Barley: Health Benefits, Facts, Research
Barley is a major cereal grain commonly found in bread, beverages, and various cuisines of every culture. It was one of the first cultivated grains in history and to this day has remained one of the most widely consumed grains in the entire world.
Whole grain foods such as barley have quickly been gaining popularity over the past few years due to the various health benefits they provide.
Whole grains are important sources of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals that are not found in refined or "enriched" grains. Grains that have undergone the refining process have had components removed (specifically, the bran and germ), which also removes most of the fiber and nutrients naturally found in most grains.
Choosing whole grains over their processed counterparts reduces the risk of several chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Health benefits of barley
Pearl barley is by far the most popular form of barley in the US. However, hulled barley is higher in fiber and nutrition as the bran layer is left intact.
Consuming plant-based foods of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.
Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like barley decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and overall mortality while promoting a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy and overall lower weight.
1) Blood pressure
Maintaining a low sodium intake is essential to lowering blood pressure, however, increasing potassium intake may be just as important. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, fewer than 2% of US adults meet the daily 4,700 mg recommendation.
In addition, potassium, calcium and magnesium (all present in barley) have been found to decrease blood pressure naturally.
A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2006 concluded that "in a healthful diet, increasing whole grain foods, whether high in soluble or insoluble fiber, can reduce blood pressure and may help to control weight."
2) Bone health
The iron, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, manganese and zinc in barley all contribute to building and maintaining bone structure and strength.
The careful balance of the phosphate and calcium is necessary for proper bone mineralization - consumption of too much phosphorus with too little calcium intake can result in bone loss.
Bone formation requires the mineral manganese, and iron and zinc play crucial roles in the production and maturation of collagen.
3) Heart health
Barley's fiber, potassium, folate and vitamin B6 content, coupled with its lack of cholesterol, all support a healthy heart. Barley is an excellent source of fiber, which helps lower the total amount of cholesterol in the blood, thereby decreasing the risk of heart disease.
A randomized, double-blind study from 2007 found that barley intake significantly reduced serum cholesterol and visceral fat, both of which are markers of cardiovascular risk.
The beta glucan fiber found in barley lowers LDL cholesterol by binding to bile acids and removing them from the body via excretion. An intake of 3 grams of beta-glucans per day can lower blood cholesterol levels by 5%. In one study, those who consumed 4,069 mg of potassium per day had a 49% lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease compared to those who consumed less potassium (about 1,000 mg per day). Vitamin B6 and folate, both present in barley, prevent the buildup of a compound known as homocysteine. When excessive amounts of homocysteine accumulate in the body, it can damage blood vessels and lead to heart problems.
Selenium is a mineral that is not present in most foods but can be found in barley. It plays a role in liver enzyme function and helps detoxify some cancer-causing compounds in the body. Additionally, selenium prevents inflammation, decreases tumor growth rates and improves immune response to infection by stimulating production of killer T-cells. The fiber in barley not only supports heart health. Fiber intake from plant-based foods is also associated with a lowered risk of colorectal cancer.
Beta glucan fiber has been found to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer cells and prevent tumors from forming.
Choline is a very important and versatile nutrient in barley that helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.
6) Digestion and regularity
Because of its fiber content, barley helps to prevent constipation and promote regularity for a healthy digestive tract.
7) Weight management and satiety
Adequate fiber intake is commonly recognized as important factor in weight loss by functioning as a "bulking agent" in the digestive system. Fiber in the diet helps to increase satiety and reduce appetite, making you feel fuller for longer with the goal of lowering your overall calorie intake.