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Why Barley Is Better

Whole grains provide many health benefits, but not everyone likes whole wheat in breads and baked goods.

For those who find whole wheat unappealing, there are plenty of other whole grain options, including barley.

Barley has an interesting history.

In ancient Egypt, it was used in religious ceremonies and in ancient Rome, gladiators were known as Barley Men because they believed that eating barley enhanced their strength and stamina.

Barley also formed the basis of the English measuring system whereby an inch was equivalent to three grains of barley placed lengthwise, end to end, and all other measures were built upon this.

Although barley was brought to North America by Christopher Columbus in the late 1400s, it didn’t become popular there until settlers from Scandinavia and Britain started using it to make beer. It was also used by Indian Ayurvedic physicians to treat diabetes.

Research undertaken in recent years suggests that those Ayurvedic doctors were right – barley does appear to be helpful in controlling blood sugar. Of course this doesn’t mean that diabetics should forgo modern medical treatment and just eat barley. Rather, barley should be viewed as a good dietary choice and perhaps a complementary therapy.

Today, barley is among the top four most popular cereal crops in the world (the others are wheat, corn, and rice). Research has shown that eating barley reduces the risk of heart disease, lowers blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol, and boosts the immune system. Barley is also higher in protein than many other grains such as rice, corn, sorghum, rye, and millet, and has more fiber than other grains as well.

Barley can help with weight loss and the maintenance of a lower body weight for a number of reasons. Its high fiber content makes those who consume it feel fuller, more satisfied and less likely to suffer food cravings. Barley also has less starchy carbohydrate than most other grains, and some research suggests that it may be particularly beneficial for helping to reduce belly fat and overall waist size.

Barley is a versatile grain that can be made into pilafs, used (as a flour) in breads and other baked goods, added to soups and stir fries, and cooked as breakfast porridge. For cooking ideas, see the Whole Grain Council’s Barley Recipes Collection.

Kam, K., Reviewed by Seibel, J.A., MD, “Diabetic Diet: 6 Foods That May Help Control Blood Sugar,” WebMD, 1 January 2007.
Shimizu, C., et al., “Effect of High Beta-Glucan Barley on Serum Cholesterol Concentrations and Visceral Fat Area in Japanese Men—A Randomized, Double-Blinded, Placebo-Controlled Trial,” Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 63(1), pp. 21-25.
Whole Grains Council, “Health Benefits of Barley” and “Barley—February Grain of the Month,” 2012.


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