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Benefits of Barley: Are You Eating Enough of This Healthy Grain?

Barley for weight loss

When you think of a heart healthy grain, your mind probably steers toward oats. But recent research has found that barley should start being a part of your daily diet, as it has many benefits - not only for the heart, but for the whole body.


Barley is a versatile cereal grain with a rich, nutlike flavor and a chewy consistency. It is a low GI grain as it is high in fiber and it is rich in vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, manganese, selenium, copper, chromium and phosphorus.

A recent study found that eating barley can significantly reduce levels of “bad” cholesterol in the body, thus lowering cardiovascular risk. It is likely that you have heard about low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol as one factor that should be lowered to reduce risk of heart attack and stroke.

But you may not know about another piece of the puzzle – apolipoprotein B, or apoB. This is a blood component that carries the LDL cholesterol thorough the blood and is another important predictor of cardiovascular disease risk. ApoB may be elevated despite normal or even low concentrations of LDL.

"The findings are most important for populations at high risk for cardiovascular disease, such as Type 2 diabetics, who have normal levels of LDL cholesterol, but elevated levels of non-HDL or apo B," said Dr. Vladimir Vuksan, research scientist and associate director of the Risk Factor Modification Centre of St. Michael's Hospital. "Barley has a lowering effect on the total bad cholesterol in these high-risk individuals, but can also benefit people without high cholesterol."

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Barley may also play a role in weight reduction. As mentioned, it is high in fiber, so it is more filling, motivating a person to eat less. A study from Sweden also found that there was an increase in gut hormones that regulate metabolism and appetite after consuming bread made with barley.

Tips for Preparing and Cooking Barley
Like all grains, before cooking barley, rinse it thoroughly under running water and then remove any dirt or debris that you may find. After rinsing, add one part barley to three and a half parts boiling water or broth. After the liquid has returned to a boil, turn down the heat, cover and simmer. Pearled barley should be simmered for about one hour, while hulled barley should be cooked for about 90 minutes.

How to Enjoy Barley

  • Mix barley flour with wheat flour to make breads and muffins that have a uniquely sweet and earthy taste.
  • Use cracked barley or barley flakes to make hot cereal.
  • Toss chilled cooked hulled barley with chopped vegetables and dressing to make a tasty cold salad.
  • Add barley to your favorite stews and soups to give them extra heartiness and flavor.
  • Combine cooked barley and healthy sautéed mushrooms for a pilaf with an Eastern European twist.

Journal Reference:
H V T Ho, J L Sievenpiper, A Zurbau, S B Mejia, E Jovanovski, F Au-Yeung, A L Jenkins, V Vuksan. A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials of the effect of barley β-glucan on LDL-C, non-HDL-C and apoB for cardiovascular disease risk reductioni-iv. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2016; DOI:10.1038/ejcn.2016.89

Additional Resource:
World’s Healthiest Foods

Photo Credit: By Rasbak - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons