Barley is a cereal, the fourth most cultivated in the world, only after wheat, rice and corn.
Due to its great impact on world food, many experts decided to analyze its properties beyond gastronomy. Find out here all its benefits, how to consume it and what precautions to take.
What is barley?
barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) is an annual herb belonging to the Poaceae family. It can measure between 30 and 120 cm and its seeds are grouped in spikes that have two, four or even six rows of grain around the fruiting stem.
In both East and West, and for thousands of years, barley has been cultivated for food and fodder in temperate zones.
With barley malt can be produced, which in turn has an enzyme called diastase that promotes the conversion of starches into sugar.
Thanks to this phenomenon it is possible to obtain alcohol, which is why the barley grain became the raw material for the production of beers, while the distilled ferment is transformed into Scotch whisky.
How to consume barley
Barley is a versatile grain with a somewhat chewy consistency and slightly nutty flavor, making it easy to use to complement a wide variety of dishes.
It’s easy to incorporate into your diet because it’s available in many forms, from hulled barley to barley grits, flakes or flour.
You can use it as a side dish, add it to soups, stuffings, stews, salads, and breads, or as part of a hot breakfast cereal.
Almost all forms of barley use the whole kernel, except pearl barley, which is polished to remove some or all of the outer bran layer along with the hull.
It is also a very nutritious cereal, many researchers claim that its juice is 7 times richer in vitamin C than oranges, 5 times richer in iron than spinach and 25 times richer in potassium than wheat.
In addition, it is characterized by being rich in fiber, phosphorus, copper, molybdenum, magnesium, manganese, selenium, vitamin B1 and a group of antioxidants called lignans.
However, experts warn that, as with all whole grains, barley also has antinutrients. These are substances that impair the digestion and absorption of nutrients by the body.
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To solve this problem, it is advisable to soak or germinate the barley, and thus make its nutrients easier to absorb.
benefits of barley
Due to its nutritional properties, the consumption of barley is linked to different health benefits:
Better digestion and weight control
A type of soluble fiber present in barley, called beta-glucan, is particularly useful in helping to control body weight.
This is because it tends to form a gel-like substance in the gut, which slows down digestion and nutrient absorption, while also reducing appetite and promoting satiety.
In addition, soluble fiber is an excellent option to reduce the accumulation of fat in the abdominal area, which is associated with metabolic diseases.
However, most of the fiber found in barley is insoluble, which, unlike soluble, does not dissolve in water. This is beneficial for the digestive processes as it adds bulk to the stool and speeds up the bowel movement, thus reducing the likelihood of constipation.
Lower risk of heart disease
Regular consumption of whole grains is linked to better heart health. For this reason, many health professionals recommend including barley in the diet.
Thanks to its rich content of beta-glucans, this cereal helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure, reducing the risk of various cardiovascular conditions.
According to different investigations, barley is also a very useful food for people with diabetes, since it can reduce blood sugar levels and improve insulin secretion.
This is largely due to the fact that it is rich in magnesium, a mineral that plays a key role in the production of insulin and in the use of glucose by the body.
In addition, the important contribution of fiber that barley offers allows slowing down the absorption of glucose in the bloodstream, thus avoiding the famous “peaks” or “falls” of sugar.
Reduces the risk of gallstones
The gallbladder is a small organ that is responsible for storing the bile secreted by the liver, to release it when food is consumed, and thus achieve a correct digestive process.
When this digestive fluid hardens, it can form deposits called gallstones. These can be small (the size of a grain of sand) or large (almost a golf ball).
In many cases gallstones or gallstones cause no symptoms and go unnoticed. However, they can get lodged in the pancreatic or common bile duct, and cause: back or shoulder pain, or nausea and vomiting.
Fortunately, there is evidence that the type of insoluble fiber found in barley can help prevent the formation of gallstones and reduce the chance of gallbladder surgery.
Other benefits of barley
There are other properties and benefits that are attributed to the consumption of barley, however, these have less evidence:
- prevent cancer: especially the colon, thanks to its richness in fiber and antioxidants.
- prevent anemia: thanks to its richness in iron.
- Protect skin health: this is due to its significant amount of antioxidants, which reduce the impact of the effects of free radicals, unstable molecules that affect healthy cell structures, increasing the risk of disease. Among its consequences is premature aging, which translates into the early appearance of wrinkles, marks or spots on the skin.
- Reduce the risk of osteoporosis: because it has phosphorus, calcium, copper and manganese.
In general, barley is considered a safe food for most people, as long as it is consumed properly. However, it can cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to other cereal grains, including rye, wheat, oats, corn, and rice.
Also, the gluten in barley can worsen celiac disease, so it is advised to avoid its use.
This caution also extends to pregnant or lactating women, and people taking medications, herbs, or supplements to control blood sugar or blood pressure levels.
This is because barley is high in fiber, so it can decrease the amount of medication the body absorbs.
Until there is meaningful scientific evidence from human trials, people interested in using herbal therapies and supplements should be very careful.
Do not abandon or modify your medications or treatments, but first talk to your doctor about the potential effects of alternative or complementary therapies.
Remember, the medicinal properties of herbs and supplements can also interact with prescription drugs, other herbs and supplements, and even alter your diet.
Sources consulted: Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, National Institute of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.