Barley health benefits are many. However, before we get into them, let’s learn more about this grain. Although it has been cultivated since the remotest of times, barley has always been considered a poor relation to wheat. Developing countries, particularly on the Asian continent, take full advantage of it for food, often mixing it with rice. In more affluent countries, however, more than half of the barley production is used for animal feed. Most of the other half is used to make malt, beer, and whiskey. A small portion is used to feed humans.
Experts foresee an increase in the world’s population without a corresponding increase in food resources. This means that many tons of barley must be used to feed humans rather than feeding livestock for meat. When this happens, human health will be better for it.
Barley Nutritional Facts
Barley, whole-grain or polished, is very similar in composition to wheat, with some significant differences:
- Proteins: Barley’s percentage of proteins is somewhat higher (12.5 percent) than wheat (11.3 percent) while containing less gluten. Because of this, barley bread is more compact and less spongy than that made with wheat. Barley proteins are also deficient in lysine. However, this lack is minimized by combining barley with legumes or dairy products rich in lysine.
- Carbohydrates: Barley contains 56.2 percent, somewhat less than wheat (61.7 percent). The carbohydrates of both grains are in the form of starch. This is digested more easily when it has been ground to a fine flour, as opposed to the whole grain (cooked barley, flakes). However, barley is most digestible when malted, either as grain, as flour, or as liquid malt.
- Vitamins: Barley contains more vitamins B1 and B2 than wheat but only half as much vitamin E. As with all grains, it lacks provitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin B12.
- Minerals: Its composition is similar to wheat: rich in phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, and other trace elements. However, like wheat, it is poor in calcium.
- Fiber: Barley contains 17.3 grams of cellulose fiber per 100 grams; this is about 5 grams more than wheat. Alternatively, pearl barley and the flour it is made from possess fewer nutrients since they are refined, as is the refined white wheat flour. During the polishing process, barley can lose seventy-four percent of its protein content, eighty-eight percent of its vitamins and minerals, and ninety-seven percent of its fiber. Malted grain or flour contains more nutrients than pearl barley since it has not been as refined. It is more digestible because of its richness in enzymes. It is tastier than barley because it has been toasted.
Barley Health Benefits
Barley is indicated in the following cases:
Digestive disorders: Pearl barley, barley flour, and primarily malt granules and flour are well tolerated by weak stomachs. They are helpful in cases of gastritis dyspepsia (indigestion), gastroduodenal ulcer, gastroenteritis, and colitis. Barley water and malt beverages are also of great value in cases of digestive distress. As with wheat and rye, barley should be avoided by those with celiac disease.
Excess cholesterol: Eating barley in any form: whole grain (polished), flakes, whole-grain flour, or partially whole-grain (malted grain and flour) produces a reduction in total cholesterol level, LDL (harmful) cholesterol level, and triglycerides. This was shown to be the case by the Institute of Health and Nutrition of Tokyo when half of the daily rice allotment of a group of patients suffering from elevated cholesterol was replaced with barley.
As with all whole grains, barley consumption has been shown to prevent arteriosclerosis. It should be integrated into the diet of those at high risk of coronary disease.
Diabetes: Diabetic laboratory animals fed barley showed lower blood glucose levels than those provided on wheat. This effect is attributed to some hypoglycemic factor in barley that is still being investigated. Varieties of barley rich in fiber and beta-glucan (a cellulose derivative also found in oats) are better tolerated by people with diabetes. Today, barley and other grains containing slow-releasing starch are recommended for patients with this disease.
Intestinal disorders: Barley fiber helps prevent constipation and all its complications, including colon cancer.
Barley Scientific Facts
- Scientific name: Hordeum vulgare L.
- Other names: Barleycorn, Barley flakes, Malt.
- French: Orge.
- Spanish: Cebada.
- German: Gerste.
- Description: Fruit of the barley plant, a herbaceous plant of the botanical family Gramineae.
- Environment: Barley has its origins in the mountainous areas of southwest Asia. It began to be cultivated several millennia before Christ. It has extended to all regions of the world because of its adaptability to various soils and climates. The primary producing countries are Russia, Germany, and Canada.
Barley water is prepared by boiling 50 to 100 grams of barley, preferably pearl, in enough water so that one liter remains after half hour of cooking. This broth, barley water, is rich in starch and minerals. Lemon juice may be added. It is recommended in these cases:
Diarrhea and colitis because it protects the intestinal mucosa.
Dyspepsia (indigestion) due to indigestion or functional disorders of the digestive system.
Debilitating disease or anytime the digestive system is weakened. In this case, it may be sweetened with sugar or honey.
Care When Cooking
Cooking barley in a pressure-cooker produces a starchy foam that can plug the pressure-cooker’s safety valve and cause an accident. This can be avoided by adding a little oil to the water with the barley.
How to use and Prepare Barley
- Polished barley (whole grain): Barley has its indigestible outer shell (glume) and part of the bran removed by abrasion. After soaking in water, it is boiled for an hour with vegetables or cooked as a soup.
- Pearl barley (refined): Barley that has been polished until the glume, the bran, and most of the germ have been removed. The result is a polished round uniform grain. It is boiled as if it were rice, although its flavor is more intense. It requires a minimum of 35 minutes of cooking.
- Barley water: See instructions above.
- Flakes: These are prepared with grain that has been soaked, boiled, and pressed. It is used as a part of muesli or cooked for ten minutes in milk or vegetable broth.
- Flour: This can be made from either polished (whole-grain) or pearl (refined) barley.
- Malt: This is an aqueous extract of barley that has been germinated and roasted.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Foods and Their Healing Power.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Foods and Their Healing Power. Trans. Annette Melgosa. Vol. 2. Chai Wan: Editorial Safeliz, 2005. 162, 163. Print. [Barley Health Benefits]