15 Mar 2022 Article

Barley, which has long been considered a cheap and far too simple food, is worthy of an important place at our table. Did you know that barley is the richest source of beta-glucans on earth?

Barley is the greatest natural source of Beta-glucans

Beta-glucans (β-glucans) are soluble fibres that are found in the cell walls of grain endosperm. In particular, barley and oats are rich sources of beta-glucans.

Two important health features of beta-glucans have been scientifically proven: maintaining normal blood sugar levels and lowering blood cholesterol.

Beta-glucans are fibers and thus create a feeling of satiety. This helps control appetite and therefore can reduce energy intake, which has a positive effect on both body weight and the amount of glucose released into the blood after eating. Beta-glucans have a beneficial effect on glucose metabolism in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM2) and healthy people. In addition, they lower blood pressure from which many people with DM2 suffer from. They also have a benefitial effect on the blood lipid profile, which is often distorted in most people with diabetes. Consuming beta-glucans with food helps to reduce the rise in blood glucose after a meal. To get this effect, beta-glucans should be consumed during meals in a quantity of at least 3 g per day. As I said, barley is very rich in beta-glucans: 32 g (3 tablespoons) of barley (dry weight) contain up to 5 g β-glucans. Consuming a small portion of pearl barley daily, therefore, is an excellent dietary strategy for lowering blood glucose.

Consuming beta-glucans (1 g three times a day or 3 g in one go) helps maintain normal cholesterol levels. Beta-glucans help reduce low-density lipoprotein (the so-called “bad cholesterol”) in the blood, and thus reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Other health benefits of barley

A small bowl of pearl barley (32 g of dried cereals) provides:

  • 25 % of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of essential mineral manganese. Manganese promotes normal metabolism and helps maintain bone density.
  • 20 % of the RDA of selenium. Selenium promotes good appearance of hair and nails, normal functioning of the thyroid gland, and protects cells from oxidative stress.
  • 17 % of the RDA of copper. Copper is involved in the formation of connective tissue and bones. It also ensures the formation of pigment in the hair and the proper functioning of the immune system.
  • 16 % of the RDA of vitamin B1. We need vitamin B1 for converting carbohydrates into energy for our body. We also need it for proper functioning of the heart muscle, the nervous system and the brain.

Furthermore, the same modest portion of barley (3 tablespoons) provides 3 g of dietary fiber, which is roughly 10 % of the RDA.

How to cook barley: practical ideas

First, let’s have a look what types of barley we can buy in the supermarket.

Hulled barley is covered barley that has been minimally processed to remove the tough inedible outer hull. Hulled barley is a whole grain.

Pearl barley has been polished, or “pearled” to remove some or all of the outer bran layer along with the hull. Most of the barley found in the typical supermarket is pearl barley.

Barley flakes look like oatmeal (rolled oats). This is because they’re created the same way, by steaming kernels, rolling them, and drying them. Fakes can be made from whole grain barley or from pearl barley.

  • Make a porridge from barley flakes for breakfast. Use the same principle as when cooking oatmeal.
  • Make a “risotto” using pearl barley. It is a known dish, sometimes referred to as “barlotto”.
  • Cook pearl barley (hulled or pearl)  as a side dish.
  • Give barley flakes a try in a self-made granola.