Barley (Hordeum vulgare L.), a member of the grass family, is a major cereal grain grown in temperate climates globally. It was one of the first cultivated grains, particularly in Eurasia as early as 10,000 years ago. Barley has been used as animal fodder, as a source of fermentable material for beer and certain distilled beverages, and as a component of various health foods.
Nutrition Table (as per USDA National Nutrient Database)
Possible health benefits of barley –
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.
They are also considered to promote 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 percent of American adults meet the daily 4,700-milligram recommendation.
Also, potassium, calcium, and magnesium (all present in barley) have been found to decrease blood pressure naturally.
2) Bone health
The iron, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, manganese, and zinc in barley all contribute to building and maintaining bone structure and strength.
A careful balance of 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; also, iron and zinc play important 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 (“bad”) 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 percent.
In one study, those who consumed 4,069 milligrams of potassium per day had a 49 percent lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease compared with those who consumed less potassium (about 1,000 milligrams 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 an 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.
Potential health risks of consuming barley
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a varied diet than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
Barley contains gluten, and, therefore, should be avoided by those with celiac disease. Malt, malted beverages such as beer, and several flavorings are derived from barley, which means they are not gluten-free and should not be consumed by individuals with celiac.
Be sure to drink plenty of liquids as you increase your fiber intake. Do not try to get all of your fiber at one time, but instead, eat some at every meal and snack.
Gradually increase your fiber intake for 1 or 2 months to help prevent digestive discomfort as your body adjusts to the change. Increasing fiber intake without adequate fluid intake could lead to constipation.
A handful of pot or pearled barley adds substance, texture, and sweetness to soups and stews. The grains make a chewy pilaf or side dish when boiled in stock; cooking them in water provides a hearty base for salads, while cooking in milk is a fine alternative to hot oat cereals and rice puddings. Barley chapaties are relished by many in several parts of India.