benefits that can help heal various diseases and ailments. You can easily incorporate orzo pasta into multiple dishes like salads, snacks, casseroles, one-pot meals, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. Is orzo better for you than rice?

A. Rice and orzo contain a significant amount of nutrients like protein and carbs; orzo has a higher concentration of these two nutrients. These nutrients help replenish the body’s energy and heal the tissues from within. Therefore, a higher concentration of this makes orzo the better option. Additionally, it has more dietary fibre, which can help digestion and passage of stool. 

Q. Is orzo good for weight loss?

A. People who gain weight rapidly should always avoid overeating fatty food. Orzo might be a good option for them. However, you must keep in mind that orzo is also rich in carbohydrates; too many servings of the pasta can hinder weight loss plans. Therefore, people who want to consume orzo to lose weight should eat it in moderation.

Q. Is orzo anti-inflammatory?

A. There is no adequate research to show that orzo has anti-inflammatory properties. However, the dietary fibre in whole grains helps reduce inflammation and provides relief from related diseases. Therefore, orzo made from whole grains may have some anti-inflammatory functions.

Q. Is orzo healthier than brown rice?

A. Orzo has a higher concentration of calories, carbs, and protein. It also contains way less fat than brown rice. However, brown rice has a nutrient-dense composition. Given all these facts, brown rice is better and healthier than orzo. 

Q. Can I have orzo on keto?

A. Orzo has a very high carbohydrate content. People who follow keto diets avoid consuming too many carbohydrates since it prevents fat burning. Therefore, it is unsuitable for keto diets. Whole grain orzo has a lesser amount of carbohydrates as compared to the white flour version. 

Q. Is orzo part of the Mediterranean diet?

A. Mediterranean diets primarily include fresh fruits and vegetables along with whole grains and organic meats. Orzo made from whole grains can be included as a part of the Mediterranean diet as it’s made from the right ingredients and is not heavily processed. However, orzo made from refined flour cannot be a part of Mediterranean diets.

Q. How many calories are in raw orzo?

A. Raw orzo does not contain a lot of calories. The general calorie count of orzo depends on the brand and ingredients used to make it. The whole grains version of orzo is a healthy option with fewer calories ranging from 300-375 kcal per 100g. However, refined flour orzo can have a higher calorie count than whole grain. 

Q. Does orzo contain gluten?

A. Orzo is made from either whole grains or refined flour. Both these base ingredients contain a considerable amount of gluten. Therefore, people with celiac disease and gluten allergies should not consume orzo. People who follow a gluten-free diet should also avoid using this pasta.

Q. Is orzo a starch?

A. Orzo might be confused like rice, but it is pasta. Though it does not provide much starch like rice and potatoes, orzo does contain fair traces of starch. The whole grains version of orzo can have a moderate starch content like any other rice grains.

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