In the recent years, the health food trends have been pushing their focus on whole grains such as oats, brown rice, wild rice and quinoa but the super grain barley has not got the attention it deserves. The dietary guidelines in Canada and other countries have recommended consuming whole grains such as oats, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa and barley to reduce the risk of heart disease and other diet related diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cancers. Still it seems that most of the consumers are not aware of barley’s amazing health benefits and nutritive value compared to other whole grains.
Do you know that Barley is the third largest crop grown in Canada after wheat and canola and is considered as Canada’s newest home grown super food? It is an excellent source for high fibre and is loaded with vitamins and minerals, including thiamin, niacin, folate, riboflavin, iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc and selenium. B vitamins, copper, chromium, and antioxidants to boost immunity. It is low in fat, sodium and sugar.
Barley and Oats
Barley has more total fibre than oatmeal, brown rice, whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat couscous, quinoa and spelt. The total fibre content in one-cup serving of cooked pearled barley is 6 g compared to cooked oat meal which has 4 g of total fibre. The soluble fibre called beta glucan is 2.5 – 3 g per cup while in oats it is 1.5 gm. The national fibre recommendations are 30 to 38 grams a day for men and 25 grams a day for women between 18 and 50 years old, and 21 grams a day if a woman is 51 and older. Another general guideline is to get 14 grams of fibre for every 1,000 calories in your diet.
Health Canada approves Barley health claim
“Dr. Nancy Ames, a research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada, spent more than 15 years working with barley breeders, producers and industry associations to understand its health benefits and to bring barley and barley products to the Canadian market.’Our primary motivation was to be able to educate consumers,’ said Ames. ‘If we have a health claim and can prove that barley is good for you, then it’s better for our whole health-care system.’ In 2009, she and her research team began an in-depth review and statistical analysis of all the scientific studies that related barley and health. They used this information to support their petition to Health Canada to officially recognize the health benefits of barley. In July 2012, Health Canada accepted the application after reviewing the clinical trials and peer-reviewed papers as summarized by Dr.Ames and approved the health claim which states that “eating barley helps to reduce cholesterol a risk factor for heart disease.” ( Source )
How much beta glucan intake to lower cholesterol
A daily intake of a minimum of 3 g of beta-glucan from barley grain products resulted in a physiologically relevant LDL cholesterol lowering comparable to the LDL cholesterol lowering effect of oat beta-glucan. According to Dr. Ames at least 3 g of the beta-glucan fibre which is present at high levels in Barley should be consumed in order to see the health benefit. It has shown to reduce cholesterol in people who consumed at least 3g of beta glucan fibre per day. One cup serving of cooked pearl barley contains a total fibre of 6 g out of which you get 3 g of beta glucan.
Barley’s high fibre lowers cholesterol
Barley is a great source of high fibre both soluble and insoluble. The dietary fibre which is high in beta glucan helps the growth of friendly bacteria in the stomach, lowers the cholesterol levels by binding itself to bile acids (which are manufactured by the liver from cholesterol) and removing them from the body via the feces. When they are excreted the liver has to manufacture new bile acids and uses up more cholesterol which is again eliminated from the body thus lowering the amount of cholesterol in the body.
In a study conducted on 25 individuals of high cholesterol (published in the clinical journal of American nutrition), adding barley to the American heart association Step1 diet resulted in a significant lowering in total cholesterol as well as LDL cholesterol in all subjects. An intake of 3 g of beta glucan per day can lower blood cholesterol levels by 5%.
Barley prevents type 2 diabetes
Barley is low on the glycemic index, therefore helps in slow absorption of sugar and reduces insulin and glucose responses in the body. A study published by the Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice journal found that there was a 30 percent decrease in blood glucose levels of people (with type 2 diabetes) who consumed a healthy diet including barley which provided them 18 grams of soluble fibre beta glucan per day. In another study conducted by the Agricultural Research Service at the Diet and Human Performance Laboratory in Beltsville, MD it was found that barley was much more effective in reducing both glucose and insulin responses than oats. By including barley in your diet, type 2 diabetes can not only be controlled but also reversed. For more detailed information refer here
Another interesting fact is that Barley’s fibre content (its soluble fiber beta glucan) is found through out the entire barley kernel unlike the other grains whose fibre is found only in the outer bran layer. When processed the other grains can lose all their fiber but not so with barley. Therefore, even refined products such as barley flour contain the beta glucan soluble fiber thus making barley a very versatile and healthy food grain.
