Poor barley. In spite of its impressive history as a monetary unit, standard of measure and valuable part of the ancient diet, this delicious, nutrient-dense whole grain is an unglamourous, little-noticed food in comparison. But the benefits of barley are hard to ignore. Besides being packed with nutrients and anti-oxidants, barley is a rich source of fiber, helps stabilize blood glucose levels (great news for diabetics) and lower cholesterol. And some studies have shown that adding barley to the diet will keep you from overeating.

Individuals who ate barley kernels for an evening meal felt fuller for longer than they did when they consumed white wheat bread, according to a small, recent study in the Nutrition Journal. Barley also decreased the participants' free fatty acid levels and inflammatory markers. "Barley has a number of health benefits," says Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, CDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "It's a source of prebiotics that fuel the good bacteria in the gut." And those good bacteria in the digestive tract perform a variety of health-promoting functions, Begun says, so it's crucial to promote their growth.

Barley is also rich in soluble fiber. "And eating soluble fiber can help lower total cholesterol as well as LDL cholesterol," explains Toby Smithson, RDN, LDN, CDE, also a spokesperson for the academy. And since individuals with diabetes have a higher than average risk of cardiovascular disease, it makes sense to consume more heart-healthy foods like barley, he adds.

More Reasons to Enjoy Barley

One of the best reasons to add more barley to your diet is that it has a positive effect on blood sugar. "When people in one study consumed a healthy diet including 18 grams of soluble fiber from barley, they reduced their hemoglobin A1c by 30 percent," Smithson says. (Hemoglobin is the protein in the red blood cells that carries oxygen. A1c is a measure of how much sugar is also being transported. The higher the A1c level, the poorer your sugar control.) "This is like going from a hemoglobin A1c of 8.4 percent, which is high, down to 5.9 percent, a normal level for someone who is not diabetic."

Although barley is a carb-containing food, people with diabetes don't need to avoid it, Smithson explains. It is not gluten-free, however, so should never be consumed by those with celiac disease. Hulled barley, also known as whole-grain barley, is much more nutritious than pearl barley, which has had the bran removed. When barley is husked and ground coarsely, it's known as Scotch barley—the least nutritious option. One-third cup of cooked barley has about 15 grams of carbohydrate (which equals one carbohydrate choice), Smithson says.

Delicious Ways to Eat Barley

With its nutty, chewy taste, it is a very versatile ingredient. It makes a great hot cereal and in flour form, it adds flavor and nutrition to pancakes, breads, and other baked goods, Begun says. Here are four tasty ideas:

1. Barley Salad: Toss cooked barley with halved red and yellow cherry tomatoes, fresh mint, crumbled feta cheese, minced shallots, and a dressing made with red wine vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil.

2. Barley Casserole: Cook barley in chicken broth while you sauté some sliced onions and sliced mushrooms in olive oil. Combine the cooked barley with the vegetables and season with fresh dill, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper.

3. Barley Sauté: Cook barley, then sauté it with chopped garlic, broccoli, and almonds. Season with sherry wine vinegar, smoked paprika, kosher salt, and black pepper. Stir in some baby spinach, if you like.

4. Barley and Rice: Cook brown rice in one pot and barley in another. Stir together, add some roasted cauliflower, and toss with your favorite herbs, plus kosher salt and pepper to taste.

Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, CDN, reviewed this article.




Nutrition Journal
"Effects of indigestible carbohydrates in barley on glucose metabolism, appetite and voluntary food intake over 16 h in healthy adults." author Johansson, Elin V et al
11 April 2013