Improves cardiovascular health
Barley is also a great source of Niacin, a B vitamin which protects against cardio vascular risk factors by preventing free radicals in the blood, reduces LDL and lowers risk of blood clots. The dietary fibre in barley prevents cholesterol build up in the arteries, therefore keeps the blood pressure levels normal and reduces the risk of heart attack. Scientific research has shown that adults who increased their intake of barley found a considerable decrease in their blood pressure levels. “In 2007, researchers found that barley intake significantly reduced serum cholesterol and visceral fat, both of which are markers of cardiovascular risk.”
Boosts intestinal health and prevents colon cancer
The insoluble fibre helps maintain a clean and healthy colon. The friendly bacteria play an important protective role by crowding out pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria and preventing them from surviving in the intestinal tract thus reducing the risk of colon cancer, constipation and hemorrhoids. Barley is a good source of selenium which has cancer preventive properties. Selenium has been shown to induce DNA repair and synthesis in damaged cells and to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells.
Reduces symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis
Barley has phosphorous, copper, manganese several other nutrients and trace minerals that help to maintain healthy and strong bones. A 62gm serving of barley meets 36% of your regular requirement for copper – a nutrient that helps lower the symptoms of arthritis. Copper removes free radicals produced in the mitochondria (the energy factories in our cells) helps in cross linking collagen and elastin thus providing flexibility in blood vessels, bones and joints.
Helps in weight loss
A serving of one cup of cooked pearl barley gives you 200 calories which do not mostly come from fat but from complex carbohydrates. The high fibre in barley stimulates the friendly bacteria in the intestines, releases important gut hormones and boosts up your metabolism for up to 14 hours, lowers cholesterol, regulates blood sugar and prevents obesity. Adequate intake of fibre also reduces your appetite, makes you feel fuller and satiated for longer periods of time which stops you from overeating. This helps in reducing the overall calorie intake as well.
Barley also helps prevent gall stones, protective against childhood asthma, provides antioxidants, high in vitamins and minerals. The selenium in barley not only inhibits the proliferation of cancer cells, but also prevents heart disease and decreases the symptoms of asthma and arthritis.
A glimpse of its history and origin:
Barley was one of the most important food grains in the ancient world and there has been considerable evidence that it was the sustaining food source in the evolution of humans. As the other food grains (oats, wheat, rye) became abundant barley was reduced to the status of a poor man’s bread.
History tells us that Barley has been one of the earliest cultivated grains. “Remains of barley (Hordeum vulgare) grains found at archaeological sites in the Fertile Crescent (in the near east which spans present day Israel, northern Syria, Southern Turkey, eastern Iraq and western Iran) indicate that about 10,000 years ago the crop was domesticated there from its wild relative ‘Hordeum spontaneum’. Ancient texts from many cultures in Africa, Asia and Europe refer to barley as an important dietary constituent.” You can get more information on its historical origins here.
The use of Barley dates back to the prophetic era 1400 years ago. It was recommended by the Prophet Mohammad (May peace be on him) for many forms of ailments of the mind and body and when a loved one passed away. Barley was one of the favourite foods of our prophet and he used it in various forms such as barley bread, gruel, porridge etc. A porridge called Talbina made from barley was recommended by him for many forms of ailments of the mind and body and when a loved one passed away. He said, “The talbina soothes the heart of the patient and relieves him from some of his sadness”. [Saheeh al-Bukhaaree (5058)]. There is a mention of its use and benefits in those days in 250 hadiths which shows that it was used as an important nutrition in islamic history. Hadiths show barley taking place in trade life, economic life, health and social life of muslims. Scientific studies now reveal that the manganese in barley calms the nervous system and it helps to make you feel happy and energetic.
It is interesting to know that “recently, scientists came across a lucky find: a trove of 6,000-year-old barley seeds sealed in a cave near the Dead Sea. And careful examination showed these archaic barley seeds aren’t too different from those grown today.”
Barley played an important role in the ancient Greek and Roman cultures as a staple bread-making grain. The Greek and Roman athletes attributed much of their strength to their barley-containing training diets and continued this tradition of honouring barley for the strength that it gave them.
It was first introduced to South America by the Spanish settlers in the 16th century, while the English and Dutch settlers of the 17th century brought it with them to the United States. Today, the largest commercial producers of barley are Canada, the United States, the Russian Federation, Germany, France and Spain. For more information click here.
Types of Barley: Hulled Barley, Pot Barley, Pearl Barley, Barley flour, Barley flakes, Barley meal and grits.
After delving into its properties, nutritive value, health benefits, it is interesting to know that this versatile grain can also be used in a variety of delicious food preparations. It can not only be consumed as a sweet breakfast cereal, but also be added to soups, stews, salads and other lentil and grain dishes. Barley bread is also a great alternative to breads made with refined flour because of its high fibre content. For recipes on barley click here